green guilt, green quilt
The book, Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, has been recommended to me a couple of times and I wanted to offer it in case anyone else wants to read it. It’s on my request list at the library; I’ll post a review when I have read it.
Yesterday was a hot one — hot and smoggy, so they declared it a Spare the Air Day: don’t drive, don’t BBQ, don’t have wood fires, and try to keep energy use low. But I was in my car, driving up the highway to meet the roofer at our soon-to-be house, and man, it was really and truly hot on the road and smoggy in the air. I felt “green guilt” about the driving and have realized once again that my eco-lifestyle has become my new religion. As a recovering Catholic, I’ve noticed this before, and I won’t say a lot about it, just that I notice similarities in “doing the right thing,” “green guilt,” knowing “the litany” and “the sins.” Purging plastic is akin to a Lenten purge, isn’t it? Or maybe, since it’s supposed to be for life — a vow of celibacy from plastics? Something to think about as I ponder (pray?) over my choices and light candles instead of flick on a light switch.
On my journey through Sonoma County yesterday, I visited my parents, and my mom gave me some of her childhood toys to sell at an antiques dealer here in town. Apropos to our current conversation here about toys and plastic, it was interesting to see what her toys were made of: paperboard puppets and doll furniture; Halloween masks made from starched and painted cheesecloth/muslin layers; aluminum and wooden pots and pans and rolling pins; cloth doll clothes and bedding; wooden beads to string. And the toys are still in good shape. Although there were choking hazards and perhaps lead paint in these older toys, at least they have held up over the years (70+). And they’ll eventually go back to the earth, since they’re all made of organic materials (the aluminum may take a little longer).
Chatting with my parents, who are children of the Great Depression, reminds me again of how many ways there are to do things: to save, to reuse, to resuscitate and revive. My father is an inveterate straightener of nails. My mother makes award-winning quilts (look for hers at the upcoming Sonoma County Fair) for the family, and as part of the Santa Rosa Quilt Guild’s ongoing mission to make baby quilts for the homeless or less fortunate. My parents use what they have, either in the barn or in the fabric stash, to make their creations. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to live with less plastic, look back a generation or two in your own family or neighborhood, and see what you can learn from our elders. (Feel free to post what you’ve learned in the comments section.)
For the past 18 or so years, I’ve slowly been working on what is perhaps the world’s ugliest quilt. I chose some rather bold purple, green, and hot pink fabrics back then, and set to work on it when Ana was a baby. Ana is 19 now, and I finally finished what I could with this ugly thing. I took it to my mother’s and we looked through her stash of fabrics, found some calmer green for the sides and back, and a friend of Mom’s is going to quilt it and finish the binding for me. There were several leftover squares from this Ugly Quilt (it’s so vivid that it will scare the beard off my husband when he sees it). My clever mother took the “orphan” squares and made a couple of baby quilts, using her fabric stash and some very calm lavender and dark green. The result of my mad fabric purchase from two decades back is that two babies will have handmade, warm, soft quilts to sleep in, besides the finished cover for our bed in our new (old) house.
There’s no plastic in this story, but there’s also no waste. There’s no trip to the dump, there’s no plastic bag, there’s no shipment from China, there’s no toxic side effects, and there’s no mountain of refuse. There’s fellowship, years of quiet handiwork; there’s the creative act and the act of sharing and giving. There’s the handing down of tradition, and the act of generosity toward others with less in their lives. I can’t think of a single negative in this story. And that’s a success, in a month of purging plastic or any time.
Guilt or quilt? I think I’ll take the latter.
Julia Park Tracey is an award-winning journalist, author, and blogger. She is the author of six books: three novels, one poetry collection, and two women's history. She was the Poet Laureate of Alameda, California, in 2014-17. She's also the conservatrix of The Doris Diaries, the diaries of her great-aunt Doris Bailey Murphy. She has a BA in journalism from San Francisco State University, and MA in Early 20th C. British Literature from Cal State Hayward. Julia's articles have appeared on Salon, Thrillist, Paste, Scary Mommy, Narratively, Yahoo News, Your Tango, and Sweatpants & Coffee. Her articles have also run in Redbook, Woman's Day, Country Living, House Beautiful, Town & Country, the San Francisco Chronicle, Oakland Magazine, Quill, and MadeLocal. She was the founding editor of weekly Alameda Sun and literary zine Red Hills Review. Her poetry has been in The East Bay Literary review, Postcard Poems, Americus Review, Cicada, Tiferet Review, and many others. Julia has been recognized several times by the San Francisco, East Bay and Peninsula Press Clubs as well as the California Newspaper Association for her blogging since 2003.