To do what is right, not what you should. January 19, 2011 8 Comments

Park Avenue, New York City on the Eve of a blizzard, late Dec, 2010 photo: Lydia Pecker

“No problem can be solved by the same consciousness that created it.”–Albert Einstein

“We are writing our history on the skin of fish with the blood of bears.”–Margaret Atwood

“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

Floundering.  Swimming up stream?  Just plain wondering what I am doing?  This past year, striving in every possible way to use NO disposable plastic, I find that my eyes and heart are so accustomed to dodging this stuff that I cannot stop.  Or, put another way, I guess I do not want to.

A friend just sent me the Blue Hill Maine co-op newsletter.  The community had just watched the documentary “Bag It.”  Here is a startling fact learned from the newsletter, re the movie.  “We have created and used more single-use plastic in the last ten years than we did in the entire 20th century.”  Bag it, bottle it, seal it, cap it, cover it–keep it separate, keep it clean, drink it up, toss it away.  It seems we have just begun our consumption of single-use plastic here.

“To do what is right, not what you should.”  This is the message a friend of mine received in her very first fortune cookie of 2011.  As I sort through the memories of the past year, and all the plastic stuff I did not use, but needed to–stuff like glue and tape–stuff I did not use but really wanted to–stuff like crackers, I am wondering which of these things I am going to allow back into my life.  Most stuff, like any take-out plastic, plastic bags, straws, styrofoam of any sort, I am happy to continue not to use.

plastic inside the boxes of food eaten by me in captivity during the NYC blizzard of December 2010

I have been listening to a collection of tapes called the “Monticello Dialogues” by William McDonough.  These tapes were lent to me by a young man behind the cheese counter at my local Whole Foods who has been wrapping my cheese in paper this past year.  Like Thomas Jefferson and Buckminster Fuller, McDonough is a visionary.  He believes we can figure this out and make a better world.

McDonough reminds us of our “timeful mindlessness.”  We are all in a hurry….don’t have time to think about our choices–he suggests “mindful timelessness” instead.  In short, I think he is saying, give yourself the space and time in your life to do the things you can to care for the earth–recycle, bring your own bags, whatever this is for you…And because it is McDonough, he encourages you to see this earth as a place of vast abuundance, where a better and more balanced world is possible if we put our minds and hearts into it.

And by the way, did you hear the the COUNTRY of Italy has banned the single-use plastic bag.  Yes, I said THE COUNTRY OF ITALY!

These past few weeks as I work in my backyard studio and see the birds, Carolina wrens, cardinals, nuthatches and more, stuffing themselves with the seeds I am putting out, as I see the daylight lasting

one goldfinch, a nuthatch and a wren or two on my studio table

longer each afternoon, as the tips of the daffodils show themselves under the damp humus and melting snow, I know that spring is indeed on the way.  The earth has shifted and spring with its awakening is indeed coming again.  So, late in this January of 2011, I wish you all a Happy New Year.  I have changed the name of this blog to THE LAST STRAW: A Continued Quest for a Life Without Single-use Plastic.  I am still curious, and determined, and certainly I am not perfect in this.  I think the question of how we use the resources found in the earth for this new century is a big one.  How to provide for all of us all over the world.  Recently, I have been attending some neighborhood meetings sponsored by Clean Energy Durham, where we are learning to make our homes more energy efficient in simple direct pass-along ways.  This organization encourages us to learn and then share our knowledge with our neighbors.  It is a good model for community and for environmental awareness and empowerment.  I was telling my young hosts Chris and Irene about my commitment to use as little disposable plastic as possible.  Chris said, “You know, I have discovered that if I actually drive the speed limit then I save 4 miles per gallon.”  Wow.  It is these individual acts of paying attention that inspire me, keep me curious.  What will the new year bring?  For myself, I am hoping to figure out what is right for me, not acting righteously–(I SHOULD do this and SHOULD do that)–but acting from my core, doing the best I can to keep figuring out what I want to do, and doing it.

Meanwhile–while I was in New York this late December–I got to See Jomama Jones in her show “Radiate.” Jomama is a fabulous diva created by the playwright and actor Daniel Alexander Jones.  Jomama’s show was full of wonderful music from herself and her back-ups the Sweet Peaches.  She left us with these wishes for the New Year, which I am passing on to you:


by Sharon Bridgforth (for Jomama Jones in “Radiate”—Dec. 2010)

I wish you health and wholeness.  That all the Abundance that seeks you, finds you sweetly and without delay.

I wish you friends that make you laugh to tears.  Friends that treat you dear.

I wish you companionship that is adventurous, kind, compassionate, hott and sexy.

I wish old wounds heal.  That you offer your best self each moment of each day.

That generosity leads your actions and thoughts.

That you be gentle with yourself when you fall short.

I wish you Harmony and Alignment

Creativity and Inspiration.

I wish you quests of spirit that delight your Soul.

That gratitude and joy guide you.

That you Fully be yourself/always.

That Grace define you.

That you Shine.

That you be free.

I wish that you know we need you.

That your presence matters.

I wish you love.

Around the world December 24, 2010 3 Comments

Christmas tree of plastic bottles made by artists Hadas and Ernest Itzcovitch, Haifa, Israel

“Without the playing with fantasy no creative work has ever yet come to birth. The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.”  Carl Jung

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”  Albert Einstein

Around the world they are doing it–making Christmas trees out of discarded stuff.  Everywhere.  Here are a few favorite recycled Christmas trees I found on the web this morning.

Christmas tree made of recycled bicycles

Recycled bottle Christmas tree

Chinese christmas tree made out of plastic silverware

Christmas tree out of Mountain Dew cans

Christmas tree made of wooden pallets

It seems everyone is doing it, everywhere.  Recycling creatively and having a good time with it.  So here’s to new ideas, new possibilities for us in the recycling and reuse of all we make and use on this planet earth.

Christmas tree made out of glass bottles, tin cans and plastic refuse from the beach--artist--yours truly

The world is full of creative minds.  Like bees we are humming along. Perhaps, this season we are even singing.  Merry Christmas everyone.  Thanks to all of you who have helped and supported me in my (no longer reluctant) year without single-use plastic. This has been a full year for me.  I have learned much and see much more learning and understanding, thinking and doing along the road ahead.  As much as anything my inspiration this year has come from you the readers who have questioned me, educated me  and inspired me.  I thank you all the time.

What do we “want”? December 16, 2010 5 Comments

Duquesne Fils-Aimé regularly wades into a river of waste in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to clean out the city’s canals. Despite the filth, he is thankful for the job, he said.

“The events in our lives happen in a sequence in time, but in their significance to ourselves they find their own order in the continuous thread of revelation.”

“Write about what you don’t know about what you know. ”
Eudora Welty

Convenience might kill us in the long run.  I grew up hearing the frantic warning–“Don’t ever put that plastic dry cleaning bag over your head, you can smother yourself.”  Looking at the picture above, which was on the front page of the New York Times about a month ago, I think about what all this single-use plastic is doing to our world.

For the past few days I have been listening and re-listening to a Radio Lab podcast of a conversation Robert Krulwich had with Steven Johnson and Kevin Kelly.  The show was entitled What Does Technology Want? Johnson and Kelly are authors of the books Where Good Ideas Come From and What Technology Wants, in that order. Think about it this way–stuff gets invented because we need it and we want it.  Because our world is “ready and waiting for it.”  For example, Elisha Gray registered his discovery of the telephone 3 hours after Alexander Graham Bell.  The telephone’s time had come.  It was waiting to be invented.  The same sort of thing happened with the electric light bulb.  The scientific world had made all the discoveries necessary to support these inventions.  According to Johnson and Kelly,  there are really no “Eureka” moments.  Stuff happens because of all that has come before.  They also say that ideas, like plants to the sun, lean in the direction that the world “wants.”

Are we ready to address our over-use of plastic?  Do we “want” to pay attention to the fact that we are using oil, a finite resource in a non-renewable way?  For that matter, are we ever going to make small affordable cars that use this resource wisely?  What must happen scientifically and culturally to make this a priority for us?

If you listen to NPR you hear stories about electric cars and wind-generated energy, which makes me think we are leaning towards some sort of environmental stewardship.  I do not hear much these days about plastic, how it is used everywhere all of the time in almost all packaging of anything, from food markets in the developing world to our fancy gourmet cheese counters here in the States.  So much of our food is sealed in plastic for freshness and shelf-life, yet no one is talking about the toxic off-gassing of this non-biodegradeble material we are using to hold our food.  Plastic sheeting, plastic wrapping, plastic clam shells, plastic lids with plastic straws covering mostly plastic drinking cups.

A woman dries plastic bags for recycling on the banks of the Buriganga River in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where authorities have clamped down on bag use. Photo: ReutersI

I am finding that I have more questions than answers as I approach the end of my year without single-use plastic.  Mostly–with a  bit of vigilance and a sense of humor, saying over and over, “This is my job, this year”–I feel I have been successful in my quest.  I have found most of the food I have needed in glass or at farmers markets.  Everywhere, however, on almost everything, are tiny plastic seals, tabs, labels and caps– EVERY everywhere.  I also see, all the time, and everywhere as well, people filling their trunks full of groceries in plastic bags, folks strolling down the streets or sitting in internet cafes or waiting for buses with their giant “big-gulp” drinks of something, usually with a plastic cup and almost always with a plastic straw and lid.  Plastic water bottles are everywhere–along our roads, in offices and homes and cars and in people’s hands.  EVERYWHERE.  Always always always.  I ALSO see kids and adults with their own use-again water bottles and lots of people with their use-again bags at the grocery store.  It’s all there.  My questions are– “Are we leaning towards paying attention? Do enough of us feel that the time has come to do so?”  Steven Johnson says if an idea comes before it is supported by the ethos of the community, then it will flounder.  I hope we are ready to deal with this plastics issue.  I have been wondering a lot about what it would take for us–our society, our culture, our world–to begin to take this over-use of plastic seriously.  What would make us shift our awareness and our actions?  It is becoming clear to me that looking for the answers to these questions will be the next stage in my journey.

bluesphere November 19, 2010 2 Comments

This image taken by NASA astronauts is said to have changed our world view--It was made famous by being on the cover of the first Whole Earth Catalogue published in 1968. Gaia

We all have very little time–So we must do everything as slowly as possible.

A Zen Buddhist Koan

my studio in the light from a fall afternoon

Last Saturday morning I was  home and  felt in my bones the privilege of being lazy.  Outside, the sunlight glowed in yellow ribbons through the leaves which are still on the trees.  Since I last posted I have been at work in Charleston, SC and Madison, WI, with a side-trip to Chicago along the way.  I have done my neighborhood art walk and moved into my old backyard shed, which has been transformed into my “new” studio.  This studio is tiny, like a ship’s galley.  Each afternoon when home, if I am lucky, I find the time to leave my computer and my phone behind and make the trip down my back steps to the small building 20 feet from my house, settled in my backyard, and get lost in my work as a sculptor.  These days I am a maker of small brown birds and other backyard wildlife.
So much has happened.  I have traveled a lot of miles, on the road and in the air.  I have met and talked with many people.  I have seen old friends and made new ones.

"bluesphere" mandala in process--Addlestone Library, Charleston, NC (approximately 28' x 28')

This week I made a trip to Lexington, NC, and next week I go back to Charleston to take down my bottle cap Mandala, which was a part of “bluesphere: earth art expo” curated by Mark Sloan of The Halsey Institute of Contemporary Art. All this moving about, with coming home in between, has made me think more than ever about this great big “bluesphere” where we are all living, hurrying about doing our jobs of eating and breathing, learning and looking–and always the world is turning. Most recently in the western hemisphere, especially around Durham, NC, the place that I call home, night and day, day and night, the summer is turning into fall, which brings yellow maple leaves glowing on the side walks and brown oak leaves filling my yard.

During my travels, I have spoken with a lot of people about my mission to have a plastic-free year.  People have been curious and mostly (I think) inspired.  I have learned so much this year about what we

plastic cups thrown away in 6 hours of airline travel in the USA by artist Chris Jordan from his series "Running the Numbers"

produce, use once and never again–all of this single-use plastic.  When I began this year, I had no idea that this journey would become such a passion for me.  Sometimes when I hear myself talking, I sound shrill….a little over the top–way left of center.  Okay, I say to myself, “Let’s take a deep breath here.  Slow down…”

When I was in South Carolina working on my mandala I met the inspired artist Chris Jordan, who among other things has chronicled our usage of STUFF–its quantity in a very powerful way–in his series Running the Numbers. A few weeks ago when I called Muriel Williman, the Education Specialist for Chapel Hill, NC Solid Waste, to check my statistics before I gave an artist talk, she told me,”We are at the beginning of our awareness of this plastic thing.”  At the beginning of our awareness of the magnitude of our over-use of plastics everywhere, all of the time.

About a month ago, a friend from Switzerland sent me a link to the West Coast artist Dianna Cohen speaking about tough truths on plastic pollution. Simply and clearly she urges us to pay attention, and tells how she has reduced plastic in her own life.  Among other things she urges us to add a 4th R to the Reduce, Reuse, Recycle mantra–REFUSE–If you have a minute click the link above and listen.

Because of NASA we can see the world as a ball, floating in space.  Really, a tiny speck in the vast space in which it spins.  Have you ever held a tadpole or a small fish live in your hands, so that you could see its heartbeat and almost the coursing of blood through its veins–a live thing held together by a thin translucent layer of skin, bone and muscle?  To me, that is what our planet earth looks like from so far away.  A live ball pulsing and breathing with all of the oceans and rivers and species of live things living just under its skin.

Today I listened to Salman Rushdie talking about his new book Luka and the Fire of Life on the Diane Rehm Show on NPR.  He said that here on earth we humans are the only species that tell stories to each other.  We read books.  We watch movies.  We tell each other the things we feel are most important.

Here is the story I have heard more than once this month from artists Chris Jordan and Dianna Cohen.  There is so much plastic floating in our oceans now that we cannot possibly clean it up.  Not until we stop the rapid constant flow of it from our rivers to the sea. The plastics we “use once” are flowing into the oceans at an alarming rate. Because of this, birds and other sea creatures are dying.  As humans, we need to tell this story.  They cannot.

dead baby albatross with his stomach full of plastic. Chris Jordan–“Message from the Gyre”

ohhhhmmmmm October 18, 2010 2 Comments

Buddhist Temple made from beer bottles

There is no such thing as garbage, just useful stuff in the wrong place.  Alex Steffen

Have you seen this temple?  It is the most beautiful, useful, sublime, anything ever I have seen made out of bottles.

I am on the road this week, just having arrived in Charleston SC to make a mandala out of bottle caps in the rotunda of the Addlestone Library of the College of Charleston.  I have been invited along with some very amazing artists to be a part of bluesphere: Earth Art Expo. So tonight, I walked up George Street onto King Street scoping out places for coffee and take-out food without single use-plastic–I had great luck at a place called something and bananas–more on that later–but meanwhile, stay tuned for what might be my biggest mandala ever–gosh that rotunda is H-U-G-E.

ohm….A yoga teacher once told me that the word Amen comes from ohm…..I bet that’s right.  I am in awe of this Buddhist Temple out of beer bottles. I found it through a site called Tree Hugger.  Thanks, Janine, for telling me about this website.  It just doesn’t get much better.  EVER.  Have a great week all.  And, hey, if you live anywhere near Charleston, SC come by the library here this week (October 19-22, 2010) and help us make a mandala out of caps and lids.  I have about 40,000 or so, plus what has been collected here. We could use your help.  It will be fun.  It will be beautiful.  YOU are invited….just come.

Even the washrooms and the crematorium of this temple are built of bottles, a mix of green Heineken and brown local Chang beer. Ohmmmmm---------------------A-M-A-Z-I-N-G

a bottle cap mandala in the making last fall at UNC, Chapel Hill NC

One of my bottle cap mandalas in the making last fall at UNC, Chapel Hill NC

Slouching Towards Bethlehem October 13, 2010 5 Comments

"Watch Tower" by Nereus Patrick Cheo of Douala, Cameroon

Artist Nereus Patrick Cheo works with street children in Cameroon teaching them to make art out of stuff salvaged from the landfill in Douala.

“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance, but live right in it, under its roof.”

Barbara Kingsolver (Animal Dreams)

And then there is the dark side of the moon.  The way I get frustrated.  How even working on being positive, looking for the best of things, pumping myself up day by day to figure out again and again how to not use disposable plastic–How I just get tired, feel overwhelmed and wonder–what am I doing?  Does this all really matter?  I mean, why am I doing this when in every single store I see so much single-use plastic?  What in the world am I doing?  I said this to my friend Jenny on a walk last Sunday along the Eno River.  It was sunny, it was fall, and we heard a few turtles plopping off their warm logs as we walked along the path closest to the river.  What she told me was, that I have, in my actions, made her look more closely at the world around her.  Now, she sees random trash on the ground, in the river, everywhere that she would have ignored at one time.  And when she can, she picks it up.  The same with food plastic–now she notices–and she no longer allows anyone to give her a styrofoam take out container. Thanks Jenny–that’s a lot.

On Friday night at a small opening I had at Twig, a local store specializing in green products, a woman showed up because she, herself, on her very own was attempting to not use plastic and wanted to meet me. “Why,” I asked. “Why are you doing this?”  Her answer had to do with reading about the gyres of plastic in our ocean and wanting to do something about it.

Did this sound familiar?   Yes yes yes–so we talked techniques and details and cheered each other on.  Great!

The truth is some days I just get tired of trying, of paying attention, of not getting to eat good take-out NC barbecue because of all that styrofoam.  A few weeks ago as I hiked and rode the walking sidewalks of the Detroit airport on my way home from Maine and found I had left my steel water bottle “somewhere” in a bathroom along the way, I did NOT have a sense of humor.  Only the fact of severe turbulence as we were flying towards RDU saved me from those plastic cups of juice which the airlines serve.

This over use of plastic is so imbedded in my consciousness these days that some times I am a zealot who has no patience with others.  I know that this is not a good thing.  We live in an amazing world, full of lots of opportunities.  A year ago, before I started THE LAST STRAW, I used to love drinking out of a straw, single use petroleum product or not.  It’s a lot to figure out.  A lot.  Bit by bit, step by step, my hope is that  we will.

Compost and "corn" plastic supposedly biodegradable cups on the way to my compost pile

News flash:  The PLA plastic (aka corn plastic) cups which are supposed to be “biodegradable” are still whole and solid in my compost bin….I have written about this in earlier posts…How that PLA stuff only biodegrades in big industrial composters and is a pollutant to other recyclable plastics.  So this “answer” to reducing take out garbage from our waste-stream is only an answer sometimes.  What kind of news is this to all of us in a hurry?  Industries could fix this, but are not being held accountable, by governmental regulations or  by us.

This PLA plastic "compostable" cup has been in my compost pile for 2 months.

It’s a dance, or so it seems.  How will I remember this year?  I have learned that mostly I can live a good life without most throw-away plastic. Unlike my friend Jenny, I have been noticing and dealing with the detritus around me for years.  It is not going away.  Is our awareness changing as a culture?  Maybe.  Does it need to?  YES. This year I am on a  journey and I know that I am NOT one of the wise men. Perhaps I am a shepherd not sure where the road will take me, certain only that hope is the star I am following.  On this pilgrimage it is that and the knowledge that my sense of humor, when I can find it, is what keeps hope alive.

PETE plastic bottles gathered for "recycling"--Corn Plastic is a pollutant to this and other plastics.

Author’s note:  The phrase “slouching towards Bethlehem”  is from a poem entitled “the Second Coming” by William Butler Yeats written in 1919 between the two world wars.

Opportunity September 21, 2010 No Comments

Sustainable meeting for the Community Portrait of Durham--no disposable plastic on this table!

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle. “–Tich naht han

“Remember always that you are just a visitor here, a traveler passing through. Your stay is but short and the moment of your departure unknown.” The Buddha

“Plastics made to last forever, designed to throw away.” from 5 gyres blog

Wisteria pods under the arbor at Foster's, Durham, NC Photo Chris Krueger

It is mid-September here in Durham NC.  The other day I had lunch under a wisteria vine with velvet seed pods just waiting for some cool morning to pop right open.  Later I even went with two friends down to my favorite swimming hole on the Eno River and jumped right in.  A bit of wind blew across the water, promising fall, but the water was warm and the swimming was easy.  And I am finally putting the finishing touches on my old backyard shed, now almost redone into a new studio!  I began this blog last January, so have been working on my year without “single-use” plastic for 9 months now, the year closer than ever to over.  Many people have been asking me what will be next.  Will I be glad to end the year?  Will I go back to plastic as usual, ignoring all of the packaging around stuff and buying it anyway? I don’t think so–I just can’t.  I have written in other posts about the 5 gyres of plastic which are in our oceans, churning and swirling away, becoming non-food for wild life, growing bigger and bigger and attracting pollutants. This past month, Paperhand Puppet in their show ISLANDS UNKNOWN even made a large character out of a plastic gyre.  There I thought, at least this is becoming common knowledge.  So I am shocked when in conversation with friends and colleagues interested in my quest, I find that many are not aware of these places where plastic goes and goes and never goes away.  Going online after one such conversation, I immediately found the 5 gyres website with information and animation about all of this.  One of the first challenges they give is to go to the grocery store and try to buy food not encased in plastic.  Just to notice,  just  NOTICE  how much non-recyclable, only trash-able plastic there is around our food.

the NEW studio floor--cleaned with vinegar and water--almost there!

Friend and yoga instructor, Amy Kellum sent me a link to last week’s Huffington Post.  They have written an article suggesting 7 reasons how and why you might reduce your use of “single-use” plastic.  This is a good article, listing stuff like bringing your own bags and removing throw-away plastic bottles from your life.  They start with suggesting that you cook your own food–something many people are learning to do for the first time.  When I began this year, I had no idea so many others would be thinking like me.  This is the good news. The not so good news is how many of us are oblivious, and not interested in changing anything in our rush-ahead convenience-driven American lives. We make this easy with our plastic bags for everyone and free disposal of all our waste here in the US.  FREE.  We make this VERY easy.  I had an email a few weeks ago from a woman in Michigan who brought PAYT (Pay as you throw) gargbage collection to her town.  She did this because the town was running out of money and could no longer afford the alternative–throwing vast amounts of waste (some of which would be recyclable) away.  Because of her stance, one of individual responsibility, she told me she was verbally and viciously attacked as a communist, among other things….Hmm–what part of promoting individual responsiblilty is communist?  Here is what she said:

“The Solid Waste committee spent 6 months discussing my proposal; we had two packed public hearings during which the guy wearing a Rush Limbaugh T shirt yelled Communist, and the old guy I beat for mayor led a group of angry seniors saying, “She’ll use the savings for art programs”  — which was partly true. The irony of course is that PAYT is not communistic and the art program cost $1000 of the $150,000 savings. After I left city hall the garbage program remained but the art program was axed.”

What will I do next year?  More to come on that–I am pretty sure that after I buy and eat a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, and maybe go and buy a bunch of cheese, and 3 or 4 boxes of good crackers, and oh, a bag or two of Ruffles potato chips–after that–I will be back to the farmers market, and back to not using single-use plastic.  I have much more art to make about our over-use of plastic.  What will it look like? How will it happen? I am not sure of yet. What I do know is that paying attention is very important and I am beginning to agree with jackson browne that “single-use plastic” is as much of a threat to us as global warming.  Okay, so yes, next year looms before me as a huge OPPORTUNITY.  We need to make changes in how we buy and consume.  All of us.  Some of us will not do this until we are knocked in the head by the cost of our garbage, or the pollution of our oceans.  I say, lets continue to push for good environmental stewardship.  Let’s buy without plastic as much as we can and demand this of the stores that sell us the products we consume.  Is this a dream?  Perhaps.   Is this an opportunity?  Absolutely.

Hey–and speaking of opportunities—if you live in Durham, NC (recently named the best place to retire in the US!)–come join us in Durham Central Park on Sunday, October 3, 2010 at 12 noon to be a part of the Community Portrait of Durham. This project was inspired by the movie WASTELAND a popular choice here this year at FUll Frame Documentary Film Festival.  Bring your friends and family and wear blue.  It will be a party!  It will be fabulous!  What an incredible OPPORTUNITY to meet and greet your neighbors, support our Scrap Exchange and just have a good time.  To find out more, see below.  I hope to see you there!

Responsibility September 8, 2010 2 Comments

Installation close up--plastic collected from the beach in a glass bottle. AGAIN AND NEVER AGAIN: Can We Co-Exist with Ourselves?--by Bryant Holsenbeck, Guilford College, Greensboro, NC, September 2010

“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.”— Pema Chödrön

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.”
Betty Reese

I gave an “artist’s talk” last Wednesday at Guilford College, during the opening for my installation, AGAIN AND NEVER AGAIN: Can We Co-Exist With Ourselves? The installation was made by me and more than 100 students, faculty and community members. “Be casual,” Kelsey Mc Millan, the director protem told me.  I had lots or people to thank, and with the list in my hand I did this, but not before I said something totally unplanned like,  “Artists are going to save the world”  Did I do that?  I think so.  While I was installing this show I told  my story about my “Reluctant Year”  without single-use plastic over and over again.  Together, the students and I made a beautiful installation out of glass bottles, tin cans, bottle caps, among other things and plastic beach detritus. These were smart students, interested and ready to help……These kids are anxious to make the world better, as best they can.

Afterwards, Vernie Davis, a professor of Anthropology and Peace and Conflict Studies at Guilford, told me that the word  RESPONSIBILITY means the “ability to respond.”   RIGHT.  Perhaps that is one of the very best things a good education can give us, the ability to see what needs to be done, and then the willingness to do it.

So many many times this year, people have said to me, I want to do this “bring my own bag thing,” but I just forget.  UH HUH–A very smart recycling educator said this to me when I asked her about  the “which was better for the environment, paper or plastic,”  controversy–“Well, why on earth would you be letting a store give you a bag in the first place?” she replied.  “This should not be a debatable point.”  Put that together with the teenager who told me to go back to the car every time I forgot my bags, and I am trained now.  The students I worked with last week are ready to pay attention and ready for us to as well.  So what are we waiting for?

Here is something I told the students.  People may think it is a hard thing, my attempting not to use “single-use” plastic for the year.  Hard, maybe sorta, but really truly, it has been very interesting and invigorating.  I mean, I am always thinking I am stumped, and then voila (a favorite word on this blog for the moments of surprise) voila–a solution appears.  If I give myself a bit of time to look around, talk to a few people then an answer (like the used blender I needed which my friend Ann pulled out of her car’s trunk yesterday) arrives.

north fork of the New River clean-up crew, 2010 Picture taken by Guilford professor Vernie Davis.

And people are doing great and thoughtful things, all of the time.  Here is a picture of a dedicated group of folks who spent the last weekend in August cleaning up an area of the New River.  Taking action around and responsibility for the things we really care about is what life is about in so many intangible ways.  Don’t you think?  For information about how you to can help with such a clean up contact the National Committee for the New River.

I can’t end this post without mentioning Deep  Roots, a small co-op in Greensboro which was started in 1976, apparently at Guilford College.  There  amidst organic locally grown produce and milk in glass bottles I found liquid dish detergent in a big vat.  All I needed was my own glass bottle to fill up.  Hallelujah!  Who knew?  Here is to the small enterprises in communities, that give us choices and diversity in what we can buy.  FYI–Here is what Deep Roots has to say about plastic bags:

This co-op has been alive in Greensboro, NC since 1976.

“One of the most exciting and groundbreaking steps we (Deep Roots) have taken is to banish plastic bags from our checkout counters. Instead of giving out so many of these bags, which pollute our landscapes and seascapes, harm  animals, and waste precious petroleum, we encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable bags. For beginners and those who forget, we still provide reused cardboard boxes from our shipments, when available, as well as paper bags (at a cost of 2 cents per bag, to cover our expenses).”

Along the same lines and beautifully made, you might want to watch this short film–“The Plastic Bag, A Mocumentary” narrated by Jeremy Irons.  He follows a plastic bag from the grocery store parking lot to the Pacific ocean’s gyre of plastic.  It is only 5 minutes long, well done and makes visible what we don’t want to really know about what happens to a lot of these bags.

I end this post thanking the many students and faculty of Guilford College for their generosity in helping me with my installation, their intelligence, their trust and time freely given.  In no particular order, and with much appreciation I thank Kesley McMillan, Theresa Hammond, Anthony Lowe, Mac McBee, Jim Dees,  Vernie Davis, Kim Yarbray, Bob Williams, Adele Wayman, Chris Henry, Maia Dery, Kathryn Shields, Louis and Jerry Boothby and Mark Dixon.  The Exhibition is in the Hege Library at Guilford College, Greensboro, NC in case you are anywhere near by this month.

Maia Dery's class--getting close to the finish. AGAIN AND NEVER AGAIN: Can We Co-Exist With Ourselves?

Mark Dixon's 3-D Design class...celebrating the finish!

Sunlight and Shadow August 18, 2010 No Comments

early morning view from the window of my cousin Katherine's house near Swannanoa, NC

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

(Sign that hung in Albert Einstein’s office in Princeton, NJ)

For most of us, summer is over.  People are returning from vacations all over the place.  Teachers are back in schools and if the students aren’t, they will be soon.  All of this and it is only mid AUGUST with a high of 95 degrees predicted today here in Durham, NC.  Monday morning the on-line New York Times had a feature entitled The Unplugged Challenge where people all over the country had volunteered to drop their media connections for a week.  Writers began to write by hand, kids gave their parents their cell phones and stopped texting for a day, and giving up Facebook was discussed again and again.  As I listened/watched the videos of many of these individuals, I kept thinking about how the internet, the web, texting, etc, etc etc–have become ubiquitous.  I know a lovely 10 month old with a Facebook page.  Over and over I tell friends don’t text me–I don’t YET text.  Where is Marshall McLuhan, author of The Media is the Message, now when we need him more than ever?  How is all of this rapid knowledge and communication affecting us?

Sunlight and shadow--a glimpse of a mountain stream near Hot Springs, NC

All of these streams of information, have become integral to our daily lives.  We pick, we chose, we answer our emails, we join Facebook or twitter, or not. Always we SURF the web expecting knowledge to be at our fingertips.  Last week, I spent two nights at my cousin’s house in the mountains near Swannanoa, NC.  I went mostly to visit friends and family, and to spend time with her lovely new baby, but I did find myself alone for a brief time in a mountain stream.  The water was cold, rushing over the slippery rocks and roots of rhododendron.  Solitude.  A gift.  A small diamond of time alone in the woods–a moment I will keep in my pocket  as I rush along the highways of my busy world.  And, yes, there was plastic in that remote stream–a black piece from the bottom of a PETE soda bottle and a knob of something, both caught under stones and branches surrounded by the flowing water.

Plastic straws and lids found on the pavement and two plastic items found in a remote stream in western NC

Like cell phones, like the internet, can it be like Facebook, plastic is something we will never ever live without again.  For so many reasons, many of them medical, we would not want to.  Somehow I have found that I can, even while tired and traveling, dodge the “single-use” stuff.  What this means is not going through the drive-through anywhere, so that I can get a drink without a plastic straw and plastic top on it.  It means taking my steel water bottles along and keeping them filled.  It means wishing I had remembered to bring some nuts and dried fruit along on my drive to Asheville, but even so, somehow resisting the plastic wrapped candy stuff at the gas stop along the way.  I never know if I am going to really hold out, but, somehow I do.  I think I must really want this.  To know it is possible gives me a sense of control, a tiny bit of power in a crazy world.

"kitchen soap" in a bar, Rebecca's lotion in a glass jar, and Ecover--the only detergent I have found in a box with a cardboard rather than plastic scoop inside-

So, here’s some good news.   Last week, my friend Rebecca, author of LESS IS ENOUGH, and I got together and she showed me how to make lotion!  This stuff is amazing, and took only  a short time to make. Wow.  The recipe is below.  Next, my cousin Monty, of granola fame, gave me a bar of hand-made “kitchen soap” that a friend of hers had made…Wow, again.  I can just rub this on a wet sponge and plenty of soap lathers up for me to wash the dishes in my sink.  She has promised to buy me a bunch of these bars from her neighbor when she goes back to New Jersey this fall, plus try for the recipe.

Meanwhile have a lovely last few days of summer. If you live anywhere near Durham, NC don’t miss Paper Hand Puppet’s ISLANDS UNKNOWN taking place at UNC’s stone ampitheatre the next few weekends. I hope you are also able to spend some time in a pool or a lake or maybe just looking up at the moon and stars while the cicadas sing before the seasons change.   This spinning world is always a place of mystery and amazement, when I remember to take the time to notice.  Sunlight and shadow.  It’s all there.


REBECCA in her Kitchen with the beeswax

from Better Basic’s for the Home by Anne Berthold-Bond

2 1/2 ounces apricot kernel and avocado oil

1’1/2 ounces shea butter

1/4 ounce beeswax

1 tablespoon pure vegetable glycerin

1/2 teaspoon grapefruit seed extract

20 or so drops of essential oil as desired

Combine the oils, shea butter and beeswax in a double boiler over medium heat and cook until wax is melted.  Remove from heat and add the rose water, glycerin, grapefruit seed extract and essential oil.  Blend with an electric mixer until creamy.  Store in a glass jar.

Gratitude August 5, 2010 5 Comments

Peaches from the tree in my yard that came from a peach pit in my compost pile, and toilet paper from CVS

If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.

~Meister Eckhart

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.

~John Fitzgerald Kennedy

One of the greatest discoveries a man (or a woman, come on now, Henry)  makes, one of his (or her)  great surprises, is to find he (or she) can do what he (or she) was afraid he (or she) couldn’t do.

Henry Ford (sort of)

Here’s something I figured out a while back–It doesn’t take that much money to live well–I mean really, why would I be an artist at all, if I thought money would give me answers.  I am fortunate in that I have been able to make my living working as an artist almost all of my adult life.  Where am I going here?  Isn’t this blog about trying for a disposable plastic-free year?  Good question…..The thing is, by now, half way through the year, it is not really such a struggle.  I think this is partly from educating myself as to where and when to buy.  How to dodge take-out containers and such.  The other part is, I think I am used to living on a budget, figuring things out, being thrifty, shopping smart–I have done this all of my life.  Making yogurt and granola, my own ice tea, whatever to avoid plastic has not been a huge step for me.  And I am RELIEVED  to be dodging the big box stores, the homes of plastic and plastic packaging, as I am now thinking of them.  I do not need what they have.  Over and over–I have thought–ummm–here is a place I will have to use some plastic, and then, voila, next thing–I figured out a way not to.

A week or so ago, I was planning a short camping trip to a lake up in Virginia.  As I was gathering and borrowing a tent, cookstove, etc, I thought ummm-okay, I will need to buy those plastic bags of ice–no choice.  And 15 minutes later, I was taking ice cubes out of my freezer and storing them in glass jars to put in my cooler.  And then when telling my carpenter friend Dave this story he says–“so Bryant–where is the nearest store with their own ice machine?  Couldn’t you just take your cooler in and ask them to fill it directly?”  Duh– I kind of feel like the little engine that could.  If I just keep saying I think I can, or more exactly, there is some way that I can do this if think hard enough—well, I usually can…Okay!

So here are a few recent surprises.

The “butterfly bush” in my garden which grew and grew but never had flowers turned out to be a peach tree which sprouted from a peach pit in my compost.  This year, I harvested over 20 peaches.  They were small, but very sweet.  And the price was SO right.

Hurrying through CVS last week, wondering why I was there, I looked up and saw rolls and rolls of toilet paper wrapped in paper (not plastic film) on sale for 50 cents each. Gosh, I just love it when big chains actually pay attention to the environment.

I am in love with LUSH cosmetics.  This company is out of England and is doing  a good job of being environmentally friendly.  I have been buying terrific shampoo in bars from them this year.  Plus I can get chunks of bath stuff that bubbles and moisturizer in bars. None of these products are wrapped in the “what do I do with this now” shiny plastic film…..  No plastic in any of it.  They do sell plastic pots of cream and things that they recycle, and this plastic-free year, I am not going there, but it is such fun and a relief to buy the products listed above and seen below.

LUSH stuff--shampoo in bars, a bar of moisturize in a tin, and soap and bubble bath in chunks, sold by weight in compost-able paper.

BIRTHDAY PRESENTS: Flowers, blueberries, tomatoes, pastry, chocolate, and cards........

And finally–My birthday!  This year, I was wanting to fly low, under the radar, no big deal anywhere–Joan Baez with some good friends on Sunday, lunch with another close  friend, taking the blueberry pound cake I had made to my yoga group and then having my young friend Rachael accompany me to meditation.  All of this was sweet and then here is the deal–what I noticed last night as I inhaled the huge slice of watermelon one of my friends had given me–anything any body gave me in the way of celebration this year was not made of plastic or packaged in it.  Wow–how lucky can I be to have such thoughtful generous friends who are PAYING ATTENTION to my quest.  Cards, a good book, chocolate,  fruit and flowers from the farmers market—And none of it needs to be thrown away.  I did not plan this, but scouts honor, it happened.

It seems that life is full of surprises.

Thank you.