Wednesday, August 31, 2005

To the West ...

... lies Vashon Island. I read this yesterday in the Seattle Times:

"Though it's just a few minutes from Seattle, Vashon Island has always remained a community apart, rural and artsy. Now an environmental-research group is proposing that the island further separate itself by producing all its own energy."

The full article is here.

First of all, I must note the curious way the author worded this opening - stating that the group is "proposing that the island further separate itself" etc. As if that's the primary objective of a community that wants to produce its own energy! It's an uphill battle for environmentalists, to be seen as something other than radicals.

Anyway, it has given me a pleasant boost of hope. From attending Earthfair on the island a couple of times and knowing a few folks who live there, I am aware that a sizeable number of Vashon residents are working toward sustainable living.

I remember a big hoopla last year when some city official said that Seattle was like "Mayberry with high rises." She got a lot of flack for this - people were insulted, though I failed to understand exactly why. On the radio, I heard her explain what she meant - that the city is filled with neighborhoods that function like small towns. Naturally we have our big city problems, but there is truth to this notion. West Seattle, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Ravenna ... these neighborhoods have a tangible sense of community and inclusion. If Vashon provides an example of a successful community effort toward energy conservation and sustainability, this may inspire other neighborhoods to begin the process. It's not unthinkable. If it is a clearly attainable goal, perhaps it will become commonplace, and then mandatory, and towns and cities across the state and the region will receive subsidies from the government, and jobs will be created in the renewable energy field ... ah, the possibilities. But we need a few more progressives a little higher up. Until we can crash the whole damn system, please remember to vote.

The "think tank" behind this Vashon idea is The Institute for Environmental Research and Education. On their website they provide a "10 Year Plan for Energy Independent Communities." Now THAT's what I'm talking about!! Here's a little of what they say about it:

"The question arises whether it is possible to provide a high standard of living to all without causing environmental devastation, and if so, how to accomplish that. We believe that the key to accomplishing that goal is to have communities take charge of their energy future, making best use of the renewable energy available locally. We call this concept Energy Independent Communities.

The work you see here is based on using Vashon Island as a demonstration of that concept, and extracting lessons for the whole world. The Pacific Northwest Economic Region has recognized these efforts by naming Vashon-Maury Island its first demonstration sustainable community."


Monday, August 29, 2005


I believed I was prepared for a significant psychological change as a result of opting out of consumerism. This change is much more profound than I expected. At first I experienced relief and elation, countered by moments of deep despair; then it started to seem normal, and guilt set in heavily when I had weak moments and made choices that felt wrong. Right now life doesn't look like much fun ... but then again, life isn't supposed to be fun. Really, I couldn't possibly manage to take all the pleasure out of my life even if I wanted to. Life has a funny way of not allowing that. I can only assume that my new outlook will eventually not be new, and that what feels unsettled right now will seem less so as I become more rooted in this purpose. Right now, I feel alienated. I don't have much to offer my friends. I am feeling the pulls of consumption more than ever, an indication that the power of the greed-based culture to create needless wants is even stronger than I suspected. However, I do not fear the long road that lies ahead ... even though around every corner is something unexpected, my eyes are fixed on the potential for a better world after I'm gone. Whether any of these words are helpful to anyone, I have no idea. I will try to offer more concrete solutions than just collections of my thoughts ... but it would be false to my own experience not to document how hard it is to disentangle one's identity from that of the larger culture. In many ways we are our stuff, and modern conflicts large and small appear to derive more often than not from this thirst for acquisition. It's freaking me out.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005


I researched biodiesel a little bit and discovered that you do not need a specially built new car to use this fuel. You can run biodiesel in any diesel car, and more stations are becoming available that offer this fuel. Some people are making their own biodiesel from waste oil, though currently the biodiesel available in Seattle is not from recycled oil.

Here are some resources:
Seattle Biodiesel

And, check out this delivery service ad I saw on Craigslist - this could significantly reduce the price and make this fuel more accessible for drivers.

I plan to purchase a diesel car in the next several months and use biodiesel exclusively. It's likely not a permanent solution, but it will significantly reduce my own CO2 contribution. I still plan on cutting down on driving as much as possible.

I will write more when I have learned more. Meanwhile, here are a couple other links I think are valuable:

Green Car Congress
Green People

Keep the faith, everyone. This road is long and difficult, and these lifestyle changes go against all our cultural programming, but it's the most important cause of our time. There is no more time to waste. Ask yourself this: if your grandchildren's grandchildren were standing in front of you, would you open their mouths and pump pollution into their lungs? Would you hand them a glass of water too toxic to drink ... or deny them anything at all to eat or drink? Would you place them in a environment laden with carcinogens and watch while their cancers develop? These are horrible, incomprehensible scenarios to envision ... but we are approaching a world like this at an alarming rate. If you don't believe it, ask a scientist.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Just one more thing: Thank you, Helena

This is from the blog of a woman I'll be meeting at bass camp next month. Her words spoke to me so eloquently about being true to oneself (for whatever the cause) that I wanted to share them:

"It takes courage to make a decision like this, especially when your decision affects other people. I did not make it lightly. I had to make it. I'm not a martyr, in fact I'm violently allergic to martyrdom. I'm most happy when everyone is doing what they want to do. I'm most unhappy around people who stay in situations they don't want to be in, whatever the reason. I used to be all about making everything alright. No more. It doesn't serve anyone.

The most powerful and courageous thing one can do is follow their own bliss. Brazenly, unapologetically. But be forewarned: it pisses people off. But it also inspires and empowers others oh so close to taking the plunge themselves.

The point is that it's important to be true to yourself and do what you want. Not selfishly or irresponsibly but with deftness of purpose and resolve. You'll be happier, and you never know who you may inspire to do the same."

Pain and Progress

It hurts to alienate people I love with my words. Unfortunately I can only assume this is part of the process. There is no change without struggle, nor without breaking out of familiar patterns and comfortable exchanges.

It's hard to see things the way I see them now, but when I think about trying to "go back," it is impossible. Though I am now liberated to clearly view my choices about the impact I make, I also feel condemned to obsession with the idea that I must do more. Others believe I hold them to the same standards. I do and I don't. I hold people accountable to do only what they can do, and to think about their actions. If all they do is think and never make a change, I've still accomplished something. Though I believe we have a very serious responsibility to undo the damage we've done ("we" meaning the human race, not just our generation) ... I also believe strongly that we are victims of an insidious system which, though it presents a certain freedom, has imprisoned us psychologically and will not relinquish its hold on us with ease. I do not know enough about capitalism to imagine whether it can work without massive destruction in its wake, but I do know that as far as our species and countless others are concerned, it's a death sentence. Our culture is devolving and we're taking our beautiful, mysterious world with it. Yes, the planet will continue to exist regardless ... but in what form? And what of the suffering of people and animals while it is in its death throes?

We've been trained to want. It feels natural. But for those of us who can break out of it, we must. Our example will plant seeds in others. In my lifetime I hope to see the change on a wider scale, but that's neither here nor there. I must act as though the change is beginning with me. I'm starting with the man in the mirror. Ha ha. That reminds me, listen to Tuck Andress' version of this tune, if you never have. As a matter of fact, hear this album if you get the chance: Reckless Precision. (I almost said "buy this album" ... I don't want to tell anyone to buy anything!!)

Incidentally, the only time I get to stop thinking about this stuff is when I'm playing music. Or when I'm sleeping - though I suspect my subconscious doesn't let go entirely. I'm so grateful for the music. My wish for you is that you have something that fully engages you and makes the rest of your troubles fall away.

But I digress.

Though it's difficult to explain myself to others, and though my outspokenness might appear radical and self-righteous, I must continue on this journey. I am called to make these changes and learn as much as I can. I'm called to speak about it. There's no less love in my heart for even the rich white guy with the biggest SUV and six houses full of stuff, who thinks the world is ours to own and exploit. I have love in my heart for all of us, and I weep for what we've become. I also know we're a wonderful, miraculous species with the potential to make beautiful music, plant gardens, tell stories, help our loved ones, dance with each other, care for our sick, seek solutions, and live in harmony with the Earth from which we began. If I did not have this vision I could sink back into apathy and nihilism. I cannot.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Chain Chain Chain

A few links for you and an interesting example of avoiding a pointed question.

First, a friend mentioned this to me:

"One thing I learned recently, which you might already know, small electric appliances - radios, microwaves, clocks, tvs - always pull some amount of current even when off. If you plug in a strip and then plug the devices into that - and turn the strip off when you're not using it - you can cut your electricity use down by about 20% over the course of a year."

I decided to see if I could find any corroborating info, and I found this site ... this guy calls himself "Mr. Electricity." What's described on the page I've linked here essentially supports what my friend asserted, clarifying that it's actually the running clocks that draw the small amount of current. His whole site is pretty informative, and while I can't say for sure this guy is a bonified electricity expert, he sounds very knowledgeable and provides some useful information for minimizing your electricity usage. I am now unplugging my microwave and the clock radio I have in my kitchen when not in use. I can't unplug my alarm clock until I get a battery-powered one ... which I think I have somewhere in my many boxes of junk.

Here's another great page I found, which lists Twenty Things You Can Do to Conserve Energy. What I especially like about this list is that it specifies the amount of CO2 emissions you can save, or we could save collectively, by making these changes.

Another friend asked me if I knew about possible dangers of using Miracle-Gro on her houseplants. I suspected that Miracle-Gro was probably not an eco-friendly fertilizer. I checked their website and they did have a section sort of addressing environmental questions. This should give you an idea of their approach:

"At ScottsMiracle-Gro, we take seriously our responsibility to be a good corporate citizen. We also understand that this duty means supporting a healthy environment, the safety of our associates and the future of communities in which we live and work. It also includes the way in which we conduct business on a day-to-day basis. We pride ourselves on maintaining high ethical standards and being a leader in the area of corporate governance and compliance.
No matter how you measure social responsibility, we believe ScottsMiracle-Gro and our 6,000 fulltime associates prove everyday that we truly are 'Dedicated to a Beautiful World.' "

In their "social responsibility" section, they had two PDF's available, "Green Lawns and a Healthy Environment" and "Gardening and a Healthy Environment." They imply that the best thing you can do for the environment is maintain a healthy, green lawn ... using their products, of course. They list the cooling effects of grass (as opposed to pavement, though they don't mention a comparison to natural ground covered in native plants), the benefits of preventing erosion, and that grasses "clean" the air by trapping dirt and pollutants as well as converting CO2 into oxygen. They do not list the ingredients of their products anywhere on their website that I could find. I wrote to the company and asked what the ingredients of their plant food are and what the environmental impact is of their products and the development of the ingredients themselves. Here's the response I received, within about 48 hours:

"Ms. Sanders, Miracle-Gro makes every effort to insure that our products are as safe as possible for the environment. The fertilizer is absorbed rapidly into the plant so that leaching or runoff is unlikely. This product is safe to use near water, but care should be taken to avoid applying to water. Avoid leaching or runoff by first knowing your soil and then appling water accordingly. Leaching is more prevalent in sandy soils and runoff is greater on clay soils, so the amount and frequency of watering must be regulated. It is safe to use Miracle Gro near a well though it should never be applied over an open well or water source, but as long as it is not, it will not pose any safety concerns to your water supply.

When used according to package directions All Purpose Plant Food will not pose a health or safety risk to humans, animals or the environment.

We do not have information on the development of our products and the impact on the environment; however, our products and research teams must operate under the strictest guidelines set by government watch groups. Check the EPA and related sites for additional information. Again, thank you for your interest in Scotts."

This response is vague at best. What amused/frightened me the most was this sentence:

It is safe to use Miracle Gro near a well though it should never be applied over an open well or water source, but as long as it is not, it will not pose any safety concerns to your water supply.

How close is "near"? Where does it go once it's in the soil or in the air? How can I guarantee that it isn't finding its way into my water supply? If it's not safe in water, is it safe to breathe? Does it biodegrade?

This person also didn't address my question about the actual ingredients, and I was surprised that a company would freely admit that they "do not have information on the development of our products and the impact on the environment." They don't HAVE the information? I can't help but be skeptical ... but, I did read recently that companies are so globalized now that a car manufacturer may in all honesty not be able to tell you where all the components of their vehicles come from. So maybe Scotts doesn't know the specifics of how their ingredients are manufactured ... but I think I can safely say that it's their responsibility to know.

I encourage folks to write to companies about their products. It's an interesting way to see corporate spin in action.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Practical Changes

It's time for me to recap the changes I've been making. I've decided to focus on what I'm DOING rather than what I plan to do. Naturally I have grandiose aspirations, but since they're just aspirations at the moment, and I want to keep things real, I think focusing on the now is more productive. Additionally, I suspect this may be the first post read by many of my friends and family (I'm sending out this link today) ... so I want them to know how I'm trying to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I do suggest, though, that at some point you go back and read from the beginning.

Here's what I'm doing at present:

1) Reducing the amount of waste I produce.

I've eliminated the use of paper towels, except for a couple of instances when I forgot to bring my cloth towel to work. I am finding there is never a need to use paper to clean up spills or dry my hands, as long as I have a towel available. When I wash my hands at work and forget to bring my towel to the bathroom, I let them air dry. It doesn't take very long. I'm also trying to be more conservative with toilet paper and Kleenex, and when the stock I have runs out I will purchase eco-friendly products. Same thing with feminine hygiene products, although the eco-friendly versions of these products are extremely expensive.

I'm also trying to reuse anything I can and buy products with less packaging, if available. I recycle everything I possibly can. I discovered recently that the plastic trays that come with my frozen meals are recyclable. I just wash them out when I'm done. I'm also saving a couple because I think they will be useful for drip trays under potted plants or something else I may not have thought of yet.

I'm using cloth shopping bags instead of getting plastic or paper. I get a discount at my local market for doing this (Whole Foods Market, an excellent resource for environmentally-friendly products and organic and gluten-free food).

2) Reducing my water consumption.

I shut off the water whenever I can. Soaping up my hands, brushing my teeth, whatever. I used to let the water run until it was hot for boiling, but I have stopped that practice. In the shower, I keep a large container which I let fill with water as I shower, and I shut off the shower and use this water as much as possible. It's surprisingly easy to do. I also try to catch the clean, cold water that comes out at first and set it aside for my houseplants. When I wash dishes (I don't have a dishwasher), I fill the sink to a minimum and wash them all at once, then rinse them with the water pressure very low. I thought all this would take significantly longer than the way I used to wash, but it hasn't. If I had to make a guess, I think I'm using at least 25% less water than I used to ... but of course, this is just a guess.

3) Environmentally friendly products.

The last time I went grocery shopping, everything but one item was organic or eco-friendly. The one item which wasn't organic was polenta, which I find is a really useful food, especially for my diet. I will do some research on the brand I bought and see what their environmental impact is. If Whole Foods carries the brand, chances are it is at least somewhat progressive.

4) Light bulbs / Electricity.

My landlord uses flourescent energy-efficient bulbs which last several years, so many of the lights in my home are already efficient. As my own light bulbs burn out I'll replace them with these. I'm also making sure I turn off electric items when they are not in use, and only lighting or heating/cooling (fans, not A/C) the area of my home that I'm in.

5) Used items / Opting out of Consumerism.

If I have to purchase something, I do my best to purchase a used rather than new item, to discourage the production of new things in a world so filled with stuff. However, what I've discovered is that usually I don't need to purchase anything, other than food and household items. I'm getting more confident in asking people if I can borrow things, if I only need them once or I know they have one to spare. For instance, I would like to have a flashlight. My bathroom and kitchen are in the basement of my landlord's house, about 30 feet away from my cottage, and at night I can't see for the first half of this distance. I'm planning to borrow a flashlight indefinitely from someone who might have an extra. When I go to Bass/Nature Camp next month, there are several things I need such as a tent and a guitar tuner ... I can borrow all the items on my list. I'm fortunate to have such generous friends and family. And of course, any item I have is available if anyone needs anything. I'm looking at possessions in a different way than I used to. I feel better taking a communal view.

6) Public Transportation / Foot or Bike Power.

Weaning off of my car has proven to be the most difficult of all these actions. We all have our weaknesses. It's difficult for me to visit people who live more than a few miles from me, if I don't want to drive there. Currently I'm still driving to work but I have let my company know I'm switching from a parking pass to a bus pass at the end of this month. They provide a monthly $60 check to those who use public transportation, and this will cover my bus pass. My brother's family, whom I see often, are moving to a house closer to a bus line, so I plan to use the bus to visit them. One difficulty is presented by my beloved, yet enormous, upright bass. I cannot take that on a bike or on foot for very long. I suppose I could take it on the bus but I'm concerned about the potential for damaging it, and if it's a busy time for the bus it takes up a lot of room. So when I go to my bass lessons or I want to take it up to play at my brother's house, I "need" to drive (I'm exploring this concept of need and trying to use the word sparingly, that's why I put it in quotations) .

I walk when I can. I'm still nervous about riding a bike in the city, and I also don't have a bike lock yet so this limits where I can take my bike. I walk to the grocery store and to any appointments I have in the city during my workday.


The pervasiveness of consumerism and waste in our daily lives can be overwhelming if you try to be mindful of every little thing. Every item with which I come in contact now, I wonder about its origin, its purpose, and where it will end up. I wonder the same about the human race itself. I am trying to practice forgiveness of myself and others in all respects. If it's not too late I hope the Earth will forgive our transgressions as we try to restore balance.

Your comments and questions are welcome and encouraged. One friend of mine has been keeping me abreast of little changes she's making, and it is extremely uplifting for me. It motivates me to continue on this path. I know radical lifestyle changes are difficult even to contemplate ... all I ask is that you think about your actions and consumption. If you find there are ways to reduce your consumption and place less strain on our environment, do so. I would love to hear about them. If the time isn't right for you yet, you can share that too. I envision a cultural change that will take many years to take hold. Every large change begins with a few individuals who probably feel alone and strange. For me, these changes have been the natural result of opening my eyes to the exploitation of our natural resources, an exploitation which has been snowballing since the Industrial Revolution, and cannot continue indefinitely. I'll end with a quote that I found on, which unfortunately I can't explain in detail because I'm not sure what it is yet. I got the link from the ecology discussion forum on craigslist, and I liked what it said on the opening page:

"By virtue of being alive on this rare and beautiful planet, we are the pivotal generation that has the privilege to steer the course of humanity away from planetary disaster, toward a promising future in which we all can thrive. This is our obligation to each other and to the unborn generations waiting to take their share of this cosmic wonder--life on Earth."

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Good Stuff, and Boats

There is an element of selfishness to any good work. Maybe there are some who rise above it, but for the ordinary citizen I think it can be useful.

I dearly love Maker's Mark Bourbon, and as a gluten intolerant person who can't drink beer, and tires of wine, I believe it's my good fortune that I've developed a taste for a specific liquor. So I have been quite a devoted customer, when I can afford it, but now that I'm giving serious thought to all my purchases I had to reconsider. I happened to receive an email from Maker's Mark referring to me as an "Ambassador" (I think my ex-boyfriend put my name on something), so I decided to ask them about the environmental impact of their product. I got an email back within 24 hours, and here it is:

"Hi, Maria!

Bill passed along your note to me for an answer. Thanks for
asking about our environmental performance ... we don't get many questions
about it, but we are pretty proud of our environmental operations. First
off, I would like to point out that we are ISO 14001 certified [link added by me, I found this info on a British site]. That's the international standard for environmental quality.

Maker's Mark owns more than 600 acres of land, and we manage most
of it similar to a nature preserve. We have an arboretum on the site that
focuses on Kentucky native species, and we support bio-diversity through
our grain purchases. We have our own waste water treatment plant that
allows us to treat our waste water to the point that the water we put back
into the stream is cleaner than the water in the stream.

We also strive to minimise the waste from the distillery. The
spent grain is picked up by local cattle and dairy farmers to feed to
their cattle. We have also developed a fairly aggressive recycling plan
that allows us to recycle cardboard, glass, plastic, aluminum cans, oil,
batteries, mercury and certain light bulbs. Even though it is generally
harder for a small company to develop large scale recycling efforts, we
are presently recycling well more than 95% of our waste as outlined above.

Finally, our boiler operations presently only burn natural gas ...
which is the cleanest burning fuel currently available to us. We have
even been dong pilot studies on the feasibility of biologically digesting
some of our spent grain to produce methane that we can burn in the boiler.

Hope all of this helps. If you have any other questions, just let
me know ... and thanks for caring about the environment!

Dave Pickerell
Master Distiller
Maker's Mark Distillery"

So. I can't make a definitive conclusion but that gives me a good place to start. I'd say my level of guilt if I bought this bourbon would be less now ... but I'm still not sure if I'm going to buy it. I'm aware of this phenomenon of "greenwash" ... here's a definition I found in an online dictionary:

"The dissemination of misleading information by an organization to conceal its abuse of the environment in order to present a positive public image."

So it could be trumped up for PR, I suppose. I'm also not sure whether the grains that go into the alcohol are organic, and whether they are or not I'm not sure I want to contribute to raising cattle who are consuming the grain waste.

This is when it's tough ... I crave the small pleasures in life to keep me going, and previously I considered bourbon one of those indispensable pleasures. Yet, earlier this evening I sat down in an easy chair with my bass and a blanket over me and the stereo on something funky ... and I certainly didn't feel like I was lacking anything. Quite the opposite. I felt fortunate.

Regarding boats. Every work day around 3:00 my friend and I take our mail down to the mailbox and then walk around the pier. Often we stop at the end and look out over Elliott Bay while we chat, especially if it's particularly warm and sunny. The mid-afternoon light is lovely. These days a lot of little tour boats go by, cruises that go around the the Sound and so forth. Yesterday a boat full of people went by, and some of them started waving right away when they noticed us watching from the dock, and of course we waved back, which prompted further waves. I flashed the peace sign but I don't know if I got one in return. Today, I happened to be alone on my walk, and standing in the same spot, and the same type of boat full of people went by, but no one waved. I stared and them and didn't move, and it was as if I and all the people on that boat were waiting for someone to break precedent and wave. I knew that all it would take was one person. It wasn't me, though, I just watched them go by.

You can see why this made me think. Change begins with one person doing something out of the ordinary. Raising your arm and waving at a person standing on the pier - it's not that great of a leap to make, but at some level it's still a leap. People are hesitant to be out of the ordinary until they have the safety of numbers, but once a change is made it becomes safer and safer to act. I realize this is all Psych 101 ... but there you have it. Seemingly innocuous moments reassure me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Lost List

I know I had written this yesterday for myself in some form, but I was doing so much writing in various formats: emails, journals, blogs, writing my own ideas on my brain cells ... maybe I imagined it and never really wrote it at all. Anyway:

As Owen Meany once wrote in his own journal, I know three things.

1) I must affect change. I cannot close my eyes to what I have finally allowed myself to see. Burying my head in the sand is no longer an option, as blissful as it used to be.

2) Though I can control how and what I consume and my message to others, I cannot control how others act/react/think. Ultimately, my most fruitful approach is to be an example. However, it is necessary for me to enter into uncomfortable conversations (not confrontations, I hope) even with people I love deeply, because of what is at stake. I can only hope that they examine why they have strong resistance to some of these ideas, before dismissing them entirely.

3) Wondering whether I can make a difference, will never make a difference. I have to act according to the POSSIBILITY of change, not the guarantee.

These things I know. At this point I ask for the divine help of the universe and of other thoughtful people in this most important work.

Oh yeah - and:


Tuesday, August 09, 2005

And then it became necessary ...

.... for whatever reason, for me to put these thoughts down.

Primarily, the shift in my consciousness of late has necessitated that I examine every little thing I'm doing. At the risk of blatantly copying Tory's opening message to his "Saving the World" blog ... I suggest you watch "The Corporation" , and also "What the [Bleep] Do We Know?" ... before proceeding.

Read Tory's blog too. Per his request, please pronounce it "b-log" ... if you want to be cool.

I'm making significant changes to my life and my personal impact on the Earth. If I'm fortunate, others will be moved or inspired to make changes and lessen their own impact on this fragile, lovely, powerful place. This might help to clarify: from Ervin Laszlo's The Choice: Evolution or Extinction?

"Our generation is called upon to make the choice that will decide our ultimate destiny. If we fail to make the right choice at the right time, our generation, or the generation of our children, will be the last in history. ... We are forced to choose, for the processes we have initiated in our lifetime cannot continue in the lifetime of our children. Whatever we do either creates the framework for continuing the supreme adventure of life and consciousness on this planet, or sets the stage for its termination. The choice before us is urgent and important: It can be neither postponed nor ignored."

The world is dying. Here is something I wrote in an email recently as this change was beginning to manifest itself in me:

"If I have to stay [in this corporate job] I guess I should try to take some action and make some changes, but this thought fills me with dread. Who would join me. Who would listen. This isn't what they pay me for. They're all profit-focused and that's all they see. I pass them in the hallways and see them at the vending machines and I wonder how many of them think about what they're creating, or supporting. Today I did an expense report for one of my managers. I do these regularly, separating out all the business trip receipts so they get billed to the right place. This particular guy was spending a lot of time in one city and going to the same coffee shop once or twice a day. I thought of those cups of coffee - the paper cups themselves - and how each one ended up in the trash along with its plastic lid. I thought about the line behind him winding out the door, people all ready for their disposable treat, thinking they're being conscientious when they drop those cups in the trash rather than the street. I wish they would drop them in the street! Our problem is we don't see our own mess! We conveniently have it hauled away. We conveniently keep our slave laborers in faraway countries that no one visits. We murder civilians the world over and the government won't show us the photographs or even tell us the numbers. We sit there and allow our elected leaders to talk about drilling for oil in Alaska, where the only ones to witness the rape of the forest will be the wild things with no voice at all. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil, they say. But the ozone layer doesn't care whose oil it is. There are no borders in the atmosphere. ... I want to think we can be part of this planet without destroying it or ourselves. It seems too huge for me this last couple days and I keep getting sucked back into my own drama to avoid it. I'm still making the changes, the cause is still right there under the surface of my thoughts, but I guess I'm grieving the loss of my ability to thoroughly ignore it. There's no going back now, have you had this feeling? Once you allow yourself to be aware, to know that each little thing you do has an impact, you can't un-know it."

Heavy, no? Well, that's how it feels. I am deeply frightened by the rampant, unchecked culture of consumption that seeps into everything we experience in the "developed" world.

Why are people so resistant to others telling them how to live or what choices to make, yet we take what large corporations tell us with little to no resistance - even welcome their messages with open arms? When a company says "This jacket is hot! You need this jacket!" (or shoes, or car, or new carpet, or cell phone, or TV, you get the idea) .... we go "Yeah! I do need that! Here's my $$!" We don't go, "Hey, um, why should I listen to you? Where do you get off telling me how my life should be?" Or, even more to the point and with less expended energy, "I'm not listening to you anymore. Your opinion of my life is inconsequential."

They feed us justifications for our purchases: It is important to feel comfortable in your home. It is important to enjoy good food, to be able to get a text message from your loved one, to have a new coat for the winter, to "relax" on a cruise, to know that your car has the capability of crossing a mountain stream with ease. It is easy to find a justification, or in the absence of that, to be UNable to find any reason NOT to purchase something. Even "I can't afford it" is no longer much of a consideration for many Americans. A credit card is considered cash on hand, and if the feeling of want is there, and the cash is there, what point would there be in NOT purchasing? But my question is, if I had never seen or heard of this item, would I be wanting it? If it was so integral to my life that I felt I couldn't live without it, wouldn't I have already found a way to obtain or create it? The rush of having a new item wears off so quickly. They're counting on this, so that we will soon need that rush again. It never ends, all the way to our deaths. Be sure your loved one is in the most beautiful casket that no one but worms will ever see! Doesn't she DESERVE the best?

For me, this rush of possession has always had a disturbing emptiness. And the further I step back from being a consumer of things I don't actually need (as opposed to food, shelter, water) ... the emptier it feels to me. I still recognize it, and I still recognize my wants and how they are ever-present, but I'm starting to identify with them less and less and find the courage to make thoughtful choices.

Is our financial slavery a result of the advertising appealing to our base natures?

Here are some of the messages I think are the most insidious and destructive, not to mention inescapable in American / Western society:

Eat (buy) this: you DESERVE it.

Eat (buy) this: it will make you THIN/FIT/ATTRACTIVE/SEXY/POPULAR.


Buy this because it's on SALE. You are making a wise purchase because yesterday/tomorrow it would be more expensive. Therefore, you need to buy it IMMEDIATELY. There's no time to think about your purchase, you must ACT NOW.

You are a woman so you LOVE TO SHOP. Being a woman means you DESERVE to fulfill this part of your nature. Shopping is a primary way we DEFINE OUR FEMININITY. Shopping is how we ENJOY EACH OTHER.


Oh god. What have we become? It is in these moments when I see the messages for what they are, when I see how they are everywhere and are absorbed into our lifestyles and burned into our psyches like toxins, it is in these moments I am filled with despair. But what choice do I have but to look, and look with compassion?

Monday, August 08, 2005

Testing Testing

Is this thing on?

Gonna try a link here Tory's Blog