Grateful for the Trashmen: My Garbage Footprint

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)

6:15 Tuesday morning and the big green trash truck rumbles down my street.  The sanitation workers hanging from its sides leap down,  grab and toss the trash in a rhythmic dance of efficiency.  In almost a blink, the flotsam of the past week that washed up on the curb overnight disappears from the tree lawn.  In the giant compactor’s short trip up my long street, the vista of a reasonably neat suburban neighborhood is restored.

What would we do without them – these knights of refuse, restorers of order, these clean-slate clean-up craftsmen of our civilized society?

I’ve ruminated in this space before on the often shameful volume of trash I alone produce on a weekly basis. Although I’ve made efforts to reduce my garbage footprint through composting, not buying Styrofoam packaged food or hard plastic-shelled un-necessaries, I am still amazed and a little embarrassed by how much jetsam I jettison to lighten my personal load of consumerism each week.  I don’t like to think about how much I personally add to the unimaginable mound of detritus piling up – somewhere.

How lucky we are that the rejected refuse of our daily lives can be removed for us so efficiently each week.  I wonder what would happen if the garbage men came only once a month? Or if there were dozens of open, neighborhood trash heaps that some of us had to live next to – drive by each day? Of course, there are many places where exactly that is the reality. Lucky stars shine on us.

There is an ongoing debate in my community about switching from garbage and recycling bags to big, rolling plastic trash bins for each household.  I’m against them.  It’s not just the expense – residents would be either assessed a rental fee or there would be some sort of tax assessment. It’s more a matter of further gentrifying and sanitizing the messy and essential business of dealing with everyone’s trash. Plus, if you are not retired like me, you might not be home in the morning to roll your plastic bins back to the garage after the trash truck leaves, and so they sit there all day – just another eyesore in the neighborhood.

Somehow, it seems to me, the idea of hiding our waste in neat, clean, uniform containers removes the need to openly demonstrate and acknowledge how much of a burden each of us places on the planet from living our privileged lives.

Out of sight, out of mind.

There is value in owning our waste, I think.  While I remain grateful for the garbage men that take it away, I still think it is a good idea for each of us to assemble and package our individual waste product. Maybe this confronts us, at least once a week, with the size and permanence of our personal garbage footprint.



How Can I Not Laugh?

Chipmunks, like gazelles,
racing stripes a-blur, trampolining
through the uncut grass.

Irreverent tails flip
the bird as they dive
into the ankle-twisting
mine shafts underneath my lawn.


Sharing and Acceptance

This has been a very interesting week, one in which I seem to have been called to consider how I want to be in the world going forward.  This ‘call’ has come through several separate channels, all bumping up against each other through just my daily routine.

First was a dinner with a friend and mentor from many years ago, whose work in the world is to help accomplished people accomplish more through personal renewal.  I had taken a year-long leadership renewal course with her at the Shannon Institute in Minneapolis more than ten years ago, and the experience, which helped me think, for the first time about what my core values were, has continued to resonate in my life ever since.

Then the other day a dear friend, whom I love not because she seem to know something useful about everything (which she does), but because she is a warm and giving person, mentioned that when a certain Native American tribe prayed, it was never to ask for anything.  The only form of prayer they had was to express gratitude.  This meant finding thankfulness in every situation, no matter how sad, fearful, dire – or joyous.

And this morning, my daily meditation prompt, from 365 Tao, Daily Meditations, by Deng Ming-Dao, a small and beautiful book I consult each morning to give me something to think about all day, is about ‘acceptance.’

Drought burns basins to dust,

Light rain is a dew of mockery.

Receive without complaint,

Work with fate.

I also have a personal mantra which I speak each morning and night, parts of which I borrowed from Wallace D. Wattles’ two strange little books; The Science of Getting Rich and The Science of Being Great (I know!) when I was young and uncertain for my future.  Examining this mantra (which is not about getting rich), and which I have always thought of as sort of a prayer, I realized for the first time that it asks for nothing except to share with others, the core values I have declared for myself and incorporated into in this ‘mantra.’

All these together seem to be calling me to examine these values, see if they are still the ones I want to live my life by, and to consider gratitude, acceptance and sharing as touchstones for experiencing what comes as I move into the later chapters of the journey.

Cleveland Arts Prize

On June 26, 2014 I was honored with the Robert P. Bergman Award from the Cleveland Arts Prize. I am very excited and deeply grateful to have been chosen, along with my stalwart colleague, from the George Gund Foundation, Deena Epstein, for this very prestigious award. Deena and I have worked – separately and together through our respective foundations – for more than two decades to strengthen Cleveland’s remarkable arts community and open the doors of the arts to everyone in our community. I was proud to share the stage with her that wonderful evening. Here is a link to a 12 minute interview of Deena and me on WCPN, ideastream Public Radio.

And some photos from the wonderful awards ceremony at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  Me with venerable arts patron, advocate and leader, Barbara Robinson and Wayne Lawson, former renowned Director of the Ohio Arts Council.  (Other gentleman unidentified.)  Jill Snyder, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art introducing me and Deena Epstein with whom I shared the award.  Getting the medal from Jill, and all the 2014 Awardees.

For those who care about such things, the  dress is from Paris via a wonderful small boutique, You Two  a block from my house.  The shoes are Ivanka Trump – two words I never expected to be associated with my personal wardrobe.

Me with fellow honoree Barbara Robinson and Wayne Lawson, Former head of the Ohio Arts Council.  Don't know the gentleman on the left.Deena Epstein and me being introduced by Jill Snyder, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, ClevelandReceiving the Robert P. Bergman Award of the Cleveland Arts Prize2014 Cleveland Arts Prize winners

A Humbling Honor

I recently received word that I have been named the recipient of the Robert Bergman Prize by the Jury of the Cleveland Arts Prize. I share this honor with my long time colleague in arts philanthropy, Deena Epstein. The Bergman Prize is especially meaningful to me as I counted Bob Bergman as a friend, and as I was serving on the Arts Prize Board at the time of his death, had some influence in creating this prize. Bob was larger than life and in his brief time as Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art, turned the institution inside out – opening doors, welcoming the community in and giving personal tours, in his sneakers, to members of the Rotary, the Elks, the Kiwanis – community folk that he invited to visit him in ‘his house.’ I’m not exactly sure how the Jury saw that I fit the criteria for this award but I must say I am humbled and more deeply honored than I can say.

Photographs: Scenes from Stonecoast, January 2014

From the Stone House upstairs window.

2014-01-19 09.38.08 2014-01-19 09.38.32


Best writing advice I’ve gotten in a long time

The great goddess of writing, Virginia Wolff authorizes you to write nonsense by the ream.

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