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Ok, I guess I needed more of a break than I thought. It’s been a good while since I posted (like, the last post was on the subject of hockey sticks, and now shinny season is well over). A few factors contributed to my long silence: 1) my job is kicking me in the ass and it’s been exhausting and depressing me, 2) buying a house is stressful and expensive; and 3) discovering a creepy ex commenting to the blog under false name and pretenses spooked me.

Basically, whatever was going on over the last few weeks was not good conducive to a positive state of mind, and I had nothing constructive to share whatsoever. Actually, I couldn’t think of anything to say at all. So I said nothing, and nothing, and more of nothing.

But here I am, feeling a little better, and ready to say something again.

For the moment I’ll stick to the celebratory: today I took possession of my house. House buying is so weird. I hadn’t seen the inside of my house for six weeks, and over that time I’d become increasingly panicked and convinced that I wouldn’t like it anymore and that buying it was a bad idea and that it would send me into financial ruin and that my neighbours would be terrible etc., etc., etc.

And then I got there today and it was so beautiful and sunlit, and the snow had melted off the backyard to expose a giant sunny garden plot. And the previous owners must somehow have known that I am buying nothing new this year, because they were nice enough to leave me two kitchen chairs, a plunger, a broom, a snow shovel, a rake, and even a couch!

I love my house, and I can’t wait to move in! And since it’s mine and I get to stock it exactly as I see fit, I’ve decided to bid adieu to the nasty chemical cleaning products that I’ve always known (good riddance Comet, Pinesol and Windex!). So today I went armed with my brand new natural cleaning products and proceeded to lovingly scrub the fridge and cupboards. Who knew that baking soda, lemon juice, soap flakes and water would go so far? Thanks Greenpeace! Check it out:

All-Purpose Cleaner
1/2 cup (125 ml) pure soap
1 gallon (4 litres) hot water
For a clean scent and to help cut grease add 1/4 cup (60 ml) of lemon juice.
This solution is safe for all surfaces, should be rinsed with water, and is very effective for most jobs. For a stronger cleaner, double the amounts of soap and lemon juice.

Scouring Powder
Use a firm bristle brush and scrub with pure soap combined with either table salt or baking soda.
Baking soda alone on a damp sponge is also effective on most surfaces. You can also personalize your scouring powder by adding an aromatic herb or flower. Put the ingredients in a blender and run until the fragrance has infused the powder.
For oven spills, scrub using straight baking soda or combine with the stronger version of the all purpose cleaner.
Remember to wear gloves when scrubbing.

Liquid Dish Soap
Grate a bar of pure soap into a sauce pan. Cover with water and simmer over low heat until they melt together. Add some vinegar to the water for tough grease and to remove spots. Pour into a container and use as you would any liquid dishwashing soap.

Mirrors, Glass and Windows
Wash with pure soap and water, rinse with a solution of 1 part vinegar to 4 parts water. Use washable, reusable cheese cloth instead of paper towels.
I scrubbed my fridge til it gleamed, ate my first meal, poked around and investigated every corner and cupboard. I love my house. Tomorrow some nice friendly folks are going to help me move some belongings in. Then I will treat them to another excellent recipe:

Jagarillas
1 part Jagarmeister
2 parts organic root beer
ice

So there you have it. I have lots of other things to say again, so rest assured that you’ll hear from me again before long.

xo n

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Tonight I went to hear the mythical David Suzuki speak at the University of Regina. It was the best live talk I’ve ever been too. Hands down. That man has so much cred that he maintains absolute legitimacy even while hollering into the microphone like a raving lunatic. It was seriously excellent. For some reason I thought powerful oration was a lost art, but clearly I was wrong.

He’s heading west and has a number of stops left to go, so if he hasn’t already passed through your town yet, please try to check him out. Find the sched here. ‘Cause we all need more heroes, right?

xo n

Ok, maybe it’s because it’s been a really, really long couple of weeks, but I’m having trouble suppressing my irritation. So here we go:

Yesterday I carelessly posted a call to “action” involving a coordinated turning off of lights and electrical appliances around the world to make a statement about climate change. (Apparently there were also some accuracy issues.)

Today I got another “activist” email forwarded to me proposing a coordinated deflation of SUV tires (see the bottom of this post if you want to read it). It also dissed the electrical power down “action,” proclaiming that the SUV action “can have real media and political weight.”

Maybe. Letting air out of SUV tires might be much more effective, radical, revolutionary. Or not. I feel pretty sure that if I was an SUV driver and I got back to my car to find that someone had deflated my tires, I wouldn’t feel that open to hearing about the important message they were trying to draw attention to. I would probably just be really angry and hold a big fat grudge on all those goddam hippie anarchists, and close my mind forever to the possibility that they might have had something intelligent and important to say.

In any event, I’m likely not going to join the masses to fight climate change by deflating SUV tires. I didn’t turn off my lights or my computer this afternoon either. I didn’t even bother having an orgasm on global orgasm for peace day!

Though I’m a big sucker for the idea that mass action can move mountains, I don’t think this particular form of internet “activism” is the way to go. Actually, I’m pretty sure these mass forwards are no more effective than those bullshit forwarded petitions that were all the rage a few years back. I don’t even think they’re that much better than the tacky chain emails that demand you forward them to at least five people for good luck. They prey on similar things, inspiring the niggling guilt that I should forward it to my entire address book to avoid letting myself or my friend, or (heaven forbid) the planet down!

I’m irritated at myself for succumbing to the pressure. I’m irritated at the people who forward me the crap. And I’m irritated by the people who come up with the hoo hah in the first place. I’m gloriously, irrationally irritated, and being irritated is the most irritating thing!

So to cleanse myself of the bullshit I thought I’d make a list of some actions that I actually think are useful. Turns out I’m not even doing most of them. Damn! So if you’re not either, then maybe we can do them together:

  • Put a plastic jug in the tank of your toilet to save water
  • Write a letter to the editor
  • Walk to work
  • Run for city council
  • Grow a garden
  • Use vinegar in water to wash your mirrors and windows
  • Meditate

Please circulate this call to your utmost ability to your network.

xo n

P.S. Here’s the SUV thing…decide for yourselves how much merit the idea has:

Did you get that message forwarded to you that asked everyone in the world to simultaneously turn off the lights for five minutes — in the middle of the day — to “take action” and “send a message” about global warming? Did you roll your eyes? Then here’s the action for you…

Participate in the biggest direct action mobilization of the Air Liberation Front!

The Air Liberation Front (a clandestine network dedicated to the liberation of air from the tires of unneccesarily-oversized vehicles) is calling on all citizens to create a few hours of gas-guzzling rest for the planet.

People all over the world can go to their nearest parking lot on the sixth of February 2007, between 2 and 4, and let the air out of an SUV’s tires (preferably a Hummer). (Hint: if you place a very small pebble in the cap and screw it partially on, the pebble will push in the valve and the air will deflate slowly without you having to remain crouched beside the offending vehicle.)

A few hours of gas-guzzling downtime for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

Please circulate this call to your utmost ability to your network.

Addendum (2/2/07): Upon reflection this started to bug me. Check out my next posting for some elaboration. xo n.

The 1st of February 2007:

Participate in the biggest mobilization of Citizens Against Global Warming!

The Alliance for the Planet [a group of environmental associations] is calling on all citizens to create 5 minutes of electrical rest for the planet. http://www.lalliance.fr

People all over the world should turn off their lights and electrical appliances on the first of February 2007, between 1.55 pm and 2.00 pm in New York, 18.55 for London, and 19.55 for Paris, Bruxelles, and Italy. 1.55pm in Ottawa, 10.55am on the Pacific Coast of North America.

This is not just about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity; this is about getting the attention of the media, politicians, and ourselves.

Five minutes of electrical down time for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

Why February 1? This is the day when the new UN report on global climate change will come out in Paris.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

For the past two and a half months I’ve undertaken to buy nothing new, and I’ve resolved to keep up the effort for another 290 or so days. Hurtling into 2007 has found me feeling very much like I’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible with this project, and like it might be time to start taking it to whole other levels. Not all at once, but with clear intention and resolve. (And joy and uproarious laughter, pretty please!) So here is what I am dreaming of and working towards for Subverting Overconsumption in 2007:

1. Becoming financially independent
No small feat, I’m aware. But I’m resolving to practice the nine fabulous steps of Your Money or Your Life until I get there! How I consume is inextricably linked to how I spend, and I want my relationship to money to be aligned with my values. I think that’s what differentiates stated versus actual values (i.e., what we say is important versus the choices we make and actions we take). So Your Money or Your Life is officially being added to the Revised Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption.

2. Becoming a home owner
I don’t want to give away Canada’s best kept real estate secret, but Regina is probably the last Canadian city where the likes of me (a.k.a. The Creative Class/Working Poor) can still aspire to invest in real estate without being permanently in debt. Of course I’m not talking about buying a new house! I’m talking about a tiny, old, ramshackle Regina character home. Just imagine setting up house and fixing up a fixer-upper without buying anything new! The possibilities are endless: skills exchanges, community sharing of tools (e.g., ladders, lawn mowers, etc.), learning handy skills, scoring recycled or freecycled building materials, taking epic road trips into rural Saskatchewan searching for the perfect vintage living room suite. Documenting the project could be a project in itself!

3. Incorporating food
Ah, food. The grand caveat. The original Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption had everything to do with “stuff”, but nothing to do with how I actually nourish my body. And man, have I ever been taking advantage of that. Treats and wine and restaurant dining galore!

But in the meantime I’ve been exposed to some inspiring food ideas (The Omnivore’s Dilemma and the 100-Mile Diet, to name just a couple). On top of that, Your Money or Your Life has been kicking me in the ass and raising my consciousness about all aspects of my spending. The combined effect is absolute clarity that ignoring food in any conversation about consumption is just silly. So although I’m not quite ready for the 100-mile diet in Southern Saskatchewan just yet (though I have a friend who’s working at it as we speak), food is coming under the microscope in 2007. For now I’ve started buying Canadian wine (it’s important to celebrate the small victories, right?).

4. Incorporating Culture
See above…even sillier than pretending to be able to talk about consumption without talking about food is trying to talk about it without talking about culture. I want to produce more than I consume (i.e., I want my net creativity to be positive). I don’t want to have a TV again. I think I might not even want internet at home. I don’t think I need to read magazines anymore. I think what I really need to do is write. And make images. Make make make make make.

(Practical steps for producing more including: 1) taking this magazine writing course; 2) adding a Nikon digital SLR camera to the Wish List; 3) joining the Film Pool and Neutral Ground; 4) telling people what I’m trying to do.)

5. Working less
The status quo does not support the philosophy that working less than full-time is justifiable or even possible. People keep asking me how I like my new job, and I keep giving the same answer: it’s good, but I don’t like working full-time. Usually they laugh at me. Or sometimes their response is, with a slight edge to their voice, “Well, we all have to work.” The cultural conception seems to be that you must be lazy to want to work less than full time. But I don’t know if anyone who knows me would use the word lazy to describe my personality. And I can think of several reasons off the top of my head why full-time work might not be an ideal option for a person (parenthood, disability, art, activism…). So what does working less have to do with my intention towards subversive underconsumption? I want to produce more than I consume (in the creative and consumer senses). So I need more time to produce, and I need fewer resources with which to consume.

6. Finding a co-conspirator
I’m probably the most romantic cynic you’ll ever meet. At this point in my life, I am also one consummately single human. But I don’t particularly aspire towards that being a permanent state. I think this adventure would be so much more fun if I had someone really kickass to kick my ass. I haven’t been in this city long enough to justify adding “awesome boyfriend” to the Wish List, but this is me putting the possibility out to the universe.

So there you have it. Think big? Ok, you got me. Go down in flames? Well yeah, sometimes. But this isn’t about success or failure, right? It’s about my goddam process…staying awake to it, and to what the universe sends me. Right now it’s sending me—in no uncertain terms—photographers and debates about the nature of hope, both of which I’m doing my best to receive with gratitude and grace (or something related to grace).

With that I wish you all bountifully underconsumptive 2007s.

xox n

Are humans smarter than yeast?

This may be the most relevant question of our times. Peak Oil expert Richard Heinberg posed this ridiculous sounding and deadly serious question at a recent lecture he gave in Regina, entitled “Peak Oil: Challenges and Opportunities at the end of Cheap Petroleum.” Check out the logic:

“Yeast growing in grape juice provide a good example of overshoot and collapse behavior. The yeast go after the sugar in the juice and in the process of metabolizing that sugar, they produce alcohol and carbon dioxide. As they consume the sugar, they also reproduce and their reproductive rate is dependent on the availability of food. Within a few days, at room temperature, the yeast population soars…But, the alcohol is a pollutant as far as the yeast are concerned and as their population rises, so does the level of alcohol. If there is enough sugar in the juice, the yeast will eventually produce so much alcohol that they start to die off rapidly and as the sugar reservoir is depleted, their reproductive rates plummet, leading to a total collapse of the population. So, in turning the juice into wine, the gluttonous, know-no-restraint yeast do themselves in.” (from “The Human Population System”)

So is gluttonous, know-no-restraint humanity any smarter, or will we continue to consume oil like yeast scarfs down sugar? The by-products of our immoderate consumption are fossil fuels, which (like alcohol for yeast) are poisonous to us. Can our human arrogance handle the possibility that we may be no more capable of surviving our own compulsive appetites than are unicellular fungi fermenting themselves into oblivion? Thanks for asking, Mr. Heinberg.

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

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

Sometimes participating in the secondhand economy is fun and sexy, like today when I bought a jaunty blue tam at a Saturday morning church bazaar. Other times, becoming a more conscious consumer and working to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle feels much less glamorous.

Case in point: secondhand socks. After missing the entirety of the last Canadian winter traveling in Southeast Asia, this autumn finds me short on appropriate footwear. With Subverting Overconsumption only a few days old, I was determined that the secondhand economy fulfill my sock needs. Despite my good intentions, upon arriving at Value Village I felt decidedly unenthusiastic about the prospect of dawning someone else’s stockings.

Secondhand SocksTheir selection was limited and quite drab, causing some unconscious middleclass hipster snobbery to rear its ugly head. But I persevered, and ended up with four relatively decent pairs of $0.69 socks. It wasn’t actually that bad at all (and the cute pair of secondhand pumps that I used to reward myself certainly didn’t hurt).

Having mustered the resolve to buy used socks once, I can easily imagine that the next time some multinational demands $18 for three pairs I may voluntarily opt to pay under a buck to reuse the perfectly good socks at my neighbourhood thrift shop. Like all good habits it’s about training myself…practising something healthy until it feels so natural that I can’t remember why on Earth I would have ever done it differently.

Until next time, buy nothing.

xox n

Flickr Photos