Wednesday, April 30, 2008

God Damn It, I Am SO Easily Manipulated (By Me)

Every month, I commit to a monthly challenge, fully intending to quit when the month's over. Giving up Lean Cuisine was temporary. So was giving up toilet paper. But then, at the end of every month, well, new habits have formed, and it seems stupid to revert back. What started off as a temporary change is now permanent.

But the public transit challenge was different. First of all, it was inconvenient. And it involved exercise which I HATE. I spent the beginning of April counting down the days until this damn challenge would be over.

And then, things changed. Or I guess, I changed. I got accustomed to the exercise. The walking got easier, I felt healthier, and I looked better. I started seeing my longer commute less as an inconvenience and more as a convenient way to stay in shape. It hasn't been all sunshine and daisies. Yesterday, not only did my morning bus break down, but then the subway broke down in the evening, and we all had to wait 25 minutes until Metro got a subway up and running. But the major problems are fewer than I had anticipated, and the benefits are more numerous than expected.

So, today I went out and plunked down the money for a monthly pass for May. I'll still drive to work on occasion, but I'm generally going to keep taking transit to work. Besides, summer travel season is upon us, and I've got a few trips in the works including, gulp, a trip to India (I haven't been in five years and my grandmother is 85.) I'll be offsetting my flights, of course, but I figure it probably doesn't hurt to drive less as well!

To the math:

In March, I used about 39 gallons of gas and went zero miles via public transit meaning that my transport emissions were about 95% of the average American's. My goal for April was to cut my transport emissions in half. I am happy to say, that not only did I meet, but I exceeded my goal. I used about 13 gallons of gas in April, and went almost 350 miles via PT, which means that my transport emissions for April were 40% of the average American's.

Sure, I still have some work to do. But, all in all I'm pretty pleased. You see, transportation emissions were the ones that I had always shrugged off, thinking, "Well, can't do anything about that." I had taken for granted that cutting down those emissions was not merely difficult, but impossible. This month I reminded myself that most things are possible ... if you have the will.

Up next month, by popular request, MaLoFoMo, or the local food challenge! Join me as I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, visit farmer's markets, make my own yogurt, and search for the 100% local PB&J.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Downside of Walking

Unfortunately, if you walk a lot, you sometimes end up bumping into an acquaintance you would rather not run into.

Yesterday evening, I was bopping down the street when I ran into this guy, let's call him MJ because he used to be a pot dealer. I didn't like MJ too much to begin with, and I REALLY haven't liked him since he sent a gloating email to me and a bunch of my friends after Kerry lost the election in 2006. Way to be a sore winner, dude.

But MJ is one of those people who is completely imperceptive to a frosty tone, and I'm not great at just brushing past someone when they say hello. So I had to endure five minutes of agonizing small talk on the sidewalk.

"What have you been up to?" he asked me.

"Oh, this and that," I replied. "You?"

"I'm great! I'm in the oil business!"

"Oil? What kind of oil?" I asked stupidly thinking that maybe he was making his own cooking oil or something, which actually would be kind of cool.

He laughed. "You know. Oil. Like oil wells. Cuz see, there were all of these wells that closed down when oil was so cheap, but now that oil has gone up, it's worth re-opening, you know?"

"Huh," I responded, not really knowing what to say at this point. "That's a pretty limited business."

"Oh, for sure, for sure, it's limited. But you know, it's good for now. Might as well be making some cash on the other side of the pump, right?"

"Yeah. I've got to go," I mumbled and walked off as fast as I could.

I mean, really. I think he should have stuck to the pot. At least marijuana is a renewable resource.

Monday, April 28, 2008

WWFD? (What Would Frodo Do?)

I'm outing myself here as somewhat of a geek, but I love The Lord of the Rings. I've probably read the whole series, cover to cover, about ten times. For those of you who haven't read it or watched the movies, this is the basic plot of LOTR:

Frodo walks to Mordor to toss a ring into a pit of fire.

Some other stuff happens as well, but that's pretty much the main plot. And yes, on occasion, Frodo gets to ride on a horse/pony/eagle/whatever, but much of the time, he's walking.

On Saturday, as I was walking a mile and a half to my local library, I became curious. Just how far does Frodo walk? Luckily, there are people on the internets way more geeky than I, who had not only PONDERED this question, but figured it out. According to these directions, it's 1,841.8 miles from the Shire to Mordor! Sheesh, Frodo! Maybe next time you're traveling to Mordor, consider a Greyhound bus!

Clearly, I don't think that people should consider walking as an alternative form of transportation next time they decide to travel 2,000 miles, but I think it is worth rethinking what is walkable and what isn't. Walkability means different things for different people, but the culture of a city can also affect what is considered walkable.

For example, when I went to college, I lived in a university town. I walked 1.7 miles from my apartment to the theatre building where most of my classes were located, and I made that round trip walk at least once a day, sometimes several times a day, in the sunshine, in the rain, and in the icy wind and snow.

I did it because I had no other choice. I didn't have a car with me in college. But, to be perfectly fair, I also did it because it was normal. Had everyone driven, I would have probably bought a car, or driven my car out from California. Because most of my friends walked everywhere, I walked as well.

And then I moved to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is a peculiar city. You see, we are blessed with some of the best weather on the planet, and yet we choose to spend the majority of our days in our little (or sometimes very large) vehicles. Even though I had always walked several miles a day, even in the snow, once I moved to LA , walking became unthinkable.

I started to drive everywhere. A mile, a half mile, two blocks. It's a cliche, and it's not entirely true that "nobody walks in LA," but it's true that the attitude towards walking is vastly different in LA than in San Francisco, Chicago, or New York. In LA, if the only parking spot is three blocks away, it means you should probably just valet.

I don't mean to take anyone's cars away from them. Personally, I still love my car even though I use her a little less frequently than I used to. And there is nothing more magical than driving on an LA freeway at 2:00 am. Part of the reason I am so vocal about electric cars is because I have hope that to a certain extent, Angelenos will one day be able to have their cake and eat it too: that is, I dream of a day when we are able to drive cars powered by that beautiful Southern California sunshine.

But at the same time, I think we can do a better job of assessing whether we really need to drive to every little errand. In the past month, I've walked to the metro, to Honda's house, to the bulk food store, to Trader Joe's, to the video rental, to restaurants, and more.

And you know what I've found?

That LA is freaking beautiful. While walking, I can fully appreciate the dazzling array of flowers, the palm trees that litter every block, the aroma of jasmine in the morning. I've also had time to admire some of the man-made beauty in LA: Craftsman houses, Tudors, mission style homes, we've got it all.

You know what else I've found?

That I look better and feel better.

My muscles are more toned, I have no problem running a couple flights of stairs anymore, and, dude, I'm tan! Okay, I'm Indian so I'm always tan, but seriously. I'm tann-er!

Now some of my fellow Angelenos may think, That's great Arduous, but isn't walking everywhere really inconvenient? Or, I could never walk TWO miles to the Metro. That's insane! I just don't have time for that.

And you know what? Maybe you don't have time for that. But let's do the math, shall we?

I walk for about 70 minutes every day. The rest of my commute (via subway and bus) takes about half an hour each way, just five minutes longer than my drive would be.

It does make for a somewhat long commute. But you know what I don't do? I don't drive twenty minutes to a gym that charges me $80 a month so that I can WALK on a machine that seems more suited to HAMSTERS THAN HUMANS! And THEN, I don't pay more money to have some people spray some stuff on me so that it looks like I've been in the sun!

So, the next time you are about to jump in your car on an errand, take a moment to think to yourself, What Would Frodo Do?

The answer is, he'd probably walk. And you should too.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

WWMD? (What Would MacGyver Do?)

One of the most fun things about not buying stuff is that it requires you to get creative.

Today, I had to do laundry. Generally, I confess, I tend to toss my clothes in the dryer, but frankly our building's dryer kind of sucks, and every time I put my laundry in it, I end up kicking myself for wasting energy when my clothes aren't even getting dry. So, this evening, I decided, No More!

Which left me with a slight problem. You see, I don't own a drying rack. And I couldn't run out and buy one.

So ... I thought to myself, What Would MacGyver Do?

And I came up with this:

For those of you wondering what exactly that is, it's the base of my papasan which I have temporarily converted into a drying rack. (It'll resume it's operations as a chair tomorrow.)

It's not perfect, but it'll get the job done. And anyway, whatever MacGyver would have done, you can bet that he wouldn't have just driven to the Target.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Live Photo-Blogging the Weekend Crap Cutting Marathon

I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but I kind of have a purse addiction. So you can understand that it was hard to get rid of these. I am so brave!

Let's not discuss the 12 purses still in my closet.

This is an antique from the 1990s. I am pretty sure there is no one from this decade who wants it (plus I lost all the accompanying software) so I guess it's getting responsibly e-cycled.

Can I remember the last time I needed to staple something at home? No. But luckily were I ever to need a stapler, I have three in various sizes and colors!

The white-board markers are from my days teaching for the SAT. Don't ask me why someone over the age of 10 needs scented markers. I kind of want to sneak these all stealth like in to a school somewhere. I'm not entirely sure that it's worth the potential breaking and entering charge though.

This is a pretty cool clock, n'est ce pas? I really like this clock. Notice, however, that this clock is clearly on the FLOOR and not say, on a wall. I am having a hard time letting go of it, but I am also kind of skeptical I will ever hang it up.

That's a lot of crap!

This is my kitchen trash can.

It's way too big for my tiny kitchen. When I bought it, I was resigned to it's size. Doesn't everyone need an enormous kitchen trash can? Now that I generate almost no trash it's become somewhat of a pain. The small trash bags I use are swallowed by the can. Today it occurred to me, why do I need this big trash can? So I decided to move my smaller bathroom trash can into the kitchen.

See! It fits under the sink!

I am very happy with my new kitchen trash can. But I still needed some sort of trash can for the bathroom. What could I use?

Brilliant or crazy?


Cut the Crap- Weekend Blitz

When I was a kid, I was kind of a freak. Let me give you a good example. Every year, I would look forward to the end of the school year. What's so freakish about that, you might wonder? Every kid looks forward to summer vacation.

Yes this is true. But the truth is, it wasn't summer vacation that I was anticipating so hotly. I was excited because summer vacation meant that I had time to spend a week cleaning and re-organizing my room!

No, I swear, I am not making this up. Nor was this something I was forced to do, or even ASKED to do. In fact, if my mom is reading this blog post, she can attest to the veracity of this. Ever since the summer after fourth grade, I would spend a week completely re-organizing everything. Toys I never played with either were given to my sister or got thrown away. The artwork I thought was impressive got saved, the stuff I wasn't proud of I tossed. As for my school papers, those got organized in files. Yes, I developed a filing system for school work as a fourth grader. Did I miss my calling as a librarian? The school work I didn't care about got thrown out, but everything I thought could be important as reference, or everything I was proud of (I have a file that says, "I got a 100% on this test!") got put neatly in file folders. 

As a result, I can show you my 5th grade State Report in about 5 seconds. My fourth grade "Discover California" reports would probably take longer. Let's say 2 minutes. My 8th grade vocabulary lists? Piece of cake. Let's say 5 minutes. My twelfth grade physics papers? Ummm ... gee, I don't know what happened to those. They clearly weren't very important to me.

I did attack my whole bedroom with my cleaning and re-organizing frenzy, but cleaning out my desk was the most important thing to me. Once all my old school papers had been put away properly, I felt I could put that grade behind me. Fifth grade was not truly over until it was all nicely filed away. And then I could really start to feel like a sixth grader. Because of my summer organizing, I had much less crap than most kids. Because frankly, I was brutal. If I couldn't find a proper place for the spinning top I got in a goody bag, I just threw it out. 

I continued to do my summer re-organizing, or some sort of version of it until I graduated from college. All of a sudden, I was faced with the fact that jobs don't let you out for the whole summer. And if you only get two weeks vacation, you don't so much want to spend one of those weeks re-organizing your apartment.

So the crap started to build up. 

I have tried to get rid of my crap TWICE in the past few months. Once in February, I made it my monthly challenge. That didn't work out, so I joined Chile's "Cut The Crap" challenge. Well, it's the end of the month, and I am still ... full of crap.

So ... I don't have a week. But I have a weekend. My mission this weekend is to do the impossible. I am going to try and rid my apartment of as much crap as I can. Let's see if I am up to the challenge. 

Because seriously. Fourth grade me sets a high bar.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Easy Green #5- Be an Environmental Super Hero

I started this series because I wanted to give people some simple tips to live greener. I stopped writing this series because, frankly it bored me. Switch to CFLs. Yawn. Like you haven't heard that a frajillion times.

After giving it some thought, I decided that I do want to go back to this series because you know, I have been on this green journey for almost eight months, but some of you are just starting out. So look for some more simple tips in the future.

But for today's "easy green" tip I'm going to offer you a bit of a curve ball: think big.

I'll be honest with you. A lot of people tell you to try living more greenly by dipping your toes in the water. But I didn't do that. Eight months ago, I recycled only when it was very convenient, I liked to eat a lot of Top Ramen, and I drank almost exclusively Fiji bottled water. That's right, folks. Plastic bottles of water from across the WORLD.

So what did I do? Well I'll tell you what I didn't do. I didn't immediately stop eating Top Ramen and other packaged food. Nor did I stop drinking Fiji. Some might think that giving up bottled water was a pretty easy change, but it just wasn't. Not for me.

Instead, I gave up buying new stuff. For a whole year. No toe dipping for me. I dove straight into the deep end of the Eco-nut pool. And I barely knew how to swim.

But I figured it out. I used Ebay, and bought used books at Amazon Marketplace. And as the months wore on, I found I was even buying fewer used things. I just no longer had much of an appetite for shopping.

The point is, sometimes it's easier to make the big changes than the small changes. Sometimes it's easier to change your whole way of life, than to give up plastic bottles of water. (Yes, I did eventually give them up.) I think bigger changes allow you to feel like you're accomplishing something. Changing your lightbulbs is nice and all, but it's hard to feel like you're doing anything meaningful. By contrast, when I stopped shopping, I felt like I was Doing Something. I felt like I was kicking down doors, and taking names. In short, I felt a little like a super hero.

So, today, I'd like to encourage you to think big. Think crazy. Think "my sig-o will kill me." And then try it out. For a week. Or a month. Or a year. You might find that the bigger changes are the easier changes to make after all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sustainability in the City


Arduous is walking down the street wearing a tutu clutching her Klean Kanteen, when a bus rolls by. It is prominently featuring a picture of Arduous the label "CNG fuel." As the bus goes by, Arduous runs toward it like her life depends on it. She catches the bus, but her Klean Kanteen spills, splashing water all across her chest.


All right, so maybe my life isn't all Manolo Blahniks and questionable fashion choices, but I love living in the city. In this, I suspect I am in a minority among enviro-bloggers. Most eco-nuts dream of large gardens with chickens. Call me chicken shit (ba dum pum), but I have absolutely zero desire to ever own a live chicken. As for the garden, I'd be perfectly content with a small plot in a community garden. (Honestly, I'm pretty happy to just BUY my produce from other people because, well I'm LAZY, but in theory a community garden sounds lovely.) As such, I've always approached sustainable living from an urban perspective. Now, I do believe that a sustainable life is possible wherever, should you choose to make it so. However, I'd like to make a case here for the city. In my opinion and experience, it is much EASIER to live a sustainable lifestyle in a city. Here's why:
  1. Access to public transit: This is by far the biggest upside to city living and one of the huge downsides to living in a more rural area. Much as I bemoan LA Metro, and long for the NYC Subway, or the "El," or even BART, I have to admit that yes, you can get around LA without a car. If you're far from the subway, you will be subject to the mercies of the bus system, but the point is, there ARE buses and they DO go most everywhere.
  2. Access to farmers' markets: Off the top of my head, there are at least ten farmers' markets held within 10 miles of my house. In fact, there are probably more.
  3. Access to theatre and culture: I know this one isn't as big a deal for a lot of people, but personally, I'm not willing to live my life only seeing a play or a live music performance once every year or so. Of course there are plenty of people who live in Los Angeles who don't take advantage of the wealth of cultural opportunities in the city. But if you care to look, you'll find amazing bands performing most nights (often for no to little cover charge), art openings (free wine!), and innovative theatre happening in converted store fronts.
  4. Limited space: Some of you are thinking, "That's good?" Yes, from an environmental perspective, it's better to live in smaller places. In a city, most people tend to live in small apartments. And small apartments generally use less energy than houses. One of the reasons my electric bill is 11% of the average American's is because my apartment is just SMALL. Apartment buildings also allow people to share resources better. The obvious example is the washer and dryer. A typical suburban family owns one washer and one dryer for four people. My apartment building has two washers and two dryers and probably 40 people. Other apartment buildings have gyms which can cut down on individual elliptical machine ownership. Still others have rec rooms with stashes of board games. And let's not forget that we have 40 people "sharing" our small lawn and planter boxes. Our lawn is smaller than most suburban lawns as it is, but split amongst 40 people, the per person water use must be fairly negligible.
  5. Jobs: let's face it. It's hard to live a sustainable lifestyle when you can't make ends meet. Cities are (generally) where the jobs are. And the closer you live to your job, the less time you have to spend commuting, the more time you have for everything else.

A couple weeks ago, Melinda at Elements in Time and I had somewhat of a difference of opinion on the sustainability of Los Angeles. Melinda lived in LA for ten years, and I've lived here for going on seven, so we both clearly know the city fairly well. Melinda's opinion was that Los Angeles was not a sustainable place to live, and she cited "water issues, lack of urban planning, increasing fires, and more," as reasons Los Angeles is not particularly sustainable.

Now, I recognize the validity of her reasoning. I remember only too well the fires from last summer- in particular one that happened almost on top of me. And I certainly respect Melinda's viewpoint. But personally, I am more optimistic about the sustainability of Los Angeles.

Yes, we have water issues. But, according to the LA Times, "Thirty-nine percent of residential water use in California occurs outdoors, mainly when homeowners water their lawns." As I mentioned, cities tend to have more people per lawn than suburbs. In addition, there are economies of scale that occur when a large group of people live in one area. Simply put, it's cheaper to direct water to one place and have a few million people benefit, than it is to direct water to a couple hundred different rural outposts.

As for the urban planning, it's true that Los Angeles is no New York or San Francisco. But it's changing. When I first moved to the Hollywood ghetto (no, I no longer live there) there's was almost nothing in walking distance. One dive bar, one beyond-dive bar. One British pub with an exceedingly un-British Melrose Place-like courtyard. And a Bally's Total Fitness.

Seven years later there are several cute brunch places, a Borders, and a Bed, Bath & Beyond. There's the Arclight Theatre, and Amoeba Records. The effect has been dramatic. What was once a rather seedy area is now vibrant and teeming with people.

It is possible that development will not continue at such a fast pace now that the housing market has crashed, and the country is verging on recession. But cities have been much more insulated from the housing crash than the suburbs and exurbs. The reason? Young people are still moving into the cities in droves. And what's more, they are living there for much longer than previous generations.

Los Angeles also has the advantage of having a fairly mild climate. I basically went the whole winter with no heat. And the dryness in the summer means that air conditioning isn't quite the necessity it is in say Chicago. And living in California makes eating local food much easier since everything is grown here already!

In the end, I think if you work at it enough you can live sustainably anywhere. Los Angeles isn't for everyone, and every single person isn't going to find it personally sustainable. But for me, it's a pretty good fit. Because in the end, Los Angeles is where my community is. And it's just more fun to sit in your heatless apartment when you're drinking a bottle of wine with a good friend.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Love In The Face of Eco-Nuttiness

I remember when I first saw Super-Size Me feeling a pang of empathy for Morgan Spurlock's vegan chef girlfriend. It's not that I didn't feel kind of bad for Morgan as well, but hey, he chose the challenge, right? No one forced him to eat McDonald's for a month on end. (Besides which, I have to admit, that to me, McDonald's tastes like nostalgia on a bun, so I didn't necessarily think it was the world's most horrifying challenge.)

But I think in some respects it's harder to be the significant other/friend/parent etc of someone taking on some crazy challenge, than it is to actually take on a challenge yourself. For one, if you take on a challenge, you are making the choice to do so. If you're related to someone taking on a challenge, you don't get a choice. For another, most challenges seem more intimidating from the outside. It's not easy to see a loved one struggle through something.

I am keenly aware that it is not the easiest thing in the world to be my friend these days. I try as much as I can to not let my challenges affect other people, but you know, that's kinda impossible. I will go to the mall with friends, but I'm not going to buy anything at the mall which can make it less fun for my friends. Relying on public transit means doing a lot of walking in the city, which is hard on my mom's nerves. And when I'm sick, or it's late at night, it means hitting up Honda or Mr. Honda for a ride.

They say that it is in hard times that you can tell what kind of friends you have. I already knew that I had the most amazing friends in the world. When my father passed away a few years ago, I had a number friends drop everything to come be with me. Several of them were on the other coast. It didn't matter. They didn't know my father that well, but they knew me and loved me.

After that, I felt a little bit like I had used up my cache of love and friendship. That I had relied too heavily on my friends for support, and that I should leave them alone a little and not ask for help.

I now realize that there's no such thing as "using up" love. Living a lower impact life is not always easy, but it is infinitely easier because I have all of my friends and family rooting for me and supporting me daily. Miss V calls me to go to the farmer's market instead of the mall. The King emails me with public transit advice. My mom talks me through recipes I'm trying out. And Honda deals with her best friend's insanity with good humor and nothing less than total support, even when she has to hear me whine about how I'm hot, and she wishes that I would just quit whining and turn on my a/c. (She even bought me a Klean Kanteen because she is awesome and also because she is a stickler for good hydration.)

So, on Earth Day, I want to honor, not the Earth, because that would be easy and I'm arduous. Instead I want to honor Honda. And my mom. And Miss V, The King, Womryl, Annie, ScienceMama, Awesomest Co-worker, my sister and everyone else who has been supporting me through my nuttiness. I know, you wish I would just clean that spill with paper towels. But you go along with my eco-insanity with only a little eye-rolling at times. That's love.

Monday, April 21, 2008


I am seriously running low on ideas for my May challenge. Anyone have any bright ideas?

Corn: It's What's For Dinner

Yesterday, I was at my uncle and aunt's house when I mentioned that I had recently seen King Corn on PBS, and how it had reminded me how much corn is in all the foods we consume.

My twelve year-old cousin was fascinated. "Is there really corn in everything?" he asked.

"Not everything," I responded. But there's certainly corn in most drinks, processed foods and snacks.

Intrigued, he started looking at the labels of all the food in the kitchen. Gummy Vites had corn syrup. So did Gatorade. Crackers had corn starch. Indeed, corn seemed to abound throughout the kitchen.

Finally my cousin said to me triumphantly, "Arduous! Arduous! This doesn't have any corn in it!!"

He was holding a bottle of water.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Pavlov at Work

Yesterday, I was walking to a yoga class when I saw a bus roll by, and I had to fight the urge to run like a crazy person to catch it.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Why I Have Hope

About a month ago Mouse and I were at a music show, and I brought up my standard diatribe about the music industry and how there are no seminal artists for this decade. Every decade has had its share of landmark artists who have defined that decade. Imagine the '50s without Elvis. Or the '60s without the Beatles. Or the '90s without Nirvana. You can't right? But the '00s without ... Coldplay? No offense to Coldplay, but it seems like the decade would be much the same as it is today.

So here I was lamenting the state of the music industry, and to be honest with you, I pretty much assumed that Mouse was going to agree with me. I mean, come on. Isn't it an article of faith among music nerds that the State of Music is a sad one, and that once upon a time music was so much better and so much more original, etc, etc?

So you can imagine my surprise when he disagreed with me. Oh, don't get me wrong. He agreed that there aren't really any "landmark" artists of this decade. But where I saw this as a sad thing, Mouse, because he is much smarter and also more positive than I, saw this as a great thing. Because, in his opinion, it wasn't music going downhill that has led to a decade bereft of 'seminal artists.' In fact, it was because there was TOO MUCH good music that it was now impossible for there to be just a few definitive artists.

Now, you need to read his most recent blog post if you want the full manifesto, but the more I thought about what he said, the more right he seemed. Fifteen years ago, if you wanted to reach more than a few hundred people, you had to be signed to a major record label. Now, any band can reach countless thousands of people through MySpace or iTunes. If you take a look at my iPod, it's crammed to the gills with local LA bands. And these aren't dinky amateur bands. These bands are fantastic, certainly better than most if not all of the stuff you hear on Top 40. How many of these bands would the LA music scene have been able to support 15 years ago? Three? Five? Fifteen? I don't know the answer, but I would almost certainly bet that its fewer than the number that are thriving today.

Isn't it interesting that Mouse and I took the same view of music history and transformed it into two different narratives? One (mine) was the negative narrative, "Music is different and therefore DOOMED!" One (his) was the positive narrative, "Music is different and therefore FLOURISHING!"

That night, I went to bed with a huge smile on my face. By changing the narrative, Mouse had (metaphorically) handed me another world. A world in which our choices are multiplying and the opportunities were boundless.

And then I started reading Break Through. The subtitle of the book is "From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility" which I think is a particularly apt description of the book. In it, Nordhaus and Shellenberger attempt to break free of the "We're all doomed!" paradigm towards a new paradigm focused on possibilities and not limits.

Is global warming a crisis? Yes, no doubt. But in the Chinese language, the word crisis is composed of two characters: danger and opportunity. Let us not focus solely on the danger aspect. Let us remember the great opportunity we have been given. Simply put, we have a chance right now, to remake our society into one that is happier, healthier, and more prosperous than one history has ever seen.

Let us not forget that obesity is a problem created in a society that is largely free from hunger. Let us be mindful that the rapid increase in carbon emissions is the result of thousands of Chinese and Indians escaping poverty. Let us give thanks that young people today have more opportunities than ever before, and that those opportunities are no longer constrained to the white, straight, and male.

In 1962, President John F Kennedy made a very remarkable speech. Against all odds, he challenged the American people to reach the moon by the end of the decade. He knew it would not be easy, and yet he said this to the American people:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

And it was not easy, and it required major investments in both time and money, and yet, somehow, amazingly enough, we succeeded. Within the decade, for the very first time in the history of the human race, a man would walk on the moon.

So listen to me, and listen to me good. If we can walk on the moon within SEVEN years of choosing to do so, we can do anything. We can build a society free from the confines of oil. Much of the technology from electric cars to photovoltaic solar cells is already here. And the technology that hasn’t yet arrived? We can create.

It will not be easy. In fact it will be extremely hard. It will require no less than an overhaul of government policy. It will necessitate the countries of the world to act in concert like never before. It will call for the minds of the finest thinkers all over the world. And yet, a sustainable society is firmly within our grasp.

Let us not waste our time longing for years past. We can never go back, and the past wasn’t as great as we think it was anyway. We will never again be the Jeffersonian “nation of farmers,” no more than we will ever be a country with separate drinking fountains for separate races.

Instead, let us set our eyes on the future. Let us imagine a world with denser cities that encourage use of public transit. Let us imagine gardens on every rooftop of New York City. Let us envision a new economy, not one based on things as pedantic as goods, but an economy befitting the 21st century based on ideas, experiences and service.

We can build sea walls in Bangladesh. We can put a composting toilet in every village of China. We can build tube wells and ecologically sensitive dams in the dry lands of India, and what’s more, we’re already doing it.

I want to quote a passage from Break Through. Shellenberger and Nordhaus write:

When we called on environmentalists to stop giving the “I have a nightmare” speech, we did not mean that we should close our eyes to our increasingly hot planet, the destruction of the Amazon, or continued human suffering. Rather, we meant that we all should open our eyes to the multiplicity of ways we can see and experience the world. Global warming could bring drought, disease, and war─ and it could bring prosperity, cooperation, and freedom. The future is not destined to be dark or bright, fallen or triumphant. Rather, the future is open (240).

Our destiny is not fixed. We can choose to be the generation that eradicates world hunger; we can choose to be the generation that eliminates dependence on oil. We can choose to be the generation that extends the American dream to every child in ever corner of the world.

We can choose to go to the moon. The future is ours for the taking.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Wa-Pshhh! (That's The Sound of My Whip)

I got my computer back today! Hooray! Oh, computer, how I missed you. The last few days have been so lonely, like I was missing an arm ... or something. :)

Also, I think I managed to completely shock the guy behind the counter today because I took my iBook out of the padded plastic sleeve they gave me and then authoritatively said, "Here, you can take this back and reuse this for someone else's computer." I mean, really. I appreciate that they needed to protect my computer, but at this point, I had my briefcase with me and I did not need the sleeve. But I didn't want to watch them just throw the sleeve in the trash either!

"Okay," he meekly acquiesced, taking the plastic sleeve from me, and smoothing the creases from it.

Yes, Apple! You will reuse plastic sleeves, and you will like it!! Or else I will whip you all with my second-hand leather riding crop! (I do have a whip, right, Green Bean?)

Also, yesterday, I got an email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee asking me to "voice my outrage" about the price of gas. Now, look, I certainly am not pro-big oil profiteering, but I actually think the high cost of gasoline is a GOOD thing, and I wish the government would tax the hell out of gas here like they do in Europe. (And yes, I've heard the argument that a gas tax is a regressive tax, and I used to implicitly believe that argument too, until I read this blog post. Joe Romm makes a pretty compelling argument that the gas tax is only regressive across upper income groups.) So anyway, the DCCC wanted to know what in TARNATION I was paying for gas these days, and all the comments were like, "$3.70! Help!!" And I was feeling cranky and snarky, so I wrote, "NOTHING! I take Metro. Let's fund PT!!"

Yeah, they deleted my comment. I'm so proud of my Party.

All Right, You Guys Win

Yesterday afternoon I got a call saying that my iBook had been repaired and was ready for pick up (yay!) In order for me to make it to the mall and back on my lunch hour, I had to drive to work today. And, uh, I hate to say it, but ... I kinda missed my morning walk.

And the extra 40 minutes sleep may not have been as awesome as I remembered it.

And uh, I am maybe sort of, a little bit looking forward to going back to Metro tomorrow.

But, shhhhhhhhhhh! Don't tell anyone!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The One In Which I Whine (Be Forewarned)

This morning, I was walking to work doing my daily "I hate this challenge, I hate this challenge, I hate this challenge," affirmations, when I realized that I was being a little unfair. I do not hate this challenge per se. In fact, there are certain aspects of it (like reading on the Metro) which are quite nice.

So my anger is probably a little displaced. I don't hate monthly challenges. Or public transit. Or saving money on gasoline. Or the Earth. Or Al Gore. In fact, I think I just hate exercise.

I know, I know, exercise is so goooooooood for me. I should be HAPPY that you know, my heart is probably doing better, and like, my legs are getting stronger, and that walking two miles no longer makes me want to die.

Yeah, well you know what? All that might be true, but there is no denying that exercise SUCKS. It is tiring, and painful and ohmygod I haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate it so much! Why can't I just drive my stupid car like everyone else and then come home and sit on the couch and eat bonbons? And then I have to wake up EARLY so I can WALK some more, and I LOVE SLEEP. I LOVE SLEEP MORE THAN ALMOST ANYTHING ELSE.

So I hope you're happy, stupid Earth. Just for you, I am walking when I could be sleeping. JUST FOR YOU. Don't let anyone tell you that I am getting ANY BENEFIT WHATSOEVER OUT OF THIS. Cuz I am totally totally not! You hear me, Earth!?! Hello?!!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Why I Bother

It seems like every few days a post crops up on the blogosphere questioning whether personal action makes a difference to the environmental movement. Now, I'll admit that when I first decided I wasn't going to buy stuff, I didn't have a very clear idea of what I was trying to achieve. But, I figured, why not dive in and figure out everything else later? And you know, that worked for me. But it's been several months now, and I do feel that the question, "Why do you bother?" is an important one to address. So, let's get down to it.

Question: Can my individual actions to lighten my carbon footprint really have an impact (on a global scale)?

Short answer: No.

The long answer is also no, but that doesn't mean individual action doesn't matter.

Individual action doesn't happen in a vacuum. Individual action leads to collective action. And collective action in turn leads to change in public policy.

Think about every great social movement in the history of this country. Abolition. Women's suffrage. Temperance. (Okay, that one was not so great.) Civil Rights. Gay rights. All of these movements share a common history: that is they grew out of individual action. Before the Emancipation Proclamation there was Harriet Tubman. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, there was Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Public policy has always FOLLOWED social change, not preceded it.

So yes, it was the 13th amendment that ended slavery. But there never would have been a 13th amendment if it weren't for individuals like Harriet Tubman, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the members of countless sewing and quilting circles.

Rosa Parks. Harriet Tubman. Sewing circles. Hmmm, am I insinuating something here? Isn't it ironic that the same week that some of the leading environmental policy makers in America engaged in a flame war on each others' blogs, a woman who is known to most of her readers as "Crunchy Chicken," was getting it done? This is not to denigrate the work of Joe Romm, Michael Shellenberger or Ted Nordhaus, all of whom I greatly respect. But I bring it up more to illustrate that old adage, "Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose." Women have historically been the backbone of social movements. Just as Abolition stemmed from sewing circles, so too does the environmental movement stem from book clubs, food buying clubs, and swap-o-rama-ramas.

Right now I'm actually reading Shellenberger and Nordhaus's book "Break Through," which is a fantastic must-read for anyone interested in the environmental movement. In it, they lament the fact that environmentalists do not know how to organize like churches. Well, no disrespect to Shellenberger and Nordhaus, but we're building our church, thank you very much. We've got groups committed to 10% carbon emissions, and others committed to victory gardens. We've got 40 people cutting clutter, 25 people giving to others, and over 200 people not buying a dang thing! And just like a church, our challenges and virtual eco-groups offer participants support and fulfillment.

So, no. Individual actions by themselves don't mean much. We cannot expect to drastically cut emissions without changes in policy. But the policy change will never happen without social change happening first. And social change begins at home.

Individual action doesn't matter? Tell that to Rosa Parks.

Monday, April 14, 2008


You guys make me cry!! Thank you so much for the comments to Friday's post. Saint Jagger! Does that make me better or worse than Bono?!! ;) Seriously though, with wonderful readers like you, how could I feel anything less than blessed?

Anyway, I have had a million posts written in my head (I'm not the only one who is constantly composing blog posts in my mind, am I?) but I have a lot to catch up on today, so it's going to have to wait. I took my computer in to Apple on Saturday to be fixed, so I am now involuntarily technology free all the time when I'm at home. Not so much fun. So if I'm posting or commenting less frequently in the next couple weeks you know what's up.

Okay, off to file my damn taxes. You know, I am the most bleeding of bleeding heart liberals, and I used to joke that I'd never met a tax I didn't like. But I've got to say, that for the past few years, tax time has been so depressing as I realize that a huge chunk of my hard earned money is being squandered on a war I don't support.

P.S. My bus today had FIFTY people on it. Also I realized belatedly that all the buses I've been riding run on compressed natural gas further complicating my carbon calculations. Riot 4 Austerity says that there is no reduction for ethanol or biodeisel, but doesn't say anything about natural gas. Between that and the electric subway, I'm kind of ready to throw my hands up in the air and say that I have no clue what's going on anymore.

Friday, April 11, 2008

On Being Blessed

I knew this was going to be a difficult challenge, and it has. There are moments every day where I hate this damn challenge and wonder why on earth I ever thought this was a good idea. I never really thought of myself as a car person, and I actually hate to drive, but I can't deny that I miss the convenience and freedom that my car offers.

But then there are moments like the one that happened last night while I was waiting for the subway. I was feeling very sorry for myself because my legs were killing me, and I was tired, and cranky and all I wanted to do was go home and watch TV.

And then I sneezed, and the guy sitting next to me, turned to me and said, "Bless you," in this way that was so sincere, like it wasn't just a reflex, but he really truly wanted me to be blessed. It's hard to describe to you, but it was such an honestly touching moment, and it stayed with me through my ride and walk home.

And the truth is, I am blessed. Incredibly so. I have wonderful friends and family who are supportive of me and all my nutty endeavors. I live in a world-class city with culture, diversity, good food, and perfect weather. I have a job where I work with people who like and respect me. And I have this blog, and all of you wonderful readers and commenters and fellow bloggers.

When I took on the one year non-consumerist challenge, a few people accused me of becoming an ascetic. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have no desire to sit under a banyan tree and ignore my fellow man. Since August, I may have given up new stuff, but I have volunteered in my community, I have wandered museums, I have listened to some amazing local bands. I have seen great theatre, I have gotten lost in books, I have watched compelling television. I have eaten dinners with friends, and we have drunk too much wine. I have thrown parties, and attended weddings and a funeral. I have spent time outdoors, and drunk in the beauty that LA has to offer all day, every day, just outside my window. Does that look like the life of someone who is shunning worldly pleasures?

Sometimes people wonder, hell sometimes I wonder, why a year of non-consumerism? Why do I maintain this rigidity? Why am I agonizing over underwear, for God's sake. Underwear is a need! Eventually I'm going to buy some anyway, right? So what does it matter if I do it now in April, or if I do it in August?

But here's something I've learned. What I need is my family and my friends. A safe place to sleep at night. A few good books. Food. Art and music. Love. And laughter. Lots and lots of laughter.

That's a lot. In fact it is more than many people in the world have. And yet, these things, my needs, are things I have never done without for a single day in my life. And that is why I am so blessed. Everything else? Is just gravy.

Thank you all for the past six months of blogging goodness. This community that I have found here is one that I need. But the underwear? It can wait until August.

After all, as they say:

Thursday, April 10, 2008


When I first started my April challenge, I decided to keep it on the DL as much as possible at work. I know, I know, we shouldn't shy away from showing people our eco-friendly side, and as most of you could guess from my posts about toilet paper, diva cups, and underwear, I'm not exactly the shy and retiring type anyway. But even my eco-nuttery has its limits, and while I do bring in my own dishes and cutlery for my lunches, bring a hand towel instead of paper towels, and use the kitchen trash instead of the trash can at my desk, I try not to call much attention to any of these actions at my job.

So when I decided to start taking public transit to work, I told Awesomest Co-worker (who responded with typical Awesomest Co-worker enthusiasm) and no one else. Mayor Bloomberg may take the subway to work in New York, but I was pretty convinced that everyone at my work here would think taking public transit to work was the height of eco-insanity. (Now that I'm thinking about this, I think this is really about the bus. A subway seems like a decent option for working people, but there is something about a bus that has more of a stigma attached to it.)

For almost two weeks, I managed to keep it quiet, slipping into work and out of work all stealth-like. And then, today, as I was walking towards the gate, I saw Boss 1 drive by. And two seconds later, Boss 2 zoomed past.

Crap, I thought. Well, maybe they did not notice me?

I hurried to the building with the idea that, I don't know, if I got into the office quickly enough, they might see me at my computer and think, "Oh that couldn't have been Arduous I saw on the street, because she's sitting here working."

Yeah, not so much. In fact, as soon as Boss 2 walked into the office, the first question she had was, "Why were you walking into the gates this morning? Are you parking in some weird location?"

"Ha ha," I laughed nervously. "No, no, not parking anywhere weird."

She looked at me quizzically but let it go and walked into her office. Yes, I thought! I have successfully deflected.

Of course then, Boss 1 walked in. "What were you doing walking into the gates?" he immediately wanted to know.

"Yes! You saw her too!" Boss 2 exclaimed.

Meanwhile my face was turning bright, bright red, and Awesomest Co-worker was doing her best not to laugh. "She's going green!" she told them.

"Ummm, I take the metro to work," I mumbled, "because I walk to the metro station so I get my cardio!" (Because Angelenos hate the earth, but love to work out, right?)

Well, needless to say, all my bosses thought it was cool and not insane. In fact, it turns out Boss 2's husband actually takes public transportation fairly regularly. And Boss 1 was mostly concerned about my safety, but as soon as I had reassured him that yes, there were plenty of people who took the metro, and yes it was safe, and yes, if it was late at night, I would get a ride or call a cab or something, he seemed pretty impressed that not only did I take public transit, but that I walked two miles to the metro.

And then they all had a million questions about how long it took versus a car, and how often I did this, etc etc. And it was so NICE, because nothing against anyone I work with, because they are all wonderful people, but I just ... did not expect that kind of warm reception. I expected people to think I was weird. But they didn't. Instead, they seemed to think that what I was doing was awesome.

And I got to tell you, as embarassed as I was to come out of the eco-closet, it turned out really well, and really served as yet another reminder that people are often cooler and more accepting than we give them credit for being. Life less plastic recently wrote about her fantasy world, where no one thinks you're weird for doing something good for the environment. Today, I realized that I'm living in that fantasy world.

It's a good day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

On Calculating Carbon Emissions

I hate to belabor this point, but I'm starting to wonder if we're all approaching carbon emissions for transportation the wrong way.

Yesterday, Will from Green Couple wrote a post entitled, "What's the Best Way to Get From Here to There." He had recently driven with some friends to Wisconsin, and he calculated the carbon emissions that the trip generated. Then he calculated what his emissions would have been had he taken a bus, train, or plane. The plane was the most emissions-heavy, followed by the train, the bus, and then the car. So, Will made the most emissions-efficient choice, correct? And we should all try and carpool when we are traveling long distances, right?

Except, hold on a second. As Will points out, "A plane, train, or bus isn’t going to produce that much less CO2 just because we’re not riding."

And therein lies the logical fallacy. It's all very well to try to calculate individual carbon emissions, but the truth is, carbon emissions don't really work like we're pretending they work.

In fact, had Will taken a train, or a bus, or even (quel horreur!) a plane, the total world carbon emissions would have decreased by the amount of carbon emissions caused by the car, and increased by the amount of carbon emissions caused by Will and his friend's weight. In other words, driving a car is only the most carbon efficient method IF the carbon emissions Will and his friends's weight cause on a plane, bus, or train is GREATER than the TOTAL emissions of the car. Which seems pretty unlikely.

To put it differently, let's consider this: because Will chose not to take the bus, the per passenger miles per gallon on the bus went down. So Will might think, oh hey, my individual carbon emissions were lower because I was in the car, but actually he caused the carbon emissions of every passenger on the bus to go up because he chose to ride in a car instead of a bus.

So what's the answer here? I hesitate to draw this out to airplanes and long distance trains, but in terms of city-wide public transport, the answer is pretty clear to me. In my opinion, a city's public transit belongs to every single citizen of the city, and NOT just the citizens who use it. So the true calculation of carbon emissions would be where we calculated the total carbon emissions caused by a city's public transport, and divided it up by every citizen in that city. Then an individual calculating her emissions would add that to her individual car emissions to get her actual total.

But that's not fair! I don't ride the bus!

True. But we pay for a lot of things we don't use. To me, the best analogy here is that even if you choose to send your child to a private school, you still have to pay for public schools. Similarly, even if you still drive to work, you should have to pay for the carbon emissions of public transit. That's the point of a "public" system. We may not all use it, but its there for everyone's benefit.

Ok, Arduous, but does this nerdy mathery really matter?

I think it does. Look, a lot of us are in uncharted waters. We are faced with decisions like "organic in plastic" or "conventional in glass" every day. And a lot of the time, we rely on things like what I'd call conventional green wisdom or carbon calculators to figure out what makes the most sense. But sometimes, conventional wisdom, even conventional green wisdom, is wrong. And that can lead us to make decisions that might not make the most sense. For example, if a bus I was taking only had three people in it, I might think, oh well then I might as well drive because that is the most carbon efficient. Or I might think it made more sense to drive across country to see my sister than to fly. But the reality is, those buses and planes ARE going to be in service no matter what I do. So, to me, the logical choice is to always err on the side of a communal form of transportation, be it a bus, a train, or yes, even a plane. Because while I believe that it is possible to eventually cause a decrease in bus paths or plane rides, we also have to deal with the here and now. Besides which, you have to ask yourself, do we really want all those people on buses, trains, and planes in cars and on the roads instead? Is that really the answer?

(By the way, Will, I hope you understand I just used you as a guinea pig. I thought your post was great, and incredibly thought provoking which is why I ended up writing this post in response. And, needless to say, I am certainly not casting aspersions on your choice to take a car to Wisconsin. I like road trips myself. And I'm currently hating on the bus. But that's another story for another day.)

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

LA Metro: Normal People Need Not Ride

I have a shameful secret to tell you all. Come closer. Closer. Closer. Okay, too close, move back just a tad. Okay, you ready?

Here is my secret: I have lived in LA for 6 1/2 years and prior to ApPTMo, I had used public transportation in LA exactly ... once.

Yes, you read that correctly. Un, Uno, Ek, however you want to say it, ONE time. And what's more, for five of those 6 1/2 years, I even lived about 15 minutes walking from a metro station.

And yet, it never occurred to me to you know, use it.

A few days ago, Orgie commented on how different the perception of public transport is in LA compared to New York. This is actually a pretty important point. The attitude towards the metro is very different in LA. Just today, it came up in email conversation that I took the metro to work today, and the response I got was, "Wow, who knew that normal people did that!"

Who, indeed. I know that some of you are probably surprised by that response, and I admit, it gave me a moment's pause, but the truth is, there is a kernel of truth to her response. If we substitute the cavalier use of the word "normal" for "person who owns/can afford a car" she's pretty much dead on.

Los Angeles likes to boast its very high metro ridership numbers, but those numbers have to be looked at in context. Obviously Los Angeles has high ridership. Its a city of 3.8 million. But what percentage of Angelenos use public transit? And here LA falls flat on its face. By this calculation, LA ranks a dismal 34th at 10.64% of the population using public transportation to get to work. In fact, LA does worse than Seattle, Oakland, Portland, and surprisingly, Daly City, California and Buffalo, New York. (Okay, well I guess Daly City probably has a decent number of residents who take BART to San Francisco, but Buffalo, really?)

So, it's all very well for LA to boast their ridership, but frankly, in my mind, a successful public transit program doesn't just reach those who have no other option. A truly successful public transport program reaches beyond those who can't afford a car, and attracts riders who CAN afford a car, but choose to commute via PT because its easier/faster/more relaxing, etc. The LA Metro is generally none of these things. And thus, anyone who can afford to drive, drives.

Hopefully, one day, I'll mention that I took the metro to work, and I'll be met with a casual, "Oh yeah, me too." But I've got to be honest, I'm not holding my breath.

Monday, April 7, 2008


According to the Genius at the Apple Store, my iBook has a faulty logic board. Which means that it's going to cost $280 to repair (well actually replace). And on top of that, I will owe another $100 because my data isn't backed up, and they will need to do a data transfer.

Now, I do think repairing makes the most sense, financially and environmentally. Although there will be new parts involved, my understanding is that they will most likely be refurbished parts. So I think in terms of my non-consumer challenge, on that front, I can rest easy.

BUT, I do kind of wonder what will happen to my old Apple parts. From the reading I've done online, they do not give you your old parts back, so I will not be able to dispose of them in an environmentally sensitive manner. My suspicion is that they do reuse the old parts, but that they probably send them over to China for "processing." (If you need a refresher on the pitfalls of e-cycling read Cindy W's concise write up here.)I will certainly ask them for my old parts back, but I'm not holding my breath.

Oh How The Mighty Hath Fallen

Dear reader, you must excuse me, but I admit that when Crunchy Chicken announced her Buy Nothing Challenge, I felt a small sense of smug superiority. A month of non-consumerism? Hah! I've been doing THAT for EIGHT months. Been there, not bought that.

Well, they say pride comes before fall, and while I haven't fallen (yet), the next four months are starting to loom very, very large. Especially as it concerns erm... my undergarmentry.

See, you know how your mom always told you to be sure to be wearing presentable underwear lest you get in a traffic accident and someone see it? I mean, my mom never said that because my mom was too busy telling me to put my damn sweater on because it was COLD. But anyway, I guess someone's mom says something to that effect, though you would think if you were in a traffic accident you'd have more to worry about than if the paramedics were laughing at the state of your underwear.

Anyhow, the point is, yesterday I was doing my laundry and I realized that a good third to half of my underwear is really unpresentable. Like, if I got in a traffic accident, the paramedics might wonder if I was an itinerant ne'er-do-well who had stolen some nice girl's outerwear. And while I think I can last until August at which point I will be sorely tempted to do a ritual bonfire of sorts and burn all my old underwear, I really, really want new underwear now.

Now, according to the rules, I am not allowed to buy new stuff. Nor am I allowed to buy any clothes, period. BUT, could I, dare I work around the rules? Can I ask for underwear as a gift from my mom? Can I buy underwear using a gift certificate I have to the mall? If I do buy underwear at the mall, does anyone know of any mainstream store that sells organic cotton underwear? Should I just suck it up and wait until August? And what the eff do you do with old underwear? No, I do not need any more rags!! Do I just landfill it? And do I have no sense of propriety because I am discussing my underwear with the entire world?

In other consumeristic news, my iBook went pffft over the weekend. I am desperately hoping that this is a fixable problem because, damnit, forget my non-consumerist challenge, I flat out can't afford a new computer. I have an appointment at the Genius Bar at lunch time so keep your fingers crossed for me.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Black Lipstick Not Optional

Some of you may notice in my side bar I'm keeping track of my car miles and public transit miles this month. This is for you, so you can keep an eye on me through this challenge, but mostly it's for me, so I can see through the month how those numbers are progressing and to make it easier to calculate my Riot 4 Austerity progress at the end of the month.

If you haven't heard of Riot 4 Austerity, check it out, especially the calculator which is kind of fun to play around with if you are a nerd like me. Now I don't "officially" riot, because well, I'm not that cool, and also I hear they require you to wear black lipstick and black armbands. I kid! I kid! Riot is totally black armband-OPTIONAL. But I like to check out my numbers from time to time and see how I line up with the average American. And in general, I do pretty well. Last time I ran the numbers, my electricity was at 11% of the average American's usage, my garbage was at 9%, and of course, my pride and joy, consumer goods has been holding steady at under one percent since August! (Under Riot rules, used goods you buy count as 10% of new items, but I typically spend less than $25 even on used items each month.)

Point being, I'm fairly happy with my performance in most of the categories. Except one. My big flaming letter F is, of course, in gasoline consumption. In March I used 95% of the average American's gasoline consumption. And that is from driving alone! I shudder to think what my numbers were like in February when I flew to Chicago for a funeral.

I'm hoping with this challenge to bring that number down. How far down? Faaar down. In fact, I would love it if I could bring it down to 20%, but I'll settle for cutting my gasoline consumption in half. (Incidentally, I think the Riot calculator for public transportation is pretty flawed. First of all, saying public transit counts as 100 miles to the gallon seems a little arbitrary and a little low. Second of all, subways don't run on gas, they run on electricity. But in the absence of a more sophisticated calculator, I guess I'll go with it. Anyone who both riots and uses the subway wants to tell me how to calculate that? Orgie, Beany, I'm looking at you.) Additionally, I'm using Google maps to calculate public transport mileage. It's not entirely accurate because it calculates drive miles, but I figure it's close enough.

In terms of car miles, if, say, I con Honda into driving me home from her apartment, I'm counting her round-trip mileage even though I only ride with her one way. (I figure, she's driving because of me, so the round-trip consumption should be on me.) On the other hand, if Erin picks me up on our way to Spaceland likes she did last night, I'm only counting half the miles since there are two people in the car.

All right, I hope that clears up any questions about the methodology I'm using. Happy Friday, all!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Please Note:

  • Walking two miles in the morning will make you so hungry you could eat your hand off. Please don't.
  • People who claim that commuting to work via public transport is relaxing have obviously never commuted to work via public transport. Be prepared.
  • Being five minutes late while driving means 5 minutes late. Five minutes late via PT means 15 minutes late. Plan accordingly.
  • Metro Trip Planner can't help you.
  • While walking into the gates at work, you may feel the urge to hide in the hedges when your co-workers swoop by in their cars, lest they think you got a DUI, because why else would someone take PT to work. Still, stand strong, and hold your ground because those hedges are prickly.
  • The rapid bus stop and the regular bus stop are located across the street from each other forcing you to choose which one you think will come sooner. You will choose wrong.
  • You will feel like a super-hero when you manage to run across the street fast enough to catch the other bus. But you will actually look like a crazy person.
  • You will feel smug when you are able to take the metro to dinner and can avoid paying $10 to park.
  • Everyone else at dinner will either feel defensive about driving to dinner, or will assume you must be a dirty hippie.
  • One person will think you are a public transit heroine. Do not disabuse her of said notion.
  • When you exit the metro at 9:45 pm you will notice that it is raining even though it never rains in LA.
  • But it's okay. You can walk the 1/2 mile to Honda's apartment and then con her into driving you the extra mile and a half home.
  • All the extra exercise will have worn you out to the point where you are ready to collapse into bed at 10:00pm.
  • You will take a shower and realize belatedly that you have no more clean underwear.
  • You will decide to wear boxers as underwear. You will feel a little like a man. But you still have boobs so it's okay.
  • You will fall asleep effortlessly.
  • Then you will wake up at 7:30 am and realize you have to do it all over today.
  • And yet, after all that, commuting on public transit will still seem eminently more doable than you had previously thought.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On Risk Assessment, Stressing Less, and Other Thoughts

Apparently I was much, much more out of shape than I thought because that two miles to the metro today was killer. Seriously, my legs were kind of spasming up by the end. By the time I made it to the metro, I was ready for a nap.

So I am glad that this challenge is forcing me to get exercise, but I kind of wonder why exactly I need to be forced to get exercise? I can challenge myself to not buy new stuff for a year and I can do that (less than 4 months to go, baby!) and I can challenge myself to not eat pre-packaged meals, and I can do that. I can even challenge myself not to use toilet paper and do that! So why is it that when I challenge myself to exercise for half an hour a day four days a week, I fall flat on my face?

Why do I stress out about global warming and peak oil, both of which are pretty much entirely out of my control? Am I going to die of global warming? Pretty damn unlikely. In fact, it is much more probable that I would die of heart disease. I have a history of high cholesterol, and my father passed away of a massive heart attack. You would think that exercising every day would be a no brainer.

Except that it's not. And I'm not alone. According to a 2006 Time Magazine article on risk, I'm pretty average:

Shadowed by peril as we are, you would think we'd get pretty good at distinguishing the risks likeliest to do us in from the ones that are statistical long shots. But you would be wrong. We agonize over avian flu, which to date has killed precisely no one in the U.S., but have to be cajoled into getting vaccinated for the common flu, which contributes to the deaths of 36,000 Americans each year. We wring our hands over the mad cow pathogen that might be (but almost certainly isn't) in our hamburger and worry far less about the cholesterol that contributes to the heart disease that kills 700,000 of us annually.

Ring true to you? It does for me. In fact, I would go out on a limb and say that I think in the past few months I have worried considerably more about getting cancer from microwaved tupperware, than I have worried about having a heart attack. Rationally, this makes no sense. But, then again, people aren't rational.

Lately, my life has been going through a lot of turmoil. I always figured I'd be pretty settled in my late twenties ... married, with kids, and successful career. But beyond that, and more importantly, I thought I'd know the answers. And I don't. I really, really don't.

I've also had a lot of moments of poutiness, where I've felt frustrated with the current state of affairs in the world: financial crisis, rising food prices, global warming, disaster in Iraq, rising trade deficits, etc etc. On several occasions I have thought, why do MY twenties have to be so unstable? Why is so everything so difficult and insecure and at a crisis point NOW?

And then I have to step back and remember ... the world has been in crisis before. Can I really say that I am worse off than people who came of age during the Vietnam War? Or World War II? For all the doomsaying going on in the 24-hour news media (At 11:00 pm, we'll talk about how Avian Bird Flu, SARS and Ebola got together to create AvARSola, a disease so dangerous, you're probably already dead!) the threat of nuclear warfare is much lower now than it was in the 1960s and 1970s.

And so, I have been trying more and more to give myself a good dose of perspective when necessary. When I am stressed out about something that is out of my control, or that is unlikely to actually be a problem, I take a deep breath, and tell myelf, "You are being irrational," or "There is nothing you can do." And then I try and find something completely unrelated to do.

Does it work? Well ... no, not always. But I find that the mere act of recognizing that I'm being irrational, or that I'm worrying about something out of my control is in itself important and helps me to calm down. Even more important, though, is being dismissive of my irrational self. I used to get freaked out about stuff, and think, "I know this is crazy but..." But that, in a sense, was giving credence to the crazy thoughts. Now, my attitude is, "I know this is crazy." Fullstop. No ifs, ands or buts.

Now you might be thinking, "Okay, Arduous but irrational and out of your control are two different things." And they are. And look, I'm not saying we should duck our heads under the sand and not pay attention to the problems around us. But I think, in terms of our own personal sanity, irrational and out of your control are more or less the same.

I can't control global warming. I really can't. I can do my best to lessen my impact, and I do, because it feels right. I can write letters, and I can vote and I can act as an empowered citizen. But at the end of the day, what will be, will be, and my stressing out over it is not going to do a damn thing.

The problem with stressing about the irrational and the unchangeable is it allows you to ignore the real issues that you can change. Which is problematic. So, ultimately, while it's good that I am exercising more and eating healthier foods, it does give me pause that I'll walk to the metro to cut carbon emissions, but I won't take the initiative to walk for my own well being. And that I'll cook to cut down on packaging, but not because it's healthier for me than a diet of Lean Cuisine. I guess I'm lucky the health of the planet and my own personal health line up so neatly!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

April Challenge- ApPTMo

I knew I wanted a good challenge this month what with it being Earth Month and all. Also, April 12th marks my 6 monthaversary of blogging. Hooray! But I was kind of stumped as to what this "big" challenge could be.

Luckily my friend Honda came to my rescue. Honda likes to dare me to do stuff that she doesn't think I'll do- like jumping into a public fountain. And when it comes to Honda's dares, I am like Marty McFly- I can never chicken out. So when Honda dared me to do a month of using public transit to get to work ... well I just couldn't say no.

So that's what I'm doing. For one month I will take public transit to work at least four days a week. I kind of can't believe I'm doing this.

Now, many of you may be thinking, wow, what's the fuss about? Well let me tell you what the fuss is about. This is Hell-A! People do not take public transit in LA. I mean, really, they don't. Today I went down to the metro station during RUSH HOUR and the only people descending the stairs were me and some other guy. And then it turned out the other guy was just running stairs.

Why do people not take public transit in LA? Because, it sucks. The metro is clean and fast and purty but runs too few places. And the buses are slow and crowded and are totally unreliable. Besides, to me, buses are like the worst form of public transit ever. You have all the hassles of traffic AND the bus is stopping every five seconds to let people on and off.

So, the first thing I did when I started considering this challenge was go to Metro Trip Planner to see how long my commute would take via public transit. I am blessed with a very easy commute. There's almost never any traffic and I can drive from my apartment to work in about 20 minutes. I knew that public transit would never take 20 minutes, but I figured maybe it would take about 45? Which seemed pretty decent and I was prepared to do it.

According to Metro Trip Planner, if I wanted to get to my office by 9:00 am, I would have to be at the bus stop at 7:25 am. Gotta love LA, huh.

So clearly, THAT wasn't happening. And then I had a brain wave! What if instead of taking the bus from the nearest bus stop, I walked two miles to the nearest metro stop, and then took the metro most of the way. From there, it's just a five minute bus ride to work. The advantage of this plan was I could leave the apartment at 8:00 am instead of 7:20, and I would get to spend the majority of my time on the metro which is infinitely better than the bus. And, and this is really what sold this idea for me, I'd be walking four miles a day, so the walk time could double as both commute AND exercise. It would be like multi-tasking!

So, how's it going? Well ... having done this exactly once so far, it seems doable. But I'll keep you updated. I imagine that the 2 mile walk home after a long day at work is not exactly going to be my most favorite thing ever. On the other hand, not having to buy as much gas? That will be the awesome. Especially as its now around $3.70 a gallon....

Buy Nothing in April

Buy Nothing Challenge - April 2008

Wanna be more like me? Well now you can! Sign up for Crunchy Chicken's "Not Buying It" Challenge and experience the joys and the woes of non-consumerism for one month. Come on! It'll be fun. We can pine for Klean Kanteens together!