Another Sunday, a week from my carbon-controlling inaugural. It’s the final day, and I at last have a chance to write and reflect again after a tornado struck mid-week, a cyclone of school and illness and trying to keep up. In some Disney-esque version of this past week, today would be a day of elaborate musical numbers and yodeling from the mountaintops about the self-and-eco-awareness I have gained. The bleary-eyed reality I confront this morning is quite a bit different than what dear old Walt might have storyboarded.
I started out this brief experiment with heady optimism, believing I had found or would find some sort of blessed antidote (or work-around) to the fossil-fuel clogged economic-cum-circulatory system upon which I rely to meet my daily human needs (and wants). Okay, maybe I wasn’t that naive. I didn’t think I was about to find Carbon Neutral Nirvana in 7 Easy Steps (there’s a title for a NY Times Bestseller). I do admit that I thought I was heading down a path toward some modicum of renewed eco-Truth. I think I may have taken perhaps a step down that path, but honestly, today finds me grumpy and disgruntled. Not pushing my bike pedals joyfully with my saddlebags full of homegrown tomatoes, headed toward a rosy, renewable future.
To be absolutely fair, the absence here of tiny animated blue and yellow birds singing G-Major songs authored by Elton John and Alan Menken about the “Circle of Trash” and “A Whole New (ReUsable) World” is probably a better, more transformative outcome than a perfect green en fin de compte. The absence of post-cleanse euphoria is due to the ways that I couldn’t carry the dicta of this week forward. Sometimes not meeting a goal or expectation can be the best damn thing that might’ve happened. Because then you don’t get to live happily ever after with James Earl Jones as the omnipresent voice of your benevolent deceased forebear. You don’t get off that easy, that is. The sting of not-quite-making-shit-work finds you pissed and depressed, maybe, but also, in some corner of your soul, wide awake and asking questions.
It might be trite and hackneyed, but blockages and breakdowns are the stuff of growth and change. I mean, sure, you need sing-it-from-the-rooftops victories, too, to make any progress. Too much learning-from-failure without applying the lessons successfully at some other point means the boat don’t sail, the train don’t choo, the girl don’t carbon-cut. And this girl wants to cut her carbon.
Putting aside waxing-failure-philosophical for a moment (with an abundance-of-hyphenated-phrases, apparently), it’s been a no-fun few days. Contracting a virus in the middle of the week proved extremely challenging as well as highly instructional. Meaning, I was sick as hell, then mad as hell, and had to (?) (carbon) compromise. Tuesday afternoon, I lost my voice to laryngitis and my lungs decided to try to turn themselves inside out with a hacking cough. I thought a little rest would be enough. I laid low one day, Wednesday, blogged late Wednesday night about the carbon triumphs of bed-rest (no travel! little appetite! still, viral infection is not an attractive nor sustainable solution to human overconsumption!). Thursday seemed promising, but, after biking/busing it to campus, eating local fruits and vegetables most of the day and raiding my cabinets for existing foodstores so as not to have to purchase a single thing that day, and feeling relieved about overcoming viral adversity and continuing the carbon cleanse, my dear not-quite-life form invader wasn’t quite done with me.
Renewed coughing and aching brought a late night car-aided run to the 24-hour pharmacy, another half-day of rest, another car trip to the doctor, then yet another, slightly longer drive, this time to my parents’ house in the suburbs to crash in a frustrated heap on their luxe leather couch in an air-conditioned HBO-On-Demand equipped living room. More sleep, then diving – rabidly eager for escape from discomfort – into a movie about the soul-numbing, self-abnegating nature of suburbanization in 1950’s America (the layers of irony there are just crushing).
I admit it, illness makes me weak. And uneasily, almost regrettably, grateful for modern conveniences. “Go ahead, take the planet!” I imagine myself crying out to some god coveting earthly Umwelt as he threatens me with physical or psychic pain, “Take the oceans and the atmosphere! Just let me recover in peace from this godforsaken virus!”
Okay, so, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic. But – pause for a breath – am I? Okay, I was sick, so I took care of myself. Granted, I’ve suffered my share of interesting and unexpected health challenges, and, (insert piteous wail at cruelty of biology and circumstance) dammit-life!, I’m still a young adult. Okay, yes, maybe I have reason to retreat, to raise the white flag when my body starts to hurt and my lungs are on fire. But, this time, my automatic self-protective, mama-or-HBO-or-Advil-make-it-go-away response demanded some reflection.
It may seem ridiculous to question the sanctity of “corpo sano” at all costs. Yet, I don’t think that’s what I’m challenging. That we should leverage our resources to care for ourselves (and others) when we are in pain, when we are ill, when we are in need are not assumptions that I am eager to strap dynamite to and explode. They speak to the better angels of our cooperative, compassionate (human) nature. The question is about degree of need and discernment of need. I wonder, don’t we mortgage so much every day for but a mere semblance of succor for our fiery souls?
I had made a commitment to be low-carbon for a week, a single week. A little more than halfway through, I torched my car moratorium, made exceptions left and right for suspending my use of overly packaged and disposable goods, and stopped paying attention to the amount of energy I consumed and the source of my food. But I was sick! It’s all okay! Yes. And no. Could I have paused to consider that distress (in the face of microscopic forces which, although tiny, were nonetheless kicking my ass) was more at play than true physical danger? Could I have taken a few moments to take a deep breath, maybe taken five minutes to walk outside and look at the buds opening on the street trees outside my apartment, and ask, “What is real? What is actually happening right now?” and thought of other ways to respond, mindfully and “earthfully,” to the pain and fear I was feeling as another round of infection pried its way in? I may have had to admit weakness to a friend, or ask a neighbor to help care for me from his or her medicine cabinet, explain my carbon-commitments more fully and assertively to my family, or cut back on less important work-related tasks, but a more graceful and lower carbon response to getting sick would have, I think, been possible. And, maybe, calmed down and less stressed, my body would’ve been better able to fight off the invaders. It is easy to speculate, hard to know.
If lower carbon living is to be possible for me in a consistent way, it has to carry into the more difficult corners of my life, too. It can’t just be when the sun is shining, the hills are alive with the sound of music, and I’m feeling invincible. I guess not getting loaded on carbon-soaked convenience and staying on some sort of eco-wagon, rather than reverting to a one-hit, easy-out business-as-usual speedster approach to solving problems, is, for now, for me, about slowing down and taking a deep breath. Oh, it sounds so simple. Illness, desire to be accepted, concern for looking foolish, the need to be cool and with the program, and to participate in the socioeconomic milieu in the ways in which I’ve been well disciplined, all beg this crazy notion of lower impact living to just sit down and shut the hell up. Compelling ourselves to stop and think twice about what makes us whole and what makes us truly well in the day-to-day rush of our lives is some of the most important and difficult personal, social, and ecological work that we can (and must) do.
Long-haul commitment to sustainability, then, starts (and starts again and again and again) with a pause and a thoughtful breath that recognizes and redirects when entrenched patterns set in. In this moment of awareness we have the opportunity to make choices that are better aligned with our deepest “fields of care.” If this week has taught me anything, it’s that making mad-crazy love over and over again to that momentary pause is how this low-carbon stuff might just hold together and keep going in my life. I swear to take this deep, re-evaluative breath as my sworn companion and lover, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer! But, Lordy, if remembering to take that breath and pausing (to restart the conscious beat that reminds me of how much I care and allows me to be firm despite how nutty I might look) ain’t the hardest thing to swing. When the beat’s not tight, though, what you get downstream is an uneasy feeling in your chest that something’s rotten in the techno-magic of your 21st century wonderland and millions of barrels of oil drifting carelessly in the Gulf of Mexico. And, so, going lower-carbon begins with stopping…and breathing and noticing and then shifting.
And, now, life moves on, this active carbon-cleanse is suspended for a moment, but the process of living more and more with less continues. I think I’ll continue to write on this blog, about eco-specific topics and those not so enviro-themed. Regardless of subject matter, the daily explorations are about, over and over and over again, breathing into moments that open my eyes and change the action of my hands and direction of my feet. Asking, in the moments of suspended animation, what is it that is real here? What is it that I really need?
I am going to shut off my air conditioner for the evening, maybe longer, eat a small, vegetarian meal, and take a very short shower. It’s exam week, I am behind on my work and stressed. But, I’m going to pause, breathe, and bike my way up to run an errand near campus and then find a quiet spot in the University library in which to begin to finish up the last papers and tasks of the quarter. My Mom just texted me that a compost stirrer would be a good gift for Father’s Day. My Twitter feeds tell me that the Feds and BP may have made progress on staunching part of the flow of oil thousands of feet under the sea.
There are no easy fixes to our ecological quandaries, but, really, just like it is better to act mindfully and creatively out of a place of caring awareness than hastily and destructively out of a place of myopic anxiety, it is important to remember how our imperfect systems of production and consumption feed our connections to each other (case in point: this blog) and help us crazy human creatures live to try to smile and love another day. This isn’t supposed to be a kumb-a-ya sort of ending, none of us who over-consume our fair share is off the hook, but, I can’t help but sound a final note of kindness.
It is vitally important to reduce our impact, particularly when it comes to carbon emissions and fossil fuel use. It is also essential to remember that, as certain and real as the specters of discomfort, disease, disconnection, and disequilibrium are, equally certain and real are the promises of true comfort, ease, connection, and, yes, ultimately, blessed equilibrium. So, we actively labor to live consciously, but also have faith in balance.