Steve and I donated our hair to Locks of Love yesterday. Ten inches each. A wonderful way to re-purpose hair if you don’t have your own compost pile. We got our cuts for free and were left with enough to still pull into a ponytail so that hair care on our camping trip will be a bit easier. Thanks to MaeLyn and Megan at Azana Spa in Brookfield, we are now ready to roll down the road a bit freer and easier! Here’s a gallery of shots of the event:
Transitions. Stuff. Accumulation and de-acquisition. Now that I am almost 50 years old, I have seen a lot of cycles of hoarding and purging. When I was a kid, my mother would periodically declare that it was time for “one great hour of swearing”, meaning it was time to clear out clutter and clean house. She is a highly organized and tidy person, rarely sentimental about material things. However, she is also an historian, an archiver. Things that were deemed valuable were carefully stored. Sterling silver was always wrapped in the proper cloth. Her off-season shoes were in a zippered case, so were blankets. Photo slides and correspondence were kept in carefully hand-constructed boxes of just the right size and shape. Sometime in the 70s, recycling became a household habit. She always had her glass bottles in separate containers, according to color, and everything perfectly sorted. She’d load up the station wagon and make the trip to the recycling center about once a month. I got to help her throw stuff on the appropriate piles or in the dumpsters. Breaking glass can be fun! She’s worked for the past few decades as a museum docent, cataloging the music collections. She has my wedding dress stored in an archival quality box. She keeps a full pantry (for earthquake preparedness), but she is not a hoarder. I think she regularly updates her pantry and donates stuff she’s not going to use before its expiration date. She’s a great example to me, and ahead of her generation’s learning curve.
Steve’s aunt is delightful and messy. She thrills for a bargain. She will go to great lengths to capitalize on a sale. She knows that this creates problems for her, though, and is somewhat like a struggling addict, trying to quit. She lives alone in the house in which she cared for her mother. She’s never been married. She solicits our help in taming the clutter she has accumulated in that house. Steve is a willing worker, completely kind and patient, but always clear about his own limits. He has some professional experience with estate sales from the book business, so he has worked with elderly strangers as well doing similar service. He can assess and clear out an entire house in a weekend, if he must. No one boxes more efficiently, in my opinion.
What do we do with stuff?
Reduce, reuse, recycle, freecycle. Keep it out of the landfill, off the streets, out of the woods and wetlands. Don’t buy it if you don’t need it; if you do anyway, give it away. My mother has always had a habit of sending me “care packages” of stuff she acquired, often by mail order, that wasn’t quite what she wanted. She was always on the lookout for a good home for something she didn’t want. I would often end up taking some of that stuff to donate to Goodwill or the Salvation Army, but it didn’t get thrown away. We’re working on finding good homes for Steve’s aunt’s stuff. I’m fixing to give care packages to each of my children from what we brought home yesterday. Beauty and cleaning products from her bathroom, mostly. The unopened items will go to a local shelter. A bottle of shampoo that was used once and turned out not to be to her liking can make some useful suds. Would you just pour that down the drain? Somehow, I can’t.
How long do you figure it would take to use up the stuff that’s already been made before we make more? Depends on the stuff, of course. But there must be categories of products that we could use up…and then, maybe, discontinue forever. How many varieties of shampoo do we need? How many varieties of cleaning products? You could use Dr. Bronner’s Magic All-in-One Soap (made from hemp and essential oils) in peppermint to clean your entire body (including teeth), your clothes, your dishes, your surfaces, your car, etc., and we’d never need to make anything else. Sounds like de-cluttering to me. Of course, there are a million ways to disagree with me and get on your own soap box. We like choices. Depending on how old you are, you may be just beginning to explore all your options, and you’d hate to have anyone restrict you. Wait 50 years. Then you may be cleaning out your house and wondering, “Why do I have all this crap?!” You’ll give it to your kids, who want to have stuff but have no money to buy it. Some day there’ll be a story out there of a family who free-cycled the same object for 5 generations. Why not? I’m still using my grandmother’s electric mixer/food grinder. But nowadays, things are built cheaply according to the economic principle of Planned Obsolescence and the landfills overflow. It’s a sickening trend.
One great hour of swearing is not gonna cure the planet of its clutter these days. (sigh) We’re way out of scale. Something’s gotta give. I wonder what…and how… and when.
The social tradition in this country is to spend New Year’s Eve with the person who is most important to you, someone with whom you’d like to spend your future. That first kiss of the New Year is supposed to impart good fortune for the year to come. For many Americans, then, it’s off to parties to drink up and link up in an attempt to avoid the curse of loneliness for the rest of your life.
Yeah, well, I’ve never seen it quite like that. You see, New Year’s Eve is also my mother’s birthday. We always spent it at home, having a family celebration. When I got married and moved out, my new nuclear family did the same thing. We dressed up in prom gowns and tuxes (and sometimes like pirates) and danced in the living room, sipping champagne and listening to the weirdest music we had. Kisses were passed between husbands and wives and fathers and daughters and mothers and sons and sometimes siblings. Our future was with the family; our past was with the family. The two were intertwined, and we liked it that way. We watched the ball drop in NYC some years, and sometimes we just let the kids run outdoors with big spoons and pots and pans and make all the noise they liked at midnight. One year, we were visiting Jim’s best friend’s family, and the kids had a silly string fight in the middle of the street that afternoon. They made a huge mess. Which makes me wonder: who cleans up the confetti after New Year’s Eve in NYC? How much gets recycled?
Who do I want to be next year? My future is rooted in my past and lived in the present. I will always live with my family legacy coursing through my veins, pulsating in my brain. I am my father & mother’s daughter, Jim’s lover, my kids’ mother, and that will stay with me year after year. I am also Steve’s partner, a writer, a budding naturalist. I hope to become a home economist & ecologist. I want to keep on practicing awareness, appreciation, attitude and action. Ultimately, the person with whom I will spend my future is…myself. At the stroke of midnight, I’ll look myself in the eye and say, “You and me, kid! It’s gonna be a great year!” Hopefully, I won’t feel cross-eyed and alone when I do. And I promise I’ll clean up after myself.
You know how once you get pregnant, all you see around you is pregnant women? I want to trigger that phenomenon in this post and bring awareness to something I feel is pretty common in our fast-paced American life. I want to see how often people come up with the “I’m sorry; we can’t do that” line when what they really mean is something else. Something like, “I’m sorry; I haven’t been trained to do that” or “I’m sorry; my computer can’t do that, and I don’t know how to do anything without the computer” or “I’m sorry; we aren’t willing to do that. Your request is not as important as other things.” The real answer is absolutely valid and a fine place to begin negotiations. The problem is, we don’t often get the real answer.
I worked in customer service for a few years, and I remember the nervousness that accompanied requests to depart from policy. I didn’t know if I had the authority to make exceptions. I often didn’t want to be in the position of the middle man going back and forth from the customer to my superior. It made me feel caught in a conflict that wasn’t mine, especially if it dragged on and on. Eventually, I got to the point where I rather enjoyed listening to people and trying to come up with creative compromises. But then I was told that I was spending too much time on these discussions and I should simply state the policy and get off the phone.
Dealing with people is tricky. They require your time, and time is money. To be an efficient society, we must streamline our systems. Any person who does not comply with procedure is throwing a monkey wrench into the works. So what do we value more, the “works”, the people, or some other ideal? Once you become aware that you’re getting an “I’m sorry; we can’t do that” response, what do you do?
Here are a few examples of this kind of exchange in real life. The first one is “How do you want your coffee?” Steve does not like the prevalent custom of serving coffee in disposable containers. He likes to drink his latte from a mug. He rarely orders anything “to go”. He values conservation of resources and energy and is not too concerned with “convenience”. We have breakfast often at a local cafe that has recently been hiring new staff. Young staff. I am patient and cheerful and as helpful as I can be when I’m placing our order. I got to ordering Steve’s latte and said, “With that breakfast, I want a latte in a mug with 2% milk.” “Um, okay. What size?” “In a mug.” “I’m sorry; we can’t do that.” We happened to have had breakfast there just the day before. “Well, yesterday you could.” A more veteran server came up behind him and whispered, “Yes we can. It’s served in a soup mug.”
I’m not saying this young person did anything wrong. It was probably about his third day on the job. The point is that we often get streamlined into making concessions in our decision-making and forget that there are other options. We don’t have to take the disposable option. We don’t have to take the profitable option if profit is not our highest goal. We don’t have to have a lawn or rake our leaves or live in the city or send our kids to public schools or give birth in a hospital. We don’t have to go “up and to the right” and continue to support a growth economy. But we’ll probably be told when we suggest an alternative, “I’m sorry; we can’t do that.”
Here’s another example. I am following a discussion on a blog about an architectural idea coming out of Italy. The title of the article is “Milan’s Vertical Forest”. http://pensci.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/milans-vertical-forest The premise of the idea is to create a “less crowded, less polluted, less inhumane” city by erecting high-rise buildings with open balcony space on all four sides to accommodate trees and greenery that would help clean the air and provide a natural aesthetic. It sounds great, but it makes me wonder whether it’s assuming “we can’t” do something else instead. If what Milan wants is forest, why not tear down the high-rises and convert the land into open green space? If what Milan wants is urban housing, why are they calling it a forest when in reality, it’s just apartments with more balcony space? Are potted trees really going to thrive there? And will people actually use all that space for vegetation instead of storing their bicycles and grills and laundry there? If we really want the city to be less crowded and polluted, why not encourage people to move out and work the small farms in France that are being abandoned, for example? No, “we can’t do that”, we have to think of solutions that keep people in the city and promote more construction and more growth. Well, we don’t have to. Let’s just be honest about what our goals are and discuss from there.
So what happens when you “throw a monkey wrench” into the system and ask for a different option? Do you get an honest negotiation? I would like to gum up the works of the political machine and ask for a candidate who would admit that s/he is not perfect in character, is not superior in knowledge about every facet of American life and doesn’t necessarily have to be the prime ideologue, but who would be a skilled administrator willing to represent the people and carry out their ideas.
I don’t want a cardboard cup with the shiny logo and a snappy lid. I just need a teacup to hold some tea long enough to get it to my mouth. Any Buddhist will tell you, it’s not about the teacup, it’s about the tea.
I am considering bird feeding options. I would love to have some cardinals visit our small south yard this winter. They do anyway, but I want to encourage them to linger a while and refresh themselves. I stopped in at a wild bird and pet shop to look over some of the products. I was pretty much appalled at the prices. Suburban homeowners around here spend a lot of money on their yards. I am only an unemployed renter, so I’m going the DIY route. We have a weathered old wicker chair frame and a CD storage chest that have been sitting outside for a few seasons. I’ve decided to try to build a feed station using them. Recycling, don’t ya know. So I went online to read up on bird feeders and squirrels. There seems to be a conflict among humans as to the desirability of squirrel activity in proximity to our dwellings. They are amazing animals who don’t mind being observed. They also have been known to move in with us humans and destroy property. I see squirrels in the trees and in the garbage around the duplex, but so far there haven’t been any signs of them moving into the attic and eating books. I want to keep it that way. I don’t think the squirrels need any assistance in finding food around here, so I’d like to provide a food that’s not attractive to them but will be attractive to cardinals and other song birds. I’ve read that safflower seeds may be just the thing. So this is my goal: to construct a platform feeder using the chair and storage chest parts and buy safflower seed for the winter. Then we’ll see what the birds and squirrels do.
Even if I didn’ t do a thing, I’d still have cardinals and squirrels as my neighbors. I doubt my project is going to make a difference in their survival over the winter. I don’t imagine that I have any role as a wildlife manager in this situation. I could pat myself on the back and say I’m being wildlife friendly, in a way. But it’s not that big a deal. I’m really only doing it for my own amusement. I often wonder at the decisions and efforts I’ve made to be eco-minded. For example, the online petitions and letters to my congressional representatives urging them to take certain actions on various pieces of legislation. Does that really make a difference? So far, I’ve noticed that it only generates more junk mail from Republican officials who write to thank me for my input and inform me that they have no intention of doing what I suggest. I could take the next step and send money to the originators of these petitions, but I have no income at this time and have therefore decided not to do that. I don’t know what effect that might have if I did. I have moments when my idealism dares me to hope great things, and then I have moments when my realism admits the futility of my individual efforts.
Making ripples that travel in unknown directions. Will we contribute to a tidal wave? Will we send a blessing bobbing toward a distant shore? We have no way to know. I do my best to have good intentions. I hope my Buddha smile makes the world a kinder place somehow.
Because I’m going on the road today to visit my children, I’m not going to spend a lot of time on the internet. So here’s my suggestion: spend the time you may have spent reading my blog checking out this website.
This family is amazing. They settled in an urban house in Pasadena in 1985 and converted it to a working small farm that produces nearly all of their food and subsistence needs, including biodiesel, clothing, health care products, and much more. They now have an institute and do educational outreach all over the country. Having lived in Southern California myself for 11 years, I find this fascinating. I hope you’re inspired.
Okay, so we didn’t set off on our camping trip today. Steve’s feeling a bit…odd. Low energy. So, instead, we’re going to see a foodie film that’s part of the Milwaukee Film Festival (“El Bulli – Cooking in Progress”), and we’ll set out tomorrow. We also picked out a new novel to read aloud. This is a tradition that we started the first year we were dating. We began with Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and now we’ve begun The Plumed Serpent by D.H. Lawrence. Also, check out my new blog bling, Brighter Planet’s 350 Challenge Patch. It’s at the end of my posts. One week from yesterday is the Diabetes Step Out Walk. There’s a link to that down there, too.
My personal gold star for the day was letting Steve sleep in until 11am without getting anxious about a change in our plans. I am becoming a more spontaneous person. My kids will applaud.
The morning after a splendid dinner party looks like this:
Four people, five beverages, three courses = dishes to wash. Oh, but it went quickly and painlessly. Then I took naps. Three so far. We’re both feeling a bit out of it today, not sure why. Not hungover or anything, just slow and wobbly. Plus, it’s been raining steadily. Seasonal changes and changes in habit seem more noticeable as I grow older. That’s good, though. I want to be more aware; I want to slow down and notice life.
Tomorrow, we plan to head north into the upper peninsula of Michigan and camp in the Porcupine Mountains. I’ve never been there. I want to take lots of pictures and write blog entries in a journal to post when I return. I want to keep my eyes open and learn. I also want to figure out how to recycle the empty propane canisters for the Coleman stove. We’ve collected 5 now, and the best information I can gather from the Coleman website is that perhaps a steel recycling place will take them, perhaps not. I remember finding one in a fire pit once and digging out fibrous pieces that looked like asbestos or something. With any luck, we’ll find enough dry wood that we won’t need to use another one.
Today’s reading material was from the book of Job and Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. Radical affirmations of the mystery, sanctity and loveliness of life. “Have you comprehended the expanse of the earth? Declare, if you know all this.” I cannot comprehend, but I can love.
Harambee is a Swahili word that means “all pull together”. Many community organizations use it in their name. I understand this concept very clearly, being the linear thinker that I am. I visualize a load at the end of a rope. The object is to move the load in one direction, so everyone grabs the rope and pulls together in that direction. I would love to figure out how to jump onto that rope line and move the planet back from the brink of disaster. Problem solved, “ta-dah”, now we party. However, our interconnected web of global systems presents a more complicated “load”. If you start pulling in one direction, something else will be effected and will move. How will that effect everything else? That’s something to take into consideration. In fact, the whole thing has to be considered at the same time, holistically. So how do you visualize that? Steve was talking about a gyroscope-type model, with himself as the hub. He mentioned staying balanced and grounded in that center. I thought that sounded rather egocentric, but then he spoke about the Buddhist idea that “no one can be at peace until we’re all at peace”. Then, I visualized a round tabletop that was balanced on top of a ball at the center. With all of life on the tabletop, we would have to arrange ourselves simultaneously and evenly around the table so that it doesn’t tip in any one direction. Nature sort of works like this. Take populations: when one gets too large, the food web makes a sort of correction to bring it back in balance. Human beings are way out of balance on that tabletop. We have tipped everything in our direction; we are way too heavy in many different ways. How do we pull back in toward the center and make room for all the rest of life to be in balance? How do we look at the entire tabletop at once?
Steve has often pointed out to me that I am “not an athlete” (for example, when I’m getting in his way while he’s carrying a heavy box of books). He talks about how really good athletes have a way of anticipating how and where to move in just the right way to be in the right place at the right time. Think of soccer goalies or basketball rebounders. They seem to have eyes in the back of their head or peripheral vision and electromagnetic sensors that enable them to assess the total situation far better than the average person. There’s a grace and an instinct that gives them that special edge over the merely agile and strong. We need to have that kind of sense about our global situation. How do we move to counteract the imbalances in our systems?
I wish I were more of a visionary and that I had an answer for you. I am a freight train in many ways. I pull slowly and persistently, but I’m not the leader you’re looking for. I may be the droid, though. : ) But I believe that leadership is out there. There must be athletes in global perspective somewhere on this planet. Let’s start a forum. Let’s get together to work on sustainability. Let’s balance this tabletop before we all go crashing over the edge.