Keep On Keeping On

Keep trying. So, I went to the PTO meeting. And spoke, very briefly, about greening up the activities they run. And yes, my voice shook.

Prior to going, I had asked for some help in honing what to say. Less is more, was the advice. Don’t lecture. Change takes time.  Although I railed (internally) at the latter rejoinder, I think the advice was probably spot on: I didn’t alienate anyone that evening. (Because (apparently; who knew?), alienation is unhelpful and makes people dig in their heels.) I’m now planning on attending all the upcoming meetings, and speaking up at each one, addressing each issue as it arises. What’s more, I’m starting to see that seeds I’ve sown over the years are finally starting to sprout: people I’ve talked to are now starting to talk to others. It’s just as Deborah told me in a comment following my last post: Don’t assume that if you don’t win them over, you’ve lost. Never underestimate the possibility that someone (or several people) there will go away and think about something differently as a result of your intervention.

Keep reducing.  Determined to do even more to shop local, I spent this summer’s Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market. I brought my own cloth grocery bags, but also made sure to bring my ugly lace produce bags as well as plenty of clean plastic bread bags. All the sellers were more than happy to dispense their fruits and veggies into my bags, rather than providing me with one of theirs, and I managed to not take ANY new plastic bags home from the market this summer. This counter-of-all-things is very happy about this small victory.

I’ve also been doing more shopping at my local bulk store. This past February, Bulk Barn began allowing customers to bring in their own reusable containers. This has proven to be dead easy: I make my list, pack the required number of containers in a bag, stop at the cashier for pre-weighing, and then simply fill the containers.

The end of the summer also saw me on what could easily be described as a TEAR through the house. I was literally flinging cupboard doors open, looking for things to purge. This week, I heard about the latest decluttering craze: Swedish death cleaning. Funnily enough, this meshes EXACTLY with what I was feeling at the time: the instinctual and deep-seated desire to take care of things now, rather than to keep putting off the inevitable, not to mention the uncomfortable realization that if I don’t step up to the task of taking care of things then that burden will one day fall on my children. (To be honest, I was also feeling rather desperate about finally, finally getting to the promised point where I will have cleared enough (literal) detritus to see a (metaphorical) clear path forward.)

Keep the existentialistic nattering at bay. I’m trying to drown out my existentialistic thoughts. Which are pretty damn loud. They seep through and attempt to drain the colour from everything.

Pre-parenthood I listened to music all the time. U2, REM, Barenaked Ladies, The Pretenders, The Tragically Hip, Tom Petty. And when I wasn’t listening to music I had the radio tuned to CBC.

Enter parenthood: bawling babies, talkative toddlers, prattling preschoolers — and suddenly it was all too much. Sensory overload. And worse: the Wait, what? missing of things. The only way to cope was to turn everything else off.

Now that my house is emptying of children, now that the silence sits on my shoulders, a weight compounded by worry as my thoughts wander too much into jungles best left unexplored, I need noise. Radio programs. Podcasts. Music, music, music. This is such a night-and-day shift that I believe I surprised my 19-year-old son. He came into the kitchen one day this summer to find me chopping veggies to Coldplay. Who are you and what have you done with my mother?, his expression seemed to suggest.

(This past week has been The Tragically Hip, on repeat. My fellow Canadians will understand; for others, there’s this song, my favourite.)

Keep reading. I abandoned Beatrix Potter – A Life in Nature. I’m sorry, Linda Lear; it was just so.long. On a whim, I picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Because, what a name for a heroine! And such promise, that title: maybe if Eleanor is completely fine, I’ll be completely fine too. (Because that’s how fiction works, right?) It was part laugh-out-loud quirkiness, part cringeworthy Oh-don’t-be-doing-THAT-Eleanor!, part heartwarming love story, and part heart-wrenching life-can-be-cruel, dontcha know …

After that, I went on to Station Eleven. Perhaps a post-pandemic-civilization-has-collapsed-now-what? kind of novel was not the best choice for the summer I was having. But although the story was often grim it was also, ultimately, one of hope. Its back-and-forth movement between past and present as it told the tale of a travelling Shakespearean symphony roaming amongst new settlements (“because survival is insufficient”) — spoke directly to my story-loving heart. Apart from that, I loved its utility as a thought-exercise (what happens when there are no longer any doctors, nurses, hospitals, medicines? What happens when there is no one left to transport fuel to a gas station? What happens when stores are emptied of goods but the supply chain is irrevocably broken? What happens when law-and-order goes missing, never to return?).

Then came Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time. This was a lovely read: an interesting concept (the protagonist’s life stretches on and on and on); spare writing; a light-handed sprinkling of humanistic pearls of wisdom. My copy has been dog-eared, and I’m well into another of his novels: The Humans, which I am completely loving. Next up will be Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive. And then, what the heck, ALL of his other works. (Thank you, Lynda; I love your reviews and recommendations.)

Keep learning. Keep my eyes open. As much as I’d like to look away, to start humming Mmm-I-can’t-hear-you, to bury my head in the sand, I simply can’t. If this means tears are streaming as I watch A Plastic Ocean or Chasing Coral, so be it.

Keep knitting. Socks, socks, socks. Hockey season has started, which means I’m once again that mum who knits in the stands during practice. I’m also determined to knit while watching TV, because although multi-tasking usually makes me feel I’m doing two things poorly, productivity is key to dispelling the icky feeling I get when sitting in front of the TV. We’re making our way through Star Trek Voyager, determinedly turning our 12-year-old son into a Trekkie. We must have missed quite a lot back when it originally aired in the 90s and we had to be home on Mumblemumble night in order to catch it, because until last weekend I was quite in the dark about how Seven-Of-Nine came to be freed from The Borg. (And inquiring minds do love to know…)

Keep exercising. I’m leaning on a phrase former friends used when describing their über-strict parenting style: Once is a habit. This is the phrase that broke my inertia and keeps me going. I have walked on the basement treadmill every.single.day since mid-June. (I refuse to stop, even for one day, because I know that (with me) Once is a habit is a concept that works both ways.) I get up early enough that I can do sixty minutes … seventy, seventy-five, even eighty on occasion. Once I pass forty-five, I feel like Forrest Gump: I could happily run walk *forever*. My 19-year-old son tells me that’s the runner’s high. (Related: I’ve told my husband when marijuana is legalized next year, I’m going to buy some. I think he thinks I’m joking.)

Keep reaching out. It was just Canadian Thanksgiving, and I’d like to say thank you; I’m so grateful to those of you who not only bear with me as I go on my philosophical — and, ahem, oftentimes depressing, lecturing, alienating — meanderings, but who also take the time to reach back to me. You make this earnest-and-anxious fish-out-of-water feel less alone.

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Stories

My daughter sent me a very depressing link this summer: When Will Climate Change Make the Earth Too Hot For Humans?

This sent me spinning down once again. I didn’t fall quite as low or as utterly unreachable as I had when I read Bill McKibben’s Eaarth, but still…

And then, while pondering the bleakness of the end of the world as we know it, I remembered a Star Trek Next Generation episode I had watched many years ago, when my husband and I were young marrieds and date night was a single episode on TV. I don’t think I ever knew the name of the episode, but because the plot was one that was seared into my memory, I knew Google would come to the rescue.

“Star Trek Next Generation episode where Captain Picard lives entire life on alien planet”, I typed into my phone.

And there it was, the answer:  Season 5, episode 25, The Inner Light.

(Can I just stop and say something? This 50-year-old woman, who grew up with all her questions and wonderings left unsatisfyingly hanging, unanswered and unresolved, freaking loves Google.)

So, of course, I had to watch it again, and this time our 12-year-old son joined my husband and me.

This particular episode, in which Captain Jean-Luc Picard’s mind is inoculated with four decades-worth of memories of a life lived on a dying planet — in which he virtually becomes another man, painfully aware that his children’s and grandchildren’s existence is doomed —  brings all sorts of existentialistic and unanswerable questions to my mind.

What was the purpose of this mind inoculation?

We know that the people living on this dying planet — a planet that had already been dead for a considerable time when the Enterprise happened upon their probe — wanted to ensure their history lived on, wanted to make their once-existence known to others.

But why? Why does the story of their once-existence matter?

And once I voice that question, it’s only a hop, skip and a jump to the question, why does our existence matter?

(Hoo boy … This, I suppose, is sufficient to explain my silence since mid-June?)

Pondering this has led me to some deep thinking about stories.

I’ve been thinking about how utterly and completely human it is to share stories: to want to escape into entirely made-up stories, to use stories to instruct and inform; to want others to understand our stories — our personal histories — and to be curious about their stories — their personal histories.

And that, in turn, has gotten me thinking about the way our personal stories have evolved over the course of humankind’s existence on this planet.

Once-upon-a-time, our stories were short tales filled with hardship, disease, injury, and early death, where the mere fact that you had subsisted and survived long enough to reproduce constituted a happy ending.

And now … now our stories — at least those told in vast swaths of the western world — have become complex and lengthy novels. Mere subsistence has been supplanted by personal growth and freedom, with entire chapters devoted to materialistic style, frivolity and convenience, all of us peering through the lens of collective amnesia that shrouds the brutality of our common past and allows us to write deeply personal and oftentimes egocentric themes centred on the words I am, I want, I deserve. 

As I’ve been pondering this evolution, I’ve been considering the very sobering thought that even as short as one generation ago, we could chalk all of this up to progress. We could imagine that there were no bounds to human potential, that the planet was here for us to pillage and that there would be no consequences. Or, if there were consequences, we could imagine that humans would be able to manage them. We could be forgiven for imagining that the Earth was a big enough library to shelve all our unedited and increasingly verbose novels.

But we’re now at 7.5 billion humans on this one planet Earth.

The uncomfortable and inconvenient fact is that there isn’t the room or the resources on this one planet for all of us to live 1000-page western-style tomes. And the corollary is, if we are well and truly fucked, then the stories that my own children will be able to write will be markedly different than the one I am halfway through writing.

This is proving to be a tremendous source of anger, grief and guilt: anger towards those who continue to take and take and fail to understand the meaning of enough; grief for those who are coming along in our wake, the ones who will be tasked with cleaning up an insurmountable mess; guilt for the role I have played in all this.

So I’ve been thinking quite deeply about my own story. About wanting to edit, to keep it concise and to the point. About wanting it to be a small and responsible tale. About wanting to do my best to take only enough, to focus on needs, not wants. About recognizing my 1-in-7.5 billion-who-the-hell-do-I-think-I-am utter insignificance.

Thinking about insignificance pulled this bit of Macbethian Shakespeare from my (very limited) stores:

… all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Which brings me back full circle: if it all signifies nothing, if this once-existence doesn’t matter, then surely that means our 21st-century tales of sound and fury should be responsible ones; surely that means that our collective robbing of future others of their sound and fury will someday be viewed through a very brittle lens indeed.

And surely that means that those of us who care about such things should not stop trying?

All of which is a really, really, really long-winded way of saying I’m going to next week’s PTO meeting. And I will try, once again, to see if I can convince them to please please please think of the environment. I’m so nervous I’m actually nauseous.

(On a more positive note, we’ve just wrapped up yet another crap-free book fair. I’m happy to report not a single child or parent asked if we had any erasers or light-up pens for sale.)

A Post-Earth Day Post From The Future

A couple of months ago, my 12-year-old son and I had a Back to the Future movie marathon (if indeed three movies qualify as a marathon).

I’m known (amongst my immediate family) for a shocking illiteracy when it comes to media which dates from my own youth —

  • Did you see E.T. when it came out in theatres, Mum? No 😦
  • Did you see Star Wars, Mum? No 😦
  • Did you see Ghostbusters, Mum? No 😦
  • repeat, ad nauseam, with nearly every single notable movie of the 70s and 80s…

However — wonder of wonders — I actually had seen the first Back to the Future movie prior to our marathon. (But not in theatres, of course; years later, via VHS).

Not only was it fun to revisit the first movie, and to hear my son laugh at 80s style —

“YES,” I told him, “1985! That was the year I graduated high school, and YES, we actually dressed like that!”

— it was also kinda nice to *finally* (albeit two years late) understand the meaning behind the phrase: It’s 2015, where’s my hoverboard?!

I was born in 1967, and I confess there are times when I am completely gobsmacked by the fact that we’re now living in the year 2017: Wait. What? How the hell did that happen?

Growing up, I remember imagining that the 2000s would be an utterly amazing and entirely futuristic future. That two, and all those zeros … surely they were somehow symbolic. Not only would we have ALL the gadgets (and yes, we do have rather a lot), but more importantly, the coming century would herald the beginnings of a Star Trek-like utopia. The prospect of beaming from place to place was perhaps a bit much to hope for, but my goodness — at the very least, all the Big Problems would be solved. Poverty, hunger, war, and pollution? They’d all be gone! Greed and suffering and inequality? Ah, all that would be but a distant memory; we’d all be living in an egalitarian society, one in which we’d all have the freedom to strive for higher ideals…

(Sigh. Any other idealistic INFJs out there?)

Spoiler alert: all those Big Problems haven’t been solved. Which, of course, you already know, because you’re here with me, in the year 2017, the FUTURE … a mere three years away from 2020, the year in which we were all supposed to be united in working together to solve the Biggest Problem of all, the one that affects and colours all the rest: Climate Change.

This past Saturday was Earth Day, a day that was first set aside as a reminder for us to take care of our one-and-only planet home way back in the year 1970.

I like math, so I’ll do the arithmetic: that’s a whopping 47 years ago.

I confess my feelings about Earth Day have changed as the years have progressed. Idealistic optimism has slowly been eroded, leaving me with a jaded and impatient cynism that I struggle to hold at bay.

In my estimation, Earth Day is the day we (maybe) pick up some garbage. It’s the day we (maybe) plant a couple of trees. It’s a day on which baby steps are encouraged and good intentions are extracted, and that’s all great … except … the year is 2017 and this is the future, and I suspect that the Earth needs a bit more than just one day of caring.

A few years ago, I read Bill McKibben’s Eaarth.

I (unwisely) read it during a time of personal upheaval and it sent me spiralling down into a pit of complete and utter despair.

Although I managed, several weeks later, to climb out of that dark place and to grab hold once again — stubbornly, idealistically — to some semblance of optimism, there’s one phrase that McKibben wrote which continues to gnaw at me.

McKibben begins the book by talking about how a stable earth allowed the formation of human civilisation, and then goes on to propose that cheap fossil fuels were the key to creating modernity. He says:

One barrel of oil yields as much energy as twenty-five thousand hours of human manual labor—more than a decade of human labor per barrel. The average American uses twenty-five barrels each year, which is like finding three hundred years of free labor annually. And that’s just the oil…

He then expounds on the ways in which modernity has gone hand in hand with fossils fuels, describing both the products that we (probably) can no longer imagine living without as well as the economy that those fossil fuels have made possible. And then comes the kicker, the phrase that’s been etched indelibly onto my neurons:

That we’ve wasted it so mindlessly is depressing.

Oh yes, Mr. McKibben. It absolutely is.

Someone once commented, following one of my posts, that my writing carries a tone of disappointment. This didn’t come as a surprise to me: as an idealist, I have high expectations, for myself as well as for others. I have been trying to take care of the Earth ever since I was a small girl and I confess I don’t understand people who don’t care enough to pitch in and do their part.

In Real Life, I have largely kept my impatience and disappointment under socially-acceptable wraps. I have quietly gone about setting good examples: I have brought along grocery bags and refillable water bottles and to-go cups; I have refused and reduced and (sometimes) gently explained why. More often than not I have simply held my tongue. Indeed, while I have failed miserably at the “you get more flies with honey” imperative in writing this blog, I have somehow managed to do a stellar job with that in Real Life.

But I confess this is something that’s getting harder and harder to do the further into the future we sail. That damning McKibben phrase has been running through my OCD brain, turning every grocery store run, every school event, every walk down our manicured suburban street, into a depressing cataloguing of the myriad ways we are mindlessly wasting our precious resources and damaging our one planet.

This hyper-awareness is causing uncharitable things to be muttered under my breath and pointed stares to be levelled. I haven’t yet hurled invectives at banana-baggers at the grocery store, I haven’t yet raced across the street and torn that f*#%g gas-powered leaf blower from my neighbour’s hands, I haven’t yet marched into a Dollarama bearing a sign and chanting,“Hey hey, ho ho, made-in-China gift wrap has got to go!” … but my gosh, it’s probably only a matter of time; there’s only so much mindless wastefulness a person can watch, especially when said person owns 25-year-old cloth grocery bags.

Hopefully, when I finally do snap, the jury will go easy on me.

Weeks ago, I had imagined I would write one of those Earth Day lists. 50 Easy Ways to be Green, or some such title. Clearly, I haven’t done that, partly because I’m not a list person, and partly because all the information is already out there. I have little interest in repeating what others have already said, and besides, I suspect that all the people who want to live more lightly are already doing it.

But truthfully, the biggest reason I didn’t make a list is because they seem to cheerily reinforce the baby step mentality: “Here’s a LOOOOONNNGGG list of all the ways you can help the planet, but WAIT! don’t let that overwhelm you; just pick one thing and start there!”

And this is where I come to the sticking point; this is the reason this post is a POST-Earth Day post and not simply an Earth Day post ….

Because how?

How, how, how … how does one simultaneously say, YES, PLEASE! FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, TAKE YOUR BABY STEPS!  … and then continue on with, HELLO?!?!?! WE’RE IN THE FUTURE AND WE NEED MORE THAN BABY STEPS! WE NEED A MARATHON!

???

I am truly sorry for yelling.

But I’m angry. And scared. And grieving.

We don’t need baby steps. We need just ONE step. We all just need to open our eyes. We need to actually see and acknowledge the ramifications of what our individual actions are collectively doing to our one and only planet, and then we need to decide that we actually care enough to do something about it.

And as depressing as all this is — as overwhelming as all this is — I, for one, will never give up.

No battle is more sorely lost than the one not fought.

— unknown

 

More Math, Less Hope

MORE MATH:

As an idealistic thinker, I spend a lot of time pondering how I, a simple mum, can effect meaningful change beyond the walls of my own small house.

Because my voice shakes when forced to speak in gatherings of greater than two, I’ve mostly shied away from attending PTO meetings at my youngest son’s K-8 school, choosing instead hands-on work in the school library. Sometimes, however, I’ve been so moved by what I perceive to be wasteful practices occurring elsewhere in the school that I force myself to speak up.

The annual spring dance is one such event, and last year I went out on a limb and suggested a couple of ways that it could be greened-up:

  1. The PTO could stop selling novelty items, such as finger lights and light-up wands. (You know the stuff: plastic crap shipped halfway around the world that provides fun for an hour and then never ever EVER goes away.)
  2. The PTO could encourage kids to make use of the water fountain, conveniently located just outside the gym doors, rather than providing bottled water for the kids to purchase, take one sip from, and then set down and forget.

My reasoning behind these suggestions was brought on by remembrances of how things were when I was a kid. You know: when I was a kid, dances were just dances; when I was a kid, we drank water from a fountain when we were thirsty.

Although my suggestions were received with the expected objections —

  • The water fountain?!?!?!?!
  • But the novelty items are fun!
  • It’s only a little bit of stuff!
  • Selling all that stuff makes money for the PTO!

— they did, to my surprise, end up scaling back on the novelty items. Although that was the only concession they made, that one gesture left me feeling like we had, at the very least, made a small bit of progress.

So what happened with this year’s dance, held a couple of weeks ago?

Sigh.

It seems we went back to square one: the full plethora of crap for sale and no attempt at all to curb bottled water use.

So I’ve spent a couple weeks feeling rather grumbly, with questions swirling round my brain:

  1. Do people — despite all the dire daily news, all the documentaries, all the TEDtalks — still not understand the issues we’re facing, not only with climate change, but also with the fact that plastics are taking over our oceans? Is that *actually* possible? (ANSWER: No. I cannot believe there’s a single person in North America or Europe who’s not heard of climate change or the fact that our oceans, seas, and lakes are teeming with plastic.)
  2. Do people understand the scope but believe their fun and convenience outweigh the concerns of climate change and plastic pollution? In short, do they not give a flying f#*&k about what they’re doing to the planet and future generations? (ANSWER: No. Yes. No. Gawd, maybe. The possibility that this is the case sends me burrowing down a misanthropic rabbit hole in which I (mentally) rail at selfish asshats and despair that I ever had children in the first place.)
  3. Do people kinda sorta see the problem but fail to understand the part they play? Are they stuck in their it’s-just-one thinking? (ANSWER: Maybe? So I know I’ve talked about this before, but I’ll posit it once again: is MORE MATH the way to expose the essential lie embedded in the it’s-just-one attitude? If I had, for example, mentioned the fact that the US uses 50 billion plastic water bottles annually which equals 17 million barrels of oil, would that have been enough to sway the PTO? If I had brought this number-laden infographic to the meeting would the PTO have understood that our throwaway lifestyle is well past the point of fun-and-games?)
  4. Do people fully see the scope; are they doing the math and watching events unfold whilst wringing their hands … but rather than acting are they choosing instead to perform some mental gymnastics in which hope plays a starring role? Are they hoping, for example, that recycling is the end-all and be-all? Are they hoping some new technology will be coming down the engineering pipeline just in the nick of time to save the planet, one which will pull us out of the fire and allow us to continue merrily along on our profligate ways? Are they hoping that children are somehow different beings from us, that they are inherently resilient and optimistic and innovative and that THEY will one day solve all the problems? (ANSWER: Yee-eee-sss? Gah! If people are using hope as an excuse, then here’s a radical idea: I think we all need less hope…)

LESS HOPE:

So … before you dismiss the idea of less hope, and imagine that I’m suggesting we all choose hopelessness and pessimism, please let me explain:

In an effort to quiet my stewing mind, I’ve been turning to podcasts. One of my favourites is Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, an incredibly thoughtful and thought-provoking podcast in which the hosts, Vanessa Zoltan and Casper ter Kuile from Harvard Divinity School, explore various themes found in the Harry Potter books. Although they use both Christian and Jewish theological practices to inform their discussions, their approach is decidedly from a humanistic angle.

One of the episodes that resonated especially deeply with me was the one in which they discussed chapter 13 of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone through the theme of hope.

In the discussion, Vanessa explains that she sees hope often being used in a manipulative manner — even as a tool of oppression — and then goes on to say:

The moment of hope that I completely validate and completely believe in is the moment when … you’ve done everything that you can and there’s nothing left to do. That’s when I’m like, YES! now we hope! But hope a second before that just drives me crazy.

Casper responds:

Because there’s practical things that you can do.

Vanessa agrees:

There’s still practical things you can do. It’s just inaction … I think that we use hope way too early as a society and I guess what I’m calling for is not for NO hope, but I’m calling for a critical use of hope.

And Casper sums up:

The way to think about hope critically means to look for when we’re using it as a way to excuse or to hide the work that needs to be done…

Oh.my.gosh.yes.

Yes, yes, and yes.

Even though Vanessa and Casper’s discussion didn’t touch on climate change or plastic pollution, the implications of inaction in those areas due to hope-without-work and hope-as-an-excuse are abundantly clear.

So, if you’re just as alarmed as me at the state of, well, everything … if you, too, are wondering how you’ll ever be able to look possible future grandchildren in the eyes … then I’d love to know what you think. Do we need more math and less hope? Could that light the way to meaningful change? In my next post I’ll share what I’m doing, but in the meantime here are a couple of eye-opening resources that might interest you:

My Plastic-free Life, a blog by Beth Terry, a woman who read an article about plastic ocean pollution in 2007 and decided she didn’t want to be a part of that sort of destruction anymore.

Karen Lynn Allen’s Musings … She has a four part series entitled “Make Your Life Less Oily in 2017”; the link is for Part I: Taking Stock. (Thank you to Deborah for pointing me to this blog.)

My Husband May Be Turning Into a Vegan Activist

Well, *there’s* a sentence I never thought I’d write…

So, technically my husband is not actually a vegan (he has yet to give up butter or the occasional pizza), and perhaps activist is a bit hyperbolic (although his co-workers might disagree) …

But before I explain what’s happened with my husband, I think a little background is in order:

Our 19 year-old daughter has been a vegetarian — off and on — for about eight years now. She declared her vegetarianism — without preamble, without any hint of a warning — just before her twelfth birthday. We were camping and my husband had just set a barbecued pork chop onto her plate when she suddenly pushed the plate away and said, “I don’t want to eat this; I want to be a vegetarian.”

So, of course — as any parents would do — my husband and I questioned her on it. Isn’t this rather out of the blue? we asked.

But no, apparently not. Apparently, it was something she had been thinking of for quite some time*, and because of that it didn’t even occur to us that it was something we could, or should, be talking her out of.

(I do confess that when, a few short months later, our daughter’s politically- and socially-active social studies teacher showed her class the documentary Food, Inc (much to the chagrin of many parents) and one of her best friends went home and told her parents that she too wanted to become a vegetarian, and her parents simply said, Oh no, you’re NOT! … I felt slightly duped. Did YOU know, I asked my husband, that we could simply have said “No”?!?!)

Has this last paragraph left you with the impression that I was less-than-happy with her supposedly well-thought-out stance?

Yes, I admit to a fair amount of grumbling:

What’s she going to eat when we have chicken?! What about the pasta sauce?! And why am I the one now stuck cooking (cough*heating*cough) TWO meals?!

But, ah … the beauty that occasionally comes with hindsight … ! Looking back on it now, I’m extraordinarily glad that we didn’t talk her out of it, because although our daughter’s position was tempered by a short period during which she acquiesced slightly and ate organic, free-range meat and chicken, her vegetarianism has meant several things to our family:

  • It forced me to become a better cook (although I confess to a fair amount of *heating* until the year I gave up processed food):http://greengreyandgezellig.com/?p=483
  • Her stance influenced her younger brother, who also turned vegetarian for a time, and who, to this day, remains very thoughtful about the food he eats.
  • Our youngest son has — from a very young age — been exposed to (and eats!) a wide variety of foods which he claims his friends’ parents would never dream of setting on the table**.
  • It further heightened my already-strong interest in reading about nutrition and health, which has resulted in a healthier and more varied diet than we would have had otherwise, and we have all slowly moved along with her to what has become, in the last couple of years, a nearly-completely vegetarian diet.
  • It has likely halted what we’ve always imagined to be my husband’s genetic “fate”: a predisposition that would lead inexorably towards weight gain and chronic disease.

And this is where we return to my husband and the whole vegan-esque activist thing …

My husband has recently done two things (and by that, I mean he has done them independently; he has not just watched me do them and then listened to my take on things):

  1. He’s read How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease, by Dr. Michael Greger, the medical doctor who runs the website nutritionfacts.org. This is a two-part book which deals with both the scientific evidence which lies behind the top fifteen causes of death in the U.S., as well as the foods*** which have been shown to prevent these diseases. It’s well-written and very accessible; my husband, who has a strong technical background, but is completely unversed in biological matters, has found it to be a fascinating read.
  2. He’s watched the documentary Cowspiracy. This is an eye-opening movie which does two things: firstly, it illustrates the enormous and wide-ranging effects animal agriculture has on the Earth, from deforestation to toxic run-off to dead zones in oceans to methane production to the mis-use of antibiotics to climate change; and secondly, it highlights the failure of environmental organizations to acknowledge the elephant in the room that is agribusiness.

Now, although my husband has compelling personal reasons to be galvanized by what he’s read and watched, it’s struck me that this book and this film provide a powerful wake-up call even to those without those compelling personal reasons; that if ever there were reasons to experiment with Meatless Mondays, to become a weekday vegetarian, or to *gasp* go whole hog (pun intended) and do one’s darnedest to become a vegan, well, these two things in concert would be IT, because the evidence is powerful: what’s good for our health is also good for the planet’s health.


*“…quite some time…” Ha! Our daughter recently confessed that it actually wasn’t something she had thought about prior to that fateful supper; she just figured we would be less likely to talk her out of it if we felt it was a decision she had conscientiously arrived at. What a stinker….

**Does it sound like our ten year-old son is ecstatic about this arrangement? He’s not. If he had his way I would be serving Kraft Dinner (macaroni and cheese) every. single. meal. But hey, we’re not zealots! He had a hot dog just last week when we went to a hockey game.

***Greger’s book promotes a whole food plant-based diet: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, and nuts and seeds, with little to no ultra-processed foods.

What if The Grinch Was Actually the Hero of the Story?

So some of you might have noticed things were pretty quiet around here this fall. I wrote my over-analytical knitting post in November, and then silence reigned until New Year’s Day, when, inspired by the beauty of a long-awaited snowfall, I gathered some profound feelings of relief —

(Yay, there’s finally snow! And, yay, 2015 is over!)

— and with some fervent hopes for the new year, I broke my silence with a (probably trite) haiku.

November and December tend to be difficult months for me at the best of times. Even though we’ve always kept Christmases fairly minimalistic, I still find the month(s) leading up to the buying holiday season really difficult. It’s a season of pressure, after all; a season where even if you decide to keep things small and reasonable, to not buy all the crap, to not succumb to the you-must-have-it-all consumeristic mentality, you still have to work really hard to ignore it all.

Making things worse for me, Ruminator Extraordinaire, was a layering of a whole lotta other stuff. There was a heavy dose of way-too-much-to-worry-about with regards to loved-ones close to home, and there were also weighty matters farther afield, most notably in Paris: the terrorist attacks, as well as the climate change talks which took place there a few weeks after.

And when all of it was put together? Quite frankly, I was a bear this fall; a sad-sack; a grinch.

I’ve been tossing the word grinch around a lot these days. I mostly do it in a berating fashion, a mental pummelling of “Why are you such a grinch?” that comes quickly on the heels of the immediate knee-jerk irritation I feel when I see overblown consumerism or store-shelves filled with complete and utter crap.

(Oh, this is going to be a fun post; I wouldn’t blame anyone if they clicked away.)

So … grinch, yes … if you’re still with me, I’m going to assume we’re all familiar with the nasty character in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! … and I’m also going to assume we have the same narrative in our heads: the Grinch is a mean-spirited fellow who tries to ruin Christmas for the loveable Whos.

Since Seuss wrote the book in 1957, the term grinch has garnered a widespread, general meaning. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines grinch as:

an unpleasant person who spoils other people’s fun or enjoyment

But it seems to me that the term is tossed around much more loosely than that. I often feel that ANY non-compliance or non-participation in things which the majority of people determine to be fun or festive can result in being termed a grinch, if not in actual fact (aloud, and to your face), then — maybe more importantly and insidiously — by you, yourself, in your own head.

So, for example, if you are the lone abstainer in the outdoor-holiday-decorating olympics in the cul-de-sac, you run the (very small) risk that your neighbours will verbally call you out as a grinch (or merely whisper it to each other). The greater risk though, is that you yourself will label yourself as a grinch, and that your mind will then — perforce — either be filled with feelings of guilt, or feelings of defensiveness. In other words, a litany of justifications as to why you’re not *actually* a grinch.

/ Over-thinkers Anonymous? Yes, you’d better send help. Someone’s having a crisis. /

So … anyhoo* … an epiphany hit me the other day:

What if the Grinch was actually the hero of Dr. Seuss’ story?

It’s occurred to me that we only see things from the Grinch’s perspective. When he steals the Whos’ trimmings and trappings and hauls it all up the side of Mount Crumpit, we aren’t shown the Whos’ initial reaction, are we?

No. We have a small protestation by Cindy-Lou Who, and that’s it. After the deed is done, we see the Grinch waiting, perched with his stolen goods on the side of the mountain, and then we see the end result, the Whos gathering outside, hand-in-hand, to sing.

But what I’d like to know is, what just happened inside their homes?

When the Whos wake and clamber out of bed and find all their stuff gone, do they not even blink an eye?

Are they not even a little bit upset that all the stuff they’ve made/bought/wrapped/baked/cooked/decorated is GONE?

Are they not even a little bit disappointed that all the time they spent making/buying/wrapping/baking/cooking/decorating was completely WASTED?

Are they really just all, Oh well! … ?

Or … are they gnashing their teeth, wringing their hands, vowing revenge … until, perhaps, one Very Wise Who steps in and says, Hey! Wait a minute! It’s only stuff we’re crying about! What is Christmas actually all about, anyway? How about we all quit our whining, and get out there and sing?!

So … if the Whos have suddenly realized that Christmas will come even without all the trimmings and trappings, then WHATEVER motivation lay behind the Grinch’s actions — whether he’s simply a petty asshole with a heart that’s two sizes too small; or whether he’s acting out because he’s lonely and feels left out; or whether he’s stolen the stuff because this is his misguided-activist-way to protest child labour or mercury-laced strip-mining techniques or inhumane animal husbandry — whom do the Whos have to thank for this very valuable epiphany? Why, the Grinch of course!

This then leads to a further question: if the Whos can manage to celebrate Christmas just fine, thankyouverymuch, without all the trimmings and trappings, then what purpose do all the trimmings and trappings serve?

And the answer to that is, Duh, Marian … the trimmings and trappings make things fun and festive!

But for me, this then begs the grinchy question: at what cost does that fun and festivity come?

Perhaps, in the Whos’ world, their trimmings and trappings are wholly and completely sustainable. Maybe there’s a local Whoville toymaker who makes frambamafoozlers from sustainably-harvested wood. Maybe their wrappings are reusable bits of cloth made from un-dyed, fair-trade truffula tufts. Perhaps their roast beast is wild-caught and humanely butchered. Maybe, for the Whos, there’s absolutely no harm in any** of it.

But that’s not the world we live in, is it?

We live in a warming world.

According to the vast majority of scientists, we have to keep this warming to a minimum in order to avoid catastrophic effects. Our very survival is hanging in the balance, and what do we do?

We ship fun and festive stuff, such as these Christmas crackers, halfway around the world.

Christmas crackers: each one comes with a hat, a joke, and a unique gift!

These particular Christmas crackers were made in Indonesia. They travelled over 14,000 km (nearly 9000 miles), over two-thirds of that distance on a container ship, just so Ontarians could have 30 seconds of fun and festivity at Christmastime.

And here’s the thing: did you know — because I sure as heck didn’t! — that international shipping — the way we get so many of our goods — wasn’t in the climate change talks? Emissions from container ships aren’t ascribed to any one country, so no country is responsible for doing anything to address the considerable carbon footprint due to shipping.

I wonder — maybe it would be a good thing if we all started to be just a bit more grinchy when it comes to choosing our fun and festive things.

But then again, maybe grinchy is the wrong word altogether. After all, the Grinch’s success — if indeed my thought exercise managed to convince anyone — hinges on the simple fact that he (perhaps) caused the Whos to see things differently. In the end, it has nothing to do with spoiling fun; rather, it’s about seeing things in a different light.

More on that coming up next …


*I once said, Never again! to the use of the word anyhoo. But sometimes it’s the only word that fits.

**This mostly-vegetarian simply cannot stop herself from pointing out that there is indeed harm done to the beast who is roasted.

Supermarket Vigilante

I used the term supermarket vigilante in my inaugural post, Green, in which I admitted to harbouring intolerant thoughts about my fellow shoppers, and having to bite my tongue lest I scold someone for their reckless environmental faux pas (such as — gasp! — bagging single items of produce), but I have to start this post by saying I’m quite certain Supermarket Vigilante is the wrong title.

In the first place, I’m not really going to be talking about supermarkets per se.

And in the second place, since writing my first post, I’ve taken the time to look up the word vigilante.

(Note to self: don’t presume to know the meaning of words. Maybe from now on — just to be on the safe side — look up anything over eight letters).

According to merriam-webster.com a vigilante is a person who takes the law into their own hands to “suppress and punish crime summarily”, usually due to ineffective governmental authority.

So yes, ahem … a person who professes to be teetering on the edge of becoming a supermarket vigilante is suddenly sounding a whole heckuva lot more, um … strident … than someone who is simply being vigilant or is practicing vigilance. After all, environmental faux pas aside, it’s not *actually* against the law to bag a single produce item, is it?

But if vigilante isn’t the right word, then what word(s) would convey what I’m teetering on the edge of?

Let’s see …

Busybody comes to mind.

There’s know-it-all.

And I’d be remiss if I left out insufferable haranguer.

(Can you see why I chose to leave vigilante in place in the title of this post?)

Anyhoo …

(Note to self: upon pain of death, do not use the word anyhoo ever. again.)

Moving right along … I’m sure most of you will recognize the message in the above World War II public service poster. This particular one is American, but exhortative messages, as seen in these war posters, were common around the world, as governments everywhere urged citizens to do their part for the war effort, to think about their actions, large and small, and consider the ripple effects those actions could have.

Plant a garden! people were told. Don’t waste food! Reuse and recycle! Conserve! Do without! Don’t hoard! Car pool! (because if you don’t, you are, in essence, riding with HITLER!).

Looking back on all this makes me wonder:  was it possible to get everyone or nearly everyone on board with all of that? Is it ever possible to get 100% participation in choices that can be seen as infringing on a person’s freedom or lifestyle? And if it wasn’t possible, what was it like during the war years for people who chose, for one reason or another, not to get with the program?

Were they chastised, gently or otherwise, and told to step it up a notch? Did the polite societal norm of mind-your-own-business get put on the back burner for the sake of societal good?

So here’s what I’ve been wondering: can we draw an analogy between war and global warming? Do both represent a clear-and-present danger in which life-as-we-know-it is something we need to actively work to protect? And if so, are we to the point in the climate crisis where the bare-minimum, easy-to-do, no-brainer behaviours should simply be expected? Have there been enough governmental advisories (on recycling and saving energy and water, for example), and has climate change been in the news often enough such that we should all simply be expected to know and to act accordingly?

And by extension, if people are not connecting the dots between their actions and the massive problems we face, should those of us who are inches from panic working extremely hard to keep calm and carry on deeply worried purposefully set out to have some serious conversations with oblivious insouciant happy-go-lucky devil-may-care friends, family, and neighbours, as well as random strangers we encounter in our day-to-day lives?

For example:

Should I be talking to my neighbour about the fact that their air conditioner runs all. day. long. even when the house is completely empty? Can I gently point out that their three children’s right to live on a less-than-completely-crippled Earth far outweighs their desire to come home from their eight-hour workday to an already-cold house?

Is it okay to ask my friend why she doesn’t use a refillable water bottle when she goes biking? Can I share some of these disturbing facts about bottled water and assure her it’s really not that hard to use a refillable bottle?

Can I pull the kindergarten teacher aside, and tell her that I have never — not once! — gone into school (and goodness knows I’ve been there a lot over the past four years!) and seen her without her morning’s (disposable) cup of Tim Horton’s coffee? Can I do the math for her and tell her that 4 years X 194 school days = 776 cups that she alone has garbaged? (And that that doesn’t even include her afternoon coffees, which I’ve had numerous occasions to observe, as well as the fact that this is only counting the four years I’ve been watching? (in a *totally* non-stalkerish manner 😉 )).

Just so it’s clear: I’m not looking for a free pass to start haranguing everyone I deem to be committing an environmental crime. Truthfully, I’m not even sure if the consensus is, Yes, we who are deeply concerned should all go forth and become environmental vigilantes (minus the arresting part, obviously, but yes, conveniently ignoring the fact that disposable cups, bottled water, and the act of wasting electricity are not illegal items or activities), that I would be able to do so. I’m usually quiet and polite, I rarely speak unless provoked or impassioned, and even then, I often trip over my words and embarrass myself.

But for the sake of our precarious planet, is it worth a try? Should gumption be gathered up and polite mind-your-own-business be tossed out the window? Can a geekish (and politely delivered) conveyance of facts and figures, numbers and scope, have any hope of swaying someone’s lifestyle? Can it counteract a head-in-the-sand or hmmmmm, I can’t hear you! mentality? Is the problem that people don’t know the numbers, or that they know the numbers but simply don’t care? Or is this simply a too-little too-late slippery slope to a busybody society in which neighbours slam doors, friends no longer pick up the phone, teachers duck into classrooms when they espy you coming down the hall, and supermarket managers whisk you aside and tell you to stop bothering the other customers?