September 27, 2010

Thoughts On Stuff

"The most pitiful are those who turn dreams into silver and gold."

- Kahlil Gibran

"You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy."

- Eric Hoffer 

"The world has to learn that the actual pleasure derived from material things is of rather low quality on the whole and less even in quantity than it looks to those who have not tried it."

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

"We must rapidly begin the shift from a 'thing-oriented' society to a 'person-oriented' society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered."

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

September 25, 2010

Simple Pleasures: Good Health

Do you ever wake up in the morning and think about the gloriousness of being pain-free? Do you marvel with thankfulness that you can get yourself dressed? Do you consider every step you take a gift from the mobility gods? I do. Good health is my ultimate simple pleasure.

Health enables us to enjoy all the other simple pleasures. Too often, it is taken for granted. We may not notice our health until a moment of illness - we miss it only when it is gone. Then we realize the value of being healthy.

I have been fortunate so far in maintaining my health. I am aware of it, and thankful for it more now than ever before. It is not just that I am aging, but that my partner, Linda, is dealing with the repercussions of multiple sclerosis.

Linda is amazing. She is the smartest woman I know. She is also one of the happiest people I know, in spite of her deteriorating health. She is tough, and does not complain. Every day is a gift and adventure, and she will not be stopped in her pursuit of the simple, beautiful life.

If I ever took my health for granted, I don't any more. Simple things have taken on huge meaning, and worrisome things that seemed important have gradually faded away. I am filled with gratitude that both Linda and I are as healthy as we are, and that we ha.

Small things can come out of the blue and change your life forever. An abscessed tooth. A concussion. An MS diagnosis. The results of us not honoring our health have a way of sneaking up on us. It is no wonder - living well is a full time job, and often we feel that we do not have enough time or energy.

Cultivating a low-stress lifestyle can take years. Exercising takes precious time and effort. Cooking with whole foods takes time and effort. There is no easy route to good health, but what else do we have to do that is more important?

Hippocrates said, "A wise person should consider that health is the greatest of human blessings, and learn how by their own thought to derive benefit from their illnesses."

Good health is my most cherished simple pleasure.

Wheelchairing in China Beach Provincial Park, BC

September 23, 2010

We Are All Hoarders

Have you seen Mom? She's in here somewhere...

 The most famous example of a compulsive hoarder, Langley Collyer, is mentioned in the opening pages of Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding And The Meaning Of Things by Randy Frost and Gail Steketee. Between 1933 and 1948, Langley filled his mansion in Manhattan with 120 tons of stuff. He gleaned the streets at night, and neighbours watched as the items flowed into (but not out of) the large house.

Both Langley and his handicapped brother Homer were found dead among the possessions that included 11 pianos (one a gift from the Queen of England), and all the parts for a Model T Ford automobile. It was found that Langley was crushed by a heap of stuff that he rigged as a booby trap for potential intruders. Homer, dependent on his brother, died shortly after and was found sitting in a chair in a small clearing amidst the ceiling high piles.

With that kind of beginning I had to continue flipping the pages of Stuff. The stories were fascinating, and I could see that 'normals' are not that much different from the compulsive hoarders described. Most of us are into collecting, whether it is countries visited, or shoes, or decorative spoons, or food. We can not seem to escape our tendencies toward too much.

Before reading this eye-opening book our small apartment had a spacious empty look and feel to it. But now I am starting to feel stifled by even our small amount of possessions. When I look around I see things I have not used for a long time. We have a small storage space on-site, and I don't even like to open it up on the rare occasion that I need to retrieve something.

My space needs a white tornado, a monkanization, an enema. I will use the following words for inspiration before the impending purge.
"As has been apparent to us from studying hoarding, we may own the things in our homes, but they own us as well. Objects carry the burden of responsibilities that include acquisition, use, care, storage, and disposal. The magnitude of these responsibilities for each of us has exploded with the expanding number of items in our homes during the past 50 years. Having all these possessions has caused a shift in our behavior away from human interaction to interaction with inanimate objects.

This is partly a function of the commercialization of our culture. Never has there been so much stuff for people to own and so many ways of peddling it to consumers."
The times of my life that have been the most memorable and meaningful are those times that I had the least amount of stuff. Times that luxury was not present, and I was challenged by life instead of having my skills atrophy in a pampered world of too much.

The no frills student life, living out of a small backpack for a year while traveling, and camping have all taught me that I do not need about 99% of what the corporate world is trying to sell me. Let the purge begin. Freedom will follow.

September 20, 2010

No Mischief Monday

Gaga's High Carbon Footprint Meat Mess

Lady Gaga's meat dress is a meaty mess. She is certainly not the first person to wear a meatkini, or a little meat dress. It has been done before, and with pretty much the same result - people are getting all weirded out.

I don't really get it, though. It is ok to kill a cow, butcher it, then sear its flesh and eat it with gusto. But put a few slabs of the same meat on your body and it is somehow repugnant. Why?

Is it because this fleshy fashion statement has such a high carbon footprint? It must be - what else could be wrong with it? Especially if you throw the garment on the BBQ after and feed it to your friends and family.

No, what must twist people out is the massive green house gases (GHG) that meat couture involves. Careful calculations show that the creation of Lady Gaga's MTV Awards meat dress produced 140 lbs of CO2 equivalents. Yikes! That is the same CO2 production as driving a small car 200 miles.

Included in the 140 pound calculation is the 20 - 40 oz. of cow farts and belches exuded by the cow that the small amount of 'fabric' for the dress came from. It should be noted that methane has 23 times the global-warming potential than CO2. The 140 lbs also includes GHG produced by growing the 100 pounds of plant protein required to grow the amount of meat required.

This, I conclude, is what everyone must be so upset about in the whole meat dress debacle. Curious about how things might be different if Gaga's wardrobe went vegetarian, I calculated what kind of a carbon footprint a fashionable veggie dress would have.

I crunched a few numbers and came up with a ballpark figure of between 4 to 5 pounds of C02 equivalents for a 100% meatless dress.

Get with the program, Gaga. Real ladies are concerned about their carbon footprints. Better start working on your vegkini and little brussel sprout dress for the next photo shoot or awards ceremony.

September 18, 2010

Valuing Berry Patches And The Commons

"Rather than by your culture spoiled,
Desist, and give us nature wild."
- Matthew Green

I have been gleaning late season blackberries this week. My pink, purple stained hands are a work of art with angry red slashes and dots recording my encounters with piercing thorns. Still, what joy to experience a part of my world that has not been privatized, put behind fences and gated off. The ample blackberry brambles along roadways are still in the commons, and are free to all willing to pay the price in a bit of pain.

Small thorns are still in my fingers, not-so-gentle reminders of my brush with the brambles. While picking I thought of how out of place the practice of free berry picking is in our current system. There is no monetary value assigned to these berries, and enclosure has not struck... yet.

But occasionally I expect to show up at my favourite location only to see the berry patch surrounded by a chain link fence, and some 'businessperson' at the gate collecting admission fee. What a sad day that would be, however expected the outcome. Land-grabs are still taking place all over the globe, including in our own back yards. We must protect what is left of the commons before they take that, too.

About 500 years ago, before capitalists started assigning everything a monetary value, the planet was our supermarket, our mega, mega mall. It was all the commons, and humans gleaned freely from it.

"The commons were traditionally defined as the elements of the environment - forests, atmosphere, rivers, fisheries or grazing land - that are shared, used and enjoyed by all. It refers to resources that are collectively owned or shared between or among populations. These resources are said to be 'held in common'. In some areas the process by which the commons were transformed into private property was termed enclosure."

We can not even comprehend the freedom of the commons in our money based economy. Today we are more familiar with commercial complexes called "The Commons", which is a complete bastardization of the term. More generously, we define the commons as parks and places where we recreate in order to recover from being privatized to near death. At one time we knew the value of the commons, and the struggle against enclosure was, and is, persistent.

Today we know, as Oscar Wilde said, 'the price of everything, but the value on nothing'. Most of us have no other way of valuing the world around us except with money equivalents.

However, the experience of picking the berries has great value for me, and it pays off in mental well-being. I value being outside in nature. On one day of picking, the soft warm rain was an added bonus. As was the quiet that surrounded me, punctuated only by my occasional cries of "ouch!", and the guttural vocalizations of the resident ravens. The air so fresh, the berries on the vine so shiny black, the spiders and their webs so HUGE. Bending, moving, stretching, reaching. I am doing a slow motion Berry Dance. How many money equivalents is this experience worth?

And then there is that jam, that sweet, purple profusion of perfectness. And frozen berries to put in smoothies in the morning. Many things have great value, but are beyond our limited ways of pricing things arbitrarily. It seems to me that the things that can not be bought with cash are the most valuable of all.

Things like friendship, love, play, and watching the fog lift off the hills. Berry patches, the commons, and home made jam spread on bread fresh out of the oven have no price. These are, hopefully, forever beyond enclosure and the range of the for-profit soldiers and their price guns.

September 15, 2010

Benches: A Good Place To Stop

Today I share one of my favourite stopping places. The bench shown above is in Roche Cove Regional Park near Sooke, B.C., and is nicely situated under one of the largest Arbutus trees I have ever seen. It is off the beaten path, and is a great place to just sit.

I visit this bench often, and access it via a half hour bike ride from home. The ride is along the Galloping Goose Trail, a 'rails to trails' route that winds through tall forests and along the rocky coastline.

The magnificent Arbutus tree provides cool shade on a hot day, and waves greet the rocks below. The view makes this bench a perfect place to stop for a while. No Nature Deficit Disorder here. Just quiet, sun, fresh air, and calm.

September 12, 2010

Put The Brakes On And Stop

In my past rushed life I enjoyed how productive I was... to a point. Sure I got a lot done, and perhaps was paid well for doing it, but it was quickly sucking the life out of my life. I had less and less time to do the things I wanted to do. Since then life has slowed down rather dramatically. But even the slow life is too fast at times. Occasionally, we need to stop.

North America, so driven to prove something to the rest of the world, has no culture of stopping (or even slowing down). No siesta, no mid-day cafe conversations stretching into evening, no joyous lolly-gagging. Loafing is generally seen as a sin, regardless of how regenerating its benefits may be.

The over-used phrase about time being money trains us to be active at all times. To burn the candle at both ends. If you get tired, well, there is a pill for that. Or wait a few months till your next vacation. Do NOT slow down. And if you stop you may get run over. But we do need to stop.

I remember a camping trip to an October Fest celebration during which I and my friends were all going hard. After lots of beer, sausage, and dancing, we returned to our camp site and continued partying. Early in the morning a woman emerged from the tent next door in her housecoat. As she approached our campfire she screamed, "When do you people stop?" The poor woman was near hysterical, and we couldn't really blame her.

We all paused quietly, looking at each other and shrugging our shoulders. Finally, one of our group looked at the sleepy, angry woman and said, "I am afraid, ma'am, that we don't stop". Now when I think of that I chuckle and figure it is pretty accurate for our whole culture.

When do we stop? I am afraid that we don't. And we pay the price. But this is not the natural state of being human. This is far from the ebb and flow of life that all humans experienced until industrialization and money came to rule our days.

We should take lessons from other cultures that still enjoy a reasonable pace of life. We have something to learn from those who stop for the siesta. We have something to learn from our pets. Why not take a chapter from simpler living, slower living, people and creatures? Wouldn't you like to curl up in a sunbeam and nap for a few hours?

Buddhists believe that there are three doors of liberation: Emptiness, Signlessness and Aimlessness.
"Aimlessness basically means that there is nothing to attain, nothing to strive for, nothing that we are compelled to do. This enables us to be happy in the present moment, to live, to do the experiencing of life." - Source
This is what freedom is. This is what slowing down, and yes, stopping does for us - it liberates us from the destructive ways our pro-activity culture cajoles us into. Aimlessness allows us to be spontaneous and truly engaged in life now. It unleashes creativity and positive energy. It gives us time to just be.

Take some time this week to slow down, and to stop. Take a moment to do nothing. Or to stop and really experience something, like a thousand tide pool creatures in a pool on the rocks. Or stop and practice active listening when someone speaks to you. Nap in a sunbeam. Swing in a hammock. Look at clouds.

Take up Slackerism for a moment and say, "No" to The Man... or Woman. Stop and be free.

September 9, 2010

Little Lulu The Hankie Slayer

My ten year old niece was just here for a visit. As we sat and discussed the counter culture from a grade 5 perspective, I pulled a hankie from my pocket and wiped my nose. Wow. Talk about counter culture - how many people under eighty use hankies these days?

My revolutionary act prompted a series of questions. I told her the first time one of her other uncles saw me use a hankie he quickly said, "old man". She laughed and coined what she thought was a more appropriate term - Hankie Man (not to be confused with Mr. Hankey of South Park fame). She cajoled me into sitting for a short video extolling the virtues of cloth handkerchiefs over disposable products.

I have been using hankies for many years now. Because of my love of the trees, I have rarely bought paper plates, towels, napkins, cups, or 'facial tissue'. I do use 'bottom tissue', but only the variety made from 100% post-consumer paper.

I am always considering adding toilet paper to the ever-expanding 'not buying anything' list. Using water, like billions of other people on the planet, is looking like the best option. I have had 2 and a half months of practice (proct-ice?) while visiting India. In most ways it is a far better way of cleansing, but still it is a hard shift to make here at home. Paper is so, well, scratchy actually, but is also so darn convenient.

However, convenience is the killer of quality, and in the case of single use paper products, the quality is forests around the world. Behemoths like Kimberly-Clark, the largest tissue product company in the world, have razed even old growth forests in their quest to meet North America's insatiable appetite for papery convenience.

Lester Brown, president of the Earth Policy Institute notes the positive impact we can have on our forests by readopting the reusable products of old:
"The use of paper, perhaps more than any other single product, reflects the throwaway mentality that evolved during the last century. There is an enormous possibility for reducing paper use simply by replacing facial tissues, paper napkins, disposable diapers, and paper shopping bags with reusable cloth alternatives."

Kimberly-Clark Corporation first introduced facial tissue to North America when it started producing Kleenex in 1924. Prior to the introduction of this product - initially for removing makeup - one would not be caught without a nice, soft hankie tucked into a pocket or sleeve. Possibly monogrammed. And good for waving at sports events (the first towels that got waved at hockey games were hankies). Try that with a Kleenex - "Wave it. Throw it Away."

My mom remembers when she was young and responsible for pre-washing her dad's hankies. Needless to say it was not a favoured activity. Indeed, complaints of hankies being unhygienic tend to resound whenever the topic comes up with tissue users (or tissue pushing corporations). Such complaints are overblown. One may find handkerchiefs 'gross', but they are not unhygienic. Just change them regularly, and wash in hot water with the rest of your laundry. When you sneeze into your sleeve you don't throw your shirt out when you get home - you wash it.

In the 1940's Kimberly-Clark capitalized on the gross factor in a new advertising campaign. The tag line was "Don't Carry a Cold in Your Pocket", and it helped replace the handkerchief with disposable paper tissue. Little Lulu was recruited to push the product, and we bought it. The ultimate symbol of the throw-away society was born. In the process, Little Lulu and her tissue pushed the ecologically responsible (organic) cotton hankie to the back of the drawer.

Little Lulu The Hankie Slayer should have been arrested along with Kimberly-Clark directors for crimes perpetrated against nature. The lowly hankie should never have been banished for seven decades, and we should never have traded our forests for convenience.

But we are in a time of rapid change and ecological enlightenment - the banished hankie will triumph again. Cloth handkerchiefs are beginning to grace the pockets of tree lovers, while some never abandoned them in the first place. Soon they will be counter counter-culture. Be a rebel - use a hankie.

September 6, 2010

No Mischief Monday

Blowin' In The Wind - Bob Dylan (1962)

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
Yes, ’n’ how many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, ’n’ how many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many years can a mountain exist
Before it’s washed to the sea?
Yes, ’n’ how many years can some people exist
Before they’re allowed to be free?
Yes, ’n’ how many times can a man turn his head
Pretending he just doesn’t see?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

How many times must a man look up
Before he can see the sky?
Yes, ’n’ how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry?
Yes, ’n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

September 5, 2010

Simple Living Folks As Modern Day Ascetics

It used to be that if you wanted to be an ascetic you had to wear a hair shirt, or live in a barrel, or stand on top of a column holding your right arm up for years on end. As North America's yearning for decadence and luxury has ramped up over the years it has become easier to at least appear to be some sort of renunciant. To the average American, simple living folk may appear to be modern day ascetics.

I came up with the following list that may identify the modern ascetics among us. Check it out - you may be one.

You could be a modern day ascetic if:

  • you don't own a cell phone
  • you don't have cable TV (if you don't own a TV or any form of phone you may be hardcore, the equivalent of wearing a cilice - see photo at right)
  • you only have one car
  • you don't own a stainless steel BBQ (recently a family member looked at me with a puzzled expression, and total disbelief, when she asked, "You don't have a BBQ?")
  • you use your feet to get around
  • you don't wear the latest fashions
  • you haven't been to a movie for years
  • you eschew annual trips to Mexico
  • you aren't constantly starved for sex
  • you deny yourself restaurant and fast food
  • you live in less than 3000 square feet
  • you are not buying anything that you don't need to live your simple, joyful life
As you can see, there is no need to get naked and smear yourself with mud, dung, and human corpse ash as some Indian ascetics do. Mostly, you just have to drop out of the conspicuous consumer class.

So what do you think? Are you a modern day ascetic, or do you know of any? Hair shirt, anyone?

September 1, 2010

Ad Free Blogging

There is a ton of information on the Internet about making money blogging by selling advertising. Not so much on ad-free blogging. The lone cry in the Internet advertising jungle (that I found) is I like what they are trying to do, and however 'finger-in-dike' it may be, I wholeheartedly support their efforts.

The corporation with its ubiquitous advertising, is largely responsible for much of the mess we find ourselves in today. Just ask the Himalayan country of Bhutan. In 1999 they were the last country in the world to introduce television. Since then the country, formerly the happiest, has seen people's expectations rise after they witnessed the fantasy world of TV Land, and all they had been "missing".

"Advertisements create desires, which cannot be satisfied by people's current economic position," said Phuntsho Rapten of the Centre for Bhutan Studies. "Crimes and corruption are often born out of economic desires."

I try not to buy anything from large corporate entities, and I will not take their advertising money. I will not pimp their products by mentioning them in faux posts, nor will I sell space for their mind-numbingly stupid ads. I will not compromise my writing just to make money. And when appropriate, I will use words like FUCK, and not have to worry about offending the people that would like to purchase my blog for their own nefarious purposes.

So I have placed the adfreeblog icon on NBA, and declare the following:

1. That I am opposed to the use of corporate advertising on blogs.

2. That I feel the use of corporate advertising on blogs devalues the medium.

3. That I do not accept money in return for advertising space on my blog.

In 2009, for the first time ever, of the 100 largest economic entities in the world, there were more corporations (51) than countries (49) on the list. We should be worried about this.

Corporations, by definition, are nasty and brutishly competitive artificial persons that exist for one purpose, and one purpose only - to make profit. "But isn't today's green, no sweat shop, sustainable corporation representing a kinder, gentler capitalism?" you may ask. No - because there is no such thing as a green or sustainable corporate entity. Corporations can never have 'enough'. They are insatiable vampires that will suck us, and the earth, till dry.

Human rights, ethics, and environmental stewardship are of no concern to the modern corporation if these things negatively affect the bottom line. There may be good people running these devastatingly efficient psychopathic artificial creations, but the corporation itself has no concept of good or evil. If evil is more profitable, then evil it is. The fact that these out of control structures have become wealthier than many countries is deeply disturbing, not to mention dangerous.

Disturbing because they are not just financially influential, but are politically influential as well. Corporations have used their gobs of greenbacks to purchase our governments and universities so that they can pursue their nasty, brutish ways unimpeded. Dangerous because they will go so far as to destroy everything they touch, even themselves, ultimately. I do not support them in my life, and I will not support them in my blog.

Do corporate ads, in your opinion, devalue a blogger's efforts? Do they distract you?

"If we, as a society, lose our voice completely, and corporations start doing all the talking, then we'll be utterly lost. To some degree, this has already happened. Our ability to envision a future collectively has already been severely compromised."
~ Kalle Lasn