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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

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

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

Awesome headline, right? For those of you who’ve been following Subverting Overconsumption, you may recall my mental hurdle to buy used socks, and the ensuing dialogue about what would happen when the time came for new (or at least new-to-me) underwear.

It seems that buying someone else’s socks is one thing (I’m shamelessly wearing my thrift store socks as I type), but that recycling panties has whole other connotations. Though in recent years I can admit to cheerfully buying the odd second-hand bra, slip or vintage bathing suit, when it comes to the generally quiet lingerie aisle at Value Village I generally steer clear, and I never browse the panties.

That aside, the used undy question makes for interesting conversation. A favourite uncle sent me an email (subject heading: “dead man’s underwear”) that read: “So I hear you are going to buy nothing new for a whole year, what a great idea. Sometimes I find new underwear at the sally-ann, but I think they may have been a dead man’s pair and he just never got to use them.” I also had a chat with Stonehead about the dilemma, on both his and my blog.

All that said, I guess I’m as much disappointed as relieved that the underwear dilemma has been resolved before it even became a problem. Turns out my mom “couldn’t bear the thought” of me not buying new underwear for a year, and so intervened by buying* me four shiny new pair for Christmas. And so my passable underwear collection is now even better, and the debate can likely be put to rest for the remainder of the project. Thanks mom! (But I have to wonder how much more fun it would’ve been to play it out the other way!)

*Passing through Calgary (my hometown and the current Canadian hub of overconsumption) on her way to Saskatchewan for Christmas, my mom stopped at the iconically Canadian and newly American-owned Hudson’s Bay Company to buy a pair of pants. It happened to be Scratch and Save, and she happened to scratch an unheard of 45% savings on all merchandise in the store. So instead of buying a single pair of pants at regular price, she made the most of her savings by spending several times what she originally planned to on all manner of products (including my brand-spanking-new ginch). She then went home and passed the savings card to a friend, who went and bought a ton more stuff that she would have otherwise not bought. Talk about viral consumption…I’m not sure what kind of human would be completely immune to it.

xo n

(Note: Snyder family be advised that reading further will give away your Christmas presents.)

With only a few days left till Santa, my attempts to subvert holiday overconsumption have been moderately (if not wildly) successful. I haven’t been in a mall or a big box store, and it feels great. But unfortunately I haven’t been magically moved to create innovative underconsumptive gifts either. The moments of inspiration have been few.

Fortunately I’ve managed to manifest at least one decent series of gifts. The idea came way back in the summer, when I came across a snapshot of my great grandparents in 1910, standing on the prairie with a boxy storefront in the background. Neither of them could have been older than 25, and they look happy.

I love this picture. I love the sense of history and place it gives me. So I went and had 8″ x 10″ enlargements made, put them in frames, and sent them to every family member on that side of the family. Father, grandparents, aunt and uncle, cousins.

Snyders in Wainwright Alberta (1910)I think it’s a good present. But talk about putting all my eggs in one basket! As the box travels west and north I find myself feeling insecure on a bunch of different levels. For one thing, I’m not sure if or how far photo development falls outside my guidelines for subverting overconsumption, and after worrying about that for a while the photos didn’t turn out exactly how I wanted anyway (the photo dude cut off the giant prairie sky, which is a big part of what makes the original photo so cool). For another thing, hiking out to Value Village to buy recycled frames meant that I had to take what I could get, even though it meant settling for some fairly ratty looking frames. On top of that I didn’t buy wrapping paper – instead I did a bit of a hack job wrapping them in old magazine pages and recycled velvet and lace ribbon.

Then of course there’s the problem of them being my only gift…what if they just seem lame?

Why is it that despite sparing myself the holiday stress of the malls and consumption, I’m still managing to worry that I’m going to come off like a cheap twit to my friends and family? Two months in to this project (today is Subverting Overconsumption’s two month anniversary!) I realize I still don’t feel quite secure underconsuming in a culture that associates how much we buy with how much success, love and gratitude we have. I wonder when that’s going to wear off. I really want it to wear off dammit!

Subversive season’s greetings to you and yours,

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.

With the number of shopping days till Christmas counting down, I still haven’t developed my Buy Little-to-Nothing Christmas strategy. This week found my house (and life) moving into high gear for the holidays, but I’m still lagging behind. If anything, I should have starting thinking about Christmas earlier than the average consumer, but instead I’ve put it off and am now about to fly into a panic!

So far my attempts to subvert overconsumption this holiday season haven’t been all that successful.

First hurdle: Tree. My roommate really wanted a tree. I also love having a tree. I’ve always had a real tree. I couldn’t decide whether having a real tree was in any way justifiable under the Guidelines for Subverting Overconsumption. I tried to find a Freecycled tree (posting once myself and responding to two posts) and failed. My roommate finally bought a brand new artificial Christmas tree from Wal-Mart or Liquidation World (I can’t remember which). Shit.

Buy Nothing Christmas PosterSecond hurdle: Gifts.

(Warning: if you are a relative or close friend, you may wish to stop reading this posting now (unless you’re more interested in the process of Subverting Overconsumption than you are in being surprised by what present you get from me).)

I seem to have several gifting options, which I could also mix and match. But so far I’m not feeling overly inspired, and the clock is ticking. I made crabapple jelly in the summer (but at the moment it’s several hundred kilometres away). I could probably find some good used books online. My roommate found a recipe for homemade bath salts in Martha Stewart Living. In the past I’ve made mix CDs, but this year I’m not sure what to do about buying (or rather, not buying) CD-Rs. I thought of personalized storybooks, but that’d be a frick of a lot of work. I won a door prize I could re-gift.

I’m sure I’ll figure something out, but how about some help! Cast your vote on the Subverting Overconsumption Holiday Poll (top left of this page) for a chance to win a subversively underconsumptive gift from yours truly (well, not really, since voting is anonymous…but if you leave a really great comment we can talk!).

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

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?

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Dollhouse close up

Kitchen close up

Dollhouse rooms

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