Saturday, February 28, 2009

enough is enough (or often too much)

rinsing quinoa

I've been reading The Long Emergency and several other titles concerning societal collapse, peak oil, global warming, and other such doomy gloomy topics. And while so much that lies ahead of us is unclear, this much I'm fairly sure: a lot of things are going to change, dramatically.

I was thinking these things over the other day as I stuck the quinoa under the faucet to rinse. I'm always thinking of these things and every little thing is a reminder. Because almost every little thing is a direct relic of our infatuation on fossil fuels. Yank them out of any equation and you've got less trade, less consumption, less of so much that has become this modern culture.

We have a lot of space to traverse before we get from here (relative pacification, granted with increasing agitation) to there (a complete collapse and turnaround) and any number of things could happen in the meantime. But in the few moments I stood there with my hand on the strainer, shaking it around while the water ran, I wondered if I'd have quinoa for the rest of my lifetime. Will my children have access to it for the duration of theirs? I mean, it's just a grain (arguably the most nutrient dense of them all), and while I do depend on it a lot now, would I miss it should it become unavailable to me? How much would I miss it?

We have so much. So much. My life has always been caked in excess. I think about the "voluntary simplicity" trend that was, well, trendy a few years ago. The precursor to the ecogreen movement that's so omnipresent now. And it seems, on one hand, sage wisdom, tread lightly, be mindful, take care. But on the other: sort of steeped in a flagrant privilege. I mean, the only reason any of us can choose simplicity is because we have, collectively, taken more than our share for so long. For much of the world, simplicity is not a choice. It simply is.

Maybe it's in the branding. Maybe I just disdain movements of all kinds, steering clear of the crowd. Even when I meet all the criteria for a trend, the accompanying label makes me wince. I do make simple choices and I do intend mindfulness. But I cannot shake the guilt of privilege, the happenstance that stuck me in the middle of the land of Too Much and others - without anything.

The impending changes scare me. I won't deny it. I hate changes. When the sort of underwear I bought for ten years suddenly stopped being manufactured, I stopped buying underwear. This was nearly a decade ago. I won't divulge further details on that one. When our telephone died and required replacement, it took a good six months before I could use it without cringing at the way it felt in my hand. I like things the way I like them and I like them to stay just like that. I think that's not uncommon. But! despite the fear of what lies on our unknown horizon, and my insufficient resilience, I think we're all good for a little shake up.

(and I'm smack dab in the midst of a personal shake up, which I aim to write more about later. I'm trying empty out the backlog of halfwritten entries in my tiny brain first)

And, frankly, I think the more we start giving up now ("voluntarily", if you will), the less will have to pulled from us, from the fingers of a kicking and screaming indignant mass holding so tight to the last vestiges of a convenient plastic life.

I enjoy, take advantage of, take for granted, abuse PLENTY of plastic conveniences. I am a 33 year old American. Right time, right place. As I type this right now, on a 17 inch laptop, next to my nifty undercabinet ipod docking station, my husband and daughter watch a film on a handy little portable dvd player; we consume. We have a lot of things we don't even need.

But I also don't have some things that a lot of other people do think I need (and by 'other people' I mean, mostly, corporations who seem incessantly irked at my lack of contributions to their bottom lines). Like a microwave. I know only a couple of other people who don't have a microwave.

It was initially a health-based decision (seriously, do you want to eat food that's been in a microwave??) but it's been so long now (coming up on ten years without, minus a couple houses we lived in that had one built-in) that I don't even know what people use them for. I typically reheat leftovers in the toaster oven.

reheating quinoa in the toaster oven

And in what is becoming a ridiculous blog post of irony (you didn't know that by 'too much' I meant: words I will write here), there's one more thing I want to cram in here (because who knows when I'll come back, I'm so inconsistent).

I had an epiphany last month, something of a Too Much realization. There has been too much of me to fit in my own pants for a while. Wait, that's not the epiphany, I'm just setting the scene. We have too much food. We expect too much. I can do something different. I can.

I had the privilege to cope with some stressful situations in the last almost 2 years (hmm, maybe you weren't around when I was beating these dead horses: an interstate relocation, an unexpected pregnancy, a very difficult temporary 6-month living situation, a 2nd trimester miscarriage, traumatic complications from said miscarriage involving a hospital bill we're *still* paying off, a fall down the stairs resulting in a fractured foot, a spouse with a very stressful job that prevented me from talking to/seeing him much, related marital strain, uh, i think that about covers it) by getting lazy. Lazy by not moving enough and lazy by eating too much.

So what am I doing about it? I stopped eating dinner. Anything in the evening, actually. I eat breakfast (usually what remains on the kids' plates, mothers can be such industrious scavengers), a hefty, healthy lunch, and then. . . I wait until breakfast again.

Do I get hungry? Do I even know what it's like to *be* hungry? How can I have grown up with grocery stores and spoiled food in my fridge and restaurants on every corner and really ever been hungry? My stomach might growl and when I go to bed I look forward to breakfast (though by the time I wake up, it's much less pressing) but I don't think that's real hunger. This has been my routine for the last month or so and it's not growing tiresome.

My choice is a flaunting of abundance. I can choose to abstain because I have so much. I hope that my awareness softens the blow of advantage.

I fill my evenings with glasses of kombucha and cups of tea and I am not missing anything. I have eaten lots of dinners. I will eat so many more. But right now, I'm deciding to avoid what is considered necessary, customary, required. I'm not gestating or nursing, I'm not convalescing or competing.

I am feeling better than I have in a long while.

I do not want to belabor body issue quirks or imply my sell-out to media dictated ideals. I have lots of the former but firmly avoid the latter (if that's possible). Outgrowing my own clothes, serviceable garments with much life left, is not mindful or simple or treading lightly at all. And nobody feels good wearing clothes that don't fit. And not feeling good is no good for me or for my family.

I sit with my family while they eat (and by 'sit with my family' I mean: sit for a second and hop up for the salt, or another fork, or napkins, or the boy's soup that was cooling in the freezer, you know.) and have not yet, in over a month, felt even the tiniest bit deprived. It's just dinner. I look around and I see all these things, pounds of flour and beans, shelves of books, cupboards full of useful things and pretty things I keep just to look at and hold, and it's all SO MUCH. More than anybody needs, really.

It is a poignant thing, to step out of one's routines and into a new thoughtfulness. What started out as a willful attempt at combating a growing malaise has become surprisingly meditative. Recognizing my abundance in everything, the food on my plate, the hot water in my pipes, the solutions to my problems, is such a gift of gratefulness. Who knows what will happen in a few weeks, months, years. But for now, I have enough.


Lisa B-K said...

Ah, you express yourself so well here. I love this.

I've been thinking some of the same thoughts here, and a few of those for some time. My life got a lot less simple when I went back to work three years ago, but it didn't have to, at least not in the way it did. Your writing (not just today) has steered me around, again, to acting instead of just ruminating, and I thank you for that.

I imagine you've already read it, but Into the Forest by Jean Hegland has been a favorite of mine for years and touches on some of the themes you're writing about here. I highly recommend it. xo

Angelina said...

This was a wonderfully written post.

I feel a lot of what you do except that I don't feel any guilt for having the option to simplify.

To dislike a movement towards a better relationship between need versus want isn't invalid just because so many people doing it have a choice: it's important that people move in that direction precisely because they do have a choice. I think it's much more telling what choices a person makes when they have a multitude of options than what they do when they have almost none.

Hmmm, I need to think about this more because I'm not being eloquent at all or getting at the thoughts that are percolating.

Tonia said...

Wow! Great post. My mind is really fried right now (very bad day) but I had to comment on the no dinner thing. Duh! Brilliant! So much excess in my life-food and otherwise. Lots to think about. Thanks.