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Re: GSBN:A photo and questions

Dear Martin (and all),

As you know from our prior conversation, my feelings about this are
twofold. First, I think it is indicative of your level of commitment
and the seriousness of your efforts that you would arrive at a point of
personal crisis and explore the possible negative impacts of that
photo. I understand both the concern and the level of anguish you've
experienced about the possibility that a whimsical act might undermine
your efforts and those of others and the credibility of straw bale
construction in the eyes of anyone. I honor that level of concern and
your willingness to take responsibility for that possibility, slim or

And, I am also of the opinion that the risk of that is fairly small and
the overall benefit of some levity is much larger. In addition, there
is a part of me that thinks people who do good, conscientious, serious
work and can also enjoy themselves actually have more credibility with
most people than the humorless people who are unable to see the world
except through their narrow lens. And, of course, I could be completely
wrong and people reading this in the GSBN archives years from now may
laugh at my ignorance of how the world really works... But I think
humor is one of the best solvents for weakening attachments to old ways
of thinking. (On the other hand, I don't think I'm alone in being glad
you were wearing clothes in that photo...)

As for the other part of your message, you are right on in the sense
that those of us who spend time in the role of pioneering such things
as straw bale construction do have a real responsibility to do it well
enough that we don't jeopardize the thing we love through carelessness
or ignorance. And I also believe that one of the things that has set
this community apart from many others has been the openness and
generosity of spirit in sharing not only our successes but our failures
and challenges. The GSBN community continues to represent the best
aspects of how we might learn to act in many other spheres of human

Thank you Martin for sharing your concerns so openly and honestly and
for caring that much, and also for the wonderful job you have done in
serving the larger straw bale community through your diligent and hard

David Eisenberg

-----Original Message-----
From: mfhammer@...
To: GSBN@...
Sent: Thu, 7 Sep 2006 4:43 PM
Subject: GSBN:A photo and questions

  Hello everyone -

I turn to the GSBN community with a personal straw bale matter that
to larger questions about straw bale building, its place in the world,
the way it is perceived.

This has to do with the photo I used in the guest editor's notes of the
issue of The Last Straw Journal.

Most of you subscribe to The Last Straw and many of you have at least
glanced at the June issue, which I was honored to guest edit, and which
primarily about straw bale codes and permitting.  I worked hard
writing, and coordinating with others for the issue.

For those who haven't seen or noticed it, the (amusing?) photo shows me
doing a headstand on a circular straw bale on the plains of North
Dakota.  I
chose it along with an amusing yet topical caption, partly to add some
to an inherently dry subject matter.

After going through two public hearings in July for the proposed "Straw
Code" here in California (with their inherent gravity, and with
scrutiny from the California Building Officials Association) I
the wisdom of including such a photo in the issue.  Suddenly all I could
imagine was a building official being handed the "Codes issue" of TLS,
seeing that photo, and thinking - "Aha!  This confirms what I suspected.
That straw bale building is wacky and not to be taken seriously."

I no longer saw the photo exhibiting playful exuberance as I intended,
instead exhibiting wacky recklessness.  It suddenly expressed going out
on a
precarious limb, and I imagined readers seeing it as an unflattering
metaphor for straw bale building itself.  Or, "So, this is the guy who
writing the straw bale code for the State of California.  Hmmm."

The levity in the photo belies the diligence and seriousness with which
approached the fact finding and writing of the pieces in TLS, as well
as my
writing of the proposed California Straw Bale Code.  It belies some
points I made in the guest editor's notes themselves.

So I've struggled with this, and I'm too close to it to tell whether
matters in any way.  I don't want to place undue importance on it, but I
certainly believe words mean something (I took pains to find the right
throughout the issue) and if the adage is true that a picture is worth a
thousand words . . .

I see The Last Straw as the life blood of the straw bale building
If the use of that photo lessens the credibility of TLS or of straw bale
building in the eyes of even one reader (building official or
then I apologize for its use.  I care deeply about straw bale building
all that it represents.  Also, for me this opens up broader questions
how the written and spoken word, the publications, the actions, and most
importantly the buildings that all of us in the straw bale building
community put forth affect the perception that people have of this way
building and all that goes with it.

Not that straw bale building should be devoid of humor (Matts Myhrman
wouldn't allow that), any more than life should be devoid of humor.  Or
devoid of exploration, joy, inspiration, comfort, beauty, or any of the
other qualities that make straw bale buildings worth building.  But it
that those lighter qualities are necessarily coupled with sober

Each of us and each of our buildings are ambassadors of straw bale and
natural building, and we each bring something different to the table.  I
hope in this case I haven't brought something to the table that was
misplaced.  I'm interested in anyone's thoughts about this specific and
broader subject.  Thanks.

Martin Hammer


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