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I have to admit that I put off seeing Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth for months. I mean, climate change isn’t exactly a feel good topic, so I wanted to make sure I went in with the mental and emotional stamina to handle what I knew would be tough news to hear.

Feeling good and strong, tonight I finally went. Now that I’ve seen it, I can whole-heartedly do what they request at the end of the film and ask everyone I know to please see this movie.

As a film, it’s excellent: well-produced, informative, clear and accessible to a range of audiences. It managed, for me at least, to take on a brutal topic without being overwhelming or depressing. And Al Gore is a killer speaker – his message, while strongly worded and delivered, remains engaging and proactive throughout.

Gore is convincing in his passion and commitment, and I came away from the film with quite a deep respect for the man (or at least for the character portrayed on screen). I appreciated the incorporation of personal anecdotes from his life, which I found helped me to relate to the issue of climate change in a more direct, human way. On a personal level climate change is such a difficult issue for me to deal with – I struggle to find a way to engage with it in a positive, action-oriented way, without becoming overwhelmed and hopeless. I fould that bearing witness to the human element of Gore’s relationship to the issue was both comforting and supportive.

To be honest, the main reason I put off seeing the film for so long was that I assumed it would devastate me. I already know all this stuff, I figured, so why put myself through an experience that’s just going to leave me even more depressed? But amazingly, I left the film more inspired than when I went in. Not that there weren’t a few emotional moments (I have to figure out why the idea of polar bears drowning in the Arctic is the single most devastating thing for me), but exhausted computer animated polar bears aside, I actually came away from the film with a lighter heart and greater feeling of connectedness.

Afterwards somebody mentioned that it was too bad Al Gore didn’t make this movie before he lost the US presidency to Bush. I thought about it for a moment and then had to disagree. I guess it’s possible that releasing An Inconvenient Truth several years back would have won Gore Florida and put the US on a direct course to ratifying Kyoto and stopping climate change in its tracks, but I doubt it. I think what’s more likely is that we would have simply found ourselves with a different twit in the White House.

My logic? Being a politician means, unfortunately, being in the business of pleasing as many people as you possibly can. It’s unfortunate because the end result seems (inevitably?) to be a watering down of every issue to the most simplified and commonly accepted party line. However, when a politician exits their political career (willingly or unwillingly) they can get back to speaking what’s really true for them, and not just what will get them the most votes.

In arguing this I realized that there’s someone Al Gore reminds me of, and this helps explain my inspiration. Like Mr. Gore, Stephen Lewis also seemed to capture the full strength of his values and voice after he stopped being a politician. He too is a phenomenal orator who demonstrates compelling vulnerability by offering something of himself in the process, a combination I’m convinced is key to making both men so effective. Lewis has been on my list of heroes for ages, and now Gore gets to join him, which is great, because you can never have too many heroes!

Now don’t get me wrong – I think it’s absolutely crucial to encourage people of substance, strong ethical fibre and open-mindedness to participate in our political systems. All I’m saying is that politics in this particular time and place don’t seem to nurture the kind of strong values and action that is needed, or that is evident in the kind of work that former politicians such as Gore and Lewis are doing (or that activists everywhere are always doing). I think it was actually Al Gore’s presidential loss that made it possible for him to get back to being able to speak frankly and passionately about something true, without having to worry about political fallout. For the state of the world, I think it’s a blessing! For the state of democracy, I suppose it’s just another inconvenient truth.

So if you haven’t already, please see this movie: visit www.climatecrisis.net for more info.

Hmmm…Not as naughty as it sounds, but these posters from Take back Your Time are still fun.

It’s true! There is a correlation between how much time we spend working and how much we consume. In general, the more we earn, the more we spend. And the more we work, the less time we have for everything, including making conscious choices.

Check out www.timeday.org for more info.

Waste Less

Adult Playground Rules

Two days ago my household’s satellite cable was cut off. Since then I’ve felt completely liberated.

The thing with me and TV is that when it’s around I watch it. I remember a few times when I accidentally had free cable, like one time in high school when for a period of time I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation practically every night. Other times I haven’t had a TV at all, and when it’s not there it generally doesn’t occur to me to miss it. Typically, it seems that the amount of TV available to me directly corresponds to the amount I consume and the attachment I experience. It’s that simple.

I like to think that I’m in control of my television consumption, but the reality is that I’m not. As I become more conscious of my consumption habits, I notice that I will sit down in front of the TV even when I don’t want to. Sometimes I’ll even flip it on hoping to disconnect from whatever I’m feeling: the stress of a tough day at work, the loneliness of living in a new city, or a lack of inspiration to write or draw.

I’ve been aware of how bad TV is for me for a while, so much so that when I was planning my move to my new city I intended to have no TV at all. But then I found a shared house that was already furnished with everything, including a totally outrageous satellite cable package.

At the time there didn’t seem to be much I could do about it. I loved the house, so I wasn’t not going to move in. And I didn’t want to waltz in to my new communal living situation making a big fuss about the way things were already set up. Besides, at that point I was feeling pretty righteous about the whole thing. Big deal, I thought. My roommates can watch the boob tube if they want, but I’ll be too busy with my vibrant social and creative life to even notice!

Righteous or not, as usual I ended up watching the TV because it was there. Though it turns out that having 250 channels doesn’t necessarily (or even regularly) ensure there is anything worthwhile on, I enjoyed that CSI or What Not to Wear were pretty much guaranteed to be on at any hour, and that if I missed The Hour or Survivor at 7pm or 8pm, I could catch it at 9 or 10. Oh, the freedom!

What I didn’t figure out until we received the first bill was that I was actually buying cable for the first time in my life. The painful irony was that my first-ever paid cable experience occurred in conjunction with the very first month of my project to Subvert Overconsumption by buying nothing new for a year.

Yuck. Now, at the beginning of this project I wrote into my Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption a caveat about consuming culture, so technically I’m off the hook. In fact, TV wasn’t even mentioned in the Guidelines at all, and it certainly didn’t occur to me that paying for cable was going to be problematic. But interestingly, taking cultural consumption off the hook has actually had the effect of making me hypersensitive to the culture I do consume.

Happily, the roommates agreed that $50 a month for satellite cable was a little over the top, so as a first step we decided to downsize to a more basic cable package. It took a few weeks, but when I got home Friday night, there it was: no satellite signal. I have to admit that after a long week at work I felt a little dismayed at the prospect of filling an exhausted Friday night with anything other than cable.

But something in the universe must want to support a cable-free me, because reluctant though I felt I was swept into a most excellent weekend involving improv theatre, looking at, making and trading art, meeting new people, writing, a movie, brunch, working out, visiting the library, taking pictures of the crisp winter day, and smiling at nothing and everything.

And so there it is. Just like that, I have a lighter heart. Is my weekend of renewed connectedness and possibility the result of not watching the boob tube for two days? I guess it would be a little simplistic to think so, but whatever the cause, something’s shifted and I’m glad. When I got home this afternoon I asked my roommate what she thought about not having any cable at all, and she said she’d been feeling great and more productive too, and that she thought it was a good idea.

All this reinforces something I already knew about myself, which is that my health requires good habits that have to be supported by my environment. Feeling empowered to design my own healthy environment is crucial, and it obviously doesn’t include cable. Pretty straightforward.

On that note, let me leave you with a great posting I found about someone else who is experiencing the delights of not having cable:

Why you too should cancel cable

Til next time, consume subversively,

xo n

…and I didn’t even remember! Oh well, it’s just Adbusters propaganda anyway (though they weren’t the ones to come up with the idea…it originally came from the brain of Vancouver artist Ted Dave).

So how badly did I botch Buy Nothing Day?

“I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.”Got up, drank coffee and did laundry. Walked briskly (my back’s feeling better) in the frigid Regina weather to the McKenzie Art Gallery to participate in an Artist Trade Card trading session. Traded for eight new cards. Got a lift home from a fellow trader. Went to Eat Healthy Foods and bought (oops) unsweetened soy milk, a can of organic pea soup (perfect lunch for a cold day), a loaf of manna bread, and a piece of wild Coho salmon. What a frickin’ hippie.

So I guess it could have been worse. I could have bought a bed (for an update on the bed sitch, check out my Wish List). As it stands, my net creativity for the day feels decent.

In honour of the day, here’s a little piece on How to Buy Nothing that I liked.

xo n

My subversion of overconsumption has officially encountered its first big test.

I put my back out this morning. I wasn’t doing anything in particular, apart from sleeping in bed. Now I’m in pain. I’m hopped up on Robax Platinum, which does no damn good whatsoever.

I can think of only two things that could have caused my back pain. One is physical, the other is spiritual.

The physical one is simple: my bed sucks. It came with my furnished room. It’s a spongy, saggy mattress that sits on an even saggier box spring that sits on four bricks. No back could withstand such a shitty bed for long.

Radical SimplicityIt’s obvious I need a new bed. But how am I supposed to get one when I’ve resolved to buy nothing new for a year? Back pain is great for melting my resolve. All I want right now is for some bed fairies to deliver a deluxe posturepedic bed, haul it up to my room, make it up with a warm duvet, fill up a hot water bottle, feed me Robax and cocoa, tuck me in and read me stories until I fall off into a gentle, muscle relaxant-induced slumber.

Subverting consumerism through conspicuous underconsumption be damned. Who came up with this stupid project anyway? I don’t want to seek out used mattresses on Regina Freecycle or at Value Village or in alleyways. I don’t want to haul some crappy old bed home to find it smells weird or is saggy or lumpy and makes my back hurt more. What would not buying a new bed achieve? Will sleeping on a crappy bed save drowning polar bears or get generic drugs to people with AIDS or reverse climate change? Or will my actions, well-intentioned though they may be, achieve nothing?

And thus, the physical cause of my pain leads directly to the spiritual one. Last night before falling asleep I was reading Radical Simplicity by Jim Merkel. On page 9 he quotes Castaneda’s Don Juan: “We must know first that our acts are useless, and yet we must proceed as if we didn’t know it. That is a sorcerer’s controlled folly.” That made me cry. Then I tried to sleep. In the early morning before the sun was up I was awakened by searing back pain.

Maybe it was the bed that did my back in, or maybe it was the knowledge of my own futility, or probably it was a bit of both. I don’t know how to know that my actions are useless and proceed anyway. I like to think that it’s possible, and I can give myself all sorts of pep talks about not being attached to the fruits of my labour and all that good stuff. But no matter how hard I think it, I don’t know how to make myself feel it. I want to make a difference dammit! Accepting that I won’t, no matter how hard I try, is probably the single most impossible request my life will make of me. I just don’t know if it’s possible for me to accept my own futility. And yet I agree with Castaneda/Merkel that it’s my only option.

So that’s where I am. In pain, both physical and spiritual. Where to go from here is unknown.

Suggestions? Anyone?

Anything can be used addictively, whether it be a substance (like alcohol) or a process (like work). This is because the purpose or function of an addiction is to put a buffer between ourselves and our awareness of our feelings. An addiction serves to numb us so that we are out of touch with what we know and what we feel.

– Anne Wilson Schaef

I came across this quote a couple of nights ago while curled up in bed with my well-worn copy of Christiane Northrup’s Women’s Bodies Women’s Wisdom. On this, my one-month anniversary of Subverting Overconsumption by attempting to not buy anything new for a year, I can absolutely relate to this articulation of addiction. In fact, I’m convinced that our cultural compulsion towards consumption is addictive in nature.

I often feel a conscious desire to protect myself from the suffering of the world—to deny and fend off the despair that can otherwise creep in. For every moment that my impulse to disconnect is conscious, there are likely countless other moments that are unconscious, where I’m happy to distract myself with whatever happens to be available. My medications vary: sometimes it’s Cosmos with the girls; other times it’s a discount shopping spree, or bad TV, or chocolate. When faced with the choice between despair and distraction, I most often leap at distraction. I doubt I’m alone.

Thing is, now that I’m engaging in this practice of consuming less (or at least differently), I’m becoming conscious of how I seem to be transferring my compulsion to consume products onto other distractions*. I’m definitely eating more sweet things, drinking more wine, and watching more TV. Buying fewer “things” is great—but I’m beginning to wonder whether it just means I’m consuming more of what I’ve “allowed” myself to: namely food (including alcohol) and culture (including music, TV, movies…).

Of course, it is possible that I’m simply becoming more aware of every aspect of my consumption as a result of this process. Maybe I’m not actually eating more junk and drinking more wine. Maybe I’m just more conscious of the junk and wine I am consuming.

In any case, the unfortunate thing about addiction is that it’s based in denial: until we begin the process of recovery, addicts are generally not conscious of even having a problem or of being out of touch with anything. It’s probably the same with consumption addiction: those that consume with the most excess and abandon are likely those that are most out of touch with the reality of the crisis of unsustainable consumption of resources we currently face. I guess that makes the million dollar question easy: what will it take to get consumption addicts to transfer their addictive tendencies onto compulsive underconsumption and obsessive sustainability?

*It makes sense that if you take one addiction away the tendency will get transferred someplace else. A Google search for “addiction transfer” found a disturbing number of articles on a recent phenomenon where people who’ve undergone weight loss surgery have subsequently transferred their food addiction to other addictions like drugs and alcohol. Wacky, but not too surprising.

xo n

Be What You Love – A billboard I saw in my dreams:

Be What You Love

Buy What You Love – A billboard I saw at the corner of 12th & Broad, Regina, SK (spray paint vandalism courtesy of Photoshop):

Buy What You Love

Subverting Overconsumption is like Zen, both in its simplicity and depth. In Zen, you sit and you breathe. That’s all. In and out, in and out. You breathe and breathe and breathe, and nothing happens. And everything happens.

There is something similar about this experiment in consumption. It’s a simple practice. Each day I have something simple and concrete to focus my mind on: don’t buy anything new. For close to one month now I have been practising and my mind has been opening. What began as an exercise in developing more conscious consumer habits is transforming into something much more expansive and all-encompassing.

Subverting Overconsumption isn’t just about buying nothing new. The potential of this practice is far greater that I imagined. As I wake up to the possibilities I realize that I want to do something beyond not buying anything new for a year: I want to increase my net creativity by bringing my consumption and my creative production into better balance. I want what I contribute to the universe to outweigh the resources I consume. I want to give more than I take away.

What does this balance look and feel like? Consumption is not just buying stuff. It’s eating and drinking, learning, watching TV, reading, listening to music. Production is gardening, writing, cooking, drawing, meditating, singing, volunteering, laughing. On their own, neither one has more or less value. The value comes in the balance. If my consumption outweights my production, I am in a position of draining energy from my planet and universe (and probably also from my friends, family and coworkers). If my contribution outweighs the resources I consume, then I am in a position of contributing a surplus of creativity. Neighbours and colleagues with higher consumption:production ratios will be able to buy creative production credits from me like polluting countries can buy credits from less polluting nations!

As a mindfulness practice, Subverting Overconsumption can be applied to more than my purchases. It’s a lens through which every moment can be viewed, a scale that can serve to weigh each choice. Like my breath, it’s a guide that I can return to again and again to focus my mind and energy. Come to think of it, maybe Subverting Overconsumption isn’t just like Zen practice. Maybe it is Zen practice.

When Subverting Overconsumption it’s important to pick one’s battles intelligently. Without that basic ability, it’s entirely possible to drive oneself mad. Case in point:

In 1999, not more than a babe in arms at the tender age of 22, I snuck online at a temping gig and used my virgin MasterCard to make my first-ever online purchase: The Keeper menstrual cup.

The Keeper was a most excellent investment, and it’s served me well for over seven years. To put it into perspective, I haven’t used a single disposable menstrual product in over 84 months – that’s a savings of well over 400 tampons or pads. My Keeper has paid for itself many times over, and it’s worked like a hot damn.

But even the best things don’t last forever, and though it’s been hard for me to accept, it’s high time that my Keeper was retired. Now, reinvestment in something so grand should probably be a no-brainer, but when I got my period yesterday I found myself debating whether I could justify the purchase of a brand new Keeper. Though it clearly falls under the “self-care” clause of this experiment (see Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption), I still managed to create worry and guilt for myself over it.

What a royal waste of energy, and most certainly not the purpose of this project to fritter away precious time debating whether or not to invest in a sustainable alternative to all the lame mainstream options.

Mental note: buy a new Keeper and preach its virtues shamelessly at every opportunity.

For more info on menstrual cupts, check out:
The Diva Cup (Canadian product)
The Keeper

Trying to buy nothing new for a year is definitely challenging me to think outside the box when it comes to my consumption habits. In other ways, however, Subverting Overconsumption is requiring me to play some things old skool. It turns out that sometimes the solution I’m looking for has always been there, just waiting for me to notice it.

Take the public library for example. This past Saturday I visited the central branch of the Regina Public Library (RPL) to get myself a library card, something I haven’t had since I was about ten years old. While I was there I visited the art gallery that’s housed on the library’s premises, and checked out the schedule for the RPL theatre, Regina’s only repertory cinema. I received a brief introduction to the library’s services from a RPL staff-person, got my card, and before leaving spent a bit of time browsing the stacks and the online catalogue.

One visit was all it took to fall in love with my public library! I feel particularly lucky to have moved to a city where the library seems so especially excellent, and where the central branch is only a few blocks from my house. It’s possible that all city libraries are as cool as the RPL, but to be honest, I’ve had my head up my ass too long to know one way or another. For the past 20 years I’ve been completely oblivious to this most excellent of public spaces/services.

I’m not sure why the public library disappeared from my radar for so long. Living the majority of my adult life in a city where my first language wasn’t the official one probably had something to do with it. Plus I think I just got caught up in the romance of owning books. There’s just something undeniably sexy about having one’s own library. When I visit someone’s home for the first time I invariably check them out via their books, and I assume nothing less of my houseguests. There’s cultural capital in having interesting books on one’s shelf. (It doesn’t matter that I often buy fabulous sounding books only to have them sit on the bookshelf for months or years before I get around to reading them.)

When I decided to try to buy nothing new for a year I was scared that not having access to new books would make me out of touch and ill-informed. So thank heavens for the RPL. As I begin to update my ideas about what a public library has to offer I realize that things have likely changed a little in the 20 years since I had my last library card. For example, the Internet and digital media happened. On my way into the library on Saturday I passed a youngish guy with an armload of DVDs, and before that moment it had honestly never occurred to me that it was possible to borrow DVDs (for free!) from the public library. It turns out the RPL has 11,000 DVDs to choose from, a collection I can browse online from the privacy of my own home. I may never have to set foot in a Blockbuster again!

I know how all this must sound to you open-minded and intelligent public-service utilizing citizens out there. It’s like I just woke up from a 20-year coma and am stunned by how far the world has come while I was asleep. The point I’m trying to make is that sometimes it’s the simplest things that this project is getting me to notice, just by forcing me to take a little extra time to think about the ways I consume. Things like the public library that have always been there, right under my nose and free, seem incredibly exciting and innovative. In the case of the library, the very thing that makes it so special – its accessibility – might be the same thing that makes it so easy to take it for granted. As one of our last truly public spaces, my fear is that dimwits like me will keep sleeping through the wonders of the library until it does finally disappear into the oblivion

Some facts that make me love the RPL even more (courtesy of the RLP website):

  • “The RPL Film Theatre began as a community film society in the mid-1960s. We are the only cinema in the city to consistently present and support critically acclaimed Canadian, foreign and independent films.” (Adult admission is $6 or $9 for a double feature.)
  • “The Dunlop Art Gallery is dedicated to engaging, researching and presenting a diverse range of visual artwork…We are fortunate to be located within the Regina Public Library. A place people go looking for answers. At the gallery we pose questions.”
  • “Library Art Rentals: There are currently over 200 works of historic and contemporary paintings and graphic art by Canadian artists. This collection circulates through loans to individual patrons and organizations with a Regina Public Library borrower’s card for a modest fee. Works are not available for sale.”
  • “Homebound Service: Available for Regina residents of all ages who, for reasons of ill health, disability or age are unable to visit the Library; are unable to leave their homes for a period of three months or longer.”
  • Internet, free of charge.

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