Some photos of where I live taken by Birds Before the Storm. (Follow the link to view.)
Tonight I will be doing a Click Clack Gorilla reading at Raumstation Rödelheim. Then Margaret Killjoy, the editor of Mythmakers and Lawbreakers will talk about Anarchism in Literature. There will be witty cartoon “slides.” (Fuck projectors. Long live hand written posters on the back of other, older posters.) I am too disorganized to be sure, but I think it will begin around 8 pm.
This is where I ask you for advice
I still haven’t decided what I will read tonight. (Probably two or three peices from the first paper issue of Click Clack Gorilla and/or the website.) So if you have a favorite bit (or subject), I’m taking requests. Leave them in the comments, even if you won’t be able to make it tonight.
And now a word from the boycott/green-consumerism environmentalists: “If you buy only recycled goods, you’ll be saving 1000s of trees.” Or the excited elementary school children who have just read 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth (cough, me when I was 10): “Hey Mom, if we just put a brick in the toilet we’ll be saving hundreds of gallons of water a year!”
People who are into recycling accomplish a lot of great things, and they seem, by and large, to be a pretty intelligent group. But I don’t like the rhetoric I often hear used in the name of recycling. Save save save save save save save save. Save!
Right now I’m reading a book called Garbage Land by Elizabeth Roythe. In it, Roythe attempts to follow her garbage to its final resting place. The chapter I am currently reading is about paper recycling, and seeing the word “save” come up again and again, usually in reference to the goals of recycling firms, I started trying to articulate my allergy to the recycling-related use of the word.
“The Staten Island plant claimed to save 13,500 trees a day,” was one example. So what exactly does it mean to save 13,500 trees a day? I sat back in my chair and thought about it.
I imagined a clear cut being executed in a lush old-growth forest on the west coast. A cell phone rings. A man in a dirty yellow hard hat answers it. I can’t hear what he’s saying for all the bulldozers and chainsaws, but he is nodding, legs inside smudged jeans, chest inside a saw-dust speckled flannel shirt.
When he hangs up he runs over to a group of his colleagues. They are atop yellow bulldozers, and they are heading toward a new group of trees. He waves his hands, arms “X”s and “V”s above his head. They lean toward him, listening, and he has to yell to be heard. “The recycling plant called,” they hear him telling them. “They’ve recycled enough paper today to save 13,500 of these trees! Let’s cut out early and go get a drink.”
The men smile and a few cheer—perhaps more for the half day than the saved trees, but what the hell. “Thank god for those recycling plants,” they say as they clink glasses later that night. “Now all those beautiful old trees can stay right where they are.”
End scene. Return to reality. This has probably never been the case. The virgin paper-making companies (“virgin” paper is paper that is made from raw wood pulp) and the recycled paper-making companies aren’t, as far as I know, in cohoots. Theoretically, if recycled paper is taking up part of the paper market, that is a part of the paper market the virgin paper companies don’t have. Theoretically, this means that less trees are being cut down. (Or from another perspective: Are being cut down more slowly.)
Statistics (which I have never been keen on trusting) tell another story. “While residential and commercial paper-recycling rates across the United States have steadily increased—from 30 percent in 1988, when the American Forest & Paper Association started to keep track, to 50.3 percent in 2002—consumption of virgin paper has steadily risen as well. Over the past fifty years, according to the independent market research firm Nina Hunter, worldwide use of virgin paper has increased sixfold, with the average US office worker running through more than ten thousand sheets of printing and copying paper per year” (Royte, 137).
What this statistic says to me, assuming that it is accurate, is that the problem lies with our paper-use habits, and not with the distribution of power in the paper-making industry, be it virgin or recycled.
There is another problem with my story. Paper is not usually made from forest-grown trees like those in the clear cut I imagined. These days most paper companies get their wood pulp from tree-farm trees, grown in rows, sprayed with pesticides to keep things simple (and cheap). Clear cuts are usually about freeing up property for buildings and cattle (the trees are then sold to lumber companies, or, in the cases when that isn’t profitable, slashed and burned, and I don’t mean in somebody’s wood stove). What all of this means is that if less virgin paper was being made, it would mean that less trees were being planted (on tree farms), not that forests were being saved. Oh what twisted webs we weave!
But let’s return to the subject of rhetoric. The word “save” has heavy connotations. Of rescue. Of heroes. Of lives that, at the end of the chapter, don’t have to end right now after all. I imagine it is a word often chosen to grace the pages of recycling propaganda to convince potential participants that recycling is empowering, that they, with their two tiny hands, can prevent some of the death going on in the world all around them at the hands of industry. Maybe we can. And maybe we can’t. But let’s call it what it is.
By saying that we are saving a tree from being cut down or saving space in the landfill seems to imply that those actions (the cutting, the landfilling) are somehow inevitable. But it is not inevitable that humans cut down as many trees as they do, and it is not inevitable that humans build and fill landfills. If we were honest, with ourselves and each other, we might say it this way “Recycling is probably keeping a lot of things out of the landfill this time around, and it is probably more responsible than buying new, but it is our very desire for these products that has started this cycle, and recycling is only keeping objects out of the trash this time.”
Let’s be honest and admit that when we say “save,” we usually mean “use more slowly.” “Save” might imply that we intended to continue to protect the trees/water/resources we thought better left alone when we were packing up the recycling, instead of just buying them at a later date which, and this may also be hard to admit, is what most of us end up doing. Me included.
I do not mean to say that we should not recycle. In this context, recycling is the responsible thing to do. I am saying that I think we need to change the entire context.
As a child I devoured 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. As an adult, I find myself appreciating the the satirical honesty in the title of a graphic novel that I am particularly fond of, a title that pokes fun of the wide-eyed optimism of the book that inspired my earliest environmental actions: As the World Burns: 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Stay in Denial.
I have come to some conclusions about my priorities in the last few days that will change everything. (Rethinking things does seem to be in the air right now, doesn’t it? A Bird song lyric keeps coming to mind, “Everything she knows could be false.” Always a good thing to keep in mind. But this isn’t quite that kind of rethinking.)
The main conclusion is obvious, but goes something like this: “I really, really, REALLY want to get the trash book finished and published as soon as possible.” Well, duh. I already knew that. But I wasn’t living it yet. I was letting other projects distract me.
See, I like to work on five or six projects at once. The perspective this tactic allows is nice, but that means each of those five or six projects take longer to finish. With a big project like a book that is half narrative/personal essay and half research, it taking longer could end up meaning years longer. By then someone else will have written it, or something so close that I won’t be able to find a publisher for it, and I am fairly certain that if I really concentrate, I could finish it before 2011.
I have reset my priorities. I have decided that I will not work on any zine projects until the trash book is finished. (None!) I have decided that I will not organize any concerts, except for the ones that I have already committed to, until the trash book is finished. (Zero!) My trash book and finishing my wagon are IT.
I will do a little something for the book and a little something on my wagon every single day until they both are finished. The wagon will be the first to go, and I will write the final pages in my symphony of trash from the little red folding table that will live there.
For the last few years my top priorities have been too broad. I was too excited about too many things.
1. Sleep, getting good sleep, and lots of it.
3. Everything else, a category in which I worked on a dozen projects and none at all and floundered around a bit (I might call it now) in a “everything is awesome and I’m so inspired and I have so many ideas” sort of way. It’s a great way to feel. It’s just you finish things very slowly, or you don’t finish them at all.
My new list of priorities doesn’t look that different, but it’s gotten more specific.
3. The daily life shit that keeps me sane, for example, doing dishes and chopping wood.
4. Making music.
5. Trash book and the wagon.
The first three are part of being alive. They are like breathing, and I can’t understand why some people chose to forgo them (I’m thinking specifically food and sleep here) in order to “be more productive.” The only thing that I am more of when I haven’t gotten enough sleep or a good meal is bitchy. Number four has also become a bit like breathing, but also covers hanging out with friends and drinking whiskey and being ruckus and ridiculous. (Not to be underestimated.) And into number five all the rest of my energy will flow.
You have probably noticed that blogging isn’t on the list. But never fear, this is not one of those letters, the letter where I come to sit you down and explain that it’s over. Blogging will be the thing I do in between other things, when I need a little break or a little feedback. It will not be a goal in and of itself. I’m not sure it ever really was. I’m not really that kind of blogger. And if you’re still here, you’re probably not really that kind of reader.
What it might mean is that I will be here a little bit less, and it certainly means that when I am here I’ll probably be talking about trash and/or my wagon. Maybe I’ll even get a little silly and give you updates on how this whole exercise is focus and motivation is going.
I know some of you are writers too. What do you do to stay motivated? To stay focused? Let’s whisper our secrets too each other across these screens and pretend we’re sitting in a cafe together, spinning out the plots to unborn novels, reading sentences, and trading characters and advice and pats on the back over cups of coffee and fresh mint tea, like we would if we lived in the same city.
Long time no read. I know, I know. I disappeared into the void that is the world when your only contact point is the internet. But what a void it is! Spring had me by the throat. (Is that a good thing? In an asphyxiation fetish sort of way, I suppose it is. Or to make the metaphor a bit clearer: It had me by the balls. By the ovaries. By the heart.)
Now spring has vanished again in a burst of rain and nights so cold I’m lighting the wood stove again. But it is better than minus 15 degrees and the darkness of mid-winter weather. Despite the veil of gray covering everything, there has been so much to do I’ve barely had time to breath, let alone tell you, dear internet friends, about any of it. Let’s see…
After that? Well, a whole bunch of other crazy shit happened that I no long even recall. Visits from America, working in Frankfurt, music, and an eight hour kitchen-cleaning marathon. You can be sure that if I’m not finding the time to blog, then I’m off somewhere having a really good time.
In a fury I copied heaps of my zine (Click Clack Gorilla Issue I, contact me if you want one) and agonized over what I would read at a reading and lecture that was supposed to happen in Cologne on Wednesday night. But alas, a villainous typo shattered my plans, and I stayed home and slept for 14 hours instead. It was kind of glorious, all that sleep, and, rumor has it, the lecture part of the event ended up spontaneously taking place against all odds in the middle of the night.
In a few hours I will pick up an other visitor from the states o’ fifty. I will work on my wagon despite the rain. I will do laundry and wash dishes and take care of the thousand banal details of daily life that aren’t usually worth documenting. I will drink a glass of the raw milk I just brought home from the farmer’s market. I will jog between wagons to keep warm, I will take the dog I am babysitting for a long walk, and I will try to remember to write you more often.