Conscious

I needed new bedsheets. Need is a strong word, I wanted them. I wanted them because the old ones were pilling–or whatever it’s called when they start to get little fuzzies on them. I wanted to brighten up my room and begin to consider the possibility of decorating (we just signed a new lease, so I guess I’m really living here). I was at brunch and wanted to stop at Target on the way home. I looked at the more independent stores (all smaller chains) and they’re prohibitively expensive. (I can’t afford to spend $400 on bedsheets.) I could go to the Goodwill, but, I’ll be honest, the idea of having bedsheets I -know- a stranger had sex in kind of squicks me out. (I lie to myself about hotel sheets.) I could order on line, but the shipping costs, wait time, inability to -feel- the sheets before purchasing them, and our neighbor’s arguments against ordering online (it in actually no way benefits the community), make it hard for me to justify going to Amazon. Target it is!

We were discussing the best way to get to there. Specifically, we were considering the worth of going there through the front of the back and various routes to either of these ways. Then someone said “Target? You must hate gay people.”

He was being tongue-in-cheek with that comment. He wasn’t seriously accusing me of hating gay people (I don’t), but he was talking about Target’s monetary hatred of gay people.

In 2010, Target donated money to a Minnesota gubernatorial candidate who, among other things, said that a marriage is between “a man and a woman.” At least, that’s what the news stories said. In truth, Target donated money to Minnesota Forward, which created an advert for Emmer, the gubernatorial candidate in question. Emmer, among other stances, supports a high speed national rail network and lower taxes, has a “general hostility towards clean energy,” (Grist, 2010), and has made a bit of noise about pro-business legislation.

I like to think that Target, a Minnesota based company, donated to a pro-business Minnesota candidate rather than an anti-gay Minnesota candidate, but I can’t prove that. Regardless, that’s generally not considered to make a difference. They supported a candidate is against something that a lot of people I know are for.

Whole Foods is a lot like this as well, though no one I know talks about whether or not we should shop there. I sort of don’t like them because they began this Seafood Rating program once upon a time. They rate how sustainable the wild caught seafood they have is. One of their options is “avoid.” However, they still sell these things that ought to be avoided. Their meats are step rated usingThe 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Standards. Not all their meat is at the highest standards, and price, obviously goes up. I think it’s sort of hypocritical of them to talk about these things being important, but still offering “less good” alternatives.

Luckily, I don’t eat meat.

I do, however, eat vegetables. And help buy groceries for a house of seven (plus) people. Every time we make a purchase, we weigh the cost of being environmentally friendly, being friendly to what we (a bunch of variously employed hippies, technohippies, and hippie like people) can afford, and our desires. “Local” usually means “North East” during the summers with a goal for “US” during the winters. We cheat and buy avocados year round because we all love them so. We are beyond capable of consuming bananas like crazy, much to the chagrin of one of our more aware members.

Don’t even get me started on trying to pick good versions of good options.

Our massive soy consumption is fueling the international soy trade, which tears down rainforests and displaces people in order to grow enough soy. So we have to make sure we get soy that was grown in the USA, but a lot of that comes from factory farms. Earth Balance, a vegan alternative to butter, is good because it’s vegan, but is uses palm oil, which is bad for the same reasons international soy is bad.

A lot of things which appear “good” have these insidious underbellies of consumption. (Does that phrase look as ridiculous to you as it does to me?)

“Plug in” electric cars would save on batteries and be cool and all, but the power would still be coming from -somewhere-. The U.S. Energy Information Administration cites in their Annual Energy Outlook for 2011 that the majority of US energy comes from liquid (petroleum, liquids from coal, natural gas liquids), and, overall, “renewable” sources are the second smallest minority, eclipsing biofuels by quite a bit. Nuclear, barely surpassing renewable resources, is expected to be overtaken by more “green” (not toxic green) energy well before 2035.

In short, even if you have a plug in electric, you’re still likely powering it through that stuff we’re supposed to be using less of.

Being a half-awake consumer is really easy. It’s not hard to keep up with a few things going on, but to be a conscious, fully awake and ready to run consumer takes a lot of work. I can’t keep up on all of these things–it took me nearly forty minutes of reading papers and googling just to find out about electric batteries, the plug in plan, and the way we actually get most of our plug in power.

I spent about a minute googling “target gay controversy” and then another find to find out how the money really flowed and then three more looking up what else Emmer said, because, let’s be honest, it’s damn near impossible to find a candidate with whom you agree on every issue. I was hoping that maybe while he was against gay marriage, he might be down with abortions or helping the homeless.

My written manner of thinking about how overwhelming it feels to try and “vote with my money” doesn’t so much talk about a point as it does illustrate it: being feet on the ground running conscious is hard. It’s not just enough to be awake and be aware of what is going on–or at least it doesn’t feel that way. When everyone has a cause, merely picking one and dedicating yourself to it isn’t enough when it comes to all the other causes people you have to interact with.

This isn’t to say being a conscious consumer isn’t something we should do. No, we should all strive to think about where our things come from. We should think about, and be aware, of what the costs are in our food and cars, what it means to purchase from someone who donates money to a political candidate (-any- political candidate). Wikipedia has a list of consumer watch organizations to help make this process easier. The Consumerist is a popular website that does this as well, full of user accounts. (It informs me of Target’s anti-union activities.) But sometimes all the effort feels overwhelming and I want to give up and eat an avocado, lettuce, tomato, tempeh, and veganaise sandwich in the winter. And sometimes I just want new bedsheets.

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Expectations

When I tell someone that I just rode a bike to Philadelphia–and that I did it last year–there are two kinds of looks people give me. Some people look impressed. This makes me feel awkward because it really isn’t that hard and I lame out and trains are involved and all of that. Or, more commonly, they give me The Look.

Women's Montreal UCI World Cup 2009 winner Emma Pooley of Britain on her Cervelo.

Image courtesy of Flowizm on Flickr. CC-BY.

This is Emma Pooley, winner of the 2009 Grande Boucle, or Tour de France Féminin. She was the last person to win this tour (the fancy term for long distance, multi-day bike racing), as it was discontinued after she won. This is what a long distance lady cyclist looks like.

Marianne Vos cycling on a mud track in 2007.

This image is public domain.

Marianne Vos, a Dutch cyclist, is the most recent winner of Giro d’Italia Femminile, a tour in Italy. Emma Pooley finished second. This is what a long distance lady cyclist looks like.

Mika Matsuzaki on a fixed gear bicycle by the Charles River.

Image by mako. CC-BY-SA

Mika Matsuzaki is a friend of mine. She does not ride this bike on long distance rides. She rides a different bike, one with gears, for instance, and a backrack, when she covers many miles over several days. This is what a long distance lady cyclist looks like.

I do not look like any of these people.

To quote myself, I am in a round, soft-and-squishy shape. I’ve hinted at the level I dislike my body, which is, I gather, a very normal level to hate your body as an American girl. We, as a culture, have created expectations not just about how people–or we–should look, but about how different kinds of people should look.

Duh.

Even the most understanding and liberal, the most socially conscious acquaintances I have, people who fight for equal rights, who think very hard about everything they eat, and the impact of their actions, and the meaning of advertising and the world around them, have given me The Look. The Look expresses, in a momentary flash across their face, that they don’t believe me. They might consciously understand what I just told them I do, but they cannot, even if just for a breath, comprehend that I biked 300 miles.

Then their conscious mind takes over and they acknowledge that I, a size fourteen, XL, one-piece swim suit kind of girl, can bike 300 miles.

I hate The Look. It makes me feel small. It makes me feel ashamed. As the look fades and the other people’s conscious mind takes over, my shame fades and my anger takes over. I think of all the snippy remarks I want to make. I think about how I want to tell them they can’t call themselves accepting when they still have The Look in their repertoire. I think about how their expectations about me are one of the things wrong with our culture.

Then my conscious mind continues to race ahead. It reminds me that people are taught these expectations and they’re an intrinsic part of who they are. They aren’t in control of what they think or, really, their immediate expressive actions. They’re in poor control of those anyway.

Recently, at work, some people restarted a weight loss pact that they had put on hold for a few months. I decided to join in. I mentioned this to SG and she had a rather negative, immediate response. I found myself mumbling over the intellectual reasons why I think losing weight is a good idea: I will be able to do more things–there are yoga poses I can’t do simply because I have more body to try and squeeze next to other body. I will be able to lift myself up by my arms if there’s less to lift. Cute clothing is easier–and cheaper–to find in a size eight than a size fourteen. But underneath all those conscious, logical reasons, I want people to stop giving me The Look. I don’t want to feel that strange twinge of shame when I need to explain that I swim, run, and bike long distances.

Snapshot, 07

We were pulled over at the side of the road. The rain poured. It lashed against my helmet and the hood of my rain jacket, amplifying the sound so it thundered in my ears. My fingertips, exposed, fought against the wet map, I frowned and looked around, trying to figure out where we were in relation to the neat lines that didn’t resemble the real world at all. To our right was a field of sunflowers, vivid yellow against the grey, grey sky.

Sharing

My relationship with R has so far been characterized by two things: 1) attempts to navigate schedules over distance and 2) him saying or doing something and then me, in the odd moments on my bike, realizing what it -could- mean and then nervously telling him several possible meanings and wanting to see which, if any, he meant by it. The answer is almost always entirely innocuous, I spent time worrying over nothing, and then he placates my new set of worries that I am too ridiculous.

These converged a few weeks ago when he decided to share his calendar with me.

Exchange, Google, and the Internet (said like Jen from the IT crowd), have made it possible for us to share calendars. When I look at my calendar, I also see the calendars of my house, my friends’ house, G, and R. When G shared his calendar with me, it was in an effort to plan a visit and an experiment with emacs. His calendar is sparse, marking his internship hours and only the most important–or necessary–of events. G, my best friend of nearly seven years, sharing these stark details of his life with me seems like something not even worth thinking about. This is not to say he isn’t worth thinking about, but our relationship, almost Bostonian in its matrimonial properties, leads me to find it natural to see “Internship hours” cover a swath of my calendar in the ever changing colors I assign it.

At work, we can view one another’s calendars, but the specifics are blocked off. We merely know, in these big empty blocks marching across the screen, that someone is “busy.” R’s calendar, in contrast, marks his regular flight schedules, his lengthy trips, and mysterious events like “blood test,” that I can only frown at and wonder. I am aware of the upcoming inspections on his new flat. This isn’t just what he tells me–the annoying search for someone who will inspect it but not try to sell him anything that I witnessed with the help of the internet–but the time it will actually occur. I know the codes of the airports he flies out of and what time his flights actually are–all automatically transposed from his time zone to mine.

This sort of hypersharing, my mind tells me, should feel intimate rather than clinical. Similar to how I feel about G’s calendar, seeing R’s lacks a direct intimacy and rather evokes a sensation of voyeurism. It’s factual. It makes things, to some extent, easier. I know when R’s in meetings, so I won’t expect answers to questions I shoot his way. I know when he’s at a conference or a meeting, so I can go out of my way to remind him how much I like him and try to soften the stress of frequent travel. These are inherently intimate acts, just as seeing his calendar overlaid on my own ought to be. I wouldn’t share my calendar with most people. No one needs to see the names of the lineup of doctors I see, the secret names I use to refer to the people in my life as I denote their birthdays with terms I never introduce them with, the lunches and coffees I now put on my calendar so no one will try and schedule me for meetings during those times, the reoccuring classes and meetings I have weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly. Not only do they not need to, I don’t want them to.

Hypersharing is becoming typical. Enabled by technology, Foursquare, Google, Twitter, and Identi.ca all allow us to share our locations by checking in wherever we are–as well as thoughts and notes. We can say who we checked in with, we can mark our micromessages so they appear on screens floating in ice cream shops. Zillow makes how much people paid for their properties web-accessible. The building I live in now was purchased in 2003 for $610,000–matters of public record, but now easily findable from my bed. A U.K. equivalent site is happy to tell me how much R paid for the aforementioned new flat (well, not quite yet. It is happy to tell me how much the last person who purchased it paid.) Dopplr is just one of many sites that people can use to share their travel plans. Warmshowers, like courch surfing for touring cyclists, has the phone numbers of my housemates displayed in their profile. The Personal Genome Project has volunteers who publicly share their “DNA sequences, medical information, and other personal information with the research community and the general public.” They trade their privacy for scientific knowledge, future promises of accessibility, and getting their genome sequenced. Sharing is becoming an increasingly de-intimized space.

Recently, two people I know became engaged and the video of the proposal made its way to facebook within days. In my mute voyeuristic awe I watched. As I always do when I see these things, I let my mind wonder how it became such that we share so intently and completely every moment of our lives, every detail, with everyone else. I struggle with my own uncertainty as I change notes in my calendar, wondering as R looks at his own if he will see them and then later connect names with my names for people and connect who they all were to me once. I wonder if he looks at the ominous markings on my own calendar, “Dr. S,” “Dr. O,” “Dr. L,” “Meeting with JB,” and asks himself which doctor is which. With similar feelings, I watch with envy at the sheer integrity at how genuine others are with so much of themselves that they share. How they put their lives up for anyone to see. I think of all the posts I’ve written that I haven’t put up because I lack the courage to give up those small parts of myself even though I think those are the ones most worth showing to others. I look at my calendar, marked with the lives of others, and think about how I ought to search for meaning in these acts of openness, how I ought to find it, how I ought to believe it’s there, but don’t.

History, 02

I was reading Percy Jackson when I realized that in talking about some of America’s greatest bros, I neglected all of mythology’s great bros. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Apollbro
  • Brometheus
  • Brosideon
  • Broki
  • Brodin
  • Brometeotl
  • Susanbro

It’s important to note that being a bro is in no way limited by gender. Some great chick bros from mythology are:

  • Aphbrodite
  • The Broígan
  • Amatebrosu

Just so you know I didn’t forget them or anything.

Ripe

Every time I go to Whole Foods, I pick up peaches and nectarines. I paw at them, trying to find a soft bit of flesh. While the worker in their small produce sections stars, I lift the fruits to my nose and smell, always hopeful, that there will be the thick, sweet scent of ripened fruit.

So far, I have smelled nothing.

Drink, 02

In Boston, there’s a bar named Drink, which causes me many problems with my habit of verbifying nouns. Where saying “Let’s Grendels!” makes some contextual sense, saying “Let’s Drink!” is often met with a resounding “Where?” While most of my friends around here are into beer, I know a few people who get excited about the idea of mixing various liquors, spices, liquids, and anything else that can help them in their search for the perfect moment of imbibing. They experiment and tweak in that way home scientists border on artists. With wild abandon and no IRBs, they attempt, and reattempt, to create mixtures that are at least interesting in construction and divine in consumption. Or sometimes the other way around. These are the people I know who like Drink.

Drink is owned by the Barbra Lynch Gruppo, who own such establishments as No. 9 Park, Sportello, and Menton, which are all quite fancy. This means something, I suspect that Drink is owned by this particular set of people. I don’t know what that something is, but I’m sure it’s important. Zagat seems to like the eponymous Barbara Lynch, whose favorite ingredients include duck, saffron, and figs. Their spots are classy with a sort of “return to basics” feeling about how they present themselves: they run a butcher shop, they have a bar that pushes for that speakeasy feeling of in the basement with dim lights and bartenders who wear suspenders and do shots with you on the house.

DH, NS, and ScrabbleWhen NS came back from Korea with a new suit, he told us he wasn’t going to try and contrive situations to dress up. Quickly, he recanted and we made a plan to pretend we were classy (in our own ways) and T on over to Drink. (We didn’t even ride our bikes.)

That day, at work, NS compiled the best (or worst) of the yelp reviews. He was playing one of his favorite games, where he organizes the reviews in rating order and than looks at the worst, steeling himself away for an awful night.

(The following are from Yelp. Emphasis courtesy of me.)

Jonathan B from Quincy, MA says
“I can’t believe this place has gotten so many good reviews because this place sucks! I went in last night looking to try a new place. To make a long story short, I had to wait at least 5 minutes for A BEER after ordering it. Oh, and I had to wait on average of 5 minutes before that to even place my order. This didn’t happen once. This happened throughout the night. The place reeks of overpriced pretension. Also, I watched the bartenders make the drinks. They made spectacles of simple vodka tonics and martinis. I watched the bartenders stir drinks for an obnoxiously long time. I will not go back.”

Julie G. from Clearwater, FL says,
“I think they should rename this bar “WTF am I drinking?”.

Great concept crew. I like the whole we can make you a vodka tonic with a little something extra but what if I just want a vodka tonic? None of the booze is labeled and is all in fancy bottles that they probably purchased at pier one. I don’t even think that is bar code. I got a whiskey tonic drink. It was $20 served in a Collins glass. Tasted like a Jack and ginger. I hope it was Johnny Walker Blue in there (but I will never know what the secret sauce is). The bar staff was scattered grabbing orders from multiple customers at once and never focusing on the current customer. I ordered 3 drinks and it took about 10 min to make and 15 to pour the glass of wine. It was pretty confusing. Also, the Bar staff had more room to move than the customers. That annoyed me.

Next time I am staying at Lucky’s.”

Lauren B. from Boston, MA says,
“How ironic is it that I was unable to get a drink at a place named Drink?

This over crowded, hipster, ugly bar was basically the biggest waste of time. I have never once left a bar because I was unable to get a drink. After walking all the way there on Saturday (yes I know it was Saturday blah blah blah, f that I deserve to get a drink) I waited for over 15 minutes to ultimately just walked out. Keep in mind, IT WAS 9 PM!

When I arrived, I was tipsy and excited to try Drink. I had been trying to get on down for awhile now, and the timing was finally right. Unfortunately I was highly disappointed by this bar. Why did you have to let me down Drink? Why?!!??? You seemed so promising.

a.) 15 minutes with out even a “hey ill be right with you!” or some kind of eye contact? We were standing RIGHT in front of the bartender. WTF. I think I was probably making him uncomfortable with my extreme eye contact technique. Gimme a damn cocktail already.

b.) Whats with all the ugly hipsters? Everyone in the place was a d-bag. I thought it would be a swank environment with excellent cocktails and some easy going clientele. Not a stuffy, dark, hipster “look at me and my over sized black rimmed glasses that aren’t even prescription!” kind of joint.

c.) The best part was choosing which bar to go to. Unless you have got a seat, which you will never get unless you are having a 3 pm cocktail with your alcoholic grandmother, you will never get served or even acknowledged by anyone except the couple you are hovering over while you attempt to flag someone down. The bar is set up in a weird formation, which really makes no sense other than to screw over people like me who just want a damn drink.

So I’m sorry Drink. Maybe another time if I need advice on where to buy some hipster glasses or a new Yamaka. So disappointed.

One star because I got to use the men’s room before my long walk to another bar that was willing to make me a drink.”

Photo by Ben Schwartz under the “Meh. Take them. They’re yours.” License. (2011).