Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Fall of Water and the New Year

We are all so busy.

I am a full-time single mom, professor, and  writer.  I also consider myself an environmental activist and spend a good deal of time promoting environmental issues, as well as protesting on the ground.

What does this mean? It means I never sleep. It means I’m constantly chasing after the carrot, never catching it-quite-and always feeling like I’m 'not good enough.' Most women I know feel this way.

My students find me to be scattered. Some of them grumble. Others are more forgiving, as they know my heart is in the right place--it is just that I'm over-extended. My adolescent daughter has no patience for my seeming inattentiveness and failures. My editors shake their fingers at me because I’m late on deadlines. Some friends are offended because I'm forgetful or don’t have more time for them. It's true, my memory often fails me because there is so much, too much, on my mind, and too much to keep track of. My house needs work. My cooking is pathetic. My diet is not what it should be. My daughter is often late and it's my fault. Sometimes when I speak, words fail me. I frequently have a cold and a hoarse voice. I'm plain worn out.

I am a woman/mother of the twenty first century.

I care deeply about the earth, and I want to do everything in my power to try and preserve this beautiful planet in my last few years here, to end the suffering from early and unnecessary cancers, illnesses and genetic defects, to save the water, to save our vanishing species. If it means I’m a bit late, or that my lesson plans are not letter perfect, well that is a price that must be paid. The ocean matters more, the seals, whales, dolphins, and the lives of my neighbors and the future generations matter more to me than winning a prize for the homemaker or professor with the best organizational skills. I do the best I can. I really do try. I'm not going to parties (okay, I go very occasionally--new years', for example). I'm not painting my nails or getting facials. I'm not watching TV. Even my daughter tells me to take a break and socialize more. I swear, I'm working as fast and as hard as I can!

Is this a feminist issue? Would I be this disorganized if I were a man? Probably not. I'd either have a wife, or a secretary, or an assistant--or all of the above. How do men do make that happen?

How many of us are raising children alone, trying to take care of the many every-day tasks that must be tended to: bill paying, shopping, cooking, laundry, household upkeep, scheduling, schlepping and agonizing over our children-- as well as taking care of our outside-of-the-home paid job responsibilities, and doing some kind of volunteer work? Yes, crazy as it sounds, many working moms are also volunteers. We're also trying to maintain our figures (under the guise of mental health--we 'need' excercise to think straight!). We're superwomen, see. Well, sort of. At least in my case, we're cobbling-it-together-very-very-tired-while-trying-to-be-superwomen. We walk, we run. Nope, we can't fly.

There are millions and millions of us.

Not that being married made it any easier once upon a time. Having a partner at home did not help me with my workload. I know some people find their partners to be helpful, but statistically, most women carry a double-shift, and most men do not. (For those men who really do their equal share, kudos to you—I know you are out there, and I know some of you. To date, however, you are in the minority!). Personally, I work a triple shift, at least. Much of it is unpaid.

Recently, I was visiting with a couple—the man has a mirror career to mine. Yet, he has a stay-at-home-wife who helps him with everything. She is highly efficient. I want to steal her. In listening to their conversations, I was struck with deep dark envy. He has so much help-- help that I will never have unless I inherit a huge sum of money. That is never going to happen (perhaps I should say that--miracles do happen). She (my friend's wife) makes sure the bills are paid, the house is in good order, the refrigerator is stocked, the kids are alright, and all the home stuff is tended to--all the seemingly 'little things' that add up to a lot and that women do not get compensated for. She even helps him with his job! If I had that help, maybe I would be less forgetful, more timely, more efficient, and better, oh so much better at everything and, finally, ‘good enough’! Surely, I would even be more popular!

Of course, this makes me sound like I’m complaining.

Don’t I have a great life? You bet. I'm cancer free. I’m a tenured professor. I teach wonderful courses that I design-- with super cool students who take them. I write and live in a safe, warm place. My child is healthy and well adjusted. Meanwhile, much of the planet is struggling. We’re in hard times in the western world! So many poor folks are out of work, out of homes, scrambling just to survive. Throughout the planet, there are disasters of every variety-- rape, murder, starvation, violence, exploitation, environmental crises, and mass species extinction. Who am I to say a thing about my exhaustion? I'm not carrying wood and water on my shoulders, or digging ditches. Women and people and nonhuman forms of life are suffering all over the planet in such profound ways. Certainly, my petty worries are nothing by comparison. I have no room to complain.

I'm just saying, if I were a guy, I'd do more, I'd do it better, and I'd sleep a lot more. Added to that, my middle-aged roll in the middle, my aged eggs, or my facial lines and greying hair wouldn't stop me from the perpetual youth thing. I could have two more sets of families if I dared and, a few more young and beautiful spouses who would admiringly ask me while batting their eyes, "what can I do for you, dear?"

Seriously, I am very grateful for the privileged position I occupy and gifts I've been given. I have a long line of feminists (female) who came before me to thank for my tenure and my writing career. Many wonderful men helped me along the way and I thank them profusely for their support of my career path. Without these mentors--male and female, I would be....who knows, but I wouldn't be who, what, and where I am today.

I guess it is all about balance. There are many, many extraordinary men, but by and large, women still do too much.

Anyway, as tired as I am, and as little time as I usually have for my daughter, I decided we would go away for the Christmas break. Taking a break meant staying off the computer for a week (for the most part). We went to California where we have family and many good friends. It was the usual scramble to see the relatives and “get through the holidays”-- which for me is not always particularly easy (the subject of another piece of writing).

I love my friends and family, but nevertheless, the best part of the whole trip was taking my daughter to visit the Pacific ocean.

After several holiday parties, and much visiting—in the Berkeley area—we drove to Monterey. As soon as we got out of our rental car and stood by the edge of the cliffs by the water, both of us relaxed. We smiled--deeply smiled.

My heart cracked wide open for the first time in a long while.

The tension of a long semester released.

The tension of family get togethers, lack of sleep, and holiday travel released.

The ocean embraced and welcomed us.

We stood in silence.

The waves crashed against the cliffs and grew still momentarily. Then, the ocean raged again.

The salty air whipped through our hair --making it curly and wild.

What was the ocean saying?

Relax. Slow down. I am here. I am stronger than anything you know.

We spied a few seals. On the beach down below, children laughed. A band of seagulls flew high in the distance.

The waves crashed against the cliffs. A large roll of sea foam folded seductively and boldly into itself.

Relax. Slow down. I am here. I am stronger than anything you know.

In northern California –in the Monterey/Carmel area, trees are bent by the strong sea winds. Ansel Adams made them famous. These trees are perfect in their angular elbow shapes. I remember them from my childhood family jaunts when we lived in Berkeley. My dad would load us up in our VW van on weekends, and we traveled to Big Sur, Pt. Reyes, Asilomar, Carmel, Yosemite. Dad was big on getting us outside. We spent our weekends hiking or walking in nature.

When I stand by the ocean, now, it is a sacred experience. All thoughts vanish, all concerns about my “self” are gone. I stand and listen to something much greater and grander than any human creation. As Deena Metzger suggests, this body of water, all bodies of water, are much stronger, vaster, and wiser than any of us, stronger than this poisonous human race. Water will outlast humans and our insanity, our narcissism, our greed.

Yet, what form will this water take after the damage we humans have done?

We are poisoning the ocean, we are poisoning the water.

Rachel Carson warned us of 'man's hubris' in the Sea Around Us and Silent Spring--she explained how biomagnification moves up the food chain from seaweed to small fish, to larger fish, to mammals, and finally to us --thus intensified poisons enter our bodies. She warned of such poisoning as the U.S. tested nuclear bombs in the Bimini Islands (and elsewhere) in the 1950s, destroying populations in an act of grave environmental injustice to the peoples of those islands and the world, and to the beings of the sea. (To see a powerful visual timeline of nuclear bomb tests, watch this).

I watch a lot of anti-nuclear films and I show some in my classes. The most powerful one of all is the 1959, On the Beach. It takes place, as many of you know, in Australia, and it begins with and contains ocean water as its primary and fundamental symbol. The film is post-apocalyptic and tells of the story of the final month or so of the last human beings on earth to survive nuclear war. Over and over the filmic depictions of the sea remind us of what is at stake: everything.

Now the Japanese government fills our oceans with endless tons of radiation. They are not the only ones. Many countries, including our own, dump atrocities in the water. We drill and spill. We invade the sacred. Where is the public outcry? Where is the U.N.? Where are the world governments?

Where are you?

Since 3/11 post Fukushima, more radioactive material than has ever been released in human history continues to be dumped in the sea by Japan. The consequences of radioactive ocean dumping are vast. The radioactive waste, as Deena Metzger and ocean scientists show us, harms seals and other ocean life. Surely more violence will be done. Right now, a large swathe of radioactive debris is making its way to the west coast of the US—the very coast I stood on with my daughter two days ago. Right now, radioactive waste from Japan is hitting Vancouver beaches, a friend tells me. Right now, we are witnessing the pain this waste brings to our ocean brothers and sisters. Right now, cancer is on the rise-- one in two people will be diagnosed in their lifetimes.

Right now, the ocean is calling out to us.

We come from the ocean.

Water. What will we drink? What will we eat?

What creatures will survive?

Between the radiation and toxics that humans dump into our waters, and the ocean acidification from man-made climate change, what will be left for future generations?

Who will swim in a radioactive and toxic sea?

A day may come, and soon, when children will not swim in any body of water. What will those children think of us? Do we want to be remembered as a generation of ecocidal murderers?

Many writers have predicted this for years--Marge Piercy wrote of this in He, She and It; Margaret Atwood hints at it in Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, as does Starhawk in Fifth Sacred Thing.

A day will soon come, when our sister and brother sea creatures will/may vanish altogether. Scientists say if sea life is destroyed, we cannot live.

Environmental injustice and ecocide are hard to face, but we must face the water. We must. This is not a time for resting, hiding, or covering eyes. There is no time to waste.

We must open our eyes, hearts, brains and spirits to make vast changes in how we live, whom we vote for, what we do with our days.

I call on everyone everywhere to become an environmental activist!

Find your own voice and way to participate, join the cause of preserving this earth.

We need more environmental supermen and superwomen.

All hands on deck. The ocean water is calling.

I am stronger than anything you know, but I cannot save you. Only you can save yourselves.

I close with these words of Deena Metzger's:

"I put out my arms but I cannot hold them all or from such a distance. And yet I know that deep empathy can take us down into the heart of the matter and we will find the ways that turn us toward restoration. How long will it take, looking at these photos, to live in such ways that we do nothing, nothing, nothing at any time to harm the earth so?"

By Heidi Hutner.


dchalles said...

Heidi - Wishing you a healthy new year, and the opportunity to "catch the wave" a little more frequently.

.Ecofeminist and Mothering Ruminations said...

Thanks so much! Happy New Year to you!

Mike said...

I really love your site! I'm a professor of Environmental Ethics at Molloy College on Long Island. If you'd ever like to do anything jointly, feel free to contact me at any time at mrusso@molloy.edu.

Keep up the great work!