Monday, September 2, 2013

Small Steps

Despite sporadic feelings of revulsion, I ate the equivalent of four meals a day during what was supposed to be a weekend mini-vacation around a nearby mountain town. The resulting weight gain, more than two pounds, reflected the way I felt afterward: bloated and unsatisfied.

The trip was a fairly typical approach to relaxing, involving the purchase of items and experiences that approximate what people expect. Its failure was in part due to my divergence from those expectations; and the rest was due to a series of events that highlighted the problems I hoped I could at least briefly escape.

One thing I had hoped would result from the experience was enough clarity of mind to get a better idea of how I wanted my life to unfold over the quarter-century I likely had left. I did actually add some items to the list of criteria started after my epiphany several weeks ago, but there still wasn't enough detail for a vision of the future that could help define my next, concrete steps.

I knew I didn't want to live on a dying world and be a contributor to it. I knew that I wanted to create something that would make the future better, rather than merely contributing to more complete and accurate reports of the demise already in progress. And, I knew that I wanted to spend more time around people who shared my values and were willing to collaborate on realizing them based on honest assessments of what it would take.

The first event involved the food I ordered for lunch. Expecting a simple sandwich, I got instead the equivalent of four. Like an idiot, I ate as much of it as I could without feeling ill. After dieting for several weeks, that didn't take much. Not lost on me was the coincidence of four sandwiches with four planets consumed if everyone were to live like an average American.

The next event was an electricity blackout at the bed and breakfast where my wife and I spent a night. Lasting several hours, it took out not only the lights and air conditioner (which we had found clogged with dirt when we arrived), but all running water in the sink and bathroom, including the toilet. I was reminded of my novel "Lights Out," and the interdependencies that pose a constant threat of losing conveniences we take for granted. That convenience comes with inherent waste that would be unnecessary if we all lived lightly, with at least what we needed to get by in the worst case. A couple of filled water bottles and flashlights, along with some snacks kept for hiking, made the experience more of a nuisance than anything.

During breakfast the next day, we sat with a semi-retired couple who were in a more advanced stage of cutting back than we were. They too had discovered that they owned a lot of stuff that was more trouble to keep than to get rid of, that they were unlikely to ever use in the time they had left. They also had strong views about how ineffective and downright unhealthy many of our cultural institutions have become, and how difficult it would be for any of them to change before they had to be replaced. Unlike me, they were confident that if the right issues were fought on the appropriate political and economic fronts, then enough time could be bought to enable the transition to a healthy world; the woman remarked that without that confidence it would be all but impossible to get up in the morning. I could relate: some mornings have been extremely difficult lately.

Upon getting home, I was once more anesthetized by the TV, and a novel I had chosen to read. Eventually I was motivated to move again, by the reality of facing a short work week, and some reflection on the time slipping away to change life for the better – or at least the less worse. My vision exercise had nudged forward a few small steps, but a lot more was needed. And soon.

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