Choose to Refuse: Why I’m Going Plastic Free

Crab trapped in a plastic cup. Via Greenpeace.

I’m ashamed to admit it, but until a few months ago, I’d never thought too deeply about my lasting impact on the planet. That’s not to say that I haven’t been preached to on a litany of environmental subjects since I was a child via various media outlets. After all, I didn’t grow up in a bubble…or at least I thought I didn’t.

At 37, I’m a semi-well-traveled world citizen who keeps up with the news and cares about her fellow lifeforms. I would never dream of releasing a balloon into the wild, or of drinking a beer without carefully cutting apart the plastic 6-pack rings. I’d certainly never throw my trash on the street. I buy most of my clothes used, try to eat organic when I can afford it, and wouldn’t consider using a product that isn’t labeled cruelty free. By appearances, I’m taking responsible steps to be kind to our planet.

But appearances aren’t reality. It turns out that “all” of the things I’ve been doing to “save the planet” are not much. Like many Americans, I’ve been brainwashed into thinking that I’m making some sort of grand, impactful gesture when I cut up a 6-pack ring, or choose to carry my groceries home in my purse instead of using a free plastic shopping bag.

Sure, these are things that we should all be doing. But in reality, they’re just the tip of the (quickly melting) iceberg; these aren’t grand gestures – they’re barely note-worthy basic motions that any thoughtful human should undertake. Deciding not to use a plastic bag should be second nature. It is rote self-preservation mixed with courtesy, like choosing to look both ways before entering traffic, or covering your mouth when you cough.

I’m puzzled by how it’s taken me so long to get to a point where I truly began to understand the extent of my role in the death of the planet, but I know the exact moment that it started. I watched a video of a dolphin at the moment it gets caught in a plastic shopping bag. Experiencing its horror at the situation, watching its frantic barrel rolls to get the bag off of its head, even just thinking about it now makes me nauseous. The bottom line is this: it’s my fault, just as much as if I’d placed the bag in the ocean myself. Because this isn’t about littering. It’s about choosing to use products that we have known to be unsafe for decades. Every day for 37 years, I’ve been given many choices to make the right call, and every day I’ve failed, with little to no remorse.

Laysan Albatross remains show the devastating effects of plastic pollution on wildlife. Photo by Chris Jordan, Via Smithsonian.

And now we’ve reached a point of probable no return. A cursory Google search of “whales bellies plastic” will give you 15 solid search pages of articles discussing recently beached dead whales that, upon autopsy, were found to be full of plastic – literally starved to death from the inability to process the trash they’d mistakenly ingested. Studies on sea turtle hatchlings in the U.S. and Australia in 2018 found alarming rates of nano-plastic ingestion in the babies, resulting in malnutrition and death.

We are bombarded with photos of turtles, fish, and birds being slowly choked to death by garbage in the sea, and there are now five known floating garbage patches in the ocean, with the largest of them, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, measuring roughly three times the size of Texas, or nearly a million square miles.

I theorize that maybe I didn’t pay as much attention to our trash problem because it was “in the ocean” and thus outside of my everyday sphere. It didn’t quite seem real, because I live on dry land. That’s a stupid excuse, but it’s the only way I can begin to explain my monumental stupidity and callousness.

“The Known Unknowns of Plastic Pollution” Via The Economist.

If you, too, are reading this and find yourself thinking “Hey, it’s just the ocean – we’ll figure it out soon, it’s not that big of a deal,” why don’t we talk about what’s happening right here on dry land? According to a recent study in the Environmental Science and Technology journal, humans ingest up to 52,000 plastic particles a year. This estimate goes up to about 70,000 if we account for plastic dust particles we breathe. Another fun fact is that it rains and snows plastic, even in the most remote areas. A 2018 joint study by the University of Strathclyd and Ecolab found 249 plastic particles per square meter in an area of the French Pyrenees formerly thought of as pristine.

This is just a fragment – forgive the unfortunate pun – of the information that’s out there about the devastation our planet is undergoing. For the sake of brevity, I’m not discussing fossil fuel’s role in climate change, or the effect of our castoff plastic waste on the countries where our trash gets sent for recycling and/or storage. And to be clear, I know that there are other pressing pollution issues (for example, textiles, electronics, and chemical byproducts, just to name a few). Tackling one doesn’t mean forgetting about the others – it just means putting some issues on the back burner for a moment while you figure out the best way to approach the issue at hand.

In the past, I’ve read about pollution with a shrug. A “well, that sucks, but what can I do?” There’s always been a boogey man – the fossil fuels industry. They were the ones responsible for this. They should be responsible for getting us out. Give them sanctions. Make them change their evil ways! Save the innocent consumer!

But I see now that I was wrong. I am the boogey man. I am the one with the choice – and the responsibility – to change. And so are you. We are none of us released from the moral obligation to care for other living things – which means caring, first and foremost, for our planet. Pretty sure that we’ve already run out of time to reverse this mess, but that doesn’t mean that we’re out of time to choose to be better humans, and to live in kindness, fighting our hardest to right the massive wrong we have done to our earth, our children, and all other living beings on this planet who depend on us right now to wake up and pay attention to our duty as stewards.

So what will we do? Learn. Change. Fight back. Help other people learn, change, and start fighting, too. A great place to start right now would be to join #PlasticFreeJuly, and take a pledge right now to give up single use plastics for the month of July. I personally have resolved to drastically cut back on purchasing any items that contain plastic, permanently. At the moment, it’s not financially feasible to achieve a 100% plastic-free life (I mean, I’m typing this on a plastic computer keyboard, after all), but we can start making strong steps in the right direction. We don’t need to be perfect right now – we just need to get started.

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July Level Up – A New Approach

Let’s be honest – this blog sucks. If it were a plant, it would be dead from neglect.

Don’t get me wrong. This thing has been keeping me honest, and helping me move forward. My life has changed significantly as a result of having a little corner of the world to focus in on what needs changing. But that’s the thing – I can’t keep all of this change to myself. I need to buckle down and start spitting these thoughts out somewhere. There’s a reason I started blogging years ago; I love writing, or at least I used to. I think it’s time to get back to it.

So this month, I’m going to be working on retooling things on the blog. I’m not sure yet what that means, exactly, but that’s OK. It’s only the rest of my life, after all. I’ve got a little bit of time (although, given the dumpster fire that is our political and environmental situation, “little bit” is up for interpretation).

First things first, though, let’s take it back a notch and talk about what I was up to in June, and what I plan to be up to in July.

In June, I started transitioning to a zero waste lifestyle. It’s going to be a long journey, but I’m working on eliminating household plastic, incorporating recycling, reducing the amount of wasteful products that I buy, and finding new ways to embrace reuse. This has touched my life in all arenas, and I’m looking forward to talking about all of the little changes that I’ve been making to start caring for the planet.

There’s still so far to go that at times it’s nearly overwhelming. My freezer is full of compost scraps, and the only place that I know can take them is only open for two hours on Thursday afternoon, while I’m at work. I’ve gone cross-eyed (and broken hearted) realizing just how few materials are recyclable in New Orleans (but I still got a new recycling bin for my kitchen). I’ve been learning how to shave with shaving soap and a brush, and my new toothbrush is bamboo. Today, I also started researching vegan, cruelty free, reef-safe, organic sunscreen in zero waste packaging that also doesn’t make your eyes sting – and miraculously, I found a couple of options! I’ll let you know what I buy. A few weeks back, I found a beautiful new cream foundation that checks all of those same boxes, and makes me feel like an old fashioned movie starlet – I want to talk about that, too. And what about shopping without using plastic bags? Not nearly as scary as I’d thought it would be.

Some of the beautiful ladies of the New Orleans Chorus Girl Project. (I’m fourth from the left – you can only see my face, but I’m smiling!)

Also in June, I danced with the NOLA Chorus Girls TWICE, in two separate public performances. It was liberating, and I’m proud of putting myself out there. It’s hard to tell from this side of the looking glass, but I’m pretty sure I’m much more confident than I was before I started this blog, and becoming a chorus girl was my very first goal, back in January. I feel like it’s finally official. I’ve got a long way to go to be spectacular, but I’m dancing, and that’s what counts.

Speaking of putting yourself out there and just getting the work done, I also started taking Spanish class this month, after years and years of wishing I could just learn another language by magic, or at least osmosis.

In other words, June was a BIG MONTH for me. Like, major leveling up accomplished. I’m off to a good start, but not nearly where I want to be. So where is that, anyway?

In July I’m planning to continue my current work to become more ecologically sensitive and protective. I’m going to figure out what to do with the damn composting scraps, for one thing. I’ll also make some tough choices – sunscreen, toothpaste, a new skincare routine, and a refined diet. Factory farming is terrible for the environment, and I want to significantly cut back on my consumption of animal products, to hopefully lessen my carbon footprint. For that matter, I also want to research my specific carbon footprint and figure out what I need to be doing to offset my negative impact on the world.

But the shift towards taking better care of the Earth is more of a lifelong lifestyle change – so what else do I plan to do in July to put myself out there? For starters, I’ll be continuing Spanish class until August, and I’m going to work on studying on my own each day via TV shows, podcasts, and a set of flashcards that I just bought.

I also just signed up for an introductory pottery course. It’s not something that I think I ever talk about, but I love ceramics. ADORE them. I’m always on the lookout for beautiful pieces of vintage pottery, and I follow at least 100 different ceramicists on Instagram. I wouldn’t say I’m obsessed, but as far as loving art goes, pottery is pretty far up there. I’ve wanted to play with clay since I was a kid, but have never had the chance. So why not now? Anyway, I start next week. I’ll keep you posted on my progress, and why not show you some of the artists that I love, as well? Adding that to my “to write” list.

Last, but definitely not least, is to start working more on my physical health. One of the things that I’ve been attempting to do with this blog is to focus on bettering my life, without getting too caught up in spotlighting my struggles with weight or compulsive consumption. I’m still not going to talk much about intentional weight loss here, because I think it’s unhealthy to focus on a number on the scale.

However, what I will be talking about is getting accountable when it comes to eating mindfully, and exercising regularly. I’ve been falling behind on both counts since my dad died in late March, and I’ve given myself a lot of leeway on account of grief. However, knowing my issues with emotional eating, it’s time to put the kibosh on indulging my feelings with extra helpings of carbs. I have a big hiking trip planned for my birthday, and I want to be in shape to enjoy the hell out of it. My plan is to record all food eaten on the Lose It! app, and to use my new DB Method machine every day this month, to see if it lives up to the hype. Tomorrow we’ll start with a before pic of my butt, so stay tuned!

There’s one last thing that I want to talk about, and it’s a big one. Massive, but wiley and deceptive. It’s something that I’ve been working on since January, and am doing pretty well with, but could still stand to improve upon – giving up alcohol. I haven’t talked that much about it because I didn’t have the words, really. But it’s time.

Not tonight, though. This was enough for this evening. I hope that you stick with me as I start to make these shifts. I love that you’re here with me, and am looking forward to growing with you.


Dancing The New Orleans Bump

I’m finally feeling like an official chorus girl after performing in a public dance routine for the first time a little over a week ago. It took awhile to hit me, but today at practice for our next routine, I realized how much of this my brain has retained, and I could see a clear improvement in my steps. It feels nice, like I’ve progressed. I’m not going into showbiz any time soon, but I know I can put on a costume, dance through an entire routine using the movements that I’ve been taught, and work with a team of other women to deliver a darn good performance, in front of a packed crowd. Best of all, I know that I can do it without messing up, and without freaking out and running offstage. All of those count for something. I’m working to overcome the stage fright, and I’m getting the upper hand.

The song that we danced to is called the “New Orleans Bump,” by Jelly Roll Morton and his band. It’s a slower number, and it feels rather dark. The costumes matched the feel of the song – slinky black dresses, turbans, and lace masks that obscured our eyes (but not our vision). It was a relief to learn a slow number, after the fast routine I tried during my first chorus girl class earlier this spring. I ended up not feeling confident enough to perform that one, because the footwork was too fast for my clumsy feet. Now that I’ve successfully performed the slow routine, though, I think I’m going to be game to speed it up next time.

I don’t have video from the first performance, but we’re performing again this week, so hopefully someone will record it for us. Fingers crossed!

June Level Up

One of my Bold Goals this year was to make an effort to learn something new every month. This is what that’s looked like so far:

  • January – Started taking classes with the NOLA Chorus Girls to learn to dance. This was a massive success for me, and I’m now on my second semester with the group, and getting ready to perform in public this month!
  • February – Took a makeup lesson to learn what products to use and how to use them. This was an enlightening process, and I definitely have stepped up my makeup game as a result, even though I’m still a fan of my naked, normal face.
  • March – Endeavored to learn to deep clean my house. Full disclosure – this process taught me more about my thorough distaste for cleaning than anything else. I KonMari-d the shit out of my belongings, spent a day scrubbing, realized I’d made very little headway, and decided to invest in a monthly deep clean once I’m making a little more money. I’m just hopeless at heavy duty housekeeping, and life’s too short.
  • April – My dad died in late March, and I didn’t take a class in April. Instead, I wrote a will, took out life insurance, and organized my important papers to make it easier on my family when I die.
  • May – I started a new class with the NOLA Chorus Girls, and began to learn a new dance routine. I also spent the month tweaking my resume, honing my interview skills, and applying for new jobs. This hasn’t paid off yet, but it will.

Which leads us to this month, June. One of my big life goals for years now has been to learn to speak Spanish fluently. I’ve been trying to learn on my own via Duolingo and Rosetta Stone, but just like cleaning the house, I’ve found that it’s very difficult for me to remain invested in most online/solo classes unless I’m very excited to be there. Alas, languages scare me, but that’s not the same thing as excitement. So last week, I went to my first in-person Spanish class, with a real professor and other students. I’m officially studying Spanish at the 100 level!

Learning Spanish is going to open doorways for me, I just know it. I want to be able to converse with my Spanish-speaking coworkers in their native language, but there’s more than that. Ever since walking the Camino de Santiago in 2015, I’ve yearned to go back to live in Spain. I’d love to do that with my current company, but to do so, I’ll need to be at least bilingual and maybe even multilingual, plus a rock star at my profession. Getting the language part down is a great first step towards a much larger life goal.

A Setback

I wanted to name this post Failure, or something of the sort. I’m feeling rather dramatic this evening, and it would be comforting to blame my melancholy on someone or something. Instead, I find I’m forced to look to my own actions as the source of downfall, and ruminate on my shortcomings. The question is whether they’re temporary, or so deeply ingrained that I will never actually escape. It’s folly to believe the latter, but seems like a spun sugar dream to indulge in the former. I guess I’ll just have to resolve to let the two halves of my mind agree to disagree for time being, lest I lose my composure.

The brief hope I was given last week that I could possibly obtain a job in Seattle has been dashed against the rocks. Last week’s interview seemed so positive. I spent the weekend planning and dreaming, even though I know never to count chickens before they’re hatched. It just felt like such a positive interaction, with a real chance of working out. To get a rejection email tonight was a kick in the teeth.

The thing is, I’m ready for a senior position, and I’m ready for a geographical move. I am experienced, and can handle both things with aplomb. I need to reconsider how I’m presenting myself, and what I can do to stand out and prove my readiness to those in the know. I have the capabilities, but it’s up to me to convince others. It’s only millimeters from my grasp.

In the meantime, I’m going to concentrate on improving my life where I am. I started Spanish class tonight, and learned that I’m not as clueless as I’d thought. I’m not great at conversational Spanish, but I understand grammar rules easily, and pronunciation isn’t actually that difficult. It’s just the courage to speak when spoken to that makes things a little tougher, but I can overcome this. One day, I’ll be living in Spain and looking back on these years as just a little bump in the road. That’s OK. I’ve got this.

The Inner Light

Maybe it’s just me, but lately I’ve been feeling like I’ve been activated. Not in some conspiracy theory sort of way, but more in this sense that it feels like I’ve been growing, and am seeing the world in a new light. I do talk about leveling up in other blog posts, but also tend so see that process as more of a journey of small, logical steps, rather than whatever is happening in my brain/heart/soul right now. And who knows, maybe this is the logical next step that’s triggered by my endeavors thus far this year? I can’t say. I don’t even know how to adequately explain what’s going on. It just feels good, and right. I am suddenly in possession of some solid ideas about where I could go from here.

But that’s all the future, and this post is about the past – May 2019, to be precise. I like to do a recap at the end of each month, just to make sure I’m staying on track with my Bold Goals for the year. I’ve mostly stuck with a Beatles theme for these posts, for no real reason, but today the most curious thing happened. I found a Beatles song that I don’t recall ever listening to. This is major, coming from someone who used to lock herself in her room, light candles, and cry hysterically on the anniversary of John Lennon’s death – I was a very moody fangirl back in the day. I read every Beatles-related book that I could get my hands on as a teen, watched every movie, had my walls covered in Beatles posters, even had a collection of original Beatles memorabilia. I was obsessed, to put it mildly. That’s what made tonight so weird.

While looking through a list of song titles, I saw an unfamiliar name: “The Inner Light.” Of course it was intriguing, so I looked it up on YouTube and listened along. No recognition until about a minute in, and then all of a sudden, my brain LIT UP and I knew I’d heard it before. I’m guessing that because it was a B-side to a single that I didn’t own, I must have heard it in college at some point, but maybe only once or twice. It’s a very strange sensation, mostly because I didn’t think there were any Beatles songs left for me to discover, and this one, in particular, has a highly important and beautiful message. It’s almost like it was being held in reserve for this moment.

That’s enough about the present, let’s touch on the past. (Ha, as if linear time wasn’t a human-made stumbling block…) Did I stick to my goals this month?

  1. Give up time wasters: 
    • social media – Still wasting too much time on Facebook.
    • television – I’m rewatching Elementary in its entirety. Not only do I have a massive crush on Jonny Lee Miller, but I love Sherlock Holmes and Watson in all of their incarnations. It’s soothing to work out the puzzles, as well.
    • drinking – I had two alcoholic beverages in May. To quote myself, I’m just kind of over it, dude.
    • emotional eating – May was difficult. I toyed with going to a Refuge Recovery meeting on Sunday, to be honest. I’m more calm and in control these last few days, but I will probably start attending meetings again, anyway. I need to have a support group in place for times like this, and I also just love going to meditation meetings with likeminded people. This being said, I’ve had a breakthrough on where my food issues come from, and I will be writing about this in a future post.
  2. Practice healthy detachment: I’m honestly not sure if this is a place of health for me, or not. I can say that it feels like a place of peace, though. No one depends on me for anything (other than my cats, of course). I’m not acting as anyone’s anchor, but I’m also working at making a life where this doesn’t mean that I’m untethered, either.
  3. Seek traditional and non-traditional treatment for anxiety. Make being calm a top priority for the year: I stopped drinking caffeine. Add that to giving up alcohol, and I’m feeling much more calm. I still need to work on daily exercise; I’m not doing well at that, at all.
  4. No more manchild bullshit: Still not dating, so this isn’t a problem
  5. Start a creative endeavor – make jewelry or headbands or cat toys or origami (or all of the above, whatever), sell it, and pay off debts: Still not making anything. I’m afraid to unpack my sewing machine now, though. I want to make sure I’m ready to move when it’s time.
  6. Take care of my home. Make it a cosy, welcoming refuge. Take pride in being a decent housekeeper: This place looks like a bomb went off. The one lesson I’ve learned this year so far about housekeeping is that I don’t enjoy it, and I’d rather pay someone to do it. I’ve decided that a big money goal for me in the next year or two will be to hire someone to come in and deep clean my place every couple of weeks. Life’s too fucking short for me to be counted on to learn to wash my own walls and scrub my own shower. #sorrynotsorry
  7. Read one book each week. I’ve read 28 books so far in 2019, which gets me to mid-July. I’m nearly done reading two more books, and have downloaded a few really awesome-looking memoirs that I can’t wait to read. Once the books that I’m reading align with my life goals, I’ll probably start writing some reviews here. For now, if you’re interested in what I’ve read, I keep a yearly reading list on my old blog, Compass & Quill, with records going back to 2015.
  8. Focus on leveling up. Use that Big Cat energy to get out there and conquer. Accept my worth, and help other people see it, too: This month I started transitioning out of using plastic, and into becoming a zero waste household. I established household recycling and composting protocols, and have been spending most of my free time researching all sorts of topics on responsible consumerism. I’ve switched some brands that I use, and am slowly taking steps to try to right my wrongs to this planet. I’m never going to do this perfectly, but I want to do my best with the time we have left.
  9. Publish the memoir. No, but I did start working on another story idea that I had awhile back. It’s sci-fi, which is so weird, since that’s not my wheelhouse, but I’m working on it a bit at a time, and really excited about the direction it’s taken. So we’ll see where that goes. I’m just happy to be writing again.
  10. Take care of my health:
    • Work to make my body stronger and more resilient through dance, running, hiking, and HIIT exercises: I have done virtually nothing, though I have attended three weekly dance classes, so I guess that does count for something. I’ve learned the whole routine! But still, I could really use a daily sweaty workout.
    • Care for my skin, so I can keep looking just slightly younger than I actually am: This month I bought a sonic microblade device, which is super cool. I also just transitioned over to a new luxury natural beauty brand that features sustainable packaging. I’m going to blog about this, since I’m so excited. I spent the month researching various options, and kept coming back to Kjaer Weis being the best brand to suit all of my needs (vegan, natural ingredients, actually works, with packaging that presents a minimal impact) and this one kept popping up. Today I finally made the switch, and was very happy with the resulting look. I’m not sure if I will use their skincare line, as well, but I loved the little store I visited to try the makeup, so I might go back there soon to see what other suggestions they have for my skin type and needs.
    • Shower my body with affection and attention. Remind myself in the physical and mental planes that I am beautiful and special, and I both am and will be loved. I can always use more of this, but definitely feeling pretty this month. I’m going kind of natural now, and it’s interesting. I went to get a mani/pedi and didn’t do polish. The nail tech was so confused, lol. I also am growing my hair out, and it’s longer now than it’s been in maybe 10 years or so. I almost bought ponytail holders today. These are steps I’m taking to show me that I’m fine just how I am. I think that it’s been benefiting me, mentally, to just give myself a break to BE.
  11. Travel! Hike! Fingers totally crossed for that job in Seattle. If I get it, I’ll never sit indoors for an extended period again.
  12. Take one honest-to-goodness class per month, and learn one new thing. It could be a dance, a craft, a history lesson – let’s not get picky, just keep the curiosity alive and kicking. In May, I took my Chorus Girl class. In June, I’ll be continuing with the Chorus Girls (hopefully getting in at least one performance before July), and also I’m starting Spanish class tomorrow night 🙂

Fingers Crossed

I had an interview today for a senior position in Seattle, and am feeling cautiously hopeful. It would be amazing if it worked out, and I’d love to share more with you about the job, but will be keeping the bulk of the details private, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

For now, I can tell you what I told the interviewers – Seattle has been on my short list of cities for years now, and I’d be delighted to get the chance to move there. Both the city and the workplace will offer me incredible chances to grow as a person. I’m excited to even be able to dream about the advances I could make in being physically and mentally more fit, and the workplace actually has impressive wellness initiatives in place for employees and customers.

Better than my own personal health is the health of the planet. To move to a city with a light rail system, a kick-ass recycling program, and zero waste bulk stores would be a dream come true. On top of that, I can easily get out of the city for a weekend in the woods, with mountains and ocean within view. This all being said, though, the best possible part of potentially ending up in Seattle is that I have a dear friend there, and several other loved ones very close by.

Fingers are officially crossed.