Wednesday, June 30, 2010

We Built It, They Came, and They Should Stay: Why St. Petersburg, Florida, should forever remain the home of the Rays

The Rays should stay in St. Petersburg, Florida because I say so! There. End of blog entry. No, just kidding: in fact, we’re just getting started, kiddies, so settle down with a nice cup of tea, get comfy and prepare to hear a fantastic, yet true story!

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful little city tucked along the shore of Tampa Bay. It was and is a city where “quality of life” infuses the visionary design of the place, because the planners of the city were far, far, FAR ahead of their time. In fact, they are being imitated to this day in faux communities like Disney’s “Celebration”, but St. Petersburg, Florida, is the real, authentic deal. They (the aforementioned early planners of the city) set aside a loooooooooooong series of green, downtown waterfront parks all along Tampa Bay and decreed that there shall be no development along the waterfront, that we shall keep it as green space for the citizens to enjoy. This was very radical, controversial, yet oh so wise of the early planners of St. Pete, because never did a concrete jungle arise along the city’s waterfront, which would have rendered it decidedly unremarkable, like so many cities’ waterfronts, which are just a wall of condos, etc. No, St. Petersburg’s waterfront is, to this day, a rare jewel: a user-friendly string of walkable, bikeable, green parks that make St. Pete unique. But the wise planners didn’t stop there. Oh no, my wide-eyed kiddies, they also decided to lay out the road system of St. Petersburg in a logical grid pattern, with many ways to head east, west, north and south, to get in and out and around the city, so that there would not be traffic jamming up on any one artery. And because many neighborhoods of the city were built in the 1920’s, pre everything revolving around the automobile, they are charming, human-scale neighborhoods full of sidewalks and front porches and many of them are walking distance to downtown. The combination of visionary planning that included lots of green space, logical, efficient main roads/arteries, and the charming neighborhoods that sprang up within the city around the downtown and beyond, resulted in one of the most livable, user-friendly cities in the United States of America. In short: St. Petersburg rocks.

But there is more to St. Petersburg than being gorgeous and green, charming and user-friendly (I know, I’ve said “user-friendly” three times, but it bears repeating), accessible and sporting a downtown renaissance of restaurants, shopping, art and entertainment that I haven’t even touched on here. Yes, kiddies, there is something more to the character of this city, something infusing yet transcending all that I’ve mentioned, something...magical. There is a certain ...well, a cockeyed, optimistic belief among St. Petersburgers that our city can do anything it sets its collective mind to. There is a wild imagination to this place, a certain “dreaming big” quality, and when it comes to major league baseball, this unique St. Petersburg quality translated into the real live version of “if you build it, they will come.”

St. Petersburg has a very rich and storied tradition and history of minor league baseball and major league spring training, and due to this long-standing and intense love of baseball in the city, one day, long about the 1980’s, it’s leaders decided: hey, why couldn’t we attract a major league baseball franchise?

So, they set about doing this and, my rapt kiddies, much more went into that concerted, never-say-die, unbelievable, twisty-turny effort than could possibly fit into one blog entry in terms of their Herculean and, some might say, certifiably crazy efforts to bring a MLB team here. They simply decided they were going to do it--that it was going to happen--and from there it was basically a case of “Just what makes that little old ant, think he’ll move that rubber tree plant? Everyone knows an ant can’t move a rubber tree plant, but he’s got HIGH HOPES, he’s got HIGH HOPES, he’s got HIGH APPLE PIE IN THE SKY HOPES!” The heroically determined city leaders kept trying to move the rubber tree plant that is MLB. Result? Well, basically a lot of frustrated ants. Frustrated, yet unthwarted! They somehow kept their high apple pie in the sky hopes!

They decided: okay, so all our efforts to attract a team thus far have failed. So what! What IF, instead of giving up like a sane city would, we instead opt to BUILD A MAJOR-LEAGUE BASEBALL STADIUM ANYWAY, with no prospect whatsoever for getting a team?!! Wouldn’t that crazy-yet-wildly-hopeful act INSPIRE major league baseball to give us a team?!!! Yeah!!! That sounds like a plan! Let’s DO THIS!” And, wee ones, that is what I personally love so much about St. Petersburg, Florida: that crazy, high-apple-pie-in-the-sky-hopes quality! What other city would actually build a major league baseball stadium when it has no team and no realistic prospect of ever getting a team? But that’s St. Pete. It operates both in the real world and in the world of high apple pie in the sky hopes, and therein lies its wonderfulness.

So, they built a stadium. Let me repeat that point because it bears same: the city of St. Petersburg, with the help of the county of Pinellas, built a stadium specifically to attract a major league baseball team, designed specifically for baseball, with basically NO PROSPECT of a team coming here. Now, I ask you, is that the craziest yet also somehow the most wonderful, imaginative, chutzpah-infused and endearing thing you ever heard of a city up and doing? And I further ask you, doesn't that investment and effort, and the fact that without it, we (the Tampa Bay area) would not have the Rays at all, count for something? Doesn't it render St. Petersburg as the home of the Rays? As Mayor Bill Foster recently pointed out, because of everything the city of St. Petersburg invested to attract a team in the first place and everything the city and its citizens continue to do to support the team, "while the team is a regional asset, it's St. Petersburg's asset", and “St. Petersburg residents have more skin in the game than anyone.” This is our team. St. Pete built the dome in 1986 and there it sat for nine years, mute testament to one city's cock-eyed optimism, dogged determination and investment to bring a major league team home. In 1995, the improbable happened and MLB awarded us an expansion team. On March 31st, 1998, the first pitch was thrown.

The Tampa Bay Rays belong to the entire Tampa Bay area, but St. Pete is their home. We built it, they came. They belong here. And not only is it what’s best for the city of St. Petersburg, Florida, it is what’s best for the Rays. Why do I say that? Oh, I’m so glad you asked!

To all the Tampacentric folks who argue the team should move to their fair city, let me refute your arguments, one by one:

Tampacentric Argument Number One: “The team should be in a central location to the entire Tampa Bay area, and since everyone knows that Tampa is the center of the UNIVERSE, the team should be in Tampa.”

Retort From the World of FACTS: St. Petersburg IS centrally located to the ENTIRE Tampa Bay area, including the southern populous and fast-growing counties of Sarasota and Manatee, which are where many fans who attend the games hail from. Fans drive from Pinellas, Manatee, and Sarasota to Tampa to attend Bucs and Lightning games, so surely the good folks of Tampa can return the favor and drive to Pinellas to attend Rays games if they are true fans. Just because “the Tampa BAY area” contains the word “Tampa” in it, does not make the city of Tampa the geographic or population center of the Tampa BAY area. It is one important city in our area, but only one of several (and NOT the one that moved heaven and earth to bring the Rays here), so why should it house all the professional sports teams of the area? Why not spread the joy, especially since St. Petersburg is the city that actually took the risks and made the investment to land us a major league baseball team in the first place? Plus we have a CONTRACT through 2027, but let’s not focus on that little detail. Yet.

Tampacentric Argument Number Two: “I don’t want to drive across a BRIDGE, omg, what are you asking of me? St. Petersburg is surrounded by water and I have a huge sense of entitlement that leads me to conclude that the Rays should be in Tampa so that people from Tampa don’t have to cross a bridge. If the team were in Tampa, I’d go to games. But, drive across a bridge? I mean, I’m a good fan and all, but that is pretty extreme, don’t you think? St Pete just isn’t accessible...I can’t see it from my backyard, therefore, case closed.”

Retort From the World of the Non-Self-Entitled: The current location of the Rays Stadium is RIGHT NEXT TO THE INTERSTATE off-ramps (plural: I-75, I-275, I-375). There is tons of FREE PARKING at the Trop (Tropicana Field, home of the Rays), plus plentiful parking all around in private lots, on-street, etc. There are multiple points of ingress and egress from Tropicana Field and the surrounding parking areas, and those lead to multiple choices of arteries by which to enter and leave the city heading north, south, east and west, due to the earlier-discussed grid system of the city’s roads. Even during sell-out games at the Trop, traffic moves very quickly and smoothly both to and from games and the Trop is one of the most accessible stadiums in major league baseball. Contrast that to Tampa, which on any regular evening during rush hour experiences traffic gridlock. You want to add game traffic to that mess? No, get your fair-weather fan patootie in your car and drive across the dang bridge, just as the many fans who do not live in Tampa do to attend Bucs and Lightning games in your city.

Tampacentric Argument Number Three: “Attendance is low. If the stadium were in Tampa, it would be higher.”

Retort from Reality: It is true that attendance is not up to par and, if it were, Stuart Sternberg probably wouldn’t be threatening to take the team out of St. Pete and there would be a lot more room left in cyberspace without this ever-lengthening blog entry taking up so much of it. But the reasons for the still-low attendance are several, NONE of which are the location of the stadium being in St. Pete! The main factor depressing attendance now is, obviously, the economy, as many folks just can’t afford to attend as many games as they otherwise would right now. Even though the team is now FABULOUS, if folks have to choose between paying their monthly mortgage or taking the fam out to the ball game, they are going to go with the mortgage . No matter which side of the bay the team is on, or what kind of shiny new stadium is built, until the economy gets better, the sad fact is that attendance won’t properly reflect the ever-growing fan base of the Rays. If ownership is wise, they will continue to dance with the one that brung them, and when the economy improves, so will attendance.

All that said, I hasten to add that I don’t want to argue with the Rays’ owner’s expressed desire and need for a new stadium. Much as I personally LOVE the Trop as a baseball venue, the city should be willing and eager (and I believe it is, based on what I’ve heard Mayor Foster articulate) to work with the Rays on new stadium proposals, either in the current excellent location or in another location WITHIN THE CITY, because the Trop is indeed an aging stadium in “MLB years” (sort of like dog years only different). If the Rays need a new stadium, we should be a good partner and work with them on it. However, I strongly agree with Mayor Foster’s position that the Rays have a contract to play here in St. Petersburg through 2027 and therefore no locations outside of St. Petersburg should be considered. PERIOD. Stuart Sternberg's statement that “Downtown St. Petersburg is not a viable location for baseball” was untrue, uncalled for, and completely alienating to the heart of the Rays fan base.

It was St. Petersburg that imagined, hoped, invested and dreamed the Rays into reality. We’ve loved them, supported them, and joyously given them our hearts and souls since pre-Day One. Dance with the one that brung you, Rays.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Not just no but HELL NO to moving my Rays!

Get the straight jacket, people, there's nothing else for it. First LOST and now this?! Stuart Sternberg, the owner of MY Tampa Bay Rays baseball team, is under the MISTAKEN (as in WOEFULLY) impression that he is taking MY team out of St. Petersburg!

As a dear friend once said to me about a completely different topic: not just no but HELL NO! As Laura Petri said to her husband, Rob, in a classic episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show: "No one is taking this baby!"

Oh. It's on.

BACK SLOWLY AWAY FROM MY TEAM, STERNBERG! Yeah, I know, technically you own the team, but in every way that counts they are MINE. Did you walk through lightning and blinding rain, or searing heat to game after game for years, hike up with your Sherpa guide to the partially-obstructed view section of the Trop only to see them lose game after game, yet you continued to cheer your heart out and always stayed for all nine or sweet sixteen or however many innings there were, never giving up hope (because in baseball, it ain't over 'til it's over), and were you often heard shouting out "That's okay, we're going to the series anyway!"? No, you did not. Me investing in my season tickets in the partially-obstructed view section in 1998 when I only made $6.50 per hour (!) was probably a bigger proportion of my income back then than what you paid years later to buy the team was of yours, so you see, they really are MY team.

They're mine because I was there, dancing in the streets of downtown St. Petersburg the day they were awarded to us in 1995. I was there at the first Fanfest, where I met Vince Naimoli and told him that I loved the team name and had actually submitted "Sun Rays" as a suggestion in the contest he held for fans to pick the team name. He told me that the majority of suggestions had the word "Rays" in them, so that's why he went with a Ray name. So I was there in the naming of the team. I was there on opening day in 1998. I was there through all the losing seasons of our young team, loving them just as much as I do now that they are winners. I was there, rooting my heart out in the stands, buying teeshirts, caps, commemorative cups, dog leashes, stuffed Devil Rays, shorts and anything else I could to show my support for the Rays. They are MY team. And no one is taking them out of their home, St. Petersburg.

If I weren't typing this with only my two thumbs on the blasted iPhone right now, and if the battery on said iPhone weren't long in the red, I would detail all the MANY reasons why the team should stay in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. But I'll save that for another day. For now, I just had to say: not just no but HELL NO to moving the team from their HOME, St. Petersburg, Florida!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fading to Black

Choking monster swirls
Spills into blue
Like a Rolling Stones song
Color is subdued
Overcome by oil
Blue fades to black
Oil just keeps coming
We can’t turn it back

Wildlife is smothered
Bright eyes go dark
Life’s light extinguished
No remaining spark

Close your eyes and see it
Darkly gushing fact
You can’t make it stop
Fading light refracts
Our mindless carefree monster
Spilling out attacks
Hemorrhaging violence
Can we turn it back?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Hippie Day

Well, it’s “Hippie Day” here at Cubicle Central, a.k.a., my workplace. You see, this is “Employee Appreciation Week” and each day has a different theme (can you feel the excitement...NOT). Monday was Dress Like Your Favorite Sports Team Day, Tuesday was Tropical Day, Wednesday was Western Day, today is Hippie Day and Friday is Patriotic Day. It’s a fascinating sociological study to observe how excited my co-workers get about the littlest things during this week, such as the daily bingo drawing (you could win a gift card at the end of the week to a corn syrup, wheat, and factory-farmed meat dispensary, a.k.a., a fast food restaurant—be still my heart again—NOT), and how all out they go with the various costume opportunities. I have never really understood it, I mean, how into “Western Day” can one be? It’s like how into it they get over every little potluck or birthday party that involves food, much like the office culture depicted in the classic “Seinfeld” episode that featured the 4:00 o’clock cake parties at Elaine’s office. I can never usually understand how cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs my co-workers go over such things, any more than Elaine could understand her co-workers crazed excitement for the 4:00 o'clock cake parties (until she herself got sugar-addicted from them *tee HEE*), but today, for the first time in the 11 years I’ve worked here, I am finally passionately INTO one of these theme days. Because today, for the first time in 11 years, I get to be MYSELF at work! While some who are festooned in hippie garb today were not even born in the sixties, and most others just look at it as a fun opportunity to “dress up” (or down, as the case may be) in a sort of exaggerated costume, for me, this is not a costume. This is a rare chance to let the real me out at work! Flowerchild ALERT!

True, I was just a child in the late 60’s, so in that sense, I wasn’t one of the original hippies. Yet the Baby Boom was a loooooooooooooooooong generation (including all those born from 1946 through 1964), and the thinking now among scholars who study such things is that there were two distinct “cohorts” within the Boom, Cohort 1 being the early Boomers and Cohort 2 being us “Late Boomers” such as myself, but any way you slice it, I’m still a Boomer, for better or worse, and I can’t stand when some other camps who study such things try to summarily extricate me from my generation and stick me in a separate generation (“Generation Jones”). No, I’m a Boomer, baby, even though I’m certainly not ready for all the ads for adult diapers and anti-graying hair dye and retirement funds that they are clearly directed at Boomers these days. Don’t rush me, I am not there yet and neither is over half of our generation! But I digress (I could talk all day about the fascinating intricacies of the Baby Boomer generation, but maybe in a future blog). My point is that I am, in fact, a card-carrying, authentic Boomer, even though I arrived at the tail end of the Boom, and my “cohort” had our issues and protests, too, and I want to talk about “Hippie Day”, and about how, as I was prepping my garb last night in ridonkulously excited anticipation, decking out one of my many tie-dyed shirts with political buttons I’ve been saving since “back in the day” (which for my Late Boomer “Cohort 2” was actually the ‘70’s and the ‘80’s) the following blog-inspiring fact was brought home to me: Wow, most of these buttons reflect issues that are still relevant, controversial, and “hot button” (no pun intended) today. Nothing has changed! We haven’t moved off a dime on “The Big One” to me, namely: going green. That is DEPRESSING.

Normally, wearing political buttons is strictly verboten in my workplace, so I was a little (okay, more than a little) nervous about sporting them today, even though “Hippie Day” came down from on high (a.k.a., our Human Resources Department and/or upper management) and they told us, in writing, that “Hippie Day - the 60's will be alive again: bell bottoms, tie dye shirts, etc.” Well, to me, “etc.” clearly includes POLITICAL BUTTONS because, I have news for them: being a hippie was not just about tie-dyed shirts and long hair, it was very much a political thing, marching in the streets, “ETC.” So I take the “etc.” to mean: “Peppermint Twist, this is your one chance in the 11 years you’ve worked here to EXPRESS YOURSELF”. Mind you, I left some of the more militant and/or more specific political buttons safely tucked away at home. I didn’t want to give some of the radcons around here a heart attack. But even the buttons I have chosen to sport, I was a little nervous about, in terms of: will wearing these get me fired, even on employer-sanctioned “Hippie Day”?

Why did I worry about that? Precisely because the buttons are still so topical and so threatening to people, even though they are all just really about peace, living in harmony with nature, and all that good jazz. So far, though, everyone has really seemed to “dig” my outfit (maybe they don’t realize this isn’t a fun costume for me, this is really who I am, and since they think I’m just “dressing up”, they don’t feel threatened by it), even one person who is on the extreme right. He did mention that he could kill me and no one would ever find the body, but I chose to take that in the best possible light! Seriously, he was a good sport about it, and I know it is hard for him to suffer through “Hippie Day”. It would be like me suffering through “Tea Party Day” (unless it was a real tea party, now THAT I could get into, as I’m all about tea...but again I digress), if they had such a thing, which mercifully they don’t. Then again, every day around here is like Tea Party Day, but let’s not go there.

It just blows my mind, to use a phrase from back in the day, how relevant all these buttons still are. I mean, okay, not the one that says “US/USSR Nuclear Weapons Freeze” and the other ones about the arms race/cold war specifically, but all the ones about going green are still so avant-garde today, yet they shouldn’t be! It upsets me to no end that I can pull out these dusty old buttons from THIRTY YEARS AGO that say things like “Rescue the Rain Forests” and “Solar Employs, Nuclear Destroys” and realize that we are still fighting to get people to understand and implement these things. I should be able to pull out these old buttons and think with a smile, “Wow, remember when we had to fight to get people to understand how important the rain forests are and that nuclear power is NOT “safe and clean”? Remember waaaaaay back before we went to solar and wind power? The fossil fuel era seems so primitive and long ago now! If I didn’t have these buttons, I would never believe I actually lived through it.”

But instead: here we STILL are, thirty years later, deeply entrenched in the fossil fuel era, oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico as we speak from a “safe and clean” new oil rig, a president advocating for more “safe and clean” new nuclear plants. Oh, and he’s a big proponent of “clean coal”, too. How, in 2010, can anyone’s idea of going green be to build more nuclear plants and work on the mythical “clean coal” technology? What we really need is to go to TRULY clean, safe, renewable, sustainable energy, such as and specifically SOLAR AND WIND. We should have done this THIRTY YEARS AGO! Why are my dusty old political buttons still relevant today? Why are they still so controversial that I have to have even a fleeting worry about getting fired for sporting them? This is madness! I want them to be archaic, not relevant! I want them to be a sweet, poignant, gratitude-inducing reminder of lessons learned, of how the human race was waaaaaaaaay back BEFORE we turned away from our earth-destroying ways and turned towards respect for our planet. Instead, they are still as “hot button” and avant-garde as ever. I could have stood up when President Obama recently advocated “clean coal” and new nuclear power plants and shouted “Solar employs, nuclear destroys!”, and it would be just as relevant, almost as radical, and certainly even MORE urgent, than it was THIRTY YEARS AGO. Bummer, maaaaaaaaaan.

“I’d hate to think it was all just fashion.”
- A great line from the film “The Big Chill”. -

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Facing the Faces of Prejudice

I was so shocked and saddened to hear the ignorant, hateful anti-Israel comments made by Helen Thomas. I couldn’t believe it at first, I mean, she’s Helen Thomas! I have always greatly admired her for her tenacity, her pluckiness, the sheer reliability of her presence at every White House briefing and press conference, asking the tough questions, always appearing unbiased and fair, a seemingly pure journalist, by which I mean one who checked her preconceived notions, if she had any (and we all do), at the door. She was all about getting the news, the unbiased news, and nothing but the news. I thought she was great, a trailblazing woman in what was, when she started, a profession dominated by men. Again, I submit to you: she’s Helen Thomas! Surely Helen Thomas couldn’t be ignorant about anything, let alone be prejudiced or even perhaps hateful. Surely no one who is obviously intelligent and thoughtful, bright and questioning, could also be prejudiced...could they? Frighteningly and confusingly, the short answer is: yes.

I had a very wise teacher in college (June Edson, wherever you are, your teachings are still remembered and appreciated by your students) who told us that, in life, people are always trying to present things as “either/or”, when very often the reality is actually “both/and”. “Both/and” is more complex, complicated and therefore harder to make sense of and understand. Therefore, us humans tend to try to make everything “either/or”, because complexity is challenging. To think that Helen Thomas could be all those good qualities I listed above AND also be ignorant and prejudiced is confusing, and produces cognitive dissonance...yet people are, in fact, a confusing, contradictory amalgam of qualities. People are often “both/and”, much as it sometimes shocks us.

I felt the same shock and cognitive dissonance when Michael Richards, the brilliant actor/comedian who played “Kramer” on one of my all-time favorite TV shows, “Seinfeld”, erupted in an ugly slew of raw racial slurs at a heckler during one of his shows. No, it can’t be, I thought. It can’t be. How can someone who is so bright and sensitive (I believe an actor has to be sensitive in order to be a good actor, and Michael Richards is a damn good actor) and wonderful, ALSO be so full of unbridled hate? Now, true, in that case he was provoked and his anger, even rage, at the heckler in question was understandable, but NOT the words he chose to hurl at the guy. It showed a raw, ugly prejudice and hate that was right there under the surface and, as I said, I was shocked. I didn’t expect that from him, any more than I expected what I heard from Helen Thomas, or from a neighbor of mine who is soft-spoken and seems kind, yet often when our paths intersect as we are walking our respective dogs, she will make a comment about how she doesn’t like how “the gays have taken over the neighborhood.” I believe very strongly that, when you come face to face with prejudice and/or ignorance and/or hate, it is very important to stand up to it by making it clear that you do NOT agree with it, otherwise, if you remain silent, you are somehow complicit. So I always respond to my neighbor with something like “Well, I don’t care what anyone’s sexual preference is, as long as they are good neighbors, and actually, all the problem houses on and around our block seem to be populated by straight folks, as a matter of fact.” When I come face to face with prejudice, I try to respond in a way that not only makes it clear that I don’t agree with the statement, but also in a way that attempts to help the person somehow see the light, i.e., to see that they are being prejudiced, without me actually coming out and screaming “OMG, YOU ARE PREJUDICED!” I think it is better to try gently to undo some of their prejudice, than to come at them judgmentally in a way that makes them dig their heels in. And in the case of my neighbor, I’ve been able to get into a discussion with her that way and to learn that she actually thinks that, well, yes, now that you mention it, “they” are some of the best neighbors on the block, “even though I don’t agree with their lifestyle”. Okay, well, slight progress: she at least thought about things for a moment and realized that “they”—or at least the members of “they” that she knows of—are actually pretty decent neighbors.

It is challenging to think that not all ignorance, prejudice and hatred comes from people you would think of as being bad people. Sometimes it comes in bright, intelligent, sensitive, otherwise kind packages. This makes it even scarier, somehow, because we want to hate hatred right back. We don’t want it to be all enmeshed in a package that has good in there, that we don’t know what to do with, response-wise. But the hopeful part of that picture is: if there is a person in there, maybe they can be reached and helped to understand instead of to hate. This is why programs that bring together members of groups who tend to see each other as a subhuman “they” are so important and so effective at combating hatred, bridging differences, and fostering understanding and tolerance. For example, there are groups that bring together Israeli and Palestinian children, and the kids come away with a whole new understanding of “the other”. The “they” is no longer a subhuman enemy, but they are human faces, with human feelings, stories and history just like their own. When you realize and feel a common humanity with “the other”, then you can’t hate them anymore. Because they are you and you are they. The Palestinian kids come away with Jewish friends and the Jewish kids come away with Palestinian friends. So now forevermore when they hear hateful things about “them”, they aren’t a “them” anymore, they are a Sarah or an Omar, they are children just like themselves, with dreams and hopes and fears. They are human beings. We are all more likely to tolerate our fellow human beings, to make peace with our fellow human beings, than we are to tolerate and make peace with a “them”.

Just as the line from the musical “South Pacific” said that hatred “has to be carefully taught”, so too does tolerance, respect for diversity and understanding that we all share a common humanity. So when you are suddenly surprised to see the face of prejudice in front of you in a form you didn’t expect, try not to turn away in shock and dismay. Try instead to do something scary, challenging, but important: try to look that human face directly in the eyes and think: how can I respond in a way that has a chance of enlightening, instead of either remaining silent or simply judging? Because building a world of tolerance and understanding is something that we all have to commit to working on, and the way we work on it is to face bigotry head on whenever we see it in ourselves or others, stand up to it, and try to reach around and beyond it and grab for understanding of our universal humanity. Look beyond the ignorance, prejudice and hate in the person’s eye and see if you see any glimmer of light. If so, that’s what you try to reach and teach. That’s how we build a tolerant, peaceful world.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Choice: Oil Spills or New Collective Will?

It is hard to grasp for words to describe the feelings spreading throughout every nook and cranny of my being, saturating and suffocating me, just as the oil and chemical dispersant is insidiously infusing the Gulf of Mexico and suffocating the wildlife. When I see the oil-soaked birds, I want to cry out. I'm not sure exactly what I want to utter, but I want to make all of humanity hear it. It’s not just BP that did this and continues to do it, and it isn’t just Big Oil. It’s us, all of us, humankind. And for that, I feel such shame and sorrow. As Melissa Etheridge sang in the great song she wrote for Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”: we need to wake up! Actually, she said “I” need to wake up, and that is indeed the only place to start. All of us “I”s that make up humankind need to wake up, so that the waking up becomes a collective reality of the “we”.

Will we ever learn that whatever we do to the earth, to nature, we do to ourselves? If we disregard and disrespect it, we disregard and disrespect ourselves. If we destroy it, we destroy ourselves. If we choose to make a different choice, to RESPECT nature, then we choose to respect ourselves.

Every day, we make choices. Should I drive a Hummer or a Yaris? Should I drink out of the styrofoam cups freely provided by my employer, or should I go to the trouble of finding and buying a cup with the requisite lid and bringing it in? My city doesn’t have curbside recycling, should I throw out my recyclables or put in the effort to save and sort them, periodically load them into the car, schleppe them to the closest recycling collection site, and unload them in the hot Florida sun? And if I find that doing that becomes too much of a pain in the patootie and that my house is being taken over by two-liter seltzer water bottles, do I man up and say, okay, if I’m not willing or able to take these to the recycling site often enough to keep myself from being buried in plastic bottles, then I need to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for my waste creation from a different tack, and not buy the seltzer water (*GASP!*) in the first place. I need to give up my precious sparkly water and switch to TAP WATER. Because my choices matter. And my choices on the seltzer water front, as I see them, are either to: 1.) recycle my plastic bottles, or 2.) don’t buy plastic bottles. If I want to be a respectful citizen of this earth, those are my choices on the seltzer water front. So, since I recently concluded that I cannot get myself to the recycling site often enough to preclude having ten tons of plastic bottles in my house (which my puppy takes out of the area I try to corral them in and drags to his futon on the floor of the den, where he likes to collect them and teethe on them, resulting in about 20 seltzer water bottles on that futon alone every day when I get home from work), I have now switched to tap water. Too bad, so sad. As Kermit the Frog pointed out long ago, “It’s not easy being green.” But it is very important to me, and part of “the greening of me” process has been to realize that it is, indeed, a process and none of us are perfect, and no matter how committed we are and passionate we are about respecting the earth and taking responsibility for our actions, we are never going to be “perfectly green”.  But we have to keep trying.

Sometimes you find yourself using a styrofoam cup, or realizing that you just don’t have time in your life to get to the recycling site often enough, so you just have to be honest with yourself and admit that you can't keep up with it, jettison your seltzer water habit, and keep lobbying your elected municipal representatives for curbside recycling. But the point is to TRY, and if you realize one area where you aren’t respecting the earth, ask yourself, can I do better? If the answer is yes, then you have to make that different choice, even if it is hard. Yes, I’m admitting here on the worldwide web that I am just coming off a shamefully long spell of using the styrofoam cups at work, since my Thermos cracked and it took me this long (okay, months) until I FINALLY brought in a mug today, and in keeping with the truism “no good deed goes unpunished”, I’ve already been yelled at by a co-worker because it doesn’t have the requisite I won’t be walking past that person’s desk anymore with my tea. But I have finally jettisoned the styrofoam. And yes, I’m admitting here that it has become too much for me at this particular juncture in my life to schleppe my recyclables to the recycling site as often as I’d need to, in order to keep up with the plastic seltzer water bottles I was CHOOSING to buy, but okay: so now I am MAKING A DIFFERENT CHOICE, one that is still taking responsibility for the waste I create. No more of my beloved seltzer. Tap water with lemon is just fine for my staple beverage. And this way, I only have to go to the recycling site occasionally because I don’t have much glass or paper waste (and I can bring the paper waste in with me to work and dump it in the recycling bin here periodically, which is easier for me).

What I’m saying is, none of us are perfect. We don’t make perfectly green choices all the time, no matter how committed we are to it. I feel that there are very few folks on this orb more passionate about living green than myself, yet in the process of doing it, in the process of “going green”, you realize a lot of things about yourself, and you realize that it is a process and, just like gardening or community building, you are never “done”. You gotta keep weeding and seeding. You have to be honest and look at yourself and say, look, I can’t do this, but I can do that. I can’t go to the recycling site often enough to keep up with the seltzer water bottles, but I CAN give up the seltzer, much as I love it. I can’t seem to find a cup with a lid that I like but I CAN sneak around with my lawlessly lid-free mug at work, because I’d rather risk reprimand than continue to drink my peppermint-kukicha tea from styrofoam (and, God knows, I CANNOT give up my peppermint-kukicha tea at work—that’s just crazy talk!). Kermit was right, it ain’t easy being green, but it is a moral imperative that we TRY. Every day, in every choice we make, we need to infuse our decisions with respect for nature.

Going green is all about respect. Respect for all of nature. Living in harmony with nature instead of violating it. It sounds so simple, but it is very challenging in practice. We need to challenge ourselves daily and be honest with ourselves when our choices don’t jibe with our green ideals. We need to wake up, as Melissa sang. I like that she chose to say “I” instead of “We” because, like I said, it begins with “I”. It begins with each of us making little daily choices like me with the styrofoam and the seltzer water bottles. The big companies like BP will HAVE to change in response to US:  if we choose hybrids instead of Hummers, then they will really have to live up to their slogan and move “beyond petroleum”. We all need to move “beyond petroleum”! If we don't, then every time there is news of glacial melting, and every time there is a catastrophic example of our violent choices, such as the current Gulf oil spill, we will just have to sit and watch in horror as the oil spills, baby, spills, knowing that we didn’t do the best we could to change how our species treats the planet that sustains us, watching the oil we are addicted to smother and suffocate it...and, eventually, us.

That bird I saw this morning on the news, soaked in oil, is my fault. It’s your fault. It is the fault of all of us collectively as a consuming species. A species that can CHOOSE. And we MUST choose to change now. We must choose to move from violence to respect. Otherwise, we are all going to end up like the oil-soaked birds. Let some good come out of this horrific Gulf oil spill: let us finally, as the small yet powerful individuals we are, wake up and choose respect. Because when we do it, the corporations will have to follow. Tragically, it may be too late to save the Gulf of Mexico. But may this awful event serve as an awakening for us all, individuals and corporations, families and nations, all of us, all of humankind: let’s make different choices!

Instead of disregard and violence towards nature, let’s choose reverence and respect. From that choice, all good things will flow. If we keep behaving as we are, however, the toxic results of our violent choices will continue to flow and suffocate us all, as the oil is doing to the Gulf of Mexico. There is a beautiful and very profound line from a hymn (written by Jill Jackson in 1955) we used to sing often at the Unitarian-Universalist church I grew up in. The line is: “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” I realize that I do know what I want to cry out, after all: Let there be respect for nature on earth, and let it begin with me!