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 Going Green: One family’s journey towards Harmonious Seasonality #6

EnvironmentVol. I issue 6: Desire & Imagination

By Sherian Valenti

I have a primal, unbounded, insatiable need to think. I understand that this is not the case for all people. For me, thinking is not optional: it is a biological imperative, such as eating and breathing. I must be thinking all the time, and although I prefer continuity of thought and recognize that certain subjects are more intellectually-lucrative than others, for me, any series of uninterrupted, semi-connected thoughts is better than random, irregularly-occurring thoughts. The difficulty in achieving continuity of thought is that there is tremendous competition for one’s consciousness. The kids, the cat, the job, the fate of the world—everyone and everything seemingly wants to be the first and only thought in my head, as they each vie for attention...

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Unfortunately I am bound by the laws of the natural world in that I have only 24 hours a day, seven days a week in which to think, work, and sleep, for certainly if I had more time, I would spend more time thinking, working, and wishing I was sleeping. So in my quest to be greener, I have been thinking less about what to do to become greener and more about my circumstances and the choices I make that prevent me from being greener, and I have begun to realize that as a species it is our imaginations that so often lead us away from the green ideal of Harmonious Seasonality.

I know that to live in Harmonious Seasonality and to be truly green I need to consume less, so every time I buy something, I feel a little guilty. And guilty is no way to live, yet I am a habitual consumer and I continue to buy things, so I examined my motivation for one particular purchase I made this week to uncover why I made the choice I did. It started last weekend when I went to a bridal shower.

Weddings can be beautiful events. The idea of “wedding” is inherently beautiful, but it carries so much baggage, that for myself, no wedding can be too small. When I got married, my guest list included 12 people, and even then we seriously considered eloping. We each had only one attendant. Our best man did the catering. There was no music. We had cake and champagne. My dress was a hand-me-down and the shoes were borrowed, and still it was too much for me. Weddings are so personal and so intimate that I didn’t want to share it with anyone. But that is me.

A girl I don’t know but to whom I am related is getting married. I have to suppose it is going to be a large wedding, because as a relative, I was invited to the wedding despite the fact that I don’t know either the bride or the groom. In addition to this, I received an invitation to the bridal shower. My children know nothing of the family cookouts and birthday parties and weddings and anniversaries which were the foundation of my early life, so I accepted the invitation because I thought it was important that my daughter experience something like what I experienced of family gatherings when I was a child. One thing that was new to this adventure, however, was that the bride had registered for gifts. I know that gift registries have been common for a great many years, but this was the first time I have ever shopped from a registry. When I got married, I simply told everybody I needed towels, but again, that was me. In this case the registry was good because I didn’t know the girl and therefore couldn’t know what she wanted or needed, but buying the gift was a bit mechanical. I usually invest much myself in the gifts I buy, so this was unusually impersonal for me. Still, it was right.

So at the shower, a great many gifts were bestowed upon our blushing bride. It was good to see some of my relatives. I sat between my mother and my daughter, apart from most of the other guests, typically for me. My aunt, the bride’s grandmother, sat with us for much of the afternoon. It was very pleasant, but as I watched the gifts being opened, a strange emotion kept repeating itself in my head. It wasn’t jealousy, it wasn’t envy, but I too wanted gifts. I didn’t want her gifts, and I didn’t begrudge her getting gifts, but I kept comparing myself to her, trying to remember the gifts I received for my bridal shower, exactly 11 years ago. I couldn’t remember more than the set of glassware that was all broken during the first year of my marriage. I wanted to go back and do it all over again, the bridal shower, the wedding, smaller and better than the first time. It wasn’t regret that I was feeling, but it was the desire to go back and re-experience what I had forgotten. As I was trying to rationalize this emotion, it occurred to me that I rarely forget experiences, so that if I had forgotten this one, I must have had a reason for forgetting.

None of this rationalization subdued my desire for gifts. Not just any gifts, but specifically bakeware, because as it happens, the bride requested (and received) all manner of baking pans and other baking accessories, and because I LOVE to bake, and I am working as a cake decorator, and I will be making a wedding cake for very close friends in the next few weeks, bakeware has been heavily on my mind. I wanted new cake pans too. But I already have cake pans. Lots of cake pans. That I bought. So I started to think about making a cake for myself, and how much I really just wanted cake. I found a recipe that sounded really good, but lo and behold, it required a cake pan that I don’t already own. Eureka! An excuse! So I went online in search of this elusive pan, and although I couldn’t find exactly the pan that was called for, I found one very like it, and a screamin’ deal on another pan that I didn’t have but have been coveting for a couple years, so I bought them both, and a proper French tart pan too because I didn’t have one. (And a couple other little things just because I was placing an order and might as well have a full box to ship…) The next day, I bought a gloriously-illustrated cookbook that was full fabulous photos of fruit and vegetable tarts, despite the fact that two days before I had borrowed Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Pie and Pastry Bible from the library. My desire to bake, like my need to think, knows no bounds.

My time, however, is very well bound. I have no time to bake, and if I did bake something delightful, it would be difficult to find another adult to share it with me, as no one I know is willing to make the time to sit down and relax and enjoy a cup of tea and a lovely cake. I would be eating alone, wishing I wasn’t.

And this brings up two interrelated forces that hinder the greening of our lives, yet if harnessed, have the potential to bring Harmonious Seasonality to us all: desire and imagination.

Those of you who read the first installment of this column might remember that I live in a house that is much too small for my family and our worldly possessions. We are simply out of space here, and without a driveway, and what I most want is to move to a larger house where I can have a more productive garden and live comfortably. This is not necessarily the greenest solution to our crisis of space. The greener alternative to moving might be to reduce the amount of space that we need. This would require separating from my superfluous cake pans, reducing the size of my private library, parting with acres of fabric and miles of yarn. I am hesitant to accept the reduction method of greening, as there is merit in having my cake pans, books, fabric, and yarn. I advocate everyone making their birthday cakes at home, but concede that some special cakes, such as wedding cakes, are best made by professional bakers. I am sometimes called upon to make wedding cakes, and I would like to make more wedding cakes. I not only enjoy baking, but I am passionate about it and frequently consider going into the catering business. (There is a personal-happiness component to Harmonious Seasonality that I have not yet discussed.) I sew a lot of my family’s clothes and make long-lasting handbags to sell out of the vintage fabric that I own. I also make warm quilts from this fabric, and these help us reduce the amount of energy resources we use to heat our home. I make us warm sweaters and hats and mittens and other practical items from the wool yarns I find irresistible. I buy mostly used books, reducing the demand for new paper, and since we are a television-free household, books are essential to our entertainment as well as our intellectual edification.

Clearly I could spend the entire day justifying my choices, but at the end of the day it all comes down to imagination-fueled desire. I desire cake pans and cookbooks and fabric and yarn because I imagine how these things will improve not only my life, but the lives of others. I buy them because I want to realize this improvement universally. I want to host tea parties. I want my guests to sleep in beds covered by the quilts I make. I want everyone to have a new pair of hand-knit mittens. I want everyone to read well and eat well and sleep well. I want to nurture, to protect, to comfort, to sooth. I want everyone to experience better, to know not just good but better, to expect better. I imagine it happening, I desire to make it happen, and as a result, I purchase goods, as if owning the cake pan is enough to accomplish this nurturing goal.

Martha Stewart takes a lot of heat for her perfectionism. I frequently encounter people who express feelings of resentment and anger because her exemplification of housekeeping perfection makes them feel inferior. I do not intend to defend Martha or to speak on her behalf, but I do understand her motivation for extolling the virtues of home keeping, home cooking, home sewing, home gardening, and general home making. Professionally, she has amplified the first tenet of Harmonious Seasonality, that of traditional home economics, to a colossal scale, yet perhaps this scale only seems disproportionate because we as a society have removed ourselves so far from these very basic skills. The fundamental principles on which her empire is built are largely the same as those of Harmonious Seasonality across the board: honor the seasons, cook at home from basic ingredients, grow as much of your own food as you can, do as many of your own repairs as possible, make as many of your own home furnishings as possible, reuse and re-invent whenever possible, and become home-centric because it is better. Better for the environment, better for our lives.

I believe, as I understand Martha to believe, that any home-grown project, from birthday cakes to pillow covers is intrinsically better than the bog-standard, store-bought equivalent. As the song goes, there are only two things that money can’t buy: love and home-grown tomatoes. Instinctually home is where we expect to be nurtured, where we expect to find love and comfort and tomatoes beyond compare. If our expectations are not met, we must do what is required to change the situation. Change requires effort, and in our over-committed, stress-filled lives there is little energy for initiating change, let alone for enforcing change, yet that is what must be done. And since it is unlikely that a new stock of cake pans or hand-knit mittens is going to resolve any outstanding nurturing issues in our homes, the changes must be deep and meaningful.

It is with this in mind that I put forth the third tenet of Harmonious Seasonality as an extension of the second: Demand better. Do not confuse better with more, as more is not always better, yet be aware that while less can be more, without proper governance, less is quite often simply less. Determine your true needs then raise the standard—all standards of acceptability. Use your ability to think, employ your imagination, harness your desire, and focus your energies into raising the quality standards for all aspects of your life, from cakes, to education, to personal accountability, to truth and honesty, to corporate and governmental responsibility, to love, and to respect.

Do not settle for something that does not fully meet your needs. Do not accept excuses. Demand better, not more.

Next time: quality vs. quantity revisited, with special attention given to the subjects of love, respect, and to the plight of loneliness.



Copyright 2006, Sherian Valenti

Contact: [email protected]

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this is really good-anthony

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