Archives for July 2016

Consumption

cartoonI’ve been worried about my consumption. No, not like Camille, Satine, Violetta, Mimi. Although the choking sensation of those tragic female figures is an apt metaphor for the feeling I’ve been having about the vast amount of stuff I consume, the leavings from which I throw away each week.

Tuesday is trash day in my neighborhood, so every Monday night I go about emptying the wastebaskets, consolidating the recyclables, bagging up the garbage and trash to put out on the curb to feed the next morning’s ravenous caravan of city trash trucks. And I am increasingly appalled at the size and weight of those trash bags. Trash

It’s just me.  Not a family of five.

Oddly enough, most distressing are the recyclables. A full grocery bag of paper; newspaper, advertising mailers, throwaway computer printouts, junk mail, deflated cardboard boxes from cereal, chips, pasta, etc. So much. Then there’s the plastic; shameful numbers of clamshell containers from fruits and vegetables, empty milk, juice, lemonade containers, yogurt, hummus, shredded cheese tubs, lethal-edged packaging cut and ripped off purchases at the hardware store, Target, elsewhere. Then glass; wine and salad dressing bottles, empty pasta sauce and jelly jars.  Cans from coffee, soup, stewed tomatoes, cat food.  And dozens of miscellaneous plastic tabs, fasteners and other petroleum-based detritus.  Not to mention Styrofoam! Again, it’s just me.  Every week.

I read somewhere that organic produce actually creates more plastic wrapping trash than non-organic food.  It seems that because organics are more costly to grow, and generate a greater loss when they spoil, the producers try to extend their shelf life with more substantial packaging.  Even trying to live a more sustainable life, it seems, you just can’t win the consumption battle.

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Refrigerator note to myself.

I’ve moved twice in recent years, downsizing each time. I’ve gotten to a place where I am happy living with ‘just enough’ in many categories of existence. I don’t need multiple place settings for eight – or twelve, or every fancy kitchen appliance I may use once a year – or less. But after several trips to the Salvation Army, I still have more clothes than I can wear in a season.

So, what’s the answer?  I could buy all my fruit and veggies by the piece, rather than pre-packaged, get my nuts and gains and even coffee in bulk – but not cat food or milk. I suppose I can make my own salad dressings, pasta sauce, soups. I do some of that already.  I bring my own bags to the grocery, use both sides of paper for printing.  I think most of us do these things these days.  But still, there is so much to throw away each week.

We live our busy lives ordered in large measure by convenience as well as the structure of our disposable economy – and not a little bit of greed. We want and, can have, so much more than we will ever need. See my blog about the cereal aisle.

I am increasingly aware – and concerned – that our social order and our capitalist economy are both driven by a sense that unlimited commercial choice is inherently good.  Each trash day comes, and I’m not so sure.consumption diagram

Nothing New Under the Sun

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4th of July in my neighborhood

Cleveland is preparing to host the Republican Presidential Convention in just a few days.  This opportunity has given the city the impetus to complete a number of infrastructure projects so Cleveland will shine in the eyes of all the out-of-towners.  Our brand spanking new Public Square is a hit, by all accounts.  But I’m not sure the re-designed bridges into the city will be done in time.  The Cavaliers’ championship got in the way a little when game six came back to the “Q” where the convention will be held, holding up the schedule for preparing the arena for the promised “show.”  The security zone for the convention will make it very hard for ordinary folks to get close to the action – not just protesters, but the locals who just recently fell in love with the splashy, family-friendly Public Square.

But down the road about five miles, in University Circle, the Art Museum recently put on a show that was as open as any kind of public event could possibly be.  Starting with Parade the Circle and ending a week later, the Museum’s Centennial Festival Weekend was filled, hour by hour, with open access to a dizzying schedule of creative performances and interactive events, topped off  by a grand, perfect-weather Solstice celebration and an outdoor Cleveland Orchestra performance.

I was pleased to be part of this Centennial Weekend  and, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, participated as a member of Literary Cleveland, writing ekphrastic poems inspired by works of art in the Museum’s collection.  One of the works I chose was a painting by American artist John Rogers Cox, titled Gray and Gold.

Gray and Gold It is a work that has fascinated me for decades, with its surreal juxtaposition of nostalgic Americana against the menace of a pending storm.  In researching the work I learned that Cox was a member of both the Regionalist School of American scene painting (he was from Indiana), like Grant Wood, Thomas Hart Benton and Edward Hopper, and worked in the Magic Realist Landscape tradition. The painting was done in 1942, shortly after America entered WW II, a time of great patriotism and great uncertainty and fear.

As much as I thought I knew this painting by heart – I’d kept a very large framed poster of it for many years – I now had the chance, with this ekphrastic assignment, to study it in greater depth in the Museum itself.  And a detail that had escaped me previously created the impetus and inspiration for the poem I eventually wrote.  Two tiny white squares of paper on a telephone pole at the bottom of the painting spoke to me of how everything comes around again, and how the emotions and the polarization of this political season, while alarming, are not new.

You can read the poem, Crossroad, here.

 

 

 

 

 

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