Thursday, October 1, 2015

Making Do With Less

I first heard the term "paperless kitchen" more than ten years ago. My friend, who was in Simple Living, had committed to that. The thing she did was pick up lots and lots of paper napkins anytime she got fast food.  It intrigued me, how she confused "paperless" with "paying for paper." Kind of like when you quit smoking and then borrow cigarettes from everyone else. It's not about not buying paper; it's about not using it.

Recently it occurred to me out of nowhere that going paperless in my kitchen was a good idea, that my paper towels were made from trees, trees which, if let to live would be forests cleaning the air. My daughter is studying forestry; that makes me think about these things.

I had plenty of rags, so I put them in a pretty bowl by the kitchen sink where the paper towels used to sit.  I was surprised how annoying it was at first. It highlighted the fact that any habit change is difficult, the older the habit, the harder.  I'd been grabbing a paper towel for decades. Now I had to pick the right size rag, and discard the yucky ones and hang the other ones to dry before they go down the chute. Eventually I had to wash them in with the other towels. All this is not work, but it was irritating at first. Change is.

There is a fallacy American advertising pounds on in these end times in which a great many women work and then come home and do everything at home.  The fallacy is that you can buy something that will redeem this life by saving "precious seconds," something like one-swipe mascara (I'm not making this up). Every one of these solutions adds to the landfill. Don't believe them. You don't have a life by saving seconds. What people do with extra seconds is watch more TV.

Like everything else I discover, I'm a late adopter. Lots of people are already into this paperless thing. Here's a nice article, for instance. Obviously, if you work at it, your rags can even be pretty. You can even buy rags (a thought that astonishes me) from a website called, you guessed it, Paperless Kitchen. Their rags are sort of sturdier paper towels made from sustainable plant cellulose and, importantly, are new. It seems to me this is not a very ecological solution.  New rags involve growing and harvesting those plants, manufacturing them, transporting them, which wears down the highways and pollutes the air.  Like that.

As we say in Zen, pay attention.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Practicing Compassion


Of all the things I've seen about Syrian refugees, this video made me cry. In the face of all the rejection Syrian refugees are receiving, even here in the country that famously welcomes "the wretched refuse of your teeming shore," these people in Germany massed to hold up welcome signs. A small effort, but think how good it must have felt.

Here in the American dream it's easy to harden to all the suffering far from us. But this one has come close to me. 

My first thought was to give some money. $8 I thought, the price of an inexpensive lunch. As I read about the crisis, the figure went up. I was just about to sign up for one of those cool events the elite institutions of my city offer, an Early Fall Supper, $45. I decided to give that money and cook myself an early fall supper that night. 

But where to give the money? This is where we often get just stopped. Charity is so complicated, even the charity rating people get bad ratings. I decided to give it locally, but got confused. One agency doesn't list an email address I can write to to ask what they do with a donation. I am also put off by their huge staff and the lack of a TO. I've decided to give instead to a local church that I know is hands-on active in helping the needy.

Wait, what can you do besides give someone your lunch money? I found my way to this petition to the President to increase the US resettlement of refugees. Obama started with a small number, 10,000, which activated the conservative media, who see it as "an invasion." I'm not kidding. Those of us who see compassion as our central practice need to be activated too. This wealthy country can easily share with the starving.

It gets harder. Other than writing this, how can I give my body, my time? I have to be careful about taking things on. For one thing, I take immune-suppressants and easily get infections. For another, my energy is limited. One thought I have is submitting something to my own church's Justice Action Ministry. But what? . . . . What I really want to do is be in that crowd at the airport holding up a welcome sign. Maybe I can find out how to do that.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Vanity Fair Showcases Me

Style icon: Wallis Simpson (I'm that old)

Wallis in her famous monkey dress
Favorite fashion purchase of all time: the Hollywoodish swing coat, jewel color velvet, that my mother encouraged me to go right back there and buy for myself. So I only wear it once a year, so what? Sometimes you should listen to your mother.

Notable ensemble of 1970: a floaty skirt, black with white daisies with yellow centers on it, with a wide black patent belt and a sleeveless black knit top. Yes, sleeveless. Didn't give it a second thought.

Favorite irreplacable item of clothing: much faded blue denim shirt, which I somehow lost this week.

Worst fashion purchase in the past year: A $70 purse that just doesn't work for me. If I'd bought it at a thrift store I'd have donated it back by now. A good reason to shop at thrift stores.

Favorite designer: the person who invented yoga pants

Go-to outfit:  washed cotton tee, loose cotton pants with elastic waist.

Style tip:  Nobody really notices you.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Bipolar Life in the First World

I'm lucky; the 48-hour rapid cycling I was experiencing has responded beautifully to Tegretol, the only notable side [unwanted] effect being on memory. I'm not so lucky - I was caught on that vicious ferris wheel for two years, and what a mess my stuff is in now that I'm looking at it. The fact is, some of the mess dates way back. But then, I've been bipolar since my thirties.

I'm lucky to be a very creative writer. Not so lucky to be sensitive and empathetic, barely fit for the roughshod transactions of normal society. But those two things are the same ball of twine. And they're related to the brain break that got me into bipolar, and to the sadness and trauma of my childhood. Lucky, unlucky.

My brain is in display in my study, but it's not on display, actually. No one is invited in. Here's just one piece of it, the table that is supposed to serve as my desk when I want to quietly study something or write something by hand.
It's actually a bit bigger than this. And what, you wonder, is a bottle of conditioner doing there? It is waiting for me to figure out how to dispose of it.

Hmm. Okay. It is considered hazardous waste. Stuff I put on my hair. Well. And I see there is a place in Columbus where you can take it. There are also quarterly pickups, but I just missed one.  So I'm going to wrap it in plastic, label it, and put it in the garage, which is a staging area between our house and the landfill.

If you want a Buddhist take on this, and why else would you read this blog, things are a thief of time. Living in the first world at this moment in time has its own unique cluster of problems. We are embarrassed to have these problems of affluence, like what to do with the iPad box you see on that desk. Still, they do exist, and they're genuinely our problems. Don't knock them.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Is reality harsh? and other minutia


We say, "That's the cold hard truth." It means "That's a truth I don't like. That's part of reality I'd rather put aside." As an elderly lady I know once told her daughter, memorably, "Well, that might be reality, but that doesn't mean I have to think about it."

You don't have to believe that, barring accident, you yourself are aging, and are going to die, and therefore make out an Advance Care Directive. Here's one form.
(This used to be called Living Will, a term that was somehow more approachable, though not logical. It's a record of how you want to be cared for in the event you can't speak for yourself.)
Whether or not you face reality, it just is. To call it cold and harsh is to say you don't like it. Of course not in specific instances. But to dislike the laws of the universe is . . . not Zen.

I just brought this up because someone I know is going around telling friends how she wants them to pull the plug if she's terminally ill, and how to do her funeral (perhaps just keeping her end up in conversation) and you know what? her distant family is going to get to make all those decisions unless she gets it on paper. Signed and witnessed.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
I just returned to "The Windhover." It may be his best poem, and that's saying something, because he may be the best poet of his time.

In reading it, do not overlook the epigraph. Also, this: "my heart in hiding/stirred." My heart in hiding; what a phrase.

Here it is. It is his invented language, so, like contemporary art, it's not something you grasp on sight.


Abstract art.

Just experience it.