Going “Deeper Rather than Wider”

Although my initial motivation for living a low-footprint life was “to help the environment,” I quickly discovered other, very compelling PERSONAL benefits that have kept me going even when making a low-footprint choice requires extra effort.

One such personal benefit is greatly reduced financial overhead (thanks to having a $15 electricity bill, no car payment, no car insurance payment, etc.).

Which also means having a lot more free time, because I don’t have to work long hours just to earn the money I need to meet my basic living expenses.

And it even goes deeper than just “more free time.” It’s more like, “more free space in my head.” Life is a lot calmer in the alternate universe of my low-footprint life.

So you might ask what I do with all that freed-up time and headspace. And my honest answer would be, Not much! At least not much in terms of being externally observable as noteworthy. Oh sure, I volunteer in my community, participate in city government meetings, things like that. And last year I wrote my first book (DEEP GREEN), and this year I’ve been marketing the book, and also working on my first novel.

But really, in the scheme of things, I don’t do all that much. I’m pretty sure I’m not one of those human whirlwinds of whom people ask, “How DOES she do it all?”

What I DO do, that’s noteworthy to me internally (as opposed to observable externally), is … I have time to breathe. I have time to enjoy the shadows that appear on the wall at different times of day in the different rooms of my house. Shadows of flickering leaves, birds, bending palm fronds, passing cars. Time to converse with neighbors who happen to be passing by.

As the Blue Oyster Cult put it (in one of my favorite songs from my high-school years, “Burning for You”), I’ve got “time everlasting … time to play B-sides.” Interestingly enough, even as a teenager with a secure roof over my head and no concern except school, I never felt like I had the time to invest in playing the B-sides of records. Now finally I do have that time! (Though I own no actual records, as in vinyl-based recordings of music, I get to do the equivalent of “playing B-sides” every time I take a moment to savor a perfectly ordinary moment of the day which turns out to be juicy technicolor.)

I have time to read the books that have been sitting on my bookshelves for years. I’m finally settling into writing, something I always “was going to do” but never really got serious about. Finally sinking my teeth in instead of giving up at any sign of difficulty (and trust me, I experience MANY moments of difficulty and pain with writing). Finally making it a day-in, day-out thing.

Some years back, I had the urge to just stop buying new books and other new stuff, until I had caught up with all the books, art supplies, other stuff that was already under my own roof. Although I never completely stopped buying books (or art supplies), I slowed down a lot on those purchases. And I’m gaining on the backlog of unread, unused stuff under my own roof. And I’ve gotten great satisfaction from refining my focus to the things I’ve decided I want to pursue in greater depth.

One of my favorite writers, David Cain of Raptitude​.com, devised the concept of a “Depth Year” — a year of “going deeper rather than wider.” His idea resonated with a lot of people. It definitely resonated with me! As David observes in his recent blog post (see link at the end of this post), “We live in great danger of keeping our most cherished pursuits unexplored, buried in the realm of ‘potential.’ Going deeper means finally seeing what’s really going to come of them. And that’s damn scary.”

I didn’t set out to make this past year a “depth year”; rather, I have been setting out to make my whole life a “depth year.” Although I expect I’ll take up new interests as the years go by, I have certain core pursuits that I plan to keep focusing on and deepening. Along with writing, my core pursuits include art, personal growth (deliberate evolution of consciousness), and (of course) low-footprint living and setting an example of same to others.

As you might imagine, the “depth year” concept goes really well with the “zero-waste journey” and low-footprint living. You might even have tried the “depth year” experiment yourself. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

May the last day of 2018 bring you many blessings. Enjoy today! And enjoy the transition to a brand new number on the calendar.

Why the Depth Year Was My Best Year: “Towards the end of last year I proposed an idea that unexpectedly caught fire: what if, for a whole year, you stopped acquiring new things or taking on new pursuits. Instead, you return to abandoned projects, stalled hobbies, unread books and other neglected intentions, and go deeper with them than you ever have before. … Because it’s so easy to acquire new pursuits, we tend to begin what are actually enormous, lifelong projects (such as drawing, or language-learning) too often, and abandon them too easily. This chronic lack of follow-through makes us feel bad, but worse than that, we never actually reach the level of fulfillment we believed we would when we first bought the guitar or the drawing pencils …”

Sunrise, Sunset

The sunsets have started getting later again. Where I live, in Daytona Beach, Florida, USA, sunsets hit “peak earliness” for a period from late November through December 10, when the sun set at 5:26 every day. On December 11, sunset here was at 5:27pm and it has been getting later ever since. Ever so slightly and gradually, sunlit afternoons are once again expanding.

Dark winter mornings continue as the sunrises are still getting later. Sunrise will hit “peak lateness” here in January. The “peak lateness” time here is 7:19, and the sun will be rising at that time every day from January 3 through January 19. On January 20 it will rise at 7:18 here, and the sunrise time gets earlier from here out.

The actual shortest day of 2018 was of course Friday, December 21 — the Winter Solstice.

This is my favorite sunrise/sunset calendar site that I’ve found so far. To get started, you input your city or ZIP code. Along with getting sunrise/sunset times, you can also get it to display other times such as “civil twilight”, moonrise and moonset, etc. I particularly like this site because it lets you see a month at a glance, in visual calendar format.

Awareness of sunrise and sunset times (maybe not the precise minutes, but the general patterns) is natural to anyone who spends time outdoors at those hours. Same with the moon phases. But many people in the modern industrial world do not have that opportunity. Living a low-footprint life has allowed me more free time and energy to stay in touch with the rhythms of day and night. In the routine of everyday living, I still lose track sometimes though, which is why I love these calendar sites so much! I feel depleted and unmoored when I lose track of the daily and seasonal rhythms of nature.

I really believe it’s good for our health (physical and emotional) to stay in touch with natural rhythms of the days and seasons. It’s something a person can do even in the most dense, crowded city. And even if you work in an office, you might be able to arrange to be near a window at certain times of day.

Keeping in touch with nature’s rhythms costs nothing; it brings beauty into our lives; and it gives a topic of conversation that can be shared with anyone. You know, like the weather! Observational chat about sunrises and sunsets, moonrises/moonsets, the changing length of the days, the changing angle of the sun, and so on is actually a great way to bond with neighbors and build community, I’ve found. And verbalizing these observations to the folks around us is an unobtrusive way to expand everyone’s awareness of natural rhythms.

Wonderful Company

One key to the success of a grassroots movement is that people feel connected, not alone. With that in mind, I’ve started a new section in the sidebar of this blog, specifically for groups and pages that are dedicated to low-footprint living. My focus is on the personal and household level because I truly believe that is where most of the power to make a difference lies. “Hubs of the Low-footprint Lifestyle Movement” has four links right now, and will expand as I find other relevant links. For your convenience I’ve also posted the current list below.

The grassroots, worldwide movement for personal and household footprint reduction is gaining momentum, thanks in large part to the people and groups that are recognizing the power of daily choices at the personal and household level. Here are the strongest groups I know of so far:

Riot for Austerity: (90PercentReduction) Facebook group Yahoo group
Journey to Zero-Waste: Facebook group
1 Million Women (“women and girls from every corner of the planet building a lifestyle revolution to fight the climate crisis”): Facebook group Website
Join the Degrowth Revolution (JTDR): Facebook group

Truly, none of us is alone in our dedication to low-footprint living. We are in wonderful company.

And, in this holiday season (whatever holiday(s) you celebrate), may you find yourself in an abundance of wonderful company. Joyous holy-days to you.

Support for Your “Journey to Zero-Waste”

Since not everyone is on Facebook, I hesitate to devote a whole post to a Facebook group, but this Facebook group is a particularly great resource! It’s called the Journey to Zero-Waste group.

The people in this group are well-informed and really committed to reducing plastics and other waste in their households. Commenters offer excellent solutions for some tricky problems. I often run across discussions on questions that have never occurred to me, regarding minimizing household waste.

Recent threads include:

• A Mom wondering what to do when the kids always come back from their stepmom’s without their reusable lunchboxes because the stepmom tosses them in the trash out of spite. (Several folks recommended either giving the kids lunch money on the stepmom days, or wrapping their lunch in parchment and twine on those days. Or, buying an old-school metal lunchbox. Also, since the kids are teenagers, several people recommended making the kids responsible for preparing their own lunches and bringing home the containers.)

• People who want to quit buying canned sodas and other drinks in disposable containers, but aren’t sure what they’ll give their friends to drink when the friends come over. (Keep it simple with water and tea, one commenter suggested. A couple of other people recommended making simple and inexpensive but delicious homemade drinks such as lemonade, fruit slices in water, cucumber slices in water. I can attest to the success of all of these suggestions.)

• A woman wanting to get a tattoo, and wondering what the “zero-waste” take on tattoos would be. Short answer: For hygiene reasons there are certain components that have to be single-use; there is no way to have a zero-waste tattoo.

• People feeling self-conscious about bringing their own reusable dishes and utensils to parties. (Lots of good solutions, not only for convenient dish-carrying methods but also for constructive replies to people’s questions).

In this blog I set out to offer you practical tips and moral support for a low-footprint lifestyle. One of the best tips I can offer is: Draw from many sources! There are so many great resources out there for us. The Journey to Zero-Waste group is one great resource. I hope you like it as much as I do.

I have to admit that with a slew of holidays, birthdays, and parties lately, I’ve been buying more beverages in throwaway containers than usual. I really want to tighten up on that, especially since it’s been in the news that China isn’t accepting our recycling anymore. And I really don’t know where our recycling is going anyway. It’s always better to REFUSE or REUSE than to have to worry about where something goes once it leaves my custody.

Speaking of China, someone in the Zero Waste group posted a link to this article about a creative approach that some cities in China are using to manage their mountains of food waste. “Expanding Chinese cities are generating more food waste than they can accommodate in landfills, and cockroaches could be a way to get rid of hills of food scraps, providing nutritious food for livestock when the bugs eventually die …”

New Resource Alert! Shortly after posting this blog entry, I heard about a firm called TerraCycle that specializes in recycling items typically believed to be non-recyclable. I learned of TerraCycle via a post on the Journey to Zero-Waste group. One of the group members reports that she has set up a TerraCycle box in her office to collect people’s used “K Cup” coffee cartridges for recycling. From the TerraCycle website: “TerraCycle is Eliminating the Idea of Waste® by recycling the ‘non-recyclable.’ Whether it’s coffee capsules from your home, pens from a school, or plastic gloves from a manufacturing facility, TerraCycle can collect and recycle almost any form of waste. We partner with individual collectors such as yourself, as well as major consumer product companies, retailers, manufacturers, municipalities, and small businesses across 20 different countries. With your help, we are able to divert millions of pounds of waste from landfills and incinerators each month.”

Redefining “Extreme”

People tell me all the time (both verbally and silently, through their manner) that I’m extreme. Extreme for not owning a car, and for choosing to get around mainly by foot and bike. Extreme for not using air-conditioning or heat. Extreme for choosing to stay clean by taking baths in the ocean rather than firing up a hot shower several times a week. Extreme for bringing my own reusable dishes and utensils to a neighborhood association potluck. Extreme for not accepting rides that are out of someone’s way; for refusing to buy produce wrapped in plastic. For trying to get folks to stop throwing food scraps into the trash-can (rather than the compost where they belong). For even mentioning the concept of “compost” in a polite middle-class setting. For getting seriously upset with myself when I forget to tell the bartender “No straw please,” or when I leave my to-go container at home and end up walking out of the restaurant with my leftovers in a styrofoam box. For buying two vintage bird ornaments for $9 at a thrift shop, when I could have bought a whole pack of 10, new rather than used, for a dollar at the Dollar Mart. Yes, a lot of people I meet do think I’m extreme.

But do you want to know what’s really extreme? Being in the midst of a global crisis that makes World War II look like a cakewalk, and yet not being willing to implement rationing and conservation as we did so willingly for a war effort. Allowing our most beautiful, precious, life-giving forests and wetlands to be excavated and poisoned by fracking because we are not willing to cut back on our energy use. Having cancer epidemics in communities near fossil-fuel extraction areas. Having our water poisoned by mine tailings, our aquifers drained by heedless consumption. Having birds stay up chirping all night because our streetlights are so bright that it doesn’t get dark enough for wild creatures to live normally. Having our own hormones and sleep patterns disrupted by over-bright street lighting, and still keeping those lights blazing. Having even that most life-giving function, food production, be violent: mono-crop agriculture degrading the soil and yielding nutrient-deficient produce; animals treated without regard to their existence as sentient beings. Having billions of dollars, and who knows how many gallons of fossil fuel, mindlessly deployed for the “vanity agriculture” of tidy lawns. Having buildings that are designed for the windows always to be closed; buildings that go moldy and toxic without constant climate control. Having people need to bring jackets and space-heaters to their offices in summer because of the excessive air-conditioning. Having such endless demand for oil, that we are poised to begin seismic blasting undersea to prospect for oil, creating a level of noise that will impair the ability of our beloved whales, sea turtles, dolphins and other marine life to find food and communicate with their families. Homeowners’ association rules that not only encourage, but actually mandate, practices which deplete the soil, poison the aquifers, consume huge amounts of water, kill pollinators, and destroy wildlife habitat.

Just a short list, for starters off the top of my head, of things that are truly extreme in our world. The everyday, business-as-usual default setting that we don’t even question: Now that is extreme.

If we want to survive, let alone thrive, on this planet, we really need to start redefining “extreme.” What do you think?

• Further Reading: Seismic blasting disrupting marine life: “It seems harder and harder each day to find peace and quiet, doesn’t it? Cars angrily honking as traffic rushes by … all the while our phones endlessly beep, ring and buzz. It feels like constant noise is the new normal. Sadly, even marine mammals can’t escape our noise. Right now, Big Oil wants to perform seismic testing to find where new pockets of oil could be found and then drilled. … Thanks to the Trump administration, Big Oil can move forward with this dangerous plan to allow seismic exploration for oil and gas in our ocean. And they have permission to knowingly harm over 30 species of marine life, including sea turtles, fish, dolphins, and the North Atlantic right whale, one of the most endangered species of marine mammals in the world!” To learn more about this and other crises affecting our oceans (and therefore affecting all of life on earth), visit The Surfrider Foundation website.

• Action Item: The Surfrider Foundation is suing the federal government for violating the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. You can help by making a donation to help stop seismic blasting to test for undersea oil deposits.

Video message from the Weather Channel: “Why are there so many science-deniers? Do you just not want to admit to yourself that this is real because it’s scary? Do you just want to deny it because you have investments in land, oil and gas? I don’t understand. Yes, climate change happens naturally, but the evidence for human-accelerated climate change is irrefutable. There is a worldwide consensus among climate scientists, as well as scientists in related fields, this this is REAL and it threatens all of us. Take a look at the models, listen to the experts, view the effects. Listen to science and reason. We, as humans, are powerful. And we have the power to improve our outlook by shifting our investments and focus toward sustainable energy and new technologies. We can brighten the outlook of the future. It just starts with knowledge and a willingness to listen, learn, and accept. Then we can move forward. We’re all in this together.”

• Today’s photo: The photo at the top of today’s post was taken at the 2007 Natural Building Convergence at the Quiet Valley Ranch in Texas. Quiet Valley Ranch is also the home of the Kerrville Folk Festival, an 18-day music festival whose mission includes a permaculture education component. I built this compost box out of scrap wood and transported it on my Bikes At Work trailer to the composting site above the festival staff kitchen. Many people might call that extreme, but for me it was just a wonderful way to have fun, build my carpentry skills, and educate the public about composting!

Invincible Summer

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.” — Albert Camus

Another tidbit: Have you ever heard the word “anti-fragile”? It’s resilient PLUS. When something is resilient, it has a strong capacity to recover from tough conditions and bounce back. When something is anti-fragile, it not only survives and bounces back from tough conditions, but actually gets stronger with each hit. People can be anti-fragile, or learn to become that way. And we can design the things around us (organizations, systems, and so on) to be anti-fragile.

Thoughts on Footprint and Handprint

Recently a fellow artist was telling someone about my low-footprint lifestyle. She said, “If everyone lived like Jenny, and aliens from another planet were looking down at Earth from space, they wouldn’t even be able to tell that anyone was living here!”

She meant that as a compliment, a tribute to the concept of “living lightly” to preserve ecosystems. But her words reminded me that I needed to write this post. Minimizing our footprint, while essential to our long-term survival as part of the interconnected web of life, is not the be-all and end-all. There’s something more that we human beings can do — MUST do — beyond just shrinking our footprint (our negative impact). We also need to maximize our HANDprint (our beneficial impact).

I mean, sure, we could all just try to hunker down and sit still and suck our tummies in and breathe as little as possible, but what would the point be? After all, humans are part of nature too. If you ask me, we’re meant to use our big brains to IMPROVE the world, make it better for all creatures, by working hand-in-hand with nature.

The fundamental essence of a human being is our creativity. Art, music, writing, design, engineering … If we don’t do our thing, we’re just taking up space on the planet no matter how small we try to shrink ourselves.

Many people say, “I’m just not creative.” But in fact, everyone is creative; it’s the essence of humanness. You may not have tapped into your creativity but it’s there, waiting to be utilized. Maximize your handprint! Find as many ways as possible to unleash your beneficial influence on the world.