uncertainty (the first five days)

I promise this isn’t about food. On the first Sunday of my plastic-free August challenge, I was toiling in the kitchen again. But when it was over, there was a gorgeous bounty, and all I had to toss was this:

Thanks to my prep, the first two days were effortless; I was pretty much killing it. Not only was I avoiding plastic, I was inching toward eliminating waste altogether. Zero waste may be in my near future! I start thinking. Slow down, cowgirl. You are prone to obsession.

Day Three had a major challenge. I didn’t even have a case of the Mondays; it just happened. (This Instagram photo is the only evidence, but maybe I’ll tell the story soon.)  I’m rallying from the mishap already, and everything will be fine. But – I still find myself here, only on Day Five, uncertain about my challenge. In some ways, I’m an eternal optimist, and it is unpleasant to face the destruction of the planet. It feels, in moments, too close to pessimism, too close to dwelling.

My Kindle is getting a workout from all the books I’m downloading to teach myself more about the impact of plastic (and of course getting more details about the myriad other harmful practices in which the United States and the rest of the globe continues to engage). Sure, I’m cheered by President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, but how did we get to this point? How did it take us so long to do something? Is it too late? In another way, it’s happened so quickly, as explained by Elephant Journal:

The Industrial Revolution. The plastic boom. The fracking. It’s all happened so fast. Any time we focus on a problem, it leads us to unearthing its causes and effects, which are always complicated. Beth Terry reminds us in Plastic Free: How I Kicked the Plastic Habit and How You Can, Too, “Plastic pollution, it turns out, is also a social justice issue.” Oh, you don’t think environmental concerns are about people? How about garment workers? How about the women who have to get hysterectomies after working in chemical plants in Louisiana? How about all of us, who have to think about whether or not humans should migrate to Mars and Europa?

I can’t stop thinking about how my environmentalist tendencies relate to my feminism. (My feminism. There are so many feminisms!) Centuries of domesticating women can’t be undone so quickly. Not without a plan. Not without a way to figure out how we were going to eat and get around without an entire gender devoted to managing the whole ordeal of living. I can’t stop knowing that.

On the one hand, we have the social progress of which I am proud – women in the workforce! The American spirit of freedom! Jack Kerouac’s On the Road! On the other hand, this is a bit of a glamorization, just like Mad Men. We haven’t yet addressed the transition responsibly, so progress is stalling. Domestic life has changed, not vanished. I’m not interested in the nostalgic point of view of some of my fellow Kentuckians (though we certainly share a lament or two about the modern world); the past wasn’t better. There have to be progressive ways of getting “back” to basics.

I’m having what a psychologist might call “intrusive thoughts.” When I’m going about my business, taking an aerial yoga class, my instructor guides us into savasana with some gentle shimmies back and forth in the hammock; she likens us to mermaids, floating gracefully in the sea, and there it is: the albatross. The albatross in the Midway Atoll, its guts full of plastic, quickly followed by the image of marine life struggling through the garbage stew in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. I was trying to think about myself, but there they were, and there was my new, annoying motivation.

^Midway: Message from the Gyre by Chris Jordan

Groan. I know. I don’t need the eye-rollers to let me know there’s another way to do this (which is mostly not to do it at all), because that voice still lives in me. She’s subdued, but she’s there. She thinks this endeavor is part twee (in sentimentalizing the earth and animals in a way reserved for twelve year olds), and part hubris (in assuming that my tiny isolated actions could possibly “make a difference”). She wonders, is this a worthy project?