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I can’t say that I enjoy criticism, but it does tend to nurture deeper reflection. So let’s see where it leads! What follows is my response to a comment on My Little House on the Prairie.

I fail to see how you fulfilling the liberal dream of property ownership makes the world a better place.

You’re right! You can’t see what’s not there. Owning property, in and of itself, certainly does not make the world a better place. What I am hoping is that my house will be part of a positive direction in my life that is equipping me to contribute more effectively to the world. It’s just a thing, so it won’t make me happy or wise or compassionate. But it is one component of a life I am trying to design to help support me in being the most effective human I can be.

I did say that happiness and peace might help me be more effective. I guess that came off as selfish. Maybe it is, I’m not sure. I tend to see happiness more as a means to an end than an end in itself. My goal in life is not to be happy. It’s to try to make the world a better place. But I recognize that I can’t do that effectively without taking care of myself. I’ve experienced being depressed and anxious and fearful, and I can say with certainty that those states make me pretty well totally ineffectual. Hence my interest in experimenting with happiness.

What exactly are you giving back to the world? By producing independent media? By reducing your ecological footprint?

Oh, they’re good questions. I want to make the world so much better than it is, and I wish I could tell you with total confidence that what I’m doing is contributing to that. The process of growing up and discovering that I might not actually be able to fix things has been hard for me to come to terms with. That said, I do believe in what I’m doing. Media plays a crucial role in shaping our culture, and culture plays a crucial role in shaping how we think and act. Media is a hugely powerful thing…and I take creating independent, critical, fearless media very seriously. I think it’s important work.

On the other hand, I’ve been doing the work I do for long enough to know what the consequences of it can be for myself. A while back I burnt out, and in that state I had nothing to contribute to anyone. At that time I mistook “making the world a better place” with driving myself into the ground, racking up unmanageable debt and being totally out of touch with what a sustainable, healthy, feasible life looks and feels like.

Since that happened I’ve worked very hard to change my life and take steps away from what it was like then. But it’s amazing what a number I did on myself—I haven’t regained all my energy and it’s quite possible I never will. I suppose that’s made me protective of myself, and maybe that means that I’m also selfish. If I want to keep doing the work I think is important, then I have to be able to survive it. I have to be able to take care of myself.

The reality of my life is that I choose to work hard for not a lot of money, and for that to be sustainable from financial and energetic perspectives, I have to manage the balance very carefully. Money is part of the world I function in and I have to be smart about it. I’ve been dumb about money before, and recovering from that has been hard. Going down that path again is not an option for me. One part of trying not to is investing in this city and in this house. Which brings me to:

You’ve just bought into the mainstream, you’ve just fulfilled what it is that banks are for, to give us money to buy things so that they can make more money…you’re still complicit in what it seems to me you are trying to challenge.

I vehemently disagree that I just bought into the mainstream! I have two university degrees, I work fulltime, I pay taxes, I own a computer and I indulge in heterosexual sex. I have student loans and lines of credit and the banks have been making good money off me for years. My goodness, I most certainly did not just buy into the mainstream. My whole culture has been edging me into complicity since birth!

I’m not trying to be a brat on purpose. I’m just of the opinion that most all of us in this culture are complicit in the mainstream, and that we’re farther ahead when we acknowledge it. I was complicit before buying my house and I will continue to be. I will always participate in the economy and in capitalism, and when those collapse I will inevitably participate in whatever human inventions replace them. I could choose to reject my complicity more radically, perhaps by renouncing all my possessions and becoming a monk, or by hiking into the arctic and sacrificing myself to underweight polar bears (is it odd that I’ve considered both?). But by choosing to remain in the world and do my work here, I believe it’s my responsibility to accept that I am complicit in what’s wrong in the world. Then it’s my responsibility to question my complicity. And then to rip it up. And then to talk about it. And then to get blasted for it over and over until hopefully, ultimately, I learn something from it that will make a difference.

I had a wonderful prof named Deborah Barndt who taught me to embrace contradictions – not by ignoring them or skimming over them, but by really engaging with them. So I’m reluctant to try to justify buying my house as the right thing to do. I might very well be a giant, useless, selfish hypocrite. But I made the decision based on a real, thoughtful, critical process, and now I get to live with it, for better or for worse.

So what will I do with this cursed blessing? Getting my ass kicked has definitely inspired me to get on with planning for it more actively than I had been. Mostly I’m just excited to join a community that I can become an active participant in. Here are some of the cool things I know about so far:

Core Community Association. Don’t worry, there are plenty of volunteer opportunities for me, ranging from working with kids to providing food to identifying unsafe living conditions.

Thomson Community School is right across the street from my house and, as an inner city school, services one of the most diverse student bodies in Regina.

– Chinastreet. I miss the proper Chinatowns of my former big city homes, but I’ll take what I can get, and there is a great Asian grocery just a few blocks from my house. And although the community is conspicuously lacking a big grocery store, there is also a great health food store and a wicked South Asian/Central American grocery within walking distance. There is also a good Korean restaurant and an excellent Ethiopian restaurant, so food will not be a problem. This particular part of Regina is about as multicultural as this small city gets.

So there it is. More than enough reflection for one night. Thanks Kelvin, for making me think hard.

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.

Ok, so I thought the 100-mile diet was radical until my mom forwarded me this article called “Consumed with less: not buying any food” (Globe & Mail, January 13, 2007)*. It’s about the Freegan movement, which basically takes freecycling to the next (and perishable) level: dumpster diving for wasted food that is still fine to eat.

It’s not something I can personally envision myself doing, probably for a combination of reasons including a slight phobia of other people’s dirt and germs, and the cultural perception of what it means to dig through the garbage. On one hand I have a long and proud history of finding treasures in the trash, but eating only from the garbage probably wouldn’t cut it for me. Eating is not just a political statement for me. It also has everything to do with health, and I find it hard to imagine having a consistently well-balanced diet through Freeganism alone.

That said, I have to admit I like the idea. One girl’s garbage is another girl’s treasure, a truth that undoubtedly holds for food too. Visit www.freegankitchen.com for more info and to see a great video blog about cooking Freegan style that makes it look totally appealing and sexy. And here’s a YouTube clip that’s fun too:

*For some reason the link to the complete article doesn’t work, but I did access it by Googling “consumed with less globe mail.”

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

The results of the Subverting Overconsumption holiday poll have been painstakingly tabulated (all 36 votes). Here are the subversively underconsumptive holiday gifts you’d most like to receive:

1st place tie: Homemade foodstuffs and Homemade/crafted gifts (9 votes each)
2nd place: No gift necessary (6 votes)
3rd place tie: Charitable donation on your behalf and Dinner out together (3 votes each)
4th place tie: Products bought used and Re-gifted items (1 vote each)
5th place: Screw off! I want a real gift (no votes (due to some technical difficulty with the suvey itself that I was too lazy to resolve))

Thanks for taking part! For some other sweet suggestions, check out the reader comments on my pre-holiday post.

So how did Christmas Day proper pan out on the underconsumptive gift giving/receiving front? The family members that spent the day together had a $10 price limit for gifts, which took a lot of the pressure off and made things fun (I recommend it). Here’s the debrief:

Gave:
– More enlarged original photographs in thrift store frames
– Souvenir from Thailand that I’ve been hanging onto since the spring
– Door prize I won in the fall
– Purchased foodstuffs (definitely cheating)

Received:
– Cash
– Bath stuffs
– Puzzle game for the “stressed executive” (I guess that’s me)
– Slippers
– Calendar
– Organic fair trade chocolate bar

So there we have it. The most overly consumptive part of the year is almost over, and I’d say that my holiday efforts to underconsume were, for the most part, successful (though I won’t even touch my consumption of shortbread and perogies, neither of which were moderate).

Happy almost 2007.

xox n

Check out the press release for Global Orgasm for Peace Day below, and the delightful science behind why mass synchronized orgasm could change the world at www.globalorgasm.org/demo.html and noosphere.princeton.edu. And don’t forget to celebrate the event on December 22! I can most certainly think of worse ways to act for peace.

Anti-War Activists Plan ‘Global Orgasm For Peace’

(CBS/AP) SAN FRANCISCO Two peace activists have planned a massive
anti-war demonstration for the first day of winter.

But they don’t want you marching in the streets. They’d much rather you
just stay home.

The Global Orgasm for Peace was conceived by Donna Sheehan, 76, and Paul Reffell, 55, whose immodest goal is for everyone in the world to have an orgasm Dec. 22 while focusing on world peace.

“The orgasm gives out an incredible feeling of peace during it and after
it,” Reffell said Sunday. “Your mind is like a blank. It’s like a meditative state. And mass meditations have been shown to make a change.”

The couple are no strangers to sex and social activism. Sheehan, no relation to anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, brought together nearly 50
women in 2002 who stripped naked and spelled out the word “Peace.”

The stunt spawned a mini-movement called Baring Witness that led to
similar unclothed demonstrations worldwide.

The couple have studied evolutionary psychology and believe that war is
mainly an outgrowth of men trying to impress potential mates, a case of
“my missile is bigger than your missile,” as Reffell put it.

By promoting what they hope to be a synchronized global orgasm, they
hope to get people to channel their sexual energy into something more
positive.

The couple said interest appears strong, with 26,000 hits a day to their
Web site, http://www.globalorgasm.org

“The dream is to have everyone in the world (take part),” Reffell said.
“And if that means laying down your gun for a few minutes, then hey, all
the better.”

xo n

It’s 11 days and counting since the cable was shut off. We have zero channels, and as a result I haven’t watched the TV at all. Specific initial outcomes of the experiment include:

  • Borrowed first DVDs from public library (Truly, Madly, Deeply and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
  • Went out every night for a week (totally unheard of)
  • Walked outside more (despite the incredibly harsh Regina weather)
  • Read more than my combined total for the past six months
  • Discovered that the only program I actually miss is Survivor
  • Discovered that I actually really miss Survivor (damn)
  • Discovered that Survivor is available online on the Global website (with fewer ads than on TV)
  • Joined the Teleban (group of blogs lobbying (playfully) for a Ban on TV)

General outcomes include:

  • Increased/improved social life
  • Increased sense of productivity (unclear whether this translates to actual increased productivity)
  • Improved well-being

Overall, the results seem to indicate that not watching TV is great for me, and that not paying for cable is absolutely appropriate to this project. Unfortunately, my love affair with a TV-free life might be shortlived.

My roommates miss TV! The roommate who felt productive and engaged the weekend the cable was cut off now tells me that not having TV makes her feel isolated, and that she doesn’t want to spend time at home.

I was really sad to realize that not everyone thrives on a TV-free existence the way I seem to. And unfortunately, if my roommates do decide to get cable again, I don’t think it would be cool for me to opt out, so that puts me in a tricky situation.

As mentioned in The revolution will not have cable, if the TV is there I will watch it (I’m the kind of creature that requires a healthy environment to actually be healthy). And regardless of that, it would feel pretty tacky not to chip in if both my roommates really want it.

Another possibility is that we get an antenna, which would get us two or three channels for free (though then I’d be buying that, which would still be outside the guidelines…dammit!). The other possibility is that I move out, but I’m not sure the goal of Subverting Overconsumption is to isolate myself from the world so that I can perfectly control my environment. Or maybe it is…arghhh.

What it seems to come down to is that it’s hard to make significant lifestyle downshifts towards reduced consumption and increased sustainability when the people around me aren’t necessarily making similar changes. Of course I dream to changing mass consciousness by putting my own values in full practice, but the idea of preaching (e.g., “Oh come on, don’t you feel like you’d be a more engaged, happier, human human if you never watched TV again?”) feels much more like a nightmare.

So obviously I haven’t struck a balance with any of this. But if the roommates want TV, I don’t think I can and/or will make a giant fuss over it.

xo n

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

Flickr Photos