Saturday, November 23, 2019

Following Up

Yesterday, I posted some thoughts about buying used books, after watching a video on the topic that got me thinking. I realised that my thinking about the ethics of buying used books fits in with my larger ethical stance on avoiding waste and trying to use fewer resources. This is not only an ethical thought pattern for me, it is how I live. At this point, it is the only way I feel comfortable living, even though it gets in the way of some other things I sometimes think about doing. In everyone's life, there are situations where our ideals are in conflict with one another and we all have to find ways of working through these issues. Each of us will prioritise different things. What is right for me is not going to be right for everyone and I am not suggesting it should be. But as we continue further down the climate crisis road, we all need to take stock of what we can do in our everyday lives to do a better job of caring for our one true home--we have no other. This is especially the case in wealthy countries, like the one I lived in for the first part of my life and my adopted country.

A short time ago, I read this article about attempts to combat waste and minimise what goes into landfill in a major US city. Here's one statistic from the article:
'The U.S. produces more than 250 million tons of waste per year—30 percent of the world’s waste, though it makes up only 4 percent of the Earth’s population. Sixty-five percent of that waste ends up in landfills or incinerators. '

I don't know what the stats are for Ireland, but I am sure there is too much waste here, too.

My attitude towards waste and avoiding it has been a foundational part of my life for many years now. I have sometimes thought about my grandmother and her impact on me in this regard as well as in many areas of my life. I can remember once in a class or something when I was a small child, being asked about someone who I admired most. My answer was that my Nana was that person. Even now, several decades on, I am reminded of how her example shaped my attitudes about many things. Avoiding waste is one of them. I saw how she did this just as a matter of course. It was how she lived. She used things up, reused things that were no longer fit for purpose, found ways of making what she needed without rushing off to a store to buy things. At an earlier time in her life, living this way was a necessity. By the time I knew her, it no longer was, but it was how she felt comfortable being in this world. It is also how I feel comfortable.

So the used book thing ties into that. It's also how I create. I am not comfortable buying a bunch of new stuff, even to create with. I am happiest when I am using someone's unwanted stuff, whether it's scraps and odd balls of yarn, broken or unwanted jewellery, old clothes, scraps of aida cloth or roving, etc. If I get new yarn or other stuff, it is almost always a gift from someone.

Which brings me to the conflict I sometimes have. I have sold my work in the past in various places--online, in a museum gift shop, in art shows--and I have done commissions. I am pretty comfortable with commissions, because someone comes to me with a request and I fill it. I feel like I am meeting a need. I am putting new stuff into the world, but it's functional and is exactly what the person wanted. When I make something to follow through on an idea or push a technique or whatever, it may serve a purpose if it's a functional item--say a hat or sweater or shawl. Or I might end up with a pretty thing. Making it served the purpose of feeding my curiosity, and I may well have learned something in the process, and it is a pretty thing, at least in my opinion (if it isn't, I take it apart and reuse the materials in another way). But somehow, I have trouble with feeling that having a pretty thing that isn't 'useful' is enough and that makes it harder to put it out there in the world for someone to buy, because no matter how much I might like the end result, in the end, it is stuff. And there is so, so much stuff already. I mean, I would rather see less stuff that is mass produced and more stuff that is carefully, skillfully, and lovingly made. To me the latter is far more valuable than the former, whether I make it or someone else does. There's value in the making and the skills, and the learning that goes into it all, whether it's a hat, a painting, a book, a sculpture, or a piece of jewellery. We are a creative species. But I guess for me, function plays a role. And so does the problem of a world full of too much stuff. This is one reason I try to only make new stuff out of old. I'm most comfortable when that new stuff will serve a useful purpose though. I am not sure why it is that something pretty that makes people smile doesn't seem to be purposeful enough, but I think this is all tied together with my aversion to too much stuff. In short, does the world really need another pretty thing? I know that I have some need to make the things, but sometimes, I feel weird about it--often uncomfortable enough to stop me from following through on the ideas that jostle around in my head.

And then there is the bombardment of advertising. Websites with videos that start playing whether you want them to or not and flashing ads along top, bottom, and both sides, blogs with ads crammed all over the place, and so many people hustling to make a living. I am more understanding of the latter and although I never click on ads and pay as little attention to them as possible, I let them play out on youtube if it's an indie person who is trying to make a few cents by providing content. I know they get a few cents if I let them run, so I do, although I sometimes go and do something else while they're playing--I've had 15-minute ads come up! I must admit though, that I do get tired of constantly seeing ads for this, that, and the other thing. Everyone wants us to buy, buy, buy and yet we are drowning in stuff. At the same time more and more people are trying to make it in a creative/gig economy that is often about buying and selling stuff, we need to be making serious moves to consume less stuff, due to the environmental damage we are doing. I don't have an answer, really. It's just something I think about and have to find a way to work with/around as a creative woman who makes stuff.

And with that, I will bring this post full of 'stuff' to a close! I hope it's a good day in your part of the world! 😀


Laurie Graves said...

I sympathize. But surely beauty and creativity can continue to have a place in this world, despite all the various catastrophes that we humans are releasing. And, for a completely different point of view, there is this: I expect you won't agree with the premise. I'm not sure I do. But there it is.

Shari Burke said...

I agree with you about beauty and creativity--we cannot help but be creative--it's how we evolved. And while I am not sure whether the article was meant to be sarcastic, I don't completely disagree with it, either, although there are parts of it that I think are overly simplistic. I do agree that what I do isn't going to make a difference. It would take many, many people changing lifestyles and behaviour to make such a difference. Someone once told me that she was not going to stop shopping at WalMart because if she did, it wouldn't make a difference. If enough people were to stop shopping there, she would join them, but otherwise she didn't see why she should. I was at work, so did not really engage in any meaningful way, because she was a customer. But I was thinking about how, on the one hand, she was absolutely right. On the other, if no one takes a stand how will we ever hope to make change--and from a purely personal point of view, that icky feeling when I'm doing something that feels wrong is not pleasant.

In terms of the article and the need for bigger changes, that's right, but how does the writer think change will come unless people change lifestyles? Everything is about profits. Take away the profits and things change. If people didn't fly as much, the industry would be forced to change. If people bought better cars or opted not to buy them when that's possible, the industry would change. Public transport is as good as it is here because people use it and value it. It's expanded rural areas since we've been in the country because there's a demand.

I've just remembered something. Someone I worked for once trashed artists and got really pissed off about some young musicians that had come into his store, saying they were arrogant to think they could make a living playing the bassoon. Bill and I still laugh about that sometimes. It was my second day on the job, so you can imagine my surprise when I heard myself going off on a vigorous defence of artists and musicians and the value of what they do. I told him that we need more art and music in the world, not less. I wasn't nasty, but I was passionate in my response to him and I would not have been surprised to be told that 2 days on the job was enough--LOL. To his credit, he listened and seemed to concede that maybe he'd gone too far. Thank you for reminding me of that, Laurie. It is worthwhile to remember at times when I feel a bit tired and hopeless. :-)

Laurie Graves said...

Easy to feel tired and hopeless. I often feel that way. While I don't discount individual changes, the meaningful ones must be systemic with laws and regulations to stop businesses, big and small, from being predatory. Wal-Mart gets a lot of hate from progressives, and much of it is well earned. However, in Maine, Hannaford is the biggest employer, and they are not a lot better. When I was volunteering at the food pantry, employees from Hannaford would come to the pantry because they weren't paid enough. What irony! I could go on and on about Hannaford, but I won't. When I get really discouraged I think of the civil rights era in the United States and of the courage and persistence of the women and men who didn't give up, even though many of them did not live long enough to see the changes they helped bring about.