• climate change,  environment,  ethics,  nature,  politics

    Zero Waste Guilt

    I recently joined a zero waste community on Facebook, in a panic over the news that my neighborhood will likely be under water in another thirty years. It has definitely been an interesting experience — anthropological in part, but also educational. But, ignoring the anxiety of joining any public group with zillions of people who cannot be polite online, there was something bugging me about it all. 

    Well, two things. 

    The first was that in order to become more zero waste, I had to do a lot of purchasing, which naturally produces waste. Of course, if you don’t have reusable bags, you’re going to have to buy some. If you’re using Ziplocks, then you need to purchase the silicone replacements. And shampoo. Good luck finding zero waste shampoo unless you happen to have a Lush near you, where you can buy $12 shampoo bars in person and put them in your reusable bag.   You’ll be wanting a $30 safety shave razor too, which will save you money in the long run.  And don’t you have a compost set up in your yard, which naturally you own and control?

    And then someone finally shared a post to the community that made so much sense to me.  Why does going zero waste feel like an eating disorder? 

    And voila, there it was. The guilt of every piece of plastic that I used was beginning to eat me up in the same way that I used to feel guilty for eating food at the height of the years when I constantly starved myself. My guilt over the waste my family produces has been eating me up for ages, but now I’d found a community of people that were feeding into my need to have some control — at any cost — over it. It was consuming me, making me feel like a bad person for needing to ever buy things for my family.

    Try to explain to a 3 year old that you don’t need to buy her pants in her size because it’s going to create a box and a plastic bag. And the alternative is to zoom around to all the used goods places you can to find used clothes instead, which takes a huge amount of time. As a working parent, the very idea of having that much time seems so laughable and that’s if you ignore, for a moment, that thrift stores were set up to help people who cannot afford new clothes, so now you have well off people creating a competition for goods with people who don’t have the same choices.

    I think about that because I was one of those kids growing up.  Thrifting, as a middle-class activity, has always sat uncomfortably with me, because I remember well going to the Goodwill every Saturday to see what treasures might have turned up that we could actually afford.

    Which is not to say that you shouldn’t refuse, reduce, reuse and recycle as much as you can. It’s just that it’s a more complicated problem than an individual can solve. But the zero waste movement sells this idea that you’re the problem, not the overarching systems put in place by our economic system and government policies. We should, absolutely, try to consume less and demand better choices. But driving yourself mad because it’s impossible to buy meat for your family without styrofoam and plastic isn’t helping. Do you use cereal and don’t have a bulk foods store nearby? Then it’ll be cardboard and plastic. Are you planning on ordering anything online ever again? Then it’s cardboard and plastic.  And just forget eating in a restaurant ever again.  Think!  Think of all the boxes that their food came in!

    The system is bad. I want to have hope that there’s change coming, but it’s hard to see from where I’m sitting.  Here in Long Island, a single stream recycling company has recently announced they’re going out of business because what China is willing to pay is not enough to keep the plant open.  The towns that rely on it are now scrambling to find a replacement, but it’s an industry problem.  How many years did we think we could casually throw things in the recycling bin guilt-free before there was a reckoning?

    In the meantime, there are folks in the zero waste community cutting down on showers and toilet paper in their need to waste less. And that’s an interesting choice, because all of those reusables require so much more washing than anything disposable, so if soap and water are a problem… 

    How do you win? 

  • ethics,  film,  politics,  racism

    Voting is Harm Reduction

    Lately, my Beloved and I have been binge watching Call the Midwife, which he is enjoying because of a personal connection to his family history and culture.  I’m enjoying it because I love stories about women interacting with women.  The midwives live in a convent, along with a small order of nuns, who organize the medical practice, and create a loving family of women.  I desperately want to join the sisterhood.  But it is the compassion of the nurses, who are young women that get involved in the lives of their patients, that carry the show along. 

    And it’s amazing how a story set so far away can resonate with us so closely.  One night, the episode was about an elderly woman who had been separated from her five children when she entered a workhouse after she was widowed.  She was never given the fate of her children, who all died of illnesses in the unsanitary conditions of the workhouse.  She is tormented by this all of her life, until the midwife nurse charged with her care follows the parish records and finds the burial place of her youngest child.

    “The Boys’ Workhouse”, Albert Edelfelt (1885)

    In the final scene, the woman bends down and plants her body over the resting place of her child, at peace at last.

    My Beloved turned to me to talk to me about the work houses, public houses that were established for the destitute of the parish to have a place to go.  Families were separated from each other upon entry, kept in separate wings of the work houses with no contact.  Conditions were poor and disease was rampant because of the crowding, although the workers were given a safe place to sleep at night.

    And then we were silent, because the similarity to the news was obvious and painful.  Here we are, nearly a century after the work houses were shut down in the U.K. for their inhumane conditions, living in a country that is currently taking children from their parents in order to disincentivize refugees from central and southern America.

    An inside view of one of the tents we are using to house detained migrant children, 2018

    One father, not understanding what had happened, killed himself.  Other children have been lost, separated from their families and moved into an overwhelmed bureaucracy that is losing records and losing people.  Guards have raped the children, who have been housed in chain cages, on floors without blankets.

    Here, in America, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  Here, we take refugee children and do the same thing that the Victorians did for their poor.  Like in the workhouses, the children are not receiving an education.  They have little in the way of legal representation.  Their environment has been designed to demoralize them.

    They have been taken from their families.

    They have been taken from their families, to punish their parents for seeking our help. 

    The episode was a haunting episode, that has lingered with me since we watched it.  And all I can think, as the midterms approach and I feel so helpless to create actual change, is that voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    Voting is harm reduction.

    This administration has actively sought — and continues to seek — to do harm, to the environment, to people fleeing violence and wars that we have instigated, to LGBTQ civil rights, to healthcare, to the rights of women.  And all we seem to be able to do is to try to reduce the onslaught, to speak up and say, no, this is so very wrong.  I have to place my desperate hope on the thought that there are enough people out there that we can make enough of a difference to slow down the harm.

    I have been wrong too many times before.  I envy the faith of the sisters in Call the Midwife, who reach for the humanity in every soul of the parish that they tend.

    But how I want to believe.

  • ethics,  family,  introspection,  motherhood,  writing

    Happy New Year!

    blue_new_year_greeting_card_266209I spent the last day of 2015 switching between taking care of a sick baby, a sick cat and sorting through boxes of my mother’s things.  It’s not just my mother’s things — we are hoping to move in the spring, so I’ve spent the last week decluttering our basement storage so that when we show the house to potential buyers that it looks like a place where you can put things.  I’ve been going through all the stuff that we’ve forgotten that we owned, like fish tanks and snorkel fins and Halloween decorations, and trying to find new homes for them so that our house looks like a place where someone else can put their forgotten stuff.

    Ironic, isn’t it?

    The upshot is that Baba and the cat are both on the mend.  Our eighteen-year-old tabby tore out the dew claw on his hind foot on Christmas Eve, which led to him spraying blood all over our kitchen floor and being very indignant about all the antibiotics and pain medication that I’ve been force-feeding him for the last week.  He’s also been cordoned off from the back yard, which wasn’t too big of a deal until he started feeling better.  It has been Howl O’Clock ever since.  On Thursday, I strapped Baba to my chest and slung the cat carrier over my shoulder and went back to the vet for the follow-up exam.  Baba ate much of the furniture in the exam room while we waited, but the cat’s prognosis is good, even if he is still forbidden from his backyard prowling for another week.  Howl, howl, howl.

    Baba is a little slower to heal, and we’ve spent most of last few nights attending to her cough. It wasn’t exactly my plan for ringing in 2016, but it is what it is. In a sense, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to ring out 2015 than to stumble around with exhaustion after a long night of baby tending.  Here’s to more sleep in 2016.

    After a hard week’s work, I am also beginning to see an end to the basement clean-up. It is a fitting project for the end of the year — trolling through old photographs, journals and letters puts me in a deeply reflective mood. I’ve now outlived enough of my relatives to have accumulated  generations of memories, so many of the letters and photographs that I’m rediscovering aren’t even mine.  Now, I am saving them for Baba, in the hopes that some day she will care as much about our family history as I do.

    I did find my childhood diary, which has only fuelled my recent desire to take up journalling again. For a writer, the benefits are obvious.  I have journalled privately on and off through the years, but it has been off again since Baba was born.  I already struggle with finding enough time to work on fiction and this blog, and journalling was competing with that time.  Time may be a finite resource, but I find that I’ve missed the clarity that journalling gives my thoughts and emotions.

    And yet, after finding my mother’s diaries, I am not certain about leaving behind such a detailed written record for Baba to find one day. My mother died suddenly, decades before she expected to. Her journals are filled with beautiful writing, but it is clear that they were an outlet for her when she was troubled or struggling with the depression that always chased her. This isn’t the picture of her grandmother that I want to leave behind for Baba. Every time I find my mother’s journals, I can barely stand to read more then an entry or two, because I know they weren’t meant for me. I know that I should destroy them, but I also can’t seem to bring myself to do so, knowing that they might have answers to some of the questions of my early life. They provide context to my memories, which my mother might have been able to do if she had lived longer.  I was raised thousands of miles from our extended family, so I don’t have the network of shared memories from cousins and siblings and aunts and uncles and grandparents that so many people do.  I just had my mother, who died too soon.

    In this cleaning, I found a baby memory book that she wrote for me, which has satisfied my curiosity about many questions that I’ve had this year. No one remembers when I began to walk, but my mother wrote it down for me. I found when I got my first tooth, grew my head of hair, began to sit up. I’ve wanted to know this all year so that I might know what to expect with Baba’s development. And here is a book that tells me everything!  I was so excited by this that I turned around and ordered a memory book to fill in for Baba, in case she finds herself in the same position that I am in now.

    What if there are more answers, more context, in my mother’s journals and letters? I remember my mother, mostly as the grinning, silly, playful person that she was much of the time. But Baba would only know her through these very painful journal entries. That isn’t a fair picture at all. And yet, my mother kept journals from 20 years before she died. Did she want us to find them?  Could she just not stand to them go?  There are some questions I just can’t answer.

    For now, I’ve put the journals and letters back in labelled boxes and pushed them to the back of our storage area.  I tell myself that after we sell our house and move that I might pull them out and read through them, but I know that a thousand things will take a higher priority.  They are journeys into the past and it is, after all, a new year now, ripe with the excitement new stories and memories to come.

    Happy New Year!

     

  • culture,  ethics,  introspection,  new york

    The Eating Season!

    _DSC5068

    Earlier this week, Baba crawled right out of her pants.  She was nursing, which gives you an idea of what nursing a very active baby is like, and I didn’t immediately notice because I had covered us both with a sheet.  I laughed when I discovered her bare, chubby thighs and tried to hold her as close to me as she would allow.

    This last month has been filled with moments like this — as the world has literally and metaphorically darkened, tiny moments of beauty keep filtering through.  My neighborhood is covered with an impressive array of Christmas lights, which make driving home through the darkness a delightful experience.  It is the first year since Hurricane Sandy that I’ve seen such an impressive display, and I am deeply grateful to see the world return to normal.  It is so reassuring to contrast the rising hatred in the world with festive frivolity, with beauty, with art.

    It has been a remarkably sane holiday season for us.  I made a conscious decision to keep it simple this year.  Instead of trying to do all of the things, we picked the ones that mattered.  Cards, because sitting down to write my extended social circle once a year fills me with joy.  Small presents for family.  Our own contribution to the neighborhood lights.  Visiting with friends.  Loving our daughter in the fierce way that has become normal.  Bringing food to share with people that we love.

    It is Baba’s first Christmas.  We went last night to a Christmas Eve dinner at a friend’s, in what has become a treasured annual tradition.  The food itself comes from the American Italian tradition of The Feast of the Seven Fishes, where seafood is served to both celebrate bounty and because it is a period of fasting from red meat in the Catholic tradition.  It is not my tradition, by heritage or religion, but it has been such a part of my experience since moving to New York that it has come to feel like mine.  Last night, as I fed Baba fish cakes and pasta baked in clam sauce, it felt like even more like home.

    We let her stay up hours past her bedtime, which is why I can write this in the sweet silence of a sleeping house.  She took her first steps last night, after dinner and in front of an audience of kind and fine people.  We clapped and cheered for her, while her face exploded in glee at her new freedom.

    Today, we will go to celebrate with a different set of lifelong friends, as we always do.  I have bought a cake for dessert that is covered in a more traditional design that I could have ever imagined picking out before — and yet, I found that I could not resist it.  I have, perhaps for the first time in my life, put on Christmas music in my home, just like my mother always used to do.

    It is a season of music, of eating, of feasting, of remembering what is important in life.  This year, for me, Christmas is about love and charity.  It is about the ideals of a peaceful world; it is a reminder of what we must continue fighting for.  I can only hope to share this peace and joy that I feel in my heart with you.

     

     

  • culture,  ethics,  motherhood,  new york,  racism

    Make It Stop

    It is a dark and rainy night here in the Big Apple. No different from many fall evenings, except that videos have surfaced of terrorists threatening Times Square, only a few days after the slaughter in Paris. The city is on high alert, with the much criticized NYPD doing extra patrols and sweeps to try to stop murder before it happens. Tonight, I was followed onto my train by a counter terrorism cop, who visually swept the car before nodding that the train could go on.

    I usually resent the police presence in the subway. They stand
    with assault weapons across their chest, the business end pointed down.  How easy, I think, for them to accidentally shoot so many, if something goes wrong. They are often young and I wonder how many years they’ve been out of the police academy. They stand for hours, usually vigilant, usually watching. Watching us. Nodding one or two out of a hundred over to their tables, they swipe our bags with little cloths, analyzing the molecules that they pick up for evidence of planned destruction. When it is not my turn for inspection, I slide by them with a resentful glance at the fire power that has become normal to me, because I live in a world of increasing militarization.

    This man, who was clad head to toe in thick padding underneath his dark blue uniform, carried only a pistol in his belt. And tonight, he reminded me that the city was under threat, which I had forgotten after my busy day in the office. And yet, I was glad to see him. What a brave man, I thought, to do this day after day. That’s admirable. I took a
    long look at his dark brown eyes and curly hair. I took in the intense,
    trained gaze, the dark embroidery of his name and unit on his pocket.

    I should really work on my will, I thought. Just in case.  You never know.


    Today, too, my government began the legislation to deny refuge to 10,000 Syrians. It is couched and marketed with words that make it sound like something different. They called it screening, as though the multi-year screening process that we already had in place wasn’t sufficient. What it is, in reality, is a requirement that a single person sign off on every Syrian that we allow to come here. A single busy person.  In reality, it means that we will deny even the paltry 10,000 that we’ve already promised to help. We will be as bad as Hungary. We will close our doors to the victims of our enemies.

    Two hundred and eighty nine people got together in a room today and cast their vote that we should do this, even though every American school child is taught about how the U.S. made their immigration policies stricter for the German Jews during World War II. Even after we knew about genocide, we closed our doors. We are taught about how shameful that was, about how afraid Americans were. And yet, here we are, with an opportunity to redeem our country’s actions in those dark days….and two hundred and eighty nine of our elected officials thought we should repeat history instead.

    The worst part, of course, is that this is in response to an attack by French and Belgian murderers. And yet, the call to keep French and Belgian visitors and immigrants out of our country has not come.  It is the Syrian refugees who are being given the blame, as my country seeks to punish the victims of ISIS for something a bunch of Europeans did.

    A few months after Baba was born, I joined the local parenting group on Facebook. The main topic of the last few weeks has been how the local shopping mall has replaced Santa’s giant Christmas tree with a
    glacier display. The presumption was that the Christmas tree was somehow offensive and that the PC police were at it again. Surely, this was a sign of American values under fire, as those other people had to be accommodated. Christianity, itself, is under fire by the loss of the tree.

    I admit to some confusion as to how a Christmas tree, but not Santa, would be insulting. In any case, the outrage was so ferocious that a small tree was added to the display. The parenting group was horrified; how could the mall insult them by putting such a small tree in place?

    In the middle of this discussion, one hundred and twenty nine lives were taken in Paris. And then the bigots came straight out.  It’s the immigrants. We need to stop the immigrants, they said.

    My husband is an immigrant, I said. He’s worked here and paid taxes for over twenty years. What is your problem with immigrants?

    Well, fine, they said. It’s the immigrants who are terrorists. Like the
    ones who blew up our neighbors in 9/11.

    None of those attackers were immigrants, I reminded them. I know that many people here lost people that they knew, that they loved. But immigrants didn’t do it. Immigrants want what you do — a better life for their children. A safer world. A place where there is plenty to eat.

    Next you’re going to tell me what a great president Obama is, they said.  Thank God these governors have the sense to not let Syrians come to their states. You won’t agree, but you must agree that it’s understandable.

    But the attackers in France weren’t Syrians! I said. And that’s not even something a governor can do! Does anyone here think at all?

    I am, as you might imagine, very popular in this group. The whole discussion disturbed me so much that I have been really considering if this is a place where I want to raise Baba, knowing that she will come into contact with people who speak so hatefully about people just like her father.  We have been talking about selling our house and buying another in the same neighborhood, but now I am not so sure.


    It was inevitable that I would find a news article that showed pictures of the French victims. My mouse hovered over the first picture, but then I had to look away. It is too much for me now. I see Baba in all of them. I think of the mothers that have been gutted by the loss of their children. I feel it too deeply. It is just another story of families torn apart by mass violence, just like the attacks in Lebanon the day before or the shooting in Kenya or the buses and markets that are attacked so regularly that we lose count of the dead.  I have victim fatigue. I can no longer look at the victims of Virginia Tech or Oregon State or Sandy Hook. I can’t even watch the videos that the UNHCR publishes. I can’t read the stories.

    Anger comes easier.   Anger is so easy when I see the hate continue. I can only ask why we have a world in which young men become radicalized, in which they are taught to hate so much that they don’t even see their victims as other people. I want to know, to understand, why the world has become a place in which they can see no future for themselves. And then I want us to put systems in place to Make. It. Stop.

    It seems so hopeless when all I can hear are my neighbors screaming for blood — the wrong blood.  Can’t we please move past the fear and reach out to each other? Can we please just Make. It. Stop?

  • ethics,  politics

    Ethical Clothing

    I’m not much of a clothes shopper, which is evidenced by the fact that my wardrobe has gotten into a pretty sad state. I’ve been slowly trying to remedy this, which is hard to do when you hate shopping as much as I do.

    Also, in this go around of trying to replenish my wardrobe, I find that I’m having a hard time developing an appetite to buy from most of the stores around me, because I’ve been thinking a lot about what goes on behind the scenes to make the clothes. The fashion industry has not made the world a better place.

    I would like to start purchasing my clothes from companies that pay fair wages and has decent labor practices. Ideally, the clothes and materials should be made from replenishable materials that have a minimum of environmental impact and aren’t shipped all over the world. I want clothes with a conscience, but I’m having a difficult time finding much information about where to shop.

    In the past, I’ve shopped some from thrift stores, but this usually doesn’t work out for me, since I like my clothes to have a good fit, which is tough enough when there’s a range of sizes for a particular item. Once items are unique, finding clothes that fit well becomes an exercise in frustration. Most of the things I’ve purchased in thrift shops get donated again pretty quickly due to a poor fit.

    Anyone have any advice? I’m all ears.

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