despair, right livelyhood, and thermostats

I’ve always been pretty emotional about, well, lots of things. I cry every time an Alaskan Airlines attendant won’t let me use my own mug. I’ve been saying for years that I can’t live in Oregon (at least Willamette Valley) because of the despair caused by all the people and clear-cuts. I just today realized that I am a coward because of that. I have run away to a place where most of the clear cuts are hidden on remote places you can’t get to by road and where its too (expletive) dark to attract crowds – so I don’t have to cry about that all the time. I am avoiding. I’ve been crying a lot lately anyway, not wailing, but choked up in a rich, emotionally complex way. Over things like relationships with people and reaching understanding; over the scene in the preview for ‘no impact man’ where the whole family is stomping on laundry in the tub to wash it (I had to wash cloth diapers in the tub by myself when I did that); over many parts in Derrick Jensen’s videoed talk on Endgame; when I use the last q-tip and throw out the big plastic container and realize I’m so a part of the problem and don’t know how to break the addiction (to q-tips anyway). I’m feeling a lot of despair. I’m feeling (even before listening to 2 hours of Jensen) that I/we/etc are ineffectual. That I can be a hypocrite and travel the world, using lots of resources, and find a way to visibly promote change and possible engender a little, or I can move into a teepee, live off the land (for a day or so until I starve to death), and be part of the solution – but completely ineffectually, drop-in-the bucket wise. Yes, I know those aren’t the only choices. It’s like a bad case of PMS that won’t go away.
So what do I do?? And what do I do for a living? Sit at a desk and write reports on soils and put in programmable thermostats made in china sold at lowes that do the same thing my (expletive) fingers can do when I leave the house and go to bed with my old, perfectly good thermostat!!??? (yes, I did change out the last 2 thermostats for programmables, and I felt good about it for almost a day). I sit at a desk for 8 hours, occasionally travel somewhere and stand behind a drill rig, eat lots of snacks bought for us at costco, gain weight, lose muscle tone, lose touch. I’m even despairing at the part of my work that involves geothermal, because I’m fairly convinced that renewables are a very small part of the solution/sustainable picture.
Jensen says, and it is good advice that we have probably all come to understand anyway, (I paraphrase) ‘what are your gifts and how can you best use them in service of your landbase?’. So what does my landbase need? First of all what is my landbase? I’m going to say it is the Anchorage bowl, though I could get more specific and say it is the border between the Fish and Chester creek drainages. As I live in an urban area, most of the non-exported, local problems involve those associated with lots of people, pavement, and garden variety toxins (literally) like lawn chemicals, vehicle chemicals, etc. We don’t really have a water shortage problem, or too much local, bad industry. We have a lot of people that depend almost entirely on barged in food and goods from down south and further out west (Asia). So the things that seem to serve it best involve things that keep the effects of population and resource importation in check. Less lawns, more urban food production, less chemicals, fewer cars and car trips, etc. The global picture becomes important since we get so much from the outside. My gifts involve highly developed analytical thinking skills, a sound body, some grasp of the use of the English language, a willingness to learn, enjoyment of a challenge, hardiness, good teeth. Now what do I do that is big enough to combat my despair? Or is that not the point? Is the despair inevitable and appropriate, and I work and love and find happiness despite the despair? In any case, what do I do? I’m working on that…


12 responses to “despair, right livelyhood, and thermostats

  1. Redread Camus’ “The Plague”! Puts things is a bit of perpective about despair I think. Or spend 20 years writing the perfect beginning to a novel. Daddy knows Best!

  2. I hate Camus. He’s so depressing.

    When I feel really despondent, I try and take comfort in the fact that really, truly, have no idea how things will turn out in the long run. Human society, the climate, the biosphere, and our technological abilities are each wildly non-linear in isolation, and they will interact to produce wholly unforeseen outcomes. Despair may well be appropriate, but it is not generally very productive, and I don’t think it’s inevitable.

    Regarding the q-tips… there are some things that are easy to change on your own, and there are some things that just won’t change meaningfully unless society as a whole, or some serious subset, is on board. Focus on the former, and work to get society on board, but don’t beat yourself up too much about not having the energy or stamina to fight against The Man nonstop every day without compromise. It’s not your *fault*, even if you are contributing. You can’t avoid being part of the larger system without making superhuman sacrifices, and those too will make you unhappy.


  3. uh, sorry ’bout that Jensen link, try some Ed Abbey to temper it: “One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it.”

  4. OK, I should mention that I’m not sure it isn’t a good despair, and I am still laughing more than crying. And the crazy thing is, that it has been a Jensen nexus for me over the last couple of weeks, where the links have come in from all sides, and it’s not just him – I have been feeling all these things independently – climate bill nonsense and business as usual in the face of climate change and everything else. I’m just trying to shed my skin and figure out where to go with my energy next.

  5. I second the Edward Abbey. Need to borrow my second copy of Desert Solitaire? My perspective (on a lot of things) is that you can’t do everything all of the time. Our lives are long. Pick your battles and do a couple meaningful things now, more later on, and don’t beat yourself up over the rest.

  6. Oh, I’m more in a Monkey Wrench Gang mood 😉 Not, as I’ve been explaining, that I want to do anything really illegal – just splashy and fun – large puppets, moss grafitti, yard signs placed around town, quit my job and work for a non-profit, join a commune, etc.

  7. Sometimes I think it would be good for your heart and soul to turn off that brain of yours. I mean that in the most loving way.

  8. I still like Camus – life has always been depressingly shity, will always be depressingly shity. But we choose our own reality. I chose how I’m going to face the day when I get up in the morning – not to say turn in, turn on and drop out – but we did had something in those days. . . .

  9. I have to thank my dad for being the only one not attempting to temper my despair (I think – maybe I have misinterpreted others’ responses – I do love you all even if my understanding isn’t perfect!). We all have to interpret our own reality. I am up against the age old problem of idealism. At no point in the history of life or humanity have we had it easy. It is always possible to find a bad guy or a system that seems unfair. It is always possible to imagine how that could be ameliorated. It is always nearly impossible to completely effect this change.

    That does not change the fact that, currently, no matter what non-linear changes in technology or society or whatnot occur, currently we are screwing the planet. None of you can deny it. This is agonizing to me. That does not mean I do not whole-heartedly enjoy my life. I am one in whom the flame of life and love burns brightest in the face of despair. And I don’t despair for my own possibility to eventually be effective, or have a good life – I just despair for the larger whole. I do not feel debilitated, I feel inspired, but without a clear direction yet. I like to do, while I am being.

    As much as I hate religion, I am understanding the plight of the zealot. Every fiber of my being believes that the industrial/military/political complex that dominates our planet is on the dead-wrong but heavily inertia-laden path, and that tilting at the windmills may be the only morally defensible option. (damn, I really should finally read Don Quixote if I’m gonna throw that around). I don’t think we need to get suicidal, or throw off hope, but I think a little more serious, widespread angst may be useful. I know I am, despite my external veneer of normallacy, fairly extreme, and it can be quite uncomfortable being so – in case one is actually ‘wrong’ (inquisitors and such come to mind), but I do not have the heart for violence, even against the machine, so I will unapologetically forge ahead, and attempt to become more effective and less timid in my extremity.

    Also in my arsenal is my geological training, which allows me to compartmentalize my despair – geologic time vs. human lifetime scales and such. Ultimately, humanity’s impact on the universe (or even the solar system) is as minuscule as my impact on humanity. I doubt we will ever be worse than the Permian/Triassic extinction event. It’s just the fact that we, nominally, have a choice, and we are being bad to ourselves, as well as other innocents. Or at least those in power are, if (as some assert) those who are not in power are (nearly) blameless. As a landed property owner I’m not sure what class I fall in…

  10. Hey, I checked in on the blog and found philosophy. Wish I understood ANY of the philosophical directions, e.g., exitenstialism. But seriously, I’m not that interested. I think it’s pretty true that we are all part of the problem, and only potentially part of the solution. I’m real happy about people who are part of the solution, like Michelle. I don’t hate religion. I just choose not to participate and am trying to be more understanding of those who do, since some of my good friends persist in it. One is a Methodist (interesting title) who organized community suppers every Tues for the homeless. I’m just trying to get them to quit using Kool-Aid. Others are Quakers who have active groups trying to expose the US’s use of torture. etc. etc. I like Thich Nhat Hahn, because he keeps telling me there’s more we don’t know than we know, and the only moment we have is this one right now. And I guess that is sort of existentialism, but with more hope if you read deeply.
    My last 2 cents is that change is glacial. But real. Black people couldn’t eat with white people in some National Parks earlier in the last century. I couldn’t have been a gun-toting ranger in my 20’s, and would have had to wear a “stewardess” uniform. (Been watching Ken Burns thing on the Parks). It was OK to dump benzene in the Potomac back then too. So….Love to everyone out there. Isn’t Michelle’s eco 4-plex, blog, child, life, etc. awesome????

  11. Thanks for pointing out that there is good (and good people) in religion, mom. And not to pick – but part of the despair is a conviction of mine that change _is_ glacial, but at least in this case, a glacial pace will be devastating – resulting in a lack of said glaciers.
    So not to change topics, but I do have at least one bone to pick with Jensen and others who debate that personal change and calling for personal change is meaningless in the face of corporate/social greed etc (see )
    which is that it assumes that the power elite are fundamentally alien and different from ‘us’ and unable to be swayed by the same arguments the rest of us are. I may be highly naive, but I doubt that the urge of a world leader or large corporate owner to hold on to their wealth and power is little different, except in magnitude, to the rest of our urge to hold on to the security of our jobs and family lives. If we could get the power elite to see the light and make fundamental changes, the magnitude of their effects then stands to really shift things. Well, ok, so I guess this getting them to see the light business is then more like political action, which is the point of people who say that personal action is insignificant or insufficient – so now I’ve talked us into being on the same side again! I’m still ruminating on this…I have hunches but it isn’t a solid thing in my head yet.

  12. Hummm – cool aid – reminds one of a run-a-way religion in South America who solved the big problem with cool aid?? To be, or not to be. . .

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s