Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Everyone who went car-free forty years ago was an early prepper

It's been awhile since I got heavy, but here goes.

As my brain has scrambled to keep up with the various bits of flotsam flying across my screen each day, including stock market fluctuations, regime change in the White House, the national/global employment picture, the multitudes of millions who have contracted COVID and the hundreds of thousands whose lives have been taken by it, I came across this piece today on a friend's feed.

After finding my way around the Times' paywall, I was able to read the piece, and I encourage you to read it too.

Read it when you have time to really take it in,  and ponder each new thought you encounter. Because it's very heavy stuff and worth your time.

It also sort of sweeps aside most of the rest of what I mentioned above.

Because at the end of the day, we will find ourselves divided into two groups:

-- Those who understood the science long ago and began to process it back then so we could handle the truth of our current time; and
-- Those who haven't given this much thought until recently (or now), and who are either losing their shit or deep in denial.

We'll find ourselves sectioned off in other ways, but this is the one I'm looking at tonight.

Those of us who, in our youth (some of us as young as ten or eleven), recognized that nothing lasts forever, and the only way toi help it last a little longer is to scale down and scale back our collective standard of living. I was pondering the necessity of living a Smaller Life back in high school, though I could never discuss it with anyone else back then. I am pretty sure that this precognitive pondering influenced my decision to avoid slaving away for a car. (Watching my father work 60+ hours a week at a job he didn't love also influenced me; why work so long and hard that you end the week without time or energy to enjoy your life, your family and friends?)

So I started riding my bike to and from school in fifth grade, and never looked back. Whenever we moved to another town where we lived close enough to my school, I'd skip the bus and ride my bike. In college, I patched my jeans and wore them without shame or irony; I scavenged the hubcaps and license plates I'd find at roadside and flip them to dealers for a few bucks, which I used to find more stuff to flip at a profit. The world has long been filled with peoples' castoffs.

Today, after reading the above opinion piece, I was at first deeply sad and depressed. I had to go into a video meeting and find a way to get excited about a gig, when in the moments after reading that article, a gig was the last thing on my mind.

But over the course of the day, I was able to find my bearings again. I sat in my studio, played a little music and sat with my thoughts, until I was able to understand that my shock was simply another reminder of my mortality, only painted on the global canvas.

As much as we ache and long for a return to "normal," I know it will not be a full return, we won't get all the way back there again, ever. Our twentieth century penchant for comfort and ease has all but assured us that our children and grandchildren will know a lowered standard of living, even when -- or if -- we are able to knock back the devastating effects of COVID.

I didn't know these possibilities, of course, when I rose at 5 each morning to ride my bike up and over the hill to my high school in the late 1970's. I only knew that I liked going places under my own power and I liked helping the environment; and I loved the way I felt when I rode my bicycle, strong and independent and free. It was a feeling so wonderful that I didn't really care about owning a car. The day after flunking my first driving test at seventeen, I was fine, over the embarrassment and ready to move on without a car in my life. After three years of car ownership in my twenties, I hated it and sold the car for scrap, and bought myself a nice mountain bike with street tires. That was 1990 and I haven't owned a car since (though I dio keep my license current for emergencies and to help share the driving when we visit Sweetie's family out of state).

But here's the real truth: All of us who gave up car ownership in favor of a smaller footprint and stayed that way have ended up preparing for this time in other ways. Many of us learned to work on our own bikes and other things around the house; we learned how to grow some vegetables (in our yard, or in pots), put up food for the winter and how to mend our clothing. These are small things, but in today's world where so many people don't know how to do these things, our knowledge of these home skills has helped us to be slightly better prepared for the very difficult times that are coming.

And they are coming. The weather extremes will grow more extreme, the divides between haves and have-nots -- and the liberals and conservatives -- will only grow wider. Anyone in the big middle will be at risk of danger from those on the extremes of the safety/comfort continuum. Anyone at the bottom of the heap will either die, or claw their way higher to live another day, or week.

But if we try to grasp at the vestiges of the old normal, we do so at our peril. It's highly probable that we're already too late and the effects of climate change cannot be reversed now, only slowed.
So what is left for us?

First, we need to get comfortable with death. We may not make it our best friend, but we can do a better job of having it in the room with us while we're living.
We could start by bringing death back into the room. Let the kids go to funerals. Talk with them (in age-appropriate language) about what death is and how it makes us feel to be left behind by someone we loved. Talk with your loved ones about what you want your final days to look like; fill out powers-of-attorney, disposal of remains orders and advance directives and make your wishes clear.

Then, we need to consider how we live and think about ways of scaling it back. This is actually a hard discussion for many people to have, because they don't want to give up their hard-won comfort.

Thankfully, we are in the middle of a national discussion about just how hard-won our comforts have been, based on race, gender, access to education and a host of other factors. While this has been a painful period in our country, it's long overdue and somewhere along the way it might be a good time to consider what we can let go of, personally and collectively for the greater good.

We need to let go of many aspects of the old normal because they're what's killing us now.
What does that mean to you? I'll let you decide.

What does it mean to me?
It means more of what I've already been doing.
Slowly paring down some of my possessions, selling off what I can and saving the money for necessities, considering what my wishes are regarding my death and disposal (I want to be cremated), and pondering what it really means to be human on the downslope of the Anthoprocene Age. Because I believe that's where we are. The sooner we get that, the sooner we can figure out how to live in a time when our species is looking down the barrel at extinction.

Along the way, I'll still swerve back and forth between the heavy stuff and the lighter stuff like bicycles and music; the human psyche isn't designed to stay heavy all the time and there has to be some ebb and flow.
But this truth lives permanently at the back of my mind and heart, and it does have a bearing on my choices going forward.
Hopefully it will mean more bike rides, more drumming and more love along the way.

Rubber side down, kids.

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