Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Politics of Choice

The woman, a regular and sociable patron, came into the store to return some clothing. It was part of a large order, maybe twelve or so items, purchased the week before. As we wound down our conversation she noted the “Hiring Now” sign on the door. I told my son about it, she said, I suggested he might like working here. The woman laughed, You should have seen his face. Oh no, he said, mimicking her child with mock horror, I could never do retail. I want to do something useful … something good for humanity.
I nodded politely while quietly massaging my slightly bruised ego. She didn’t seem to notice her faux pas and carried on describing her altruistic offspring. I let her ramble while my thoughts drifted to other places.

It’s not that I don’t find sympathy with her son’s viewpoint, I am fully aware that frivolous consumerism and waste are the by-products of the clothing industry. In fact, American clothing designer, Eileen Fisher, states that the fashion industry is the world’s second largest polluter between excessive water needs (for crops and dyeing); carbon emissions from transportation (most clothing is made in the far east and makes its way to the far west); waste by-products in the production of synthetic materials and dyeing, the use of oil to make the ubiquitous nylon, polyester and rayon; and poorly made or “disposable” clothes (it is estimated that Millennials are consuming five times the number of apparel products as the generation before them and then discarding much of it). This does not even take into account the exploited workers behind the manufacturing process made worse by today’s unquenchable thirst for fast fashion.  

While I am fortunate to work for a company that uses, for the most part, natural fibres, and takes their environmental stewardship seriously, I am still part of the retail industry and hence part of the problem: I encourage people to buy more, probably much more than what they need. 

So, yes, the retail industry has negative, even dire consequences to life as we know it. But clerks, business owners and suppliers, are only part of the problem.  Consumers are the backbone of retail sales. They have the power to make businesses change: if consumers demand more environmentally safe products, stop buying disposal clothing and refuse to buy clothes made by unfair and unsafe labour practices, retailers will have to adapt. 

I thought about this as the woman left the store. I knew she would be back again, buying more clothes for herself and her family. I also knew she was making a fairly decent choice in shopping at our store, but still, our clothes are not locally made, are dyed, and are made with a small percentage of synthetic material. Does she really need to buy so much? Do I really need to encourage her to buy more?

As I write this I am torn between critique and gratitude. Her purchases earn me a living. Who am I to judge  when I benefit from this women's eagerness to buy. So, let’s take her out of the picture and focus on one of my purchasing decisions. Although I am not a big consumer of clothes I make other questionable choices. For example, I tend to buy organic produce—regardless of how far it has to travel to get to my table—over locally produced conventional produce. My reasoning is that I want to promote farmers who use earth friendly farming practices. However, my choice is contributing to greenhouse emissions. Its a conscious choice I make but one I question with every purchase.

Responsible consumerism takes into account all aspects of the manufacturing/growing process. Unless the purchase is made from locally sourced items (with no harmful waste by-products), with fair-trade labour and within a short distance from home, every item we buy—clothes, food, entertainment, gas—affects our environment. Every purchase we make is a political statement.

As consumers we hold the power. As consumers, the choice is ours. The question is, are we conscious of this choice?

Check out the newest excerpt from my book, Notes from the Bottom of the Box, at The Modern-Day Renaissance Woman blog for another take on this issue.

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Friday, October 21, 2016

The Antipodal Pilgrim

  I serve my customers
modern day pilgrims
on The Way of St. James.
They come for wool to clothe themselves:
Tees, hoodies, pants and socks. Wool is best, they say,
 it keeps us warm when wet and breathes so naturally.
The store where I work only sells the best.

These travelers, shoppers of wool, head overseas for the Camino de Santiago. Traditionally done as a spiritual quest, it has many beginnings but only one end: the tomb of the martyred James.

He died for his beliefs—
violently, it is said.

The pilgrims of yore sought salvation, guidance—sometimes penance. The road was dangerous. People took them in, provided food, safety; companionship. The path was as much a part of the journey as was the end.

Another pilgrimage takes place simultaneously. These travelers—refugees, by any other name—also have need of clothing and shelter and safety. Few take them in. There path is a journey with no end. Some leave their home because of their beliefs but most go because of violence—then again, it is the belief in violence that others behold which drives these refugees away.

They escape their death—
violent death, it is said.

My customers tell me,
on their return,
 of inner peace and tranquility.
I have changed, they say.
They buy more wool and plan more trips,
more serenity.

I hear the voices of refugees:
I have changed, they say,
I have left my home, my family, my hopes and dreams.
They yearn for solace—
a safe place to start again.
They purchase hope
with their serenity.

If you like this blog, please "like" my FaceBook page and get notices on your timeline when a new article is posted.
Also check out my newest blog, the Modern-Day Renaissance Woman.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

New Blog and New Book

Ta Da! Trumpets are a-blaring and drums a-rolling … well, maybe just in my overactive imagination. .. and, yes, it could also be the result of the wine I am currently drinking. Regardless, I am celebrating!  My memoir, Notes from the Bottom of the Box: The Search for Identity by a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman, is complete. 

Ten months of sorting notes, adding words, rearranging thoughts, ideas and supposed truths—and then deleting much of what I thought was “pure genius”—the query letter to the first of potential literary agents has been sent off. 

Starting today, I will submit weekly excerpts of my memoir, to my newest blog, The Modern-Day Renaissance Woman, a.k.a. MDRW.  

And… as said potential literary agents do like their prospective clients to be self-marketing geniuses, please like MDRW’s face page

Thanks for your support!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Casualties of War

He stands in front of the tree. She is on her side. Fallen, like those in Flanders field after the war waged through. The analogy is not gratuitous: the year the photo was taken was not long after the Great War, the war to end all wars. But wars never end? 

The tree, a cedar, by the way her inner being is hollowed out, is a causality of war. Back then civilization demanded growth, and trees were not only in the way but they were needed to fuel this unlimited demand. Collateral damage? Only in polite company.

The man in the picture is my grandfather. He logged up in Theodosia Inlet in the 1920s when the area was ripe with old growth forests: cedar, fir; hemlock. I never met this man. He died when I was three. What I mean to say is that while I lived with this man, I never got to know him, his mind long gone with dementia by the time I was born. His brain cells went to war with each other, or something like thatwar never does, never did, make sense.

The deadtrees, humansdoes it matter? were loaded onto trucks, grand trucks these were, one tree per flatbed, one corpse per stretcher. In the picture she is at least two metres in diameter; she monopolizes the truck as would a soldier in full combat gear and taken away. The wounded remain.

The wounded: children, seedlings of a lost generation. How is it for those left behind when the soldiers are gone? What lives can be lived when they stand, alone now, scarred from tow lines and axes; lingering mustard gas and land mines; diesel spills; polluted waterways;depleted uranium; burned out buildings; loss of limbs, security and home, 

and memories.

No one to teach them, to shield and protect from the cold winter winds; to guide their roots deep into the ground and to instill with them a knowledge of what to remember and what to let go.

The wounded remain ... how do they stand?