A couple of years ago, I remember becoming quite aware of the erosion of the middle-class, how the populace was rapidly dividing into haves and have-nots with not much in between. As that’s where I’ve generally resided, it was quite startling to realize that, as an artist in a society where artists are undervalued, I was rapidly sinking into the class of have-nots. Although I continue to struggle with this, things have been improving and so perhaps I’ve become a little less conscious of this division.
What I’ve noticed more recently, is the erosion of the middle ground, how the populace is rapidly becoming polarized either on the extreme right or the extreme left with not much in between. The 2004 American election is a prime example; the country’s virtually split down the middle, with those on the extreme right bearing arms and those on the extreme left moving north to Canada.
I’ve also noticed an increasing number of vegetarian restaurants, organic foods on the shelves of grocery store chains and not only blue, but now green boxes on curbs, while at the same time hearing news about the ban on Canadian beef, the safety of genetically altered food products and the amount of waste North Americans create and percentage of energy we consume.
As I say, there seems to be a profound polarization, but mostly, I’ve felt really proud to be Canadian this past Christmas season. Canadians gave record amounts to charitable causes instead of subscribing to the typical consumerism that predominantly American businesses shove down our throats. And maybe it was just me avoiding the malls, but I even felt that stores had less Christmas paraphernalia for sale. Many Canadians also chucked their artificial Christmas trees in favour of the traditional live tree and some (like myself) bought potted trees, which hopefully will survive for many Christmases to come. My apartment building got on the bandwagon by installing new water-reduction toilets, shower heads and faucets, just in time for the holidays. I think my sense that I’m on the same wavelength as many other Canadians, has made me feel less marginalized in other ways.
But there’s always more we could do to make our lives more authentic, more conscious, throughout the year; things we can do on a daily basis to in some small way change the world and bring it closer to our personal ideal. For instance, simplifying our lives by simplifying our living environment, recycling or discarding unnecessary stuff. This is something I’m continually working toward, but I still have a way to go. And I’ve realized that when one has a plethora of interests, there’s a tendency to accumulate a plethora of stuff, however, I believe I can reduce quite a bit without losing my trademark clutteredness and I know I’ll feel a lot better for it.
Jeanette Winterson says, “What you eat is the most political thing you can do every day,” and she may be right. Buying locally grown food helps support your local economy. Buying organic helps support a healthier planet. Both enable you to eat fresher, healthier food you can feel good about. Personally, I find cooking, the act of preparing a meal, even if it’s just for myself, very uplifting, creative and calming. Although admittedly I wrestle with the cost issue (organic food in my neighborhood is usually three to four times the cost of mass produced pseudo-food I can buy at the chain grocery store), I keep reminding myself that the greater the demand, the more ready the supply will become and eventually costs should adjust somewhat. Also, you get what you pay for; do you want to consume cheap food if it’s laced with pesticides, raping the soil and keeping suppressed workers suppressed?
I try to buy environmentally friendly household products (i.e., toilet paper, cleansers, detergents, etc.) that aren’t animal tested. There seems to be enough of a market, that the cost of environmentally friendly products is often on par with commercial products from corporations I’d rather not support. Such products are often easier not only on the environment, but also on me and my cats. I recently read that one of the most revolutionary environmental statements one can make is to go back to using a cloth hanky. How many boxes of tissues do you go through in a year?
In my small home office, I generally print paper on both sides (an advantage of an ink jet over a laser printer) and use recycled paper and envelopes. When I’ve used my paper to maximum advantage, I shred it and put it out for further recycling. I wish offices of a more significant size would subscribe to such practices or at least make hefty donations to replanting trees. In some small way they should help make up for the tonnage of new, virgin forest products they go through every year.
With events in Asia at the end of 2004, enormous attention and aid have gone into that region. From reports coming back, at least some of the aid is getting to where it’s needed. It’s great to see the world pulling together in the wake of such a catastrophic natural event, even though there have been political rumblings of various sorts. Now I’m hearing reports that farmers want to return to farming, that fishermen want to return to the sea, but they still lack land, boats and housing. I hope that once the spotlight’s off, these people won’t be forgotten, that international relief efforts won’t cease once the primary crisis has passed. Aid will be required in this region for some time to come as survivors try to reclaim their lives. I hope you’ve made or will make whatever donation your finances allow to one of the many organizations supporting efforts in this region.
While natural disasters remind us that we aren’t really in control of everything, loss of habitat, usually caused by human ignorance, maliciousness or lack of caring, is the primary threat to many animal species. Again, if your finances allow, I urge you to find some way to support pro-animal causes. My personal choice for years has been the World Wildlife Fund (www.wwf.org internationally or www.wwf.ca in Canada). The presence of animals on the planet makes us more human, more conscious of our status as animals and more conscious of our need to take better care of the earth. At the moment and for quite some time to come, she’s the only planet we’ve got!
And I will continue to support the arts and artists through the various types of work I do and by buying books, attending performances, going to galleries, etc. Why? Because the arts are essential to a quality life, essential for interpreting the world, our emotions and thoughts. The arts are essential for communicating with other members of our species, for leaving something to future generations. Because without the arts, personally, I wouldn’t find life worth living.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, prosperous 2005. I think this has the potential to be a truly great year.