APLS and Blog Action Day double duty post–On Green Presence
Since the green movement relies so heavily on repurposing, no one will mind if I use this post for both the APLS October carnival and today’s Blog Action Day for Climate Change, right? It kinda fits both, and I’d honestly say a lot of the same things, so why not just write one, right?
Two quotes came to my mind when I saw this month’s APLS blog subject, “How do you proselytize Green?” By extension, how do you share your beliefs, your convictions, your processes, your way of life with the world where sustainability and halting our damage to the planet are concerned?
The first quote I thought of is commonly attributed to Saint Francis, who I think would be a good patron saint of the Green movement, if it needed one*. The saying goes, “Go out and preach the Gospel. Use words when necessary.”
The second quote that came to mind is something I heard several years ago, a maxim from the business world (I’m a musician, a writer, a composer, and a granola mom. To me, the Business World is as exotic and strange and implausible as the Emerald City, but that’s just me): “People only hear answers to the questions they are asking.”
Saint Francis and Big Business. An interesting pairing. But there you go.
I was struck by the Greenhabilitator’s post calling for this particular carnival topic, and how she started her blog hoping to reach out to other people just beginning the greening process for their own and their families’ lives, but that most of her readership seems to be other greenfolk—preaching to the choir, as it were. Same here—rarely can I actually get even a family member, let alone semi-acquaintances or random strangers, to come over and read my blog. (Probably because they recognize that I, too, am a “stinky hippy parent in a school full of affluent unstinky soccer moms.“:-)) (Some of my fellow granolamoms stop by from time to time, I think, but I guess that’s part of my point!)
But–People only hear the answers to the questions they are asking. I can posit answers a thousand times over to the question, “How can I reduce my carbon footprint and live more sustainably? Is it possible for a busy suburban family to be greener without incurring added expense and time?”—but only others asking the same questions will really take note of my meager crop of answers, and most of them are way better at answering them than I am. I’m still at Greenness 102, possibly closing in on sophomore year, and most of these folks seem to be at the grad school level. And sometimes—I’m embarrassed to admit it—I find myself dismissing perfectly good blog post topics because they don’t seem environmental and weighty enough, sort of like a new version of Keeping Up with the Joneses—but instead, it’s Keeping up with the Greens. (I promise to cut it out. Today.)
I think the same goes for outright proselytizing—it’s like that Far Side cartoon, where one side has the caption “What you say to your dog” with a picture of a person scolding their dog and going, “You’ve pooped on the rug for the last time, Fifi, this has got to stop, I don’t know how to get through…” and in the next window you have the same picture under the caption “What your dog hears” and the person’s going “blah blah blah Fifi blah blah.” Talking about the green movement doesn’t seem to help much, at least in my circles. People only hear answers to the questions they are already asking.
So how do we get people to ask the questions?
Enter Saint Francis. (Or whoever said the “Go preach the Gospel and use words if necessary” quote; there’s no proof anywhere that it was him anyhow…) For me, whatever proselytizing I do happens in that universe, not through talking about it, but living visibly and doing what I can in places where people can see me. Of course it’s a good thing to pop out my tiny foldup reusable bags at Whole Foods and Trader Joes, where they make a big deal out of it and everyone does it, but I get much more of a kick out of doing it at Walgreens or at the Jewel, and showing the cashier that it fits right over the handles her plastic ones are on, and it doesn’t take any extra time and holds lots more. Usually people just kind of look on curiously, but occasionally someone will ask where I got them, which then gives me the chance to answer the question they are asking. –Even if no one says anything out loud, the sensory input is there: this fairly normal looking suburban mom with squirrelly kids around her and a jam-packed purse still has room in there for these tiny folded up nylon bags and she brings them to the store and uses them and has that many fewer of those stupid plastic bags in her kitchen. And maybe somewhere in their brain the questions start to form. Or maybe the questions began to form months or even years ago and are almost at the point of crystallizing into wanting answers, and another greenperson will be born.
When someone asks me where I got the adorable dress my daughter is wearing for Christmas, I love telling people I got it on ebay, especially in the heavily designer affluent part of town where I work. Which often leads to a conversation about reusing perfectly good clothing, saving money, supporting small family business instead of HellMart, and sometimes even conversations that are directly about sustainability and how much carbon content is saved by not causing another dress, probably not as well-made, to be manufactured and its requisite parts driven and flown and shipped all over the planet to be turned into something else by people who probably aren’t paid enough.
When I post over on Facebook about this great granola bar recipe I found and tweaked, and put a link to my blog, it means that any of my Facebook friends who know how busy and overscheduled my life is also know that somehow I manage to do a lot of little carbon-saving things while saving money and time. I mean, granola bars, big deal–but it’s one small step away from individually packaged and full of HFCS, and small steps are where it starts. And if they click on the link for the recipe, they know where my blog lives and might come back again. (And sometimes I find surprise allies, like the friend who then told me how to substitute flax seed meal for eggs in my granola bar recipe…)
When I go to my noon staff meeting with the lunch I brought from home, with my Wrap-N-Mat sandwich and reusable snack bags, fellow staff members sometimes ask what that’s all about, which gives me a real opportunity to talk a little about waste-free lunches and how much garbage a household can save in a year of packing them. I can get into conversations with fellow dog-people about chemical-free flea prevention, and from there to how easy it is to make a chemical-free bug spray for your own family, and from there to safer sunblock alternatives. (You know, the Mom Stream of Consciousness.) When a fellow singer is coming down with something, I can send them home with some Throat Coat tea. And in an awful lot of these cases, if the people I’m talking to seem really interested, I can send them to my blog. To me, that’s the value of keeping a green blog—even if I go for a year or two without anyone reading all the blather I’m throwing out there, when someone asks a question I’ve already researched and answered online, I can easily send them there without holding them captive for the amount of time it would take me to talk about it. Because now they’ve asked the question.
And then there’s food—best conversation starter ever! I can take a loaf of artisan bread to a friend’s house and talk casually (in that “omg here’s a small thing that’s saved me time and made life cooler and anything like that is awesome for a stressed mom” vein mothers always seem to use) about how easy it is to keep a container of refrigerated dough in the fridge and toss bread into the oven whenever I have a free hour before dinner. I can bring a yogurt cheese and pesto dip to a party, which gives me the chance to talk about how easy it is to make yogurt and how easy it is to grow basil and make your own pesto and freeze it in ice cube trays. I can happen to mention that the milk from the yogurt is from local cows—maybe the people I’m talking to couldn’t care less about where the cows live, but even just saying it out loud gives yet another bit of sensory input that says “the milk comes from cows that come from somewhere and I keep hearing people use the word local and what’s that about?” –even if they’ve never thought to ask the question before.
Am I a green superhero of any kind? Hardly. To be utterly frank, I got into this whole green thing because up to 2 years ago when my husband finished school and was able to land a job that doesn’t have us living paycheck to paycheck, we were living on one musician’s salary and anything that would save us a few bucks a month was to be sought after. I got into the green movement to save money, pure and simple—and eventually I discovered that I like living this way. And when I went to other folks (from my local community or the blogosphere) to get answers to the questions I was asking—i.e., how can I save money feeding my family, how can I lower utility bills, where can I get decent clothes for myself and my kids without breaking the bank—I started noticing the other questions out there, and once I began asking them too, my life went in a new and lovely direction. And now I talk about it. To anyone who will listen. And even when I do that, even as I read over this blog post, it seems impossibly preachy. A hazard of the written word, I guess.
I applaud and salute those who are out there on the front lines, changing the laws, aggressively spreading the word—and we desperately need you. But I just don’t have that in me. (Yet.) For now, I do what I can in my small corner of suburbia. It’s not much. But it’s what I’ve got.
*St. Francis was the guy who ticked off a lot of fancy prelates by going, “okay, what’s with all the fancy churches and fancy vestments and my chalice is bigger than yours and let’s see if we can make more money and goods than the secular world? Wouldn’t it be better to just live simply, see the beauty of the world God has given us, and trust that creation will provide us with what we need?”—and rather than waiting for approval or agreement, he just sort of did it, lived that way, gave up everything to the poor and just kind of went with it, and more brothers joined him. Really ticked off the wealthy high class edumicated religious orders. Made them look bad. Anyone who gets made a saint in large part for ticking off the religious establishment in the name of simplicity is okay in my book.