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Though I’m getting a lot better at not taking criticism personally, I do take it seriously, and dealing with it on my two blogs this week has been pretty exhausting. So I’m going to take a little break by blocking comments and not posting for the next week. In the meantime, I’ve been reflecting on what the purpose of these online spaces is for me. Here are some of my thoughts – they’re very much a work in progress, but if you feel like taking a few minutes to read them, great. If you have comments, even better! Just save them, let them percolate, and if your comment still feels important, respectful and honest in a week, please post it then.

Having my ass kicked by people this week has had the effect of making me ask myself what the point of these blogs are. Is it to espouse my view of the world? Is it to hear myself talk? What is it that I believe in that compels me to write about what I am experiencing and learning in my life?

Asking myself what I believe in is hard. Because I don’t have mega faith in ether of the Big Two human inventions (God or Science) that are so important to contemporary human identify, I often feel lost. And yet, upon reflection I was interested and surprised to discover that I do have some faith kicking around in this heart of mine.

I believe in the capacity of humans to change. Hearing David Suzuki speak this week helped me to clarify this. He believes that the human ability to conceptualize the future and act to shape it actually defines our humanity and separates us from all the other animals on earth. This idea called “the future” doesn’t actually exist, but through our intentions and actions, humans have the power to use possibility to impact our reality.

Change happens to us no matter what we do, but the potential to use possibility to shape reality adds a consciously directed component to change that results in a definition of “learning” that works for me. In other words, learning is conscious change. Strangely, I realized (just today!) that my belief in the capacity of humans to learn (i.e., consciously change) is also my definition of hope: the belief in the possibility of a different future, in the possibility of change. And I believe in that. So I guess I have hope. Who knew? For a long time I was quite certain I didn’t.

But this hope, this belief in the human capacity to change, is pretty passive. There’s also this other troublesome thing that is more active – this belief that it is necessary for humanity to change.

Clarifying these driving forces for me is also leading to a better understanding of why I write about my life. The capacity for change is huge for me, but it all begins with my own potential to learn, and with the belief that my own ongoing change is necessary. Though events are often out of my control, with great commitment and discipline I have the capacity to consciously direct my thoughts and actions. But the change I’m talking about is not a switch that can be turned on or off. Change is a process – a never-ending combined series of thoughts, actions and events that shape our lives and the world. The process of learning is limitless and ongoing.

My purpose in writing these blogs is to document this process in my life. I use myself as an example of someone committed to the ongoing, limitless process of conscious change. My intention is not to use myself as an example of someone who knows what’s “right” or “good.” It’s not even to try to espouse some particular way of being or thinking, though I certainly believe in the things I’m trying to do and write about. I use myself because this ongoing process of learning is what I value most. I want to write about why this is, and the process by which I am always trying to live this value in the most meaningful ways I can (whether the results are successful or not).

I write about myself because at this point it is the way I know to make myself most accountable. If I talk about how I am trying to change, it is the easiest way to make sure that I am taking responsibility for change needing to occur. It also feels like a safe way to speak strongly without being threatening or overbearing or preachy or judgmental.

Thing is, I’m not the only person that needs to commit to an ongoing process of conscious change. We all do. We all have the capacity to change and make the world better, and the need to do so is urgent. It feels safer to demand accountability only from myself, but it doesn’t work. If I’m going to be most true to myself I have to be fearless enough to say out loud that I am not the only one that needs to change.

The reality is that every human needs to change in order to save life on the planet and the planet itself. Every Northern person needs to change in order to end injustice in the global South. Every white person needs to change in order to end racism. Every wealthy person needs to change in order to end poverty. Every man needs to change in order to end sexism and violence against women. I say these things because I believe that our capacity to evolve is what can make the world a better place.

I’m struggling with how to balance being strong, vocal and principled with remaining open to learning and criticism. One of the things I got called on this week was a quote I posted that I feel captures some of the qualities I most value and respect in the men in my life. I didn’t write the quote (Starhawk did), so I can’t speak for the author’s intentions, though she was talking about working with men in the context of a feminist movement. My intentions in posting it weren’t well thought through (a man who I respect and trust and appreciate introduced me to it and it simply spoke to me), but they certainly weren’t to judge men or demand conformity to a rigid ideal or anything like that.

The charge against me for the post and for my response to the criticism was that I was, among other things, close-minded. A great way to really shut someone down is to dismiss their response to criticism (e.g., I know you think you’re open minded, but you’re wrong!) So I was very effectively shut down. Fine. The blog’s been open for comments, so I left myself open to that.

It made me think about the nature of being close-minded, that’s for sure. Sure, I do self-identify as open-minded (I wonder how many people out there actually identify as close-minded). But when I think about it, it’s true that trying to be a principled person requires closing my mind to all kinds of things. I rigorously practice, for example, closing my mind off to the following ideas: that race is an indicator of value or rights or intelligence, that homosexuality is wrong, that rape is acceptable, that I have the right to consume beyond the means of the Earth, etc. Similarly, I close myself off to people all the time, and open myself to the ones I trust and that nurture goodness and learning and respect in my life.

My critic this week is not the first person to ever call me close-minded. In the past, my fear of being closed has caused me to respond to such charges by trying to remain open at all costs – even to things I had no business being open to. When I’ve done this against my intuition and better judgment, the result is only ever catastrophe. So, while I hope I have the courage in my life to open my mind to the ideas and people and criticisms that will make me learn the most, I will also consciously choose to trust myself to close myself to the things I need to, and to give myself permission to be more open to certain people (and qualities) than to others.

If you’ve made it this far, here’s the gist of the thing: I’m learning, and though it never feels easy and is often not pretty, I’m happy for it. And since some interesting stuff is coming up in the process, I think I’ll stick with it and continue to muddle my way through. But first I will take a breather, and rest up for the next round. Thanks for reading.

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, 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

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

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

Does your household have several dozen or hundred extra plastic bags floating around? Do you have a special drawer reserved for them in your kitchen or back porch, or have you attached a stylish plastic bag holder to the inside of a cupboard door? Have you gotten to the point where there are just too many bags to bother saving? It can’t hurt the environment too much to throw a few dozen away from time to time, can it?

Guess what? Plastic bags don’t go away. Whenever they eventually do leave your house, they sit in the landfill indefinitely. They don’t break down. Well, they might eventually, but chances are we’ll all be long gone when they do.

When I moved into my new home it was “furnished” in all senses of the word, right down to a plastic bag holder jam packed with bags. Having just begun my project of Subverting Overconsumption by not buying anything new for a year, I was dismayed that the first days of the process found me burdened with more bags.

Now don’t get me wrong. Even at my most determined, remembering to bring old plastic bags (or better yet, reusable cloth ones!) along when I go grocery shopping is generally beyond me, and the reason it fails to sink into my consciousness is mysterious and profoundly confounding. So it was with immense relief and gratitude that I recently stumbled on some angels bent on saving me from being plastic wrapped into oblivion.

The staff at Eat Healthy Foods organic grocery store in Regina Saskatchewan have adopted a simple yet brilliant practice: they invite their customers to bring in old plastic bags for reuse. Let me count the ways in which this is so damn excellent:

1. It provides an opportunity to reuse (many times over) some of the countless plastic bags that would otherwise get landfilled.

2. It saves the proprietor of Eat Healthy Foods the cost of buying new bags.

3. It alleviates the guilt the customer feels when we forget to bring our own bags, and empowers us to be able to reuse our old bags by bringing them into the store.

Thank you Eat Healthy Foods. To find out more about this sweet little independent business, check out this article in The Commonwealth.

And don’t forget that innovative small business owners aren’t the only ones that can take positive action. Check out the actions you can take:

1. Suggest to stores you frequent that they follow Eat Healthy Foods’ example by accepting donations of plastic bags for reuse.

2. Keep a bag of bags in the trunk of your car or in your bag for reuse at all times, so you won’t kick yourself for forgetting them!

3: Invest in a few large cloth bags to shop with, and keep them where you’ll see them and use them.

4. Don’t be discouraged by forgetting once in awhile. Remember that each time you don’t bring home new plastic bags is a victory, and that bringing them home occasionally doesn’t erase your efforts.

Here is some interesting further info on the subject:
Plastic Bag Podcast
The Guardian article on plastic bags
Info and resources from Worldwatch

Until next time, buy nothing.

xox n

The universe supports the subversion of overconsumption. Where on Earth did I come up with such a wacky idea? Right on my own front porch. The day I arrived at my new house in my new city, I was thinking about starting this project where I try to buy nothing new for a year and document the process of underconsumption. I was writing about the idea in a journal with only a few blank pages remaining.

In the front porch of my new house was a pile of boxes labeled “for Value Village,” which my landlord encouraged me to scavenge. What did I find at the bottom of one box but a lovely unused journal, just waiting for me. The cover read: “Dream your dreams with open eyes and make them come true. – T.E. Lawrence.”

They say that one girl’s garbage is another girl’s treasure. Jung called it synchronicity. I agree and thank the universe for taking the trouble to encourage me to start. Until next time, buy nothing.
xox n

Journal

Flickr Photos