Friday, April 23, 2010

A Guilt-Ridden and Unreasonable Rant About Earth Day

Apparently, it has been a month since my last post. For some reason, I've not had much to say here. But Kevin has made me feel guilty so I'll think of something to say. ;-) And speaking of guilt, perhaps I should comment on Earth Day.

I don't like Earth Day. Yesterday, as I was washing my second hand dishes under a trickle of water, I was thinking how much I dislike Earth Day. I dislike Earth Day for the same reason I disliked school. I dislike Earth Day and school because I have always been a "good girl."

I was the child who always followed the rules (unless they were unjust and I was making a statement). I ate my vegetables, stayed away from drugs and alcohol, and kept a chaste distance from boys. I did about five hours of homework a night and had a personal policy of reading all my textbooks about 5 to 10 times depending on length. I studied three hours for every quiz and six hours for every test. I helped with housework, was polite to my elders, was scrupulously honest, went to church every Sunday, and raised my hand to answer all the questions my teachers asked. In fact, the teachers used to ask questions like this, "Does anyone besides M. know the answer?" The other kids hated me.

I was teacher's pet (which basically meant the privilege of being assigned extra work at an advanced level and being held to a standard of having to earn above a 96% on everything I handed in), but it did not protect me from feeling tremendously guilty when the teachers stood in front of the class and chastised us collectively for failing to perform. I understood intellectually that I was not included in these lectures, but emotionally, I was torn apart. In fact, in fourth grade, I cried every single day after school. At times my parents pulled me out for a day just to give me an emotional rest. I'd get so worked up about making sure my teachers were happy that I would become exhausted and hysterical. My perfectionism consumed me to the point at which my father insisted that I intentionally try to get only a C on my work. (I did not obey that request.)

The problem was not just that I was a perfectionist who felt totally condemned by my every tiny error, but that I was also an empath who identified with all the other children as the teacher yelled at them. Unfortunately, I was not yet sophisticated enough to differentiate between my sense of them as emotional people and my sense of myself. When another child was chastised, I felt chastised. When someone teased another kid, I went home sick with emotion.

So last night as I was washing my second hand dishes under a trickle of water, I realized why I dislike Earth Day. It is because I am still a good girl. I still eat my vegetables and have been a vegan for years. I changed over all my light bulbs years ago too. I buy locally and/or organic and live by the rule, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." I mow with a non-electric push mower. I don't ride in airplanes. My rugs are made of recycled bottles. I recycle everything, carry reusable bags, and hang my laundry on the line. Hell, I even wash my laundry by hand sometimes and make my own laundry soap. I even make and wash my own reusable menstrual rags. I breastfed each of my children for years and wore them in a sling at my hip. I'm crunchy as hell. And it isn't like I want to be. I do it because it is what is required of me as a child of this planet. And I'm always, always, always looking for new ways to be "good." I drive my family crazy with it. Every time they turn around there's another product, food, or practice that makes it onto my list. No palm oil (depletion of orangutan habitat). No American-grown tomatoes (avoiding the practice of abusing virtually enslaved migrant workers). No items manufactured in China or India (workers' rights violations and environmental irresponsibility). I won't even give money to several charities that fail my ethics requirements for environmental responsibility.

So on Earth Day when the lectures on "what we all need to do to save the planet" start, my guilt reflexes go into full throttle just as they did when my teachers stood in the front of the room and lectured us all on our failure to master fractions or to listen quietly to instructions. I knew I wasn't the direct object of their scorn, just an unhappy participant in the giant failure of society that was my classroom. Every word of condemnation seems to weigh on me. "You! You are the selfish, western imperialist bitch who will be responsible for the failure of our culture! Mother Nature will crush you!"

What if I'm not doing enough? I know I'm not doing enough! (Perhaps we just can't ever do enough if it is already too late.) What more can I do? What more can I give up? This morning I was thinking about how I've been careless about my notebooks. What if the glue and ink in them is inhumane and environmentally toxic? My God! What pain have I caused by my love of the convenience of essay pads? How many hundreds of ways have I unconsciously participated in western society's relentless imperialist degradation of the planet? How have I failed?

And then I get angry. Really angry. Because here's the real deal. Lots and lots of us are busting our asses trying to be good, trying to learn and grow and be more aware, more conscientious, more tender-hearted in our relationship to our planet and all the life that relies on it. Lots of us are good kids who Love our Mother, but it doesn't count for shit when those with power-- industrialists, capitalists, politicians, world leaders-- just keep screwing the planet over. I'm not going to get into what their reasons might be or what might be standing in their way from making real, lasting, effective change. It seems to me that they're all a bunch of selfish, greedy, assholes. And if they aren't assholes, then they are cowards. We're dying here and they keep playing games, the most popular of which is "Let's See How Rich and Powerful I Get Before I Die." Yeah, yeah, yeah. I'm judgmental. I'm simplistic. The world is a complicated place and my idealism doesn't really work out in "the real world." Fine.

But here's what I want for the next Earth Day. When it comes time for the teachers' lectures on what we all need to do to save the planet, why not spare us good kids for once? Just give us one day off from our obsession with trying desperately to do the right thing. Trust me, we're working on it. We're thinking about it all the damn time. I get to be a member of the first generation that doesn't believe they will do as well as their parents and who doesn't believe their children will have a better life. Make a point instead of lecturing the factory owners, the corporate bullies, the rich folks who la-de-da their prissy asses in cars and houses that are too damn big, the politicians who sell us out and the world powers that push us under. We can all recycle every damn thing we've ever owned, turn off all our lights, and eat only hemp from now until Doomsday and it won't save us as long as the Big Boys continue to deny that global warming is happening (or else sell us cute stuffed polar bear toys to make us feel better), pump toxins into the air and water, deplete our resources, screw their workers, and then greenwash the entire sordid affair with some cutesy commercial..."now with the cleaning power of baking soda!" (as if baking soda itself doesn't have the cleaning power of baking soda).

So happy Earth Day. I'll be hanging out menstrual rags I made myself out of second hand flannel sheets and organic cotton diapers on a laundry line I purchased from a maker of non-electric goods over a lawn I mowed with a push reel mower. So keep all your Earth Day celebrations and leave me the f--ck alone. I don't want to feel guilty, discouraged, and responsible right now. Direct your lectures and your consciousness raising to the people who sit in board rooms justifying decisions of horrific consequence for the sake of profits and power. Give me the day off. I'm tired and I'm sad and bone-weary from fighting. I don't feel like celebrating Earth Day.

P.S. I write this in honor of all my friends who are also doing their best to save the planet in their own ways (and they don't all have to be the same ways, btw) despite the relentless bad news we keep receiving from scientists and experts who are scary enough as it is and probably keeping some of the information from us so we don't all collectively soil our pants. I'm thankful for you. I thank you for keeping me afloat in all my fear as the end of all things approaches. You're all good kids and good companions on the journey (through hell).


Morgaine said...

Oh, Hystery! That was beautiful. I find your rage wonderful, powerful and inspiring...and HAPPY F_CKING EARTH DAY TO YOU, TOO! Big Hugs!

Mary Ellen said...

I can understand your frustration - and I'm FAR from being as consistent in my daily practices as you are. I've come to see the value of Earth Day in providing an occasion for folks to remind each other of the issues and recommit to doing what we can. It's not enough, that's for sure.

By the way, this post really caught my eye:

Ellen's pictures of "future trash" taken from aisles in a grocery store.

Anonymous said...

hi- found your blog a little while ago and i love it.

You put this sentiment into words so well. Earth day is a bit of a joke I agree. What use is one day?? I see all the 'why not try this for Earth day..' and it all seems so half arsed - a token effort that looks good.

kevin roberts said...

Ooooooo did I light your fuse or what?

But you're right. All the minimizing I can do of my carbon footprint for my entire life is cancelled out by the exhaust from a single cruise missile, I suspect.

Even so, you can't change what you do. Even if everything you do won't be enough to keep the ship from sinking, it's important to keep at it, because it's the right thing to do. In the end, I think doing the work is more important than accomplishing the task, because doing the work results in success inside you. Without that success, what happens outside is of little value.

You can settle down now, okay?

Desiree said...

Love it! I'm right there with you. When everyone asks what I'm doing for Earth Day I get all nervous because I can't think of much possible else I *could* do and then I feel bad for not doing "something" to show off.

Lone Star Ma said...

I'm going to hell for the sin of plastic.

Cat Chapin-Bishop said...

I suspect I'm doing much less than you are, Hystery. I'd like to be doing more, and I keep ferreting out new discoveries on ways to manage and stuff to do to be a bit greener.

Here's the thing, though--the thing I get from my Quaker side, more than my Pagan side. I do think that when I stray into feeling guilty, or trying hard to be "good," that I'm doing it wrong. I think these are the things that come from a notional leading, whether on environmental issues or anything else; where I'm trying to solve the world's problems by thinking about them, or by my being such a good example, or by the sheer force of my will.

It's the whole "outrunning the leadings" thing.

You know that quote, about our real spiritual work in the world being "where our deep joy meets the world's deep need"? I buy that. I think that when we can be still and wait for Spirit to stir within us, it may even lead us into the exact same actions we might have undertaken before in a desperate attempt to be good, but instead of it feeling like work and pain, it becomes joy and fullness.

Damn. I know that sounds saccharine. I don't mean it to. I am myself very good both at taking on work I am not led to, and then feeling pissy when I get worn out with it, and at being led into addictive, unfulfilling things that suck me away from following the leadings that would otherwise be so rich and pleasurable: spending hours online watching stupid You Tube clips, for instance, instead of writing or working in my yard (or doing something of use to the earth).

Nor do I mean we will not have pain or weariness in doing what we're led to do, or that middle-class Americans like me won't have sacrifices to make in our accustomed comfort.

But when I manage to be still and wait upon Spirit before I leap into action, I find myself far more likely to be sustained by it. I guess it is a little like the Buddhist letting go of ends. Though for me, it feels more like trust, and faithfulness to That Which I Love (And Which Seems to Love Me Back).

Just my thoughts--in no way meant to negate your own, which are interesting as always.

Hystery said...

Thanks. :-) I was going to erase that entry because it occurred to me that not everyone gets that I find my own anger and sadness kind of absurd and funny. "Oh boy!" I thought this morning, "people are going to think I'm an angry wing-bat with no sense of grace or peace. I'm glad you "get it."

Mary Ellen,
My consistency is helped a great deal by an obsessive compulsive personality, but I also need to be reminded how some of my simple decisions can have an impact. I get lazy. I was bathing out of a bucket of warm water, but then I started taking showers again. I buy too many packaged foods. They are all organic and/or vegan but they're still over-packaged. I leave lights on unnecessarily and sometimes turn the heat up when I could use a blanket. And then there are some things I just don't know about. I rely on people sharing their own strategies and advice with me to increase the power of my practice.

Lately I've begun thinking about creating a course on the history of environmentalism so that I can extend that Earth Day sentiment more broadly. What I'd like to do is focus on the intellectual, spiritual, and philosophical roots of environmentalism to show how it is not just some kooky, self-righteous thing that modern liberals do to annoy people who just want to eat their hamburgers in peace, but something deeply centered in the history of western thought and practice.

Thank you so much for commenting here! Earth Day has become a little "half-arsed" as you say. I am reminded of my father explaining that no one in his generation who was really serious about being counter-cultural actually wore the tie-dyed stuff. "When junior high kids are wearing it, it kind of loses its effect as a symbol of protest." Clearly, there's a bit of elitism going on in this blog entry. I do think that Mary Ellen is right to remind me that the value of it is in recruiting and reminding. We are going to have to keep thinking of ways to strengthen the process toward those goals as we are rapidly running out of time. I also would like to see a far more powerful and passionate effort toward making the major polluters accountable for their actions. They are getting away with murder and I think many of them are distracting us from their role in the destruction of the planet by selling us shit with green leaves on the plastic packaging.

Hystery said...

A couple things. First of all, my fuse is permanently lit and I pretty much never settle down. ;-) That's kind of a family joke.

And what you say about continuing the work even if the sink is shipping is also very important to me. It is something I am trying to teach my children and it what I am trying to teach my students. What strikes me most powerfully about the people I study in history is not so much how they succeeded in changing the world but how often they failed but did not give up. There is something magnificent about a soul that sings even when it is bruised.

Also, we were on the road yesterday and I thought of you and Shawna often as I saw the big trucks. I send you love.

Tell me about it. I think I might just treat Earth Day the same way I treat Lent. I always say that I'm giving up self-denial for Lent. I'll be a little selfish on Earth Day and then get back to work the day after. ;-)

Lone Star Ma,
I think most of us are guilty of that sin. Plastic!!! Ugh!! The darn stuff is everywhere!

All you say is so true. My environmentalism does come out of a very spiritual place for me. It is central in my understanding of the Divine. It was so when I was a Christian and when I became a Pagan and now that I'm a Quaker Pagan. My sense of the sacred interconnection and Oneness of existence is the central theme of my faith out of which my love of peace and commitment to human rights emerge. My best prayers come naturally and wordlessly out of hanging laundry on the line. But sometimes I still get tired and pissy.

I do think my obsessive compulsive personality might make my "sacrifices" a bit different than most peoples. Unlike others, it is physically and emotionally uncomfortable for me NOT to make sacrifices. So it isn't maybe as hard for me to go without as it is for my family who sweetly accommodate my wishes. Had I lived in another time, I would likely have been a nun. I crave austerity the way other folks crave cookies. (Not that I don't also crave cookies. I do!)

raewytch said...

to be honest - you dont need to write too often if you post like this. It was tremendous - your rage really came through, and I soooo agree with you. Bloody good post x

Shawna said...

When Kevin tries to make me feel guilty, I just tell him to eat dirt.

I changed over all our lightbulbs a couple years ago. It took a while, because the bulbs are expensive, but it was finally done. Bonus: We haven't blown a fuse since. Kevin doesn't like the fact that they take a few moments to warm up to full brightness, and he keeps sneaking incandesents back in when he doesn't think I'm paying attention.

Last year, my fourth grader did an Earth Day recital... when she brought home the order form For The NEW Shirt That I Was Supposed to Order for the Recital (It says something snappy like "Earth Day Every Day"), I put on my puzzled and bemused face. But I am basically a bad girl, so I ordered it for her without raising a stink. Had to shake my head, though. Yep. That's what Earth Day is for... buying products touting Earth Day. Is there a Happy F_cking Earth Day button I can buy for next year?

Finally Spring

My kids and I planted bulbs today.  What a difference one week makes!  The spring warmth has brought everyone outdoors.  People are walking ...