I am the bridge


The source of guilt AND motivation.

This post has been floating in my head for a long time now.

I was on the phone with my mother Sunday, trading tales, when she said, “don’t you just love this [mild] weather? I guess global warming does have an upside, doesn’t it?”

Now, my mother is a terminal optimist. Her motto, quite seriously, is Marty Feldman’s line from Young Frankenstein: he played Igor, and, when queried by Gene Wilder’s character about his hunchback, said, “What hump?” She cannot help herself. That said, she does understand that coal-burning power plants like her own really do compel you to save electricity by at least buying compact fluorescent bulbs and adjusting the thermostat all year. She has reset her sprinkler system, and I am trying to wean her off her green lawn love. It is a small gesture.

But frankly? My mother and [name redacted for family peace] have an enviable lifestyle. The [redacted ones] especially, God love them, don’t practice conspicuous consumption, practice instead what I call Entitled Consumption. You know: we worked hard all our lives dammit so therefore we SHOULD be able to…fill in the blank consumptive habit. Maybe they are tinged with a bit of planetary guilt, but in reality, they won’t live long enough for their lifestyles to be changed in any measurable way to them.

Me? LOADS of guilt. Especially since I became a mother myself: I realize SO VERY WELL that my daughter will not live in the same cushy world her grandparents, uncles, and parents had. The damage, in so many ways, was done long before she was born. Whether she grows up to resent the hell out of those who have gone before, soiling the planetary nest as we go, is yet to be seen.

I can only do what I can do. Moving to this farm has helped lighten our load (and my guilt) considerably. Thumbing my nose at industrial agriculture by growing my own has helped both our health and our wallets, and it certainly has challenged me in many ways to both show how easy it is to do, and to progressively do more. This blog is my small attempt to buck up and teach. But really, our lives, they are going to be a-changing. And I unfortunately have not inherited my mother’s optimism. It is a lot more work, I know, to be a pessimist, but people, there is no quick fix to our problems. There are small gestures that, if taken collectively, will make a small impact. With the rest of the developing world following us by imitating our lifestyle, from hamburgers to SUVs, our little gestures are but a trifle, a drop in the ocean.

I am the bridge between the used to be and the future. I will see my parents’ generation die off, and hopefully will see their habits die with them. I will see my daughter grow up in a world where consuming less won’t be a matter of personal do-gooding preference but a matter of global imperative. Who knows if I will live long enough to see my daughter’s own progeny be born and grow, because, let’s face it, at 38 I was an old bat to be giving birth to her. But if I do live that long, I hope some solutions have been undertaken, Manhattan project-wise, going-to-the-moon-wise, to solve some of our global screwups, because, really, I don’t want my succeeding generations to be cursing my name.

And I know my kid will at least know how to grow her own food, raise and slaughter her own chickens and make her own bread. This, this I can do.

You know, I do wish this blog could be something as light and simple as a documentation of the pretty flowers and luscious vegetables I grow. Maybe this could’ve been the case 15 years ago. But fifteen years ago, there were no blogs, and I didn’t own a farm. I apologize to all of you whom I have potentially offended here in this post. I simply do not see enough being done. We’re all still arguing about if things are really changing, whilst we still go about with our spendthrift habits. (I am not above reproach myself, jetting about hither and yon.) But really. Let’s all get busy, doing what little we can do.

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13 responses to “I am the bridge

  1. My mother grew up without electricity, running water, a car, phone, tv etc. My mother’s village is inaccessible by car – she hauled a Singer sewing machine on her back up that mountain in Croatia. They got electricity courtesy of an IMF/World Bank dam project, some time in the 50’s. She made some nice clothes.

    My mother knows that, that life was hard but she knows that a life of consuming less is possible and has gone on for countless generations. It is a life that requires skill, thought and connection. My late father ‘yearned’ for that connection that he lost with migration.

    So what does my mother say to me, when she discovers that I’m on an energy conserving track and not using my power hungry dishwasher, “But you ‘have to’ use something.”

    She may feel she is entitled and she has worked very hard but if she can’t see that other ways of living exist, who can?

    Has some kind of collective amnesia set in?

  2. I know how you feel. I can’t say much more than that. You’ve summed it up wonderfully.

  3. I second that. What you you said. I feel like I am trying…really trying. Doing what I can and finding out new ways to do more. There is always a way to do more. And I really feel it is up to us to teach our children how to do more.

  4. You’re so right, El.

    And this post is the perfect example of why I’m passing along the Thinking Blogger award to your blog from mine. (You may have already received it before, most likely) Thank you for consistently providing REAL food for thought, always a feast for us others out here who need the encouragment and provocation to spur us own to our own positive changes.

    Thanks!

  5. yes, yes, yes!

    This is so perfect, El. I don’t plan on having kids myself, but I see myself as an example of another way for my niece and nephew. It’s not just my parents & in-laws’ generations that are the problem; it’s all those baby boomers (my SIL included) that haven’t quite started to grasp the fact that the world their kids are going to inherit is going to be vastly different from the one they grew up in. Maybe it’s too hard to accept that they are going to have to make a change, I don’t know. But I hope that the things I do help normalize them to outsiders. Does that make sense?

    Anyway, beautiful post. These are real issues, and they’re not going away anytime soon. xo

  6. All dear readers: I feel like such a crab. And in all honesty I could’ve pointed the finger at ANYONE and frankly that person would be lacking in what they are doing, not doing, or potentially could do but don’t wish to see that they HAVE to do. Myself included.

    We’re all fiddling while Rome burns.

    Nada: Collective amnesia, willed ignorance, myopia, denial. What I am going to try my darndest to do is to show how living a life with less is to live more of a life. (Whether I am simply fooling myself is yet to be seen.) But you (and your late Da) are really on to something when you mentioned skill, thought and connection.

    Ang: Thank you. I know you are making a huge effort in your own lives, and it feels good to know we’re not the only Michiganders who’re on this path!

    Frugalmom: I still can’t quite figure out if being a mom is what makes me worry so much. Either way, teaching (by example or by just plain instruction) is so very important, and it isn’t the exclusive province of motherhood (thankfully!).

    Robbyn: I thank you as ever for your kind words and your award. I think I will decline the latter, however; I am simply doing what I can do. And sometimes, I don’t think at all.

    Liz: Baby boomers certainly aren’t exempt. I’m a year from being considered a part of that generation, spookily, yet I see some mild education permeating the ranks of the soccer moms in my kid’s school. Organic is good. Once they realize that, their minds are (wedged slightly) open. So they’ve got half the picture, I figure. Either way, showing your niece and nephew an alternative way of living and doing and being is hugely influential. It may not stick, what with the pull of the mall and the other trappings of their lives, but exposure is everything. Exposure leads to familiarity, familiarity leads to comfort, comfort leads to a willingness to change. (So says Maria Montessori.)

  7. I like that Montessori statement. I live in Australia, and there’s a mild movement to introduced kitchen gardens to a lot of school – all organic, recycling canteen waste and lunch box scraps, showing the kids how it is done, why it is fun and important to engage with the earth. Maybe it’s the start of something much bigger?

    I’ve just arrived – not sure how I stumbled across your blog – but I’m really enjoying it. Thanks for making the effort to write.

  8. I don’t think you have anything to apologize for. Given the state of the environment, these are desperate times that are going to get a lot worse before they get better. And our leaders are doing damn little about it. It’s maddening. I do what I can: use the florescent light bulbs, live frugally, recycle, compost, garden, bake & cook from scratch, knit, crochet, sew, etc. Had to give our chickens up last week as my nephew is moving & I’m not well enough to keep up with them on my own. But I want to do as much as I can to provide an example to my children of a lifestyle that they don’t see much of any more–much like my Babka used to live when she was alive. Oh, they may laugh & call me a hippie, but I don’t care. They’re still recording all this in their minds & will remember it when they are my age, just like I have become my mother, saving & washing plastic bags & reusing things before discarding.

    Your blog provides an example too. I’ve learned a lot here & I thank you for it. I just read “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and it was you that recommended it. A wonderful book on so many levels! Kingsolver is a very good writer & I laughed as much as I learned. Thanks for that.

  9. El: I love your bridge line. I think of myself that way as well, and I think that we can change the course of our children’s lives by cjoosing carefully what we “pave” our bridge with–what lessons and values and experiences.

    As for the parents, I alwyas try to remember that they grew up in the Depression. Yes, many feel entitled now. They “paid their dues” already. But, on the other hand, they are an absolutel wealth of information about a more sustainable way of living. This holiday season, how about we remember to ask them about it? They may never have been asked. They may not realize that we need their knowledge. Ask about Victory Gardens. Ask about meat-eating (once a week?) and hanging laundry out to dry. In fact, wouldn’t it be great if we could collectively gather the wisdom of this generation before it is lost for good? Is this a book idea?!

  10. I prefer the heartfelt angst. Keep truckin’

    … and keep blogging your heart, whether its veggies and flowers or moral responsibility for our little part of the earth.

  11. Kris: Longtime readers of this blog know I secretly wish I were an Aussie, and it’s little things like recycling lunch scraps as a life lesson that’re the reason. I guess I am so disappointed about how Denial and Status Quo is the official energy policy in the US of A. We even trump up wars to get what we want.

    Artemisia, I am so sad you had to let your chickens go, but I understand why. You are, however, making an impact into the consciousnesses of your relatives by living the way you do, all kidding aside.

    Pattie: what a great idea. I do think that a recognition of “the way things went on before,” whether it was during the Depression or rationing during WW2 are life lessons that should be remembered. It would be such a good counteraction to the amnesia that seems to have affected us.

    Ilona: Heartfelt angst I can deliver. xx

  12. Sorry I am coming in late on this. I have just read your blog for the first time, unsure how I found it but it is now bookmarked. I like very much what you say, I have been feeling this way for a long time but I wasn’t able to put it into words.
    I have only over the last six months started to want to change my lifestyle. Things are slowly happening.
    Thank you for your entry, I don’t mind the angry sometimes that is what is needed.
    Sandra

  13. Sandra: Thank you for piping up; it makes me feel like I am not out shouting in the wilderness. Don’t worry: change happens slowly, whether it’s with yourself or with the world. It’s okay to be angry, too, I have discovered; anger is actually a great motivational tool…it’s better than feeling sad much of the time.

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