November is a fresh start month.
It is really easy to succumb to my worries and fears, my nagging undertoads, to sad feelings sparked by all of the bad things that are happening all over the world. It is too easy to sit back and let anxiety about the future paralyze the present. No good will come of it.
There are so many situations in the world that I have no control over. There are a few that I do, and those are what I need to focus on now. Everything I am doing now is preparation for the future, when I can then apply myself more fully to different situations and contexts. A cursory knowledge of every problem in the world will not do any good. There is awareness, when a person has absorbed information and it contributes to the development of a new perspective, that develops after reading an article or watching a documentary perhaps. But what comes of it? Knowledge for knowledge's sake is important, of course. And awareness is the necessary first step. You don't know what you don't know. Being aware of a problem can inform a person's decisions down the road. Awareness tends to spread by word of mouth. Awareness can compel someone to take actions, to organize, to dedicate themselves to a cause.
I would posit a difference between awareness and being informed. It is easy to be informed about a whole slew of issues and situations. Today was a perfect example, for I watched two documentary films. I am now more informed about coal mining in West Virginia, and I am also more informed about the Nile Perch fisheries in Tanzania on the shore of Lake Victoria. Coal Country showed the effects of different kinds of coal mining, including mountaintop removal and strip mining, on the people and environment of this region of Appalachia. As they point out in the film, the industry's dirty practices, and the resulting effects on the health of communities, ecosystems, streams and lakes, and the air, would never be allowed in the Rockies or the Berkshires. The economic development of many places in the region is so limited that coal mining is the only way to earn a living (unless you want to be flipping burgers), and there is also a relative paucity of jobs in such a capital-intensive industry. Darwin's Nightmare is a very dark and disturbing snapshot of life in Mwanza, Tanzania, and the social, economic, and environmental effects of the booming export fisheries there. Rather than me trying to describe the power of this movie, it is better for you to see it for yourself. I wonder if any of the Europeans buying Victorian perch think about the street children fighting over food or huffing glue so they can sleep at night, many of them orphans of fishermen or HIV/AIDS victims...I wonder how many people are exploited in order to get my food to my table, or how many unseen and unknown consequences my actions and lifestyle create...I wonder why it is possible to mine the minerals or extract the biodiversity of a place, be it communities in Appalachia or Tanzania, and line the pockets of a few with the sweat and blood of others who are inadequately compensated for their labor. The workings, and continued existence, of the resource curse, this being one example, still mystifies me. No one is eating nile perch in Mwanza, and there was a famine in Tanzania when the movie was filmed (it came out in 2004) even as hundreds of tons of fish were exported daily. The resources of Western Virginia are trucked out, and the people who live there, who should be the true owners of these minerals and the ones to profit from their extraction, are the ones least likely to benefit from them and most likely to be hurt by them.
I don't know if this is awareness, or how long these movies will stick with me. I don't know if anyone will be motivated by my words to view these movies, or to poke further. I don't know if anyone reads this anyways.
But there are plenty of things I do know. I know that in this year, the culmination of three very transformative and wonderful and paradoxical college years, I will continue to learn and grow. I will continue to develop my 'worldview,' my interests, my skills as a scholar, a citizen, a gardener, a friend, a community participant, a son and a brother. I will contribute to my community, on the house and town level, because I believe in it and its power to nurture and guide and shelter (even if our living arrangement is technically illegal in Brookline-though I think a rousing family dinner would sway any inspector). I will slog through vague assignments and dry pages of reading and sleep-inducing lectures because I believe in the value of an education and I am shamelessly in love with getting good grades. Guilty. I will work to quantify and qualify the benefits of eating local and organic food which I already know to be true. I will ride my bike and take my hands off of the handlebars sometimes, and I will do my best to avoid the geese (sorry little fella). I will reduce and reuse as much as possible, so that there is less to recycle. It is not by chance that recycle is the third R, it is really just an intermediate stage until society figures out that we made a wrong turn down consumer culture road. How about "reduce, reuse, RE-PURPOSE, and recycle"?
I know that I will feel down sometimes, and that my undertoads will always be there pulling and nagging and croaking at my toes. And I know that this is ok. I am in a transition period, and it will be some time yet until I am over her. It is a gradual process, most things are. The long term benefits take time to materialize. Change will come whether we like it or not, and it is the ability to find the beauty in the process that is perhaps most important. I find solace in the prospects of the future, of the next great feast, of achieving that perfect ecstatic exhaustion, of being me.