Interviewsand Articles

 

Hidden Things that Glow: works & conversations newsletter #44

by Richard Whittaker, Jan 17, 2019


 

 


"Sapo"  photo, Eduardo del Conde.



Having the opportunity to present a fresh issue of our newsletter is always a lift. For me, spending time with our stories is like being fed. To start off with the newsletter’s new look, we have four special conversations.
     Just listening to Eduardo del Conde describing his journey into the world of Los Hombres del Arroz (the men of rice) was a rare gift. Here he brings to life something hidden, and so quietly touching – a lost way of living, a life in direct contact with the soil, with cultivation - a life of growing rice by hand. Complementing Del Conde’s beautiful book, his son made an award-winning documentary film, El Espantapájaros [the scarecrow], that follows a full season of rice cultivation. 
     In Mexico only four rice producers working in this ancient way remain - and they produce by far the best rice in the country. Not so long ago there were 22 such rice growers. Although these four have been given special recognition by the government of Mexico, they’re literally losing ground. Will any survive? Learning about this way of life, one can only hope so. Del Conde is looking for a publisher for an English edition. He mused, “It could carry a lot of weight if people in Mexico knew this way of life was being recognized in the U.S.”
     While at UC Berkeley, Priya Shah initiated a class to help students deal with stress. During her sophomore year she was struggling, not only from school pressures, but from the constant onslaught of negative news both locally and in the world. She figured she wasn’t alone. “I felt there was a need, from me and my peers, for a little more positivity – and for that to spread some ripples through the campus.” Growing up, she’d been introduced to meditation, gratitude and “doing random acts of kindness.” But it wasn’t until being at UCB that she began to understand how helpful meditation could be. Thanks to a program at UCB that allows students to create courses for credit, Priya started “The Happiness Advantage.” Three semesters later, over 400 students had signed up. Our conversation with Priya is our second feature.
     Somehow, Andy Couturier’s book The Abundance of Less fell into my hands. It sat around until one day I started reading. In no time, I was so inspired, I loaned it out to a friend. How could I keep something so good to myself? Couturier has lived an adventurous life. As a young man, he hitch hiked across the Sahara Desert. Later on, he ended up in Japan teaching English as a second language. That’s when he began to meet some extraordinary Japanese individuals. And one thing led to another. The result: his book profiling ten Japanese individuals, all engaged in “simple living from rural Japan.” Each story is different, but just to give a hint at the flavor of the book we meet “the exuberant Buddhist,” Kogan Murata. As a young man, Kogan had done many things, but eventually he discovered the flute and a flute master. “You have to go mad when you are playing the flute,” Kogan proclaimed. “You have to do it all the time, or it means nothing.” The interview with Andy is our third feature.
      I knew my neighbor, Dr. Ann Petru, as the keeper of the neighborhood email tree, as a supplier each year of “hens and chicks” – succulents overflowing from her front yard – and I knew she was a doctor. She works at Oakland’s Children’s Hospital. I’d heard that she worked with kids with cancer. Ann is not one to call attention to herself or her work. So it took a few years before I started to wonder about her work and suddenly, it occurred to me she must have a story. Ha! She has a story. Now I think of her as a saint.
     Welcome to issue #44.
         
 

About the Author

Richard Whittaker is the founding editor of works & conversations and West Coast editor of Parabola magazine.   

 

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