May 24, 2021


How to Curate Dirt

Driving from Arizona to New Mexico we stopped in a small town to stretch our legs. We'd traversed already a lot of ground. So many miles of the same kind of terrain--the type of terrain where a cow needs a whole acre to graze just to find enough little blades of grass to survive.

The town had no trees. None. Coming from a landscape architecture background, I am always curious about what grows where, and how a place could be made more beautiful by the world of plants. How could an entire town not have a single tree? Don't these folks know how a tree can change the soil, cool the ambient temperature, absorb pollutants, increase property values, and provide habitat for a broader variety of animal and insect species... I mean!

We left town. I spent about an hour devising how sometime in the strange future I'd go to the town council and propose some change. Trees would save them!

As we continued to travel north, the more I looked, the more I noticed that in New Mexico, folks just live right in the dirt. Walk out the back door and step straight into the dirt. Do the people take their shoes off when they go indoors, like in Japan? Or do they just traipse across the kitchen floor in their boots, stomping dust into the tiles, where it changes the color of the grout from off white, to dirty brown? Why don't they surround their homes with trees to provide shade? Where are the front yards with blooming perennials, mulched to keep the moisture in... Where is the picnic table or fountain in the backyard? The lawn for the kids. The swing hanging from the cottonwood? 

At the same time we're driving north, my mind is criticizing the usage of a word that folks are employing more and more... "curate." Have you noticed it too, this word, curate?

Just like when I was pregnant and suddenly I noticed pregnant women all around me, this has been a season for me being triggered by social media curation, "curators" of color, style, aesthetics, and the word is everywhere--used in instagram posts and on blogs, and it's seriously bugging me.

...because we are not museum pieces.

And because words have power.

Even pre-teens these days talk about their "aesthetic." Of how they present themselves to the world. I had a conversation with young girl about her instagram grid, and how she's only willing to post dusty, atmospheric images because she's cultivating an aesthetic that incorporates her clothes, her accessories, even the music she'll share on spotify. She's ten.

We have moved into an age of exhibitionism that hasn't been possible until now. We used to show up in person--all of us--where the friend next to us could see our shoes to our balding heads--where pimples were exposed--our wide hips or knobby knees visible. Those features were difficult to hide. But now?




"Curator." Someone in charge of an exhibit.

"Exhibit." To show publicly, especially for purposes of competition or demonstration; to display something for public inspection.

We traveled all over northern New Mexico. Pecos, Taos, Espanola, Santa Fe, Chimayo. I noticed more trees in the wealthy areas where the houses were much bigger--where the walls were taller, where there was an undercurrent of money and fancy, curated interiors. Places that could be photographed and end up in a magazine. I fought with myself not to like these places better. But they were easier for me to understand and didn't challenge my western worldview... I noticed that about myself.

 I'm a critic. As an editor, I'm a critic. As a writer, I am a critic. But because of this training, my critical mind has creeped into criticizing other aspects of life--I fight this urge--to watch a movie and then want to pick it apart. Or listen to a homily, and edit it in my mind while the priest is still talking... 

So there I was, criticizing New Mexicans for not "curating" the landscapes around their homes. And there I was, criticizing people for "curating" their social media accounts. What in the world? Man, I have some serious work to do. 

So, I'll write a short homily just for me. I'll edit it, too.

Jane, I'm glad you care about words. (...just please don't care too much about how other people use them...)

Jane, maybe living in the dirt is something you should try? It could be the thing that saves you in the end. But I also think that if you move to northern New Mexico, it's okay if you plant a few trees. (...just don't tell anyone else that they should...)

Jane, clearly you need another cup of tea.



Published: May 24, 2021 | Filed under: Me

Comments (5)
Elizabeth said:
May 24, 2021 @ 5:20 PM

Hi Jane! Lots of thoughts here, and trees are wonderful! I don't know enough about trees and land to know where they are able to take root but by the way you describe it, it does sound like it is a rich/poor situation. It is astounding that a 10 year old would be trying to have a social media presence that is curated. She's very savvy, I know young 20s who don't do this! but is that sort of savvy a good thing? I do see and agree with your concerns. It's a bit of a quandary as I think everyone does this - DE Stevenson's _Four Graces_ shows the difference for instance between family life inside and family that is seen from outside and she wrote that book in 1946.... I think it is just that social media has made us more conscious of it in a way and we who did not grow up with the internet (the kids now know nothing else) see the difference... Lord help us navigate such new and unknown waters!

jane g meyer replied:
May 24, 2021 @ 9:34 PM

I just know I still have a lot to learn about a lot of things... Thanks for your comments, Elizabeth!

Elizabeth replied:
May 27, 2021 @ 9:11 AM

Jane, I have SO much to learn also! You are a blessing and I love reading your thoughts here on your blog (and on IG) etc. God bless and help us navigate all these new social media changes etc!

Ashley Zappe said:
May 25, 2021 @ 10:51 AM

Beauty is a tool, isn't it? Beauty can be a gift, a joy given to others. Or, it can be skin deep, a mask that covers diseases of the soul. I think if the bare city curated trees, it would have the effect of a gift to God's creation (humans and other creatures), shade and harvest. But, so often social media curation is about hiding an insecurity, a false front, getting shallow approval from people who can't see your real soul. That's very different. I don't think curation itself is a problem, it's how it is used. It's the curation a gift for others, or is a mask of vanity? Does it point to truth and goodness, or does it lie and separate us from our true selves?

jane g meyer replied:
May 31, 2021 @ 10:29 AM

Beautifully put, Ashley. One thing I'm struggling with is the idea that I know better than a community who has been living in that place, with that dirt, with no trees, for decades and longer. It's true that sometimes you live with something and just abide in it because that's what's always been there, and a new viewpoint can change things for the better for all... But at the same time, why is my English-garden, permaculture-happy viewpoint something that would actually improve the lives of people who live in that place day in and day out--a place that I just glimpse for ten minutes as I travel north... Maybe there's something more salvific there in the bare landscape that I can't see. It all really comes down to the fact that I'm so quick to judge based on my worldviews, and the judging needs to stop. Even when I'm doing it to bring more beauty. It would be different if I lived inside that community and breathed its air, and contributed to the life of that place by offering my thoughts humbly... In my life as a writer these past thirty years, I've learned you can manipulate just about any word any which way. Sure, you can use the word curation to point to something that is altruistic and for the other; your point about how the word is points to this wiggly-ness of language. But I also think we should take care in how we communicate, for it points to deeper things since we aren't all sitting in a room together, looking face-to-face and able to hash out the real truths that come out when you have real dialogue... Anyway, I love all of this pondering. It helps me dig in to my soul, and root out some of the dormant, sticky black marks that cling to the sides of my heart... Love to you!

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