Y’all, I came across this article at work and HOLY MUSHROOMS I just can’t.
There are so many things about this that upset me, I can’t even begin to make sense of my outpouring energy—despair, cynicism, incredulity, motivation, frustration, implication, impulsivity, dramatic feeling, wanting to get on a flight right now to a beautiful part of the earth and lay there, savoring it, and then waiting for everything to end.
First: I am a human, I am a procrastinator, I am a human like many humans who procrastinate. A late paper, fine that’s fine. A late work deadline, not ideal but still fine. A late coming of age, also not ideal, but ok that’s fine too. But what of the larger things? What of the things that feel too big for me to conceptualize, so I shut off because I don’t want to—I don’t know how to--deal with that truth.
Yo this earth deadline has long passed. This deadline passed before I was born. And still, my eyes are shut SO tight in my bubble of American privilege. No, masks are not my daily reality—yet. Though maybe they should be? Air pollution causes tens of thousands of early deaths in the USA. And who do you think suffers most? Do I even need to say or cite it? “Pollution is segregated, too.”
Last year when I was in Mumbai, my mostly dormant asthma came back full force in four days, just from being outside a few hours a day. I looked out of the window from my father’s childhood room and stared at the waste lining the shores; more trash than rocks, more trash than water. So much trash, I couldn’t tell whether it was land litter washing into the sea, or waste washing up out of it. I had a conversation with a mother from Delhi who talked about how bad she felt because her kids love playing outside, especially tennis, but she often has to keep them indoors. Many days it’s dangerous for them to leave the house because of the air. They both have asthma, like a lot of their peers. “Isn’t it also bad for them not to get any exercise?” she asked their doctor. *A shrug* Pick your poison.
I cringed. I thought: how could she live in a place where her kids can’t play? I would move. I’d leave everything—my career, my home, my friends—anything for my kids to be able to play outside in fresh air.
I sit here now, cringing again: how can I live in a world where her kids can’t play outside?
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out--
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
-- Martin Niemöller
What happens when our greatest enemy is ourselves, our habits, the material addictions we have allowed, we continue to allow, that feed these major corporations? The deeply entrenched training that Money Is Everything, Is The Only Way, that sharing is a “gift” as opposed to a dignified and standard way of living.
After that trip to India, I felt a strange kind of lightness. I thought: so this is what the apocalypse looks like. Soda bottles, trashed mass-marketed goods and smog. Cut off from clear skies and the sun. Unable to breathe.
I think something in me gave up on that trip. And that brought a strange relief. It’s much easier to call it quits. To say to corporations: alright, I see you, you won. That’s it. I’ll throw in my justice gloves and go hang out by the toxic water. I’ll learn to find oil beautiful. I’ll look for beauty in decay.
To some extent, maybe I still feel that. I am certainly no stranger to the dance of despair and ecstatic inspiration. But seeing this article, it lit up a fire in me and made me realize, as they joke in Spamalot, ‘But we’re not dead, yet . . .’
First, the idiocy of the logic in this article—sorry startups, I realize you are trying to fill what will likely be a lucrative service that ‘helps those in need’ (who also happen to be ‘those who have the wealth to afford . . .’). But to innovate a solution that necessitates more manufacturing, more factories, more shipping, more packaging, MORE POLLUTION in order to address the crisis of pollution? And to make it ‘hip’? Are you kidding me?
I never thought that Spaceballs, my favorite satire as a kid, would become my adult reality. Fighting to get a sniff of that bottled clean air. The New York Times published an article just the other day about pills with sensors in them that can detect when patients do or don’t take their meds. Oh, great. So now we have surveillance I can literally ingest. And you thought being monitored by your teacher in elementary school was unbearable?
If we are really in this era of completely new territory—technology developing at a rate that, in my opinion, we cannot understand, cannot know the consequences of—if we are in a time where people are designing fashionable air pollution masks to become as common as mittens, if we are in a time where anything is terrifyingly possible, then:
Are we not also at a time where deep change and revolution are also possible? I hate the word revolution. It has terrible baggage. When I read it, I feel like rolling my eyes and sighing, yet simultaneously defending its potential against authoritarians, corporations, power-tripping leaders, etc.
The word has baggage because our world has baggage. Because we have baggage.
It is time for us to take care of our individual and collective baggage. Do you want your children to grow up with the latest air pollution mask? Biding time until we suffocate together, eyes bulging out, glued to a smartphone screen till our last breaths?
If we are living in an age where campaigns, articles, messages and awareness can ‘go viral’, if we are living in an age where Google, Facebook, Apple managed to grow at inconceivably rapid rates, impacting (controlling?) our lives and psychologies, then it means we are also living in a world where our interconnectedness gives us unprecedented power for radical change.
Imagine if Gandhi’s homespun movement going viral on Twitter. What would it look like to instigate that? Maybe it looks like #blacklivesmatter. Maybe it looks like #metoo. Can we keep going? What would it look like for a global boycott of Nike, of Apple, of fast food chains, of . . .? What would it look like for global campaigns like #shareyourmeal, for cities to dedicate a NONproductive day around meeting your neighbors and hearing stories from people different than you? What would it look like for us to abstain from the industries that are polluting our earth, abusing people, abusing us, abusing the people who created them? No one wins in the story of oppression. Not the oppressor. Not the oppressed. What would it look like to move forward from that point of truth, together, globally?
Which leads me to the other thing I’ve been realizing, over and over again: This Cannot Be Done Alone.
Think about the most successful models that exist for breaking personal addiction or inspiring lasting change: Alcoholics Anonymous, therapy (individual or group), weight loss groups, grief support groups, religious communities, marches, movements—they all involve people being with people and supporting one another through that change.
If I reach into my wallet to buy another to-go coffee just to get through my day, it’s because I’m trying to cope with my disconnected and hard world full of messaging that invalidates who I am. What I actually need is to go into a café where no one is selling anything but everyone looks one another in the eyes, shares stories, songs, ideas, resources, and if I’m feeling like I need some support, a person will hold my wallet for me and instead give me a long, humanizing hug.
I have a hypothesis that the only thing more powerful than the addictions and denials we’ve developed as a society are these feelings:
If you feel these things, do you still feel compelled to run yourself into the ground working as many hours as possible to get that extra dollar? Do you isolate, numb, shut down? Or do you open, trust, reach out? I recognize the choice around “the extra dollar” is speaking to those who have economic privilege. Working less or slowing down are not options for most people in the world if they are to eat and survive. But I’m writing this specifically for people who have, for the people who’ll be able to buy masks if they need to. I’m writing this to speak to anyone with means to shop for pleasure, and to everyone whose money feeds the industries that are ultimately destroying our planet and our bodies.
Is there another way? Can we live in a different way?
I also think it’s time we get real about what we each have. No one talks about money. It’s incredibly taboo to be explicit about how much we make. It opens an instant and uncomfortable reality. Whether I suddenly realize how much more I have than a friend, even when I feel like I’m just barely getting by, or I realize how I make less than half of what my male peer makes. It sucks. It’s also motivating. When we see the disparities, we can perhaps also see how we need to redistribute our power, our energy, our time, our focus. We can see where and how to lift one another up. That’s in regard to money. But it can also be in terms of race. Or sexuality. Or gender. Or religion. Or mental health. Or . . .
Or maybe all of the above?
I do not know how to change the course of our earth, I really don’t. I don’t know if it’s possible. I have so much more learning to do about our environment and what action I can take to try (god that’s all I can do, right? try?) to salvage a future for the next generation. It’s selfish—it’s human-race-centric. The earth will be fine after we’re gone (much better, probably). But while we’re still here, I’d really like to make it a beautiful experience.
What I DO know: I am DONE with these money-making-mammoths that are literally destroying the possibility for children to climb trees. Done. I have some major thinking to do and changes to make in my life.
I have the urge to apologize for my voice at this point—“I hope this isn’t too strong, I hope it’s not accusatory, I hope you don’t take it the wrong way, I hope . . .”—but no, no no no. Reclaiming my ability to say no. Refusing to apologize for being. Unwilling to soften my anger and pain at what is happening around me. Swallowing the powerful feelings of injustice is how it perpetuates. I am hurt, I am angry, I am frustrated. And: I have faith in my faith, I believe in basic goodness of humans, I believe in my people and I will fight for, with, by them. I feel wild, I feel strong, I am ready and able to tear forward into the future.
To be continued. Every, freakin’, day. Welcome to the work.