The line was long.
Nearly 150 people queued up Thursday night to ask John Wear and Wanda Urbanska to autograph the newly released anthology Less is More: Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness. The book includes essays by both.
Wear, executive director of the Center for the Environment at Catawba College, and Urbanska, host and co-producer of the "Simple Living" TV series and author of numerous books, spoke of the Swedish concept of "just the right amount" at the event held at the Center for the Environment facility on the Catawba College campus.
The Swedish word "lagom," explained in an essay by Alan AtKisson, dates back to the time of the Vikings, Wear told the group. "When a bowl of beer was passed around the circle, it was expected that everyone would drink exactly the right amount for that person and leave exactly the right amount for every else as well."
"Just the right amount" refers to multiple things in Swedish culture, Wear explained: "the size of a house, how much stuff we have, how much food is on our plates." That concept is more important than ever today, he said, when more and more people from across the globe want to live the American Dream, which increases the global demand for energy, natural resources and food.
Wear quoted Matthew Sleeth, one of the book's essayists who spoke at the Center for the Environment last year: "The Earth was designed to sustain every generation's needs, not to be plundered in an attempt to meet one generation's wants."
He highlighted Robin Griggs Lawrence's focus on Wabi-Sabi, and ancient Japanese philosophy that emphasizes the beauty found in things that are old and careworn; Rebecca Kneale Gould's essay that urges readers to live on nature's time, which includes eating foods that are in season; and co-editor Cecile Andrews' emphasis on the importance of community, including the slow food movement which encourages people to approach meals as opportunities to interact and be with each other.
Wear praised Urbanska's "Simple Living" show, which is broadcast on more than 75 percent of the PBS stations in the country. It focuses on four areas: environmental stewardship, thoughtful consumption, community involvement and financial responsibility.
"One of the things that truly impressed me was her company's approach to educating the public in an entertaining way that focused on the small things people could do to make a difference," Wear said. "In fact, that is the show's mantra: 'Nothing is too small to make a difference.'"
Urbanska noted that the event embodied the message she promotes in her TV series: "to live more simply and sustainably — to eat local food, to engage in community, to read more." The caterer featured products from local farmers and bakers.
She also spoke of the "Simple Living" partnership with the Center. "When I think of John Wear and the Center for the Environment, the first word that comes to mind is 'partnership,' she said. "John and his team are consummate partners in their community of Salisbury, in Rowan County and around the state. They have been tremendous partners with us at 'Simple Living.'
"We have entered a new era," Urbanska said. "Change is happening rapidly in our nation and around the globe. Americans are suddenly saving more. What new houses that are being built are smaller than before. A relocalization movement is afoot that encompasses our food and food security issues, but also in revitalizing our local economies."
The era of over-consumption in America is over, she said. "It's not that we'll never again see waste in America or people living with too much, beyond their means and certainly beyond the planet's means to sustain us. It's that a tipping point has been reached. I believe there is no turning back."
The dangerous times we live in present an opportunity for the virtues and benefits of a simple life, Urbanska said. They give us "the chance to slow down, to live in the present moment, to savor our food, the earth that sustains us, the people that sustain us."
Jason Walser, executive director of the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, was heartened by the number of people who attended the event. "I was overwhelmed at the number of new faces I saw last night who are interested in issues of sustainability and simplicity," he said. "This issue seems to be resonating with the public now more than ever as we are adjusting to the new economy, and last night's book signing was evidence to me that there is a hunger for information on how to live more simply."