Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Jeans Dilemma

An excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Vermont Environmental Institute fundraiser:

This has to do with how I’m seeing the world right now.  It’s divided into two camps: Things Which Help and Things Which Send Us Down The Crapper.  It’s like at my gym, there’s a basket of disposable plastic razors on the counter as a courtesy to the members, which is very nice of them, but I look at it and all I see is a little tub of unbiodegradable planet death – only slightly worse than the disposable razor heads I use at home or all the pricey wax and waxing strips and other painful waxing accoutrements which get tossed in the garbage every time I’m looking to avoid 5’o’clock pit shadow. 

But this isn’t about the ecological impact of smooth, hairless underarms.  This is about jeans.

I love to wear jeans.  Who doesn’t?  But I also know that conventional cotton, from which jeans are made, is a highly toxic proposition.  It’s grown with lots of oil-based fertilizers and pesticides, none of which are good for you.  In fact the EPA considers seven of the top 15 pesticides used on U.S. cotton crops to be (air quotes) "possible, likely, probable, or known human carcinogens” – and all of which deplete the soil poison our ground water, and kill far more wildlife than just cotton-munching weevils.  So, basically, cotton is hardly, as the ads say, the “fabric of our lives.”  It’s more like the fabric of our demise.

Not to mention that the denim from which jeans are made has almost certainly been dyed, emitting chlorine, chromium, and other pollutants into the environment.   Plus, the processes by which they texture jeans – stone washing and so on – involve pumice, which has to be mined.  Also not good. 

Then there’s all the shipping materials around the world, stuff made by toddlers in Chinese sweatshops which are powered by coal-fired plants, so you know coal, CO2, global warming, blah blah blah…  Basically, when it comes to jeans, we’re talking many large paving stones on the road to Armageddon.

Perhaps the whole problem could be avoided by not wearing jeans in the first place at least until I find some green ones which fit.  But give up jeans?  The 4-season, dress it up dress it down, hard-traveling, easy-washing, disco to garden, socialite to redneck, banker to bull-rider, Moscow to Mexico City, ripped or creased, Sharpied or Sequined, high waisted, muffin topped, skin-tight, boxer-baggy, Levis or Luckys, cradle to grave wondergarment???

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Estrella Speaks

One of the characters in my new show is a woman in her 60s named Estrella who, after a professional lifetime, has returned to her home in the Taos Pueblo to realize the vision which has been haunting her: to build a mechanical clock which will run for 10,000 years.  

In this section, she's talking about her life:

Seems like the bottom line is always money.  To exist outside the money world is to live a marginal existence at best.  Strong, perhaps.  Connected to nature, perhaps.  But there is a world of people out there, cultures and toys and power, and it’s deeply seductive.

And if you’re a child of both worlds, the pull is so strong – each direction.  You don’t belong completely in either world, and you’re looked down on for having a choice.  Why?  Because victim mentality can become victim culture.  It’s sad, but it’s true.  And how do we elevate ourselves when we’re victims?  By relishing – romancing, almost – our outsider status.

But what if you have the chance to not be an outsider?  What if you have a chance to belong?  Even if you find it repugnant, maybe you also find it exciting.

So, yes, I went with my father.  It’s almost literary – that choice.  Father is head, is power, is technology.  Father is action, father is intellect.

I was always good at it.  Science, engineering, math.  Solid yes or no fields.  The duality is clear.  Either it works, or it doesn’t.  If it works, make it work better.  If it doesn’t work, toss it away.

If it doesn’t work, toss it away.

So I went with my father.  The world of the mind is a powerful thing.  You can distance yourself from anything you feel so easily. 

I started building, designing – dams, mines, freeways.  The thighbones of industrial worlds.

Exciting.  Concrete – if you’ll pardon the pun.

Then with a big picture mind moving into consulting, helping others realize their giant projects.  The bigger the industry, the more they pay.  Chemicals and weapons.

Rewarding in an upward-arcing way.  Feels good to fly around the world with a roll of plans and an expense account.

But then, there were the dreams.  I don’t think they started – I think they were always there.  But I didn’t remember them for years.  Just woke up with shards of them embedded in me, like being stung by a bee in your sleep.

Then there would be moments of recognition – a phrase echoing in my head, a vision of an object.

Finally, I knew.  It was a clock.  Always a clock.

Answering The Question

In applying for a summer internship with JustMeans, I was asked to respond to the question: Is Social Responsibility more or less important in a recession? 

My reply:

This question assumes a direct relationship between Social Responsibility and the ebb and flow of the world's economic fortunes. I think that's a false association. 

The real challenge is that Western culture has valued the accumulation of wealth and power over everything else and at any cost. Fortunately, we're starting to transform our ideas about Enough; that you can have enough money, but you can't have enough social capital. Investing in people, their education, health care, and environment is just as valuable as putting money in the bank because then you don't fear the people who don't have enough, and you don't fear ending up on the wrong side of the enough equation yourself. 

Which brings the answer around to: More Important - though not for directly economic reasons. It's because the primary emotion people experience during a recession is fear. The most potent inoculant against fear is compassion. And compassion is the currency of Social Responsibility.

Hope - Not Fear

Beautiful article on TriplePundit by Robyn Miller on changing one's thinking about money and happiness.

"Sustainability is about more than running out of oil and climate change, it is about changing our culture to one that values life and the qualities that make life meaningful and fulfilling. I believe that change of this magnitude can happen, but only if it driven by a positive message of hope for a better future."