About me

Big City Probs

As my time living in a large US city comes to a close, I’m reflecting on my experiences and general observances of life here. Setting aside the astronomical (and totally not worth it, in my opinion) price tag, I found Washington, DC to be clean, well laid-out, and often charming. So why would I almost never consider living in a big city again? People are dicks. 

Are you surprised? Probably not. Everyone says people in New York can be rude as hell, and DC is just a smaller, lamer New York with politicians. Gross. But I think this rule probably applies to almost every large, ambitious city on the globe.

When we live in big cities, we are surrounded on all sides by people. This is what we would traditionally call a “community.” But if you consider yourself part of a community in a big city, it’s likely your neighborhood or profession, not the greater population. It’s literally impossible to befriend everyone who crosses your path in a day, let alone everyone who lives in your city of choice. You can’t possibly remember the details of 600,000 lives. There’s an important difference between being introverted and just recognizing the futility of your social advances. In big cities, people stop being people and become hordes, numbers, and statistics.

Quite often, I just have no interest in talking to other human beings and would rather focus inward. But on rare occasions (typically when I’ve had a good amount of sunshine and food), I could fathom the idea of striking up on conversation with a stranger. Yet I still almost never do. The times I do, it’s with an individual I’m highly likely to see again. The concierge of a building I work at frequently, a person who lives in my apartment complex, you get the idea. The reason behind this is obvious: building relationships with people helps us to not only enjoy our interactions with them more, but to win their favor in the hopes it might benefit us someday.

This is what being a social animal is all about. But what happens when you force human beings together repeatedly, but remove the reward of these relationships? Rudeness. That guy on the subway who takes up two seats for no reason, the person who collides with you on the sidewalk while looking at their phone without so much of an “excuse me.” Anyone who’s lived in a city will probably complain that the people they cross paths with every day just don’t seem to give a fuck.

But why should they? For the vast majority of human history, we lived in small, nomadic hunter-gatherer bands or agricultural communities. Each individual’s survival and wellbeing relied heavily on his or her relationships with others. Be a dick to one of your neighbors, and it would almost certainly come back to bite you in the ass. Be a dick to everyone, and risk ostracization—a prescription for a swift and definitely not painless death. Much like small living spaces force people to pick up after themselves, small communities literally force people to value positive interactions with their fellow humans. Don’t shit where you eat. Once a society or gathering becomes large enough, individuals stop caring as much about how they treat one another. The likelihood that you will have to deal with someone you’ve been unpleasant to shrinks dramatically.

Still, some people in cities seam to be interested in friendship and communication, while others are walking nightmares for everyone around them. It’s not uncommon for city-dwellers to point out that upper-class folks tend to be more dickish. This goes to show that the old rules of human social structures may still apply, but only for those below a certain economic threshold. As a pleb, be a dick to your roommates, boss, or a police officer, and you’ll find yourself in a world of pain and financial trouble. But for many (a shrinking number, I’ll point out), a steady supply of magical green paper ensures beyond any doubt their needs will be met regardless of whom they piss off.

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The recipe for a community of dicks goes like this: Take a bunch of people from all over the world and put them very close together. Add in the privacy obsession of sex-negative and body-shaming cultures for some reclusiveness and paranoia, if desired. Stir in a heavy dose of the individualistic ideals touted by capitalist economics. Simmer for at least a half-century.

Cash flow has replaced social support as a means of overcoming challenges, thus success and independence have eclipsed social interaction as the prime directive. Even lower class individuals will often turn to crime rather than ask family or friends for help. In capitalist society, pride is not a deadly sin but a central aspect of a person’s self worth. People respect “the hustle” more than vulnerability, honesty, and friendship. With no dollar sign on politeness and little opportunity to build lasting relationships, where does the incentive even lie for the average person to be kind? The poisonous result of this cocktail of individualism and population density does not just cause the wealthy to condescend and the impoverished to resort to crime however. It entices absolutely everyone to only look out for number one.

I’m sure many will throw up their hands in frustration and proclaim that I’m ignoring the silent kindness that goes on every day. The people who, to no apparent benefit of their own, are continually kind to every stranger they meet. These people are emblems of altruism, and the true representation of human nature. The others are just assholes. This leads me to two unsavory logical conclusions: 1) the majority, if not vast majority, of humans beings are assholes and 2) kindness is some sort of mental disease suffered by a small, but noticeable, portion of the population. However, these individuals are to be held up as “correct” human beings.

Like many bad logical pathways, this one’s error lies in an assumption early on in the reasoning: the assumption that kind people are selfless. The truth is that kind people have simply decoded the truth about the world: that independence does not make you happy,  relationships do. Many people misunderstand this to mean happiness lies in a perfect romantic partner, family, or the right number of friends. They focus on having “their people” and often end up saying “fuck you” to the rest of the world. They still fell under the spell of self-reliance and isolation that tells us there is no inherent value in non-repeatable positive interactions. And they have been severely misled.

The truth is that positive interactions, be they with strangers or long time friends, have both immediate and lasting effects on happiness. I know this because science. But I also know this because of my own day-to-day struggles. As a severely introverted and under-confident person, I typically avoid social interaction as much as possible. Conversations with people, especially strangers or casual acquaintances, are so stressful and taxing, that I feel I need an hour of solitude to recover from every one I have. However when I’m forced to let this wall down, either by work or an activity I’ve chosen to take part in, every positive experience I have improves my day.

Using cognitive behavioral therapy tactics often referred to as “taking in the good,” I dwell on these positive interactions and they create lasting impacts on my brain, helping to battle the depression and hopelessness I struggle with each day. My motivation for being kind to people could not be any more selfish. I am literally doing it to improve my own mood temporarily and my life as a whole. As far as I know, the person I have been kind to has received nothing tangible from our interaction (except for maybe some awesome customer service at the place I’m working). Yet, when I’m kind to people, they are (almost) always kind in return. My guess, which isn’t really a guess, is that they are receiving a boost from this interaction too, whether they know it or not.

Many people may never realize the degree to which they have isolated themselves. They may have a family, a good job, and friends so society tells them they’ve done everything right. But they continually search for a nonexistent community. Many find supplemental happiness in the tribal institutions of sports teams, churches, or political parties. It definitely doesn’t hurt to have a group to associate with. I know I find serious healing power in the community environment of small music festivals and artistic gatherings. In today’s world, a common interest is often the only tool we have to sift through the masses of people who exist around us, and help us decide who is worth investing our social energy in.

But what these groups really do is take the community process and turn it on its head. They allow us to decide we like people’s hobbies or opinions before we decide if we like them as people. Meanwhile these “friends” probably don’t live near you, and they probably value you more for your utility as someone to spend time with than as a trustworthy and caring member of their extended family.

Perhaps this is part of the reason so many people in the United States struggle to make friends in adulthood. While their school years gave them plenty of time to sort through the people they interacted with, deciding if they were a good fit for them or not, their work life or social group friends are just kind of, well, there. I wouldn’t exactly tell someone to drop everything in their life to pursue their old high school or college mates, but I think everyone could stand to be a little more invested in the community they build around themselves.

And hey, if you do live in a big city. Stop being such a dick. It can’t possible be worth shoving an old lady down the escalator to make your metro car. The place where you’re standing is VERY CLEARLY a thoroughfare and you’re impeding dozens of people a second with your idle chitchat about the weather. It’s rude to stare. Give a homeless person a fucking dollar while you’re standing in line to get into a overpriced club and buy drinks for people you hate. Give someone a hug. A real one. With both arms.

Categories: About me, Culture, Humanity, Lifestyle, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Insufferable Practice of Gifting

Common adages of gift-giving tend to center around the idea that nothing should be expected in return. True gifts are given to elevate the happiness of both the gifter and the giftee, not to further personal agendas. But the Darwinian concept of altruism leads me to believe this is, to put it bluntly, a lot of horseshit. Most who have taken any kind of animal behavior or evolution class may recall that instances of “altruism” in the animal world aren’t so warm and fuzzy. Most “selfless” acts of animals are indeed selfish on the genetic level, as Richard Dawkins has so thoroughly pointed out. Altruistic deeds such as sharing food or grooming a friend have been linked mostly to one of two explanations: kin selection or expectation of return on investment, so to speak.

Adult male birds of some species may forgo having their own “family” in favor of helping mom raise the next generation of chicks. This occurs because the male somehow recognizes better odds in passing on his genes by aiding the survival of his (likely half) brothers and sisters than by trolling for bitches (passing along his genes directly). Why does this happen? Maybe that bird is fugly. Maybe he’s really directionally challenged. Or maybe he’s just more of a grey-ace. Whatever the reason, his nanny-like role in this weird Brady bunch bird family is for his genes’ gain, not charity. This is referred to as kin selection.

In a different example, unrelated primates who live together in troops often groom one another or share food. Now, sometimes the primate in question happens to be one of those adventurous foodie types that like to eat bugs. In this case his grooming is of a bit more symbiotic nature, not altruistic. But in many other cases, the debris removed from the back hair of a comrade are not valued, and the job is being done as a sort of friendly service. How altruistic! Except no…well, sort of. Most biologists and behaviorists would probably agree that primates engage in these activities to strengthen social bonds and up the chance that a friend will come to their aid in the future. In short, they expect a return on their friendly investment someday. Primate friends that are always on the receiving end of these good deeds are more likely to be ignored by their so-called friends, and eventually even expelled from the group.

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“If you find anything good in there Steven, let me know. I don’t know what to get Clarice for Christmas, she has everything.”

If anywhere near thousands of people read my blog (hahaha), hundreds of those people would now be clamoring to say “well yeah, animals are selfish because they aren’t evolved like us, and don’t understand love in the dimension we humans do.” And I would say, that’s a fine argument and a notable possibility. But it’s just a possibility. I’d argue a small one at that. Let’s not pretend to be ignorant to the role so-called “gifts” play in human social record keeping. Folks in business and politics exchange money, goods, and services every day in the hopes of getting closer to a desired outcome, loosely camouflaging their contributions as “gifts.” Most people seem to accept this fact yet refuse to entertain the idea that almost all gift giving might be tainted with similar intentions of self-service. As above, so below.

To me, the question is simply whether these intentions are conscious or not. You may not think you’re giving someone a gift to strengthen a social bond and increase your chance of receiving something (either tangible or intangible) from that person later one, but it’s still entirely possible this motive is buried in your subconscious. If you’ve read anything in this blog before this post, you’re probably aware I’m not of the opinion that humans are a chosen species existing in a moral and emotional realm head and shoulders above all other life on Earth. I recognize that our cognitive capabilities have developed to a level so as to serve as our primary survival mechanism and have thus surpassed those of other species. But I do not believe we have extracted ourselves entirely from survival-oriented mental processes.

My understanding of the biological function of altruism coupled with what I would characterize as moderate to severe introversion have led me to hate the practice of gift giving. I find myself continually searching for exchange rates. If this person gave me an unexpected gift, what is an appropriate gesture to exchange for this at some point down the road? Regardless of whether or not that person “thinks” they want something in return, the imbalance of social cues that has been created in my brain becomes at best an irritant, at worst a source of stress and shame. Sure this can occur in other ways besides gift-giving. Maybe a friend has helped you through an emotional crisis, or helped you out financially and you haven’t had an opportunity to return the favor. This creates and imbalance of social exchange as well. However, nothing seems so direct and superfluous as gift-giving. The imbalance is created for silly, arbitrary reasons and the course of action to even the score is not always clear.

Occasions hardly make the situation better. Those who know me well are probably familiar with my distaste for Christmas. They may also know it arises almost entirely from the practice of giving and receiving Christmas gifts. To me, Christmas time is a social minefield of opportunities to be ambushed by surprise gifts. I take almost no joy in receiving gifts unless I have an equivalent one to give. This explanation of why I hate gifts does not even touch on my hatred of “stuff.” That’s a separate rant though. See this post from 2015 if you’d like that angle.

I don’t really have an agenda here. I’m not advocating we abolish all gift giving in the name of science. Nor am I trying to call bullshit on people who insist they just really like giving gifts and never hope to receive anything in return. If you’re one of those people, I appreciate your intentions and commend your kindness. Mostly I just find it interesting to dissect things that most people find normal but I find odd or uncomfortable and look at why this might be. Furthermore I know there are other people who feel this way. The more validity I can add to our viewpoint on the subject, the more likely people are to start listening to us when we say we don’t want gifts. However, if you’d like a concrete take-home message from this rant let it be this: the greatest gift you can give me is not giving me gifts. Happy holidays or something.

Categories: About me, Humanity, Thoughts, Waste | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Residential Unit

There’s a sign in the elevator of my downtown DC apartment complex that unabashedly refers to my 600-square foot dwelling as a “residential unit.” I looked at the sign for much longer than it took to read the simple arrangement of words, trying to decide why it made me feel strange. Perhaps it’s because the phrase “residential unit” bares hardly any resemblance to the word home. “Welcome to my humble residential unit.” “My residential unit is your residential unit.” Nice.

I’m sure there are others who would find discomfort in the utilitarian nature of the phrase. It does conjure some Orwellian images; humans living in simplistic, identical cubicles packed into an aging brick facade. Yet these notions really don’t bother me. Simple, condensed housing is affordable and sustainable and can be made beautiful.

The sign unsettles me ever so slightly because it reminds me that I live in an epicenter. A human hive. My apartment, though I consider it my current “home,” is one unit of hundreds contained within the same monolith structure, neighbored by countless other monolith structures, creating a man-made landscape that blots out the horizon.

It’s not that I necessarily object to this arrangement. If ants and termites didn’t arrange themselves into hills and towers, their presence would likely overwhelm the spaces they inhabit. Living close by one another, where we can easily access the goods and services we need without burning long-dead organic matters and releasing toxic fumes, is the most sustainable, logical way to support our populations at their current numbers.

I don’t mind my residential unit. It’s the perfect size for two human beings and a cat and requires minimal maintenance. Were it to serve as my entire world however, it would be in desperate need of what a zookeeper would refer to as “enrichment.” Sure there are books on the shelves, a TV, and implements for my various hobbies. But living solely within the confines of any space becomes difficult after too long, regardless of the opportunities for amusement.

I suspect that I am overly aware of my captivity in much the same way that some pets are. While I am not explicitly kept in doors and on asphalt against my will, I am a prisoner of my nature. Just as a golden retriever does not want to be abandoned on the side of a dirt road, I don’t long to escape the shackles of civilization for a proud life of shitting in the woods and eating rabbit meat. I like baths, coffee, and live music as much as the next girl. I have been designed, by both nature and nurture, to exist in this framework of human existence and find little romanticism in the idea of wholly “returning to nature.”

Still, I often look over the railing atop my 11-story building and revel at how exceedingly easy it would be to initiate the fall that would crumple my body and end my brief experience with this world. The image is both a nightmare and a fantasy.

Perhaps someday I’ll find the proper balance of “nature” (this word is it’s own conundrum) and practical human existence. Maybe the lingering, sticking sensation of living in a hamster cage would evaporate if I were to achieve my dream existence in an earthship in the woods, or nomadically wandering the continent in a comfortably compact van. But deep in the recesses of my brain I suspect that wouldn’t be the case. You can always make your dog happier, but you can never make it understand what it means to no longer be a wolf.

Categories: About me, Humanity, Lifestyle, Sustainability, Thoughts, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tiny Vampires

Hello my lovely 20-something followers! It’s been a while. But don’t worry; I have a whole new cornucopia of excuses to justify my lack of commitment to my blog. First and foremost, I’ve started actually getting paid to write (not a lot, but enough to motivate me to choose the gig over blogging). Second, I’ve had a whole host of life changes recently that kind of threw my routine (if I ever had one) out the window.

The most interesting of those is the subject of this post. After quite some time deliberating on the subject—and getting over some embarrassment and mild PTSD—I decided I am comfortable enough to share my experience. Don’t you feel lucky?

So here it goes.

Over the summer, my life was almost destroyed by a creature the size of a flax seed.

Those who’ve been victimized by this agent of Satan probably already know what I’m referring to. For the rest of you lucky, bright-eyed, blissfully ignorant bastards, I’ll elaborate (and ruin your night’s sleep): I’m talking about bed bugs. Sounds creepy right?

Well…

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When I first heard of bed bugs it was probably whilst combing travel websites. Bed bugs are often mentioned in the realm of hostels, dorms, and cheap motels, especially those abroad. I believe I checked for them half-heartedly a few times while staying in hostels in Costa Rica, not really even knowing what I was looking for.

However, everyone seems to forget to mention some very important information about bed bugs, predominantly that they are FUCKING EVERYWHERE. That’s right kiddos, nowhere is safe. Since the 80s, bed bug infestations have exploded in developed nations. Bed bugs aren’t just in hostels or motels, but in high-end apartments, restaurants, laundromats, and even libraries—yes they hide in books, and yes you can get them from these books. Commence psychotic breakdown.

Most attribute this rise to an increase in travel and pesticide resistance as well as a lack of education and the stigma surrounding infestations. Well, I’m going to do my share to tackle the last part of that sentence and school anyone reading this about these little vampires:

 

Bed bugs don’t give a shit if you’re dirty or clean, poor or rich.

Anyone and any place can be infested by bed bugs. My apartment definitely wasn’t what I would consider “high-end” but it also wasn’t a slum. Bed bugs may seem to plague poor areas more than affluent ones due to larger amounts of clutter, less responsive pest management practices, and the circulation of second-hand furniture. This doesn’t change the fact that the evil little shits will live anywhere, hitchhike on anything, and feed on anyone. Anywhere they can find warm bodies is good place to settle down. Oh, and they can also wait around for months without a meal. Like I said, nowhere is safe.

 

Bed bugs aren’t just annoying.

Some sources refer to bed bugs as an “annoying pest.” People who write things like this should try waking up to the feeling of something snacking on you, and then dealing with the knowledge that said something has actually been living in your bed frame for weeks, living off your precious life energy and shitting in your bed the whole time. Then they can tell me just how “annoying” that is. It’s not annoying, it’s fucking horrifying. This is the stuff of nightmares. Though they don’t spread disease, bed bugs can turn normal human beings into paranoid, anxiety-ridden insomniacs. So not exactly a great experience for someone who already suffers from Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Now I have the added delight of experiencing a mini heart attack any time I see something vaguely reminiscent in shape or size of a bed bug or feel an itch while in bed. For more on “Bed Bug Madness”, check out this article.

 

There is hope. Kind of.

The internet and brazen honesty are our friends in the fight against bed bugs. Through my research I found that in addition to professional extermination services, the most valuable weapon against bed bugs is plain old heat. You can purchase a product called the “Bug Zapper.” It’s basically just a portable oven that will heat your possessions (in a much safer and more effective manner than a conventional oven) to a point that cooks the tiny vampires alive. You can also freeze possessions to kill bed bugs, but this takes a lot longer and is less reliable. Most importantly people need to stop acting like this is something that only happens in the third world. All apartment complexes should warn tenants about bed bugs. Parents should teach their kids about bed bugs. President Obama should deliver an address and turn national attention and full military power towards bed bugs. Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Oprah should be solving the bed bug crisis.

 

So maybe I’m just a little bent out of shape about this. But the reality is not that bed bugs ruined my life but that they took something sacred away from it. The second most devastating loss of my bed bug infestation (the first being my sanity, naturally) was my love for second-hand items. I hate buying new things in a world full of unwanted stuff and I love the character of used books, furniture, and clothing. But now that I’ve peered into the rabbit hole of lunacy, desperation and paranoia that is life with bed bugs, my zeal has been replaced with fear. I still buy used clothes, but I throw them immediately into the wash on hot and dry them for 60 minutes to set my mind at ease. I’ve also bought a few used books after flipping neurotically through the pages. But my love affair with used furniture has officially ended. I feel as though my innocence has been taken. I find it tragic that I must pass up a perfectly good futon on craigslist, or a unique end table with a turkey on it at the thrift store for fear of another infestation.

I’m not sure what the answer to the bed bug epidemic is, other than spreading the word to avoid curbside castaways and inspect hotel beds. I don’t know if throwing infested furniture in landfills or using new pesticides will do anything but prolong the inevitable: a hostile takeover of human society by nefarious bed bug overlords.

Ok obviously I’m kidding but it’s still pretty frightening, don’t you think?

 

So for anyone with something important to do today, here’s the ANGTFT (Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That) version of the last six months of my life:

Just when I was starting to really love my new tiny apartment lifestyle, it was unceremoniously demolished by demonic arthropods. My cat and I moved in with my boyfriend, almost infested his place as well, and I salvaged what possessions and sanity I could. Despite all this, we still managed to escape Michigan just before winter truly set in. We now share a small apartment in downtown D.C. where we are hoping to find work before our modest savings run out.

Thanks for reading friends, and may you never wake up in the middle of the night to find a tiny vampire hiding in the pages of your scifi novel.

Cheers.

Categories: About me, Lifestyle, Travel | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Checking in: Six Months of Tiny Living and Carlessness!

So remember that time I said I was going to try to write a little bit each week instead of waiting and then doing a massive thought dump? Well, I did try.

I’m not very good at keeping routines and as much as I liked writing regularly, it didn’t take long for me to become distracted by various other things. You see there are just too many fun activities out there to occupy my time. I have far too many hobbies and not enough (free) hours in the day. So much like meditation, yoga, and waking up early, my newfound habit sort of fell by the wayside. Furthermore since the golden, short time of summer is finally upon us Michiganders, I spend 90% of my day riding my bike, hiking around in woodlots and fields at work, and otherwise recreating outside. Thus, I’m not exactly sitting in front of my computer frequently.

Me, every week.

Me, every week.

Now that I’ve got my excuses out of the way, let’s get to the main purpose of this post. I am officially into month six of my simple living lifestyle design experiment, or whatever the hell you want to call it. It’s not so much an experiment as it is just my life…but since it’s all kind of new to me and more or less uncharted territory as far as my peers go, I’m taking note of the results. I have to say, so far things have gone remarkably well. I’m smitten with my tiny apartment, my job at the university is enjoyable, and the majority of the time I love being car-less. In the interest of organization and keeping up with themes, I’m going to construct this post much the same way I did my pre-move in post. Yup, cliché internet list style. Enjoy.

6 Triumphs and Failures of a Simplified Lifestyle

1. Living a 10-minute bike ride from work is amazing.

If you’re a sane human being you hate commuting to work. Who the hell wants to get early up just to sit in traffic with thousands of other miserable people? Getting to work is basically just like an extra punch in the face on top of the drudgery of the average 8-hour workday. However, biking or busing to work in 10-20 minutes has basically taken all the stress out of this experience. I find that I actually show up to work in a decent mood most days (well, now that it’s above 45 degrees in the morning that is).

2. Living in a small space has helped me prioritize my needs and wants.

When your kitchen is the size of a walk-in closet you really start to learn which cooking implements are really necessary. Spatula? For sure. Strange contraption that peels an orange for you? I’ll pass. I’ve gotten rid of a fair amount of stuff, from video games to clothes to toiletries and it honestly feels fantastic. Not only is a small living space incentive to purge (or not purchase in the first place) unneeded things, it’s a great (and valid) excuse as to why you can’t accept unwanted gifts or giveaways. “Sorry, I literally do not have room in my apartment for the most wasteful coffee maker known to mankind Karen but thanks for the biodegradable K-cups.”

3. Not having a car is surprisingly liberating.

You would think not having a car would be a hindrance, almost impossible depending on where you live. However, due to the fairly reliable bus system in my area, my love of biking and moderate distaste for driving, I’ve found it predominantly enjoyable. Finding parking, paying for parking, rush-hour traffic, wondering if I’d had one too many drinks to get my car home tonight…these are all things I miss worrying about literally 0 percent. My bike is also helping to keep me in great shape, even when I don’t bust my ass at work or take time to exercise. It’s nice not having to think about exercising, instead it’s just part of my existence. If my bike is reading this, I love you!

4. Not having a car is predictably constraining.

For out-of-city needs and adventures however, not having a car is undoubtedly frustrating. Things like the Greyhound, Michigan Flyer (basically a nicer Greyhound), and Zipcar are definitely better than nothing and I’m so glad they exist…but they don’t exactly close the gap. Zipcars get pricey when you need them for more than a few hours, and getting to and from a bus station can be an adventure in and of itself. Thus, I haven’t seen my out of town friends or traveled around Michigan nearly as much as I’d like and I do a lot of mooching off my boyfriend to get to metro Detroit. By far the worst part of this however is getting to medical appointments. My insurance blows and many of the doctors I need or would like to see are 30 minutes or more outside my city. It essentially makes the ordeal of seeing a doctor even more annoying, which I didn’t even know was possible honestly. Still though, I would take these relatively infrequent annoyances over stress and astronomical monthly payments any day.

5. Having more free time is a blast.

Until recently I was only working 32 hours a week. Due to my low rent and lack of car costs, this was more than enough to cover my expenses. However, due to my need to save for my impending move and the increase in workload that comes with field season, I am back up to full time. I was blissfully happy working 32 hours however. That extra day before the weekend hit was just what I needed to do the things I wanted to do, but was always too tired or burnt out to do during a normal 40-hour workweek. I found the extra free time gave me space to be creative, functional, and reflective, as well as relax. Saving money by living simply speaks volumes when it allows you to have this freedom. It’s unfortunate there aren’t more jobs out there that allow 32-hour workweeks.

6. Having less money to spend during it is a drag.

Chances are if you live 10 minutes from where you work and you take the bus everywhere, you live in a city. And chances are if you live in a city, you’re not exactly in range of a lot of free recreation options. Compared to the hiking, swimming, snorkeling, coconut husking free time of Costa Rica jungle living, free activities in the city are a little less enthralling. The ironic thing is that my lifestyle is what allows me to have this free time, yet that same lifestyle limits what I can do with it. Luckily I’ve found a few great low-cost hobbies that I genuinely love, like hula hooping in parks and hanging around campus on nice days. But the glory of sitting on sunny patios, drinking long islands and eating seasoned fries still beckons. Hence why I’ve eaten or drank about a third of the money I was supposed to save this month. Whoops.

So there you have it folks, a quick run through of the pros and cons of my lifestyle. I may also post some pictures of my tiny apartment (if I ever get around to taking them) in a future post, because I think it’s pretty rad. If I had to give the past six months a rating, I would probably say eight out of ten, do recommend. However, I’m still more than ready for a change…and I have a feeling fall is going to sneak up fast. It’s becoming increasingly important for me to save money and focus on how I’m going to get my ass from Michigan to somewhere warm…but that’s for another post. Till next time, Pura Vida!

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Four Of The Greatest Things About Pink Mohawks

This past weekend I had the extremely pleasurable and cathartic experience of cutting all my hair off. Although I’ve had very short hair before, last time it was a gradual process from long and curly to medium-length to bob to short. This time, I simply grew it out to my shoulders and then got rid of all of it. Combined with the lifting of seasonal depression that accompanies the transition from winter to spring, I basically felt as if I had been reborn in my sister’s salon chair. I breathed a sigh of relief as she cut the bulk of my mousy brown hair off. I almost graduated to tears of joy as she shaved the sides of my head and I once more noticed the sensation of cool air against the nape of my neck. This may seem like an overly dramatic description of a haircut to some, but for me and a lot of other girls (and guys I’m sure), hair is kind of a big deal. Some of the reasons for which will be touched on below. For me, short hair is a big deal. More specifically short, loud hair. This time I went with a pink mohawk:

"Wild Orchid" to be exact.

“Wild Orchid” to be exact.

Now obviously the pink mohawk isn’t for everyone. It isn’t even really for me in the long run because that color is way too much of a pain in the ass to upkeep. But I do intend to keep the mohawk style in one form or another. My points touch more on the general positive externalities associated with unconventional hairstyle choices. But just for fun, let’s focus specifically on the benefits of the pink mohawk:

1. It’s streamlined. Like a shark fin.

Much like how the cartilaginous dorsal fin of the great white shark cuts through murky waters, pink mohawks allow for ease of movement through daily life. Because you know, fuck hair ties. Like seriously fuck hair ties. And bobby pins. And all those other things that never manage to hold more than like 72% of your hair in place.

2. With a pink mohawk, you’re just an oversized broadsword and small animal companion away from being an anime character.

That’s right, my hairstyle is strange and bright enough that I could almost walk right into an anime convention and someone would start making educated guesses about what series my cosplay was from. Furthermore, going through life with an outrageous hairstyle makes every day feel like the kind of adventure anime-you would have. Like you’re the star of your very own TV show. And hey, no one wants to watch your TV show if you do the same boring things every day, go crazy! If that’s not enough for you, a short hairstyle like a pink mohawk allows easy access to the fun world of wigs (a world which is exponentially more diverse with things like Etsy and Ebay)–you can literally have any hairstyle you want!

3. Confidence, by default.

When you have a hairstyle that more of less blends in, it is possible to do things with minimal confidence or gusto and no one will notice. But when you have a pink mohawk, you have to kind of go big or go home. You have to do things confidently and intentionally. Why might you ask? Well my inquisitive friend, picture someone dancing awkwardly at a club but instead of embracing the awkward and having fun, they shrink themselves down and keep their eyes cast at the floor to avoid drawing attention to themselves. Now picture that person has a pink mohawk. Doesn’t the scene get 100x more awkward and painful to envision? That’s because acting like you don’t want people to look at you while also sporting a pink mohawk is really stupid. So I find that when I do things, regardless of whether I’m doing them correctly or well, when I have a loud hairstyle I do them intentionally and with confidence. Often, just doing something confidently improves the quality of whatever it is you’re doing…or creates a really powerful illusion of quality. And that’s almost the same thing, right?

4. A person with a pink mohawk doesn’t give a shit about being seen as normal.

This is the big one. It’s less of an “I don’t give a fuck about you” (ok Big Sean) thing than it’s a “lets get this out of the way early” sort of thing. I’m not saying I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks, I clearly do, or else I wouldn’t bother looking a certain way at all. I would probably wear an oversized t-shirt and hippie pants out everyday since that’s the most comfortable ensemble I own; yet I refrain from this tempting possibility. I like to look nice. This is more about me communicating without having to say anything that I’m a little odd. Much like the “Hello, I’m poor” cheat from my previous post, having a pink mohawk skips the several conversations it might take for someone to realize I’m a little “out there” and clues them right in from the start. I like this because I hate smalltalk. I hate the pleasantries involved in trying to appear more or less “normal” to someone you just met. That’s not to say I’m going to launch right into talking about why cats are better than children with someone I just met, it just means that when those things do come up, they can’t really act like I didn’t warn them. I have a fucking pink mohawk after all.

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“Hello, I’m poor.”

The past few weeks I’ve been trying (and succeeding I might add) to sell my old playstation 2 and games since I don’t really play it much anymore and it’s just taking up space at this point. In doing so I’ve had more strangers visit my apartment than I would ever normally expect. It was interesting to observe the reactions of the people when they finally managed to find my teeny tiny remodeled motel of an apartment “complex” and then my teeny tiny apartment all the way in the back. More than one of the strangers said something to the effect of “I didn’t even realize these were apartments” or “I thought this was a motel”, which is totally to be expected, I thought the same thing when I went to visit the place before signing a lease.

I didn’t think anything of it really until today, when the guy who was coming in to buy my controllers had trouble opening the door with my ill-fitted draft protector from amazon wedged awkwardly beneath it. “Sorry” I said, laughing as I fixed the cumbersome thing, “I’m poor and this helps with the electric”. Before he left, he asked why I was selling my playstation. “Well I don’t really use it much anymore and I’m poor, so…” I said, laughing again. He seemed mildly taken aback that I was so fond of referring to myself as “poor” but laughed politely and took his leave.

After the encounter I thought to myself, why am I so quick to say that? By all rational consideration, I am not poor. I work a job that pays well above minimum wage, I live in a safe area of town in an apartment by myself, I’m never hungry, etc. I’m also not ashamed of my lifestyle in any way. I find extravagance to be far more embarrassing and hope that people never assume I’m wealthy or spoiled. I think me countering with “I’m poor” is a sort of shortcut because I don’t want to give the whole answer. I don’t want to explain why I’d rather have a little extra cash than things I don’t really need, or that my apartment looks like a motel because it totally is one and I love the location and size, or why I choose not to work full-time. It’s easier for people to understand my choices if I just communicate in the most clear way that I don’t have a lot of money to throw around.

Being poor in a developing country or in blighted inner-city neighborhoods here in the US can mean spending most of your day worrying about how you’re going to eat or where you’re going to sleep. For that reason, it seems utterly insulting to compare my lifestyle to that of someone who actually struggles with poverty. Yet our culture of consumption is so strong that if a person is not actively consuming as much as they can, people start to question your choices. Amassing things and space you don’t need is a sign of happiness and wealth so by this logic, selling off possessions and taking up as little space as possible must be sign of desperation and poverty.

I wish more people would develop the distaste for extravagance I have and embrace the liberating experience of discovering what you actually need to be happy. Once you start viewing runaway consumption for what it is—an act of violence on the rest of the resource-consuming world for taking up far more than your fair share—it is rather hard to go back to thinking you really need a hummer or three video game consoles. I think the tiny house movement and the “hipster” popularization of thrift shopping, local food, and other money and/or resource-saving escapades are steps in the right direction, but I also think they are often taken for the wrong reasons. Fads can only take a movement so far until they get watered down into completely appearance-based phenomena and suddenly you have people paying two million dollars for designer tiny homes and several hundred for used suits. When this happens, the movement’s credibility is lost entirely and everyone goes back to hating hipsters.

So the question really becomes, how do we make being “poor” acceptable, even cool? By this I of course mean that choosing to work less, spend less, and accumulate less isn’t viewed as being poor or even as being a hipster, but as being sensible and making choices that prioritize quality of life over quantity of stuff.

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Hey internet: I made it through January and most of February!

Sorry I’ve taken so long to write a sequel to my resolution post (as I’m sure all ten or so of my followers have been eagerly awaiting it, right?). The dead of winter has its icy grip on me, so it’s basically been a ginormous accomplishment to even get out of bed and make it to work every day (Thanks, S.A.D.). Nevertheless, thanks to coffee and the fact that my power cord reaches my bed, I am committed to producing something today.

I have been living in my tiny apartment for about a month and half now and I have to say…I love it! It has been by far the easiest move I’ve ever done as most of my larger belongings fit into two SUV loads and thanks to my ever-so-patient boyfriend, I have been slowly moving the rest of my belongings from his place over the past month. Now finally, aside from a few oddball items like a cello and a yoga ball, everything of importance to me is here.

I measured the space and my apartment comes in at a whopping 250 square feet, cabinets, sinks, and bathtub included. In order to make this space feel like more than just a bedroom with a kitchen, I decided to invest in some appropriate furnishings:

– Queen size lofted bed: $160 (Craigslist)
(Dinner for boyfriend after he assembled lofted bed: $40)

-Compact but cozy mattress to allow for more space up top: $140 (Amazon)

– Space-saving vertical dresser: $90 (Ikea)
(Drinks for myself after assembling dresser: $15)

Covered litter box for kitty so her business doesn’t get in mine: $20

All other furnishings: ~$100 (Craigslist and hand-me-downs)

So, including the nurturing of wounded souls involved in the assembly of frustrating furniture, outfitting my new place cost around $460. Not too bad when you consider professionally renovating a space generally costs thousands. For someone as poor as me however, it did set me back a little when combined with security deposit and first month’s rent.

Here’s a visual of the most important part of my apartment, my giant lofted bed:

IMG_3505

And yes, that’s me awkwardly hiding underneath it. The walls are much less bare now and the area below the bed has been turned into a micro-living room. I have one of those papasan chair cushions and throw pillows on the floor as a stand-in for a couch. I also have a TV and shelves down there. All-in-all it’s a great, cozy little space. Lita’s litter box is hidden in the “basement”, aka the area below the little platform that leads up to my bed. I also keep some odds and ends under there like bags and my camera equipment. Lita seems to like the space. She loves using the bed as pride rock to survey her kingdom from above and the fact that there’s nowhere for me to hide when she wants to sit on my lap.

Although I feel like my apartment is pretty much the perfect size to house everything I own, and in fact I’d like to own fewer things, there are some drawbacks to the space:

1. The biggest problem with my tiny apartment is the tiny kitchen. I love to cook and I also love to save money by cooking big meals and eating the leftovers all week. Although I love my gas stove, there’s just not a lot of room for heavy-duty meal prep.

2. I wish I had a closet. Although my clothes fit quite well in my pseudo-closet (a clothes wrack on the opposite wall to my bed with a smell chest of drawers underneath it), I just don’t like the way it looks. I would much rather have all my clothes tucked away in a tiny closet, mostly for aesthetic reasons but also for the extra storage space a closet tends to provide.

3. It’s not the greatest for entertaining. My micro-living room is great for two, three if you want to get cozy with each other, but that’s about it. With it being the winter and me being broke, I feel this is a pretty big drawback. But hey, you can’t have it all. With the money I’m saving on rent and fuel I do feel a little more ok going out somewhere to have fun.

4. The final drawback doesn’t have to do with the space exactly but HOLY SHIT the electric bill! I knew it would be somewhat rough because I live in balls-cold Michigan, where the polar vortex means single digits for days in a row. I also knew it would be rough because this place has an electric baseboard heater. However I was not expecting it to be over $100/month (and it is!). For someone who obsessively unplugs everything when she’s done using it, this was a shock. However, I know I just have to make it until spring and then I’ll be alright. I detest air conditioning.

At the risk of this post becoming self-indulgent I will try to wrap things up by addressing my other big change of 2015. So far, not having a car has been a mixture of pure delight and pure frustration. On an average day, I watch hundreds of people try to make their way through poorly-plowed roads in rush hour traffic and I count myself extremely lucky that I bus to work. On the weekends however, I curse my lack of mobility for limiting how often I can see my friends and doubling the amount of time it takes to run errands. All things considered though I’d say it is most certainly a win. There is absolutely no way I could afford a car payment right now, let alone gas or insurance. When the outside world stops being an icy prison of misery and slush, things will also be better as I love biking and am prepared to make it my primary form of travel. I’ve also yet to join Zipcar for lack of any real need, but it’s another option to add once I decide it’s worth paying the small monthly fee.

So there you have it, my preliminary reviews of living carless and in a tiny space. I know I am in no way the first to make these choices, but I believe the more people document their experiences with somewhat “alternative lifestyles”, the more people will see that we don’t all have to live the same way. I do sincerely wish there were more options for people who would like to live the way I do. Out of all my apartment searching, this was the only unit I found under 400 square feet and it is by pure luck that it is situated right on a major bus route and close to my work. But perhaps if the demand for these spaces goes up, developers will rise to meet that demand.

My next goal is in the works right now and it’s making my lifestyle as waste-free as possible. I already have a good jump on it with habits I picked up in Costa Rica but I still have a bit of a ways to go. I plan on making more, in-depth posts of my living experiences in the coming months. Also, feel free to leave a comment if you have something interesting to share: suggestions for me, your experience with “resolutions” or tiny living, whatever!

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Poverty, Independence, and Simple Living: How my life is changing in 2015.

The conclusion to yet another earthly rotation about the sun has everyone busy making grandiose “New Year’s Resolutions”. While I recognize the inanity of making weighty promises to yourself just because you drank a lot of champagne and put up a brand new puppy calendar, I can’t help but notice this is the second year in a row in which the new year actually marks one or more important changes in my life. Last year it was pretty obvious: two days before the ball dropped I hopped on a plane for Costa Rica and didn’t return to the states (or the “civilized” world) for nearly 3 months. This year’s changes are a tad more subtle but in my mind, equally worth noting:

Epic 2015 change #1: I have no car. To my close friends who may be reading, this shouldn’t come as a surprise as I’ve been preparing for this for months. Although my “decision” to go car-less isn’t so much a decisions as it is a budget necessity (*hint* that means I’m really poor), I recognize it wouldn’t be possible if some aspects of my life were different. Which leads me to my next thing…

Epic 2015 change #2: I’m moving into my own place. Yes, my dream of living alone with my cat like a miserable spinster is finally coming true. Before you start wondering how someone making $1 above minimum wage could possibly afford to live alone, let me tell you some things about my new digs. First, my rent will be my only large expense. As I stated above, I have NO CAR. That means no car payment, no insurance payment, no gas money, etc etc. In addition, my only utility costs will be electricity and wifi. Even still, my rent needed to be cheap so that I can continue to save at least some of my money. Lucky for me, I was fortunate enough to find what I’m referring to as a “micro-studio” in East Lansing, just down the road from where I work!

So what exactly do I mean by micro-studio? Well, my soon-to-be apartment complex is essentially a converted motel. There are 30 units, all “studios” but basically motel rooms converted into apartments by adding an oven/stove and normal sized refrigerator. The studios are probably around 240 square feet (I’m not exactly sure, because I didn’t really care what the square footage was once I saw the place in person). Does this sound awful to you? It may have to me several years ago but current me says it’s a dream come true. Rather than going on a pages-long rant explaining why I feel this way, I’ll try to do this BuzzFeed style (that’s what the kids like these days, right?) and create an eye-catching list! Oo! Ah!

5 Reasons Why I’m Excited To Have a Tiny Studio Apartment

  1. It is mine and mine alone.

In a perfect world full of rainbows, unicorns, and free slurpee re-fills, I could afford a slightly nicer, larger apartment. However, in this reality I am a broke recent college grad. My high-anxiety, perfectionist nature makes it difficult for me to find satisfaction living with virtually anyone. In almost every housing situation I’ve experienced in the past several years, I have found myself unhappy for at least part of the time. That’s not to say I’ve never had good roommates, I have. But I have never stopped wanting to live alone since the concept of doing so entered my mind.

With almost every other one-bedroom or studio apartment in the East Lansing/Lansing area running upwards of $600/month, I always assumed I’d have to stick to the roommate model. Well, I suppose I will still have a roommate…but she’s fluffy and poops in a box.

  1. It will help me experience life without a car.

Since I turned 16 I have had almost constant access to a car. Being a spoiled suburban white kid whose dad works for one of the big three auto companies, I’ve never had a problem getting from one place to another. Although I’ve always been concerned about fuel efficiency and ozone action days, recently I’ve wanted to do more. In my mind, individual car ownership does not have a big place in an efficient, sustainable future version of our society. Although I recognize the necessity of owning a car if you live in the country or urban sprawl with no reliable public transportation, I do not for “city folk” such as myself. I think improved public transit along with car and ride-sharing services such as Zipcar, Uber, and Lyft are the future. I also believe in the health and well-being benefits associated with having a more physically engaging commute (walking to a bus stop, biking to work, etc.). I think if you truly believe in something, you better be willing to take the plunge and do it yourself. Thus, although my decision to go car-less may be predominantly a financial one, it has the added bonus of fulfilling a personal goal.

  1. I love independence.

I am beyond lucky to have the greatest family, friends, and boyfriend in the world, all of whom I have leaned on many times in my life. I do not expect to ever reach a point where I won’t need to lean on someone occasionally; humans are social animals after all. But I like the idea of being responsible for as much of my own living situation as I can be.

  1. I hate stuff.

This is a rather recent development in my life that was truly solidified when I lived out of a small duffel bag for 3 months in Costa Rica and barely missed a damn thing. “Stuff” is horrible. We, as human beings, need certain things to survive. Beyond those things, we “need” certain other things to lead healthy, successful, happy lives. Beyond that, we accumulate stuff. Almost everyone is guilty of it including me. It almost seems as if stuff appears out of nowhere, suddenly occupying space on your bookshelves, crammed into cabinets in your bathroom, or taking up precious space in your garage. I hate stuff partially because of my aforementioned high-anxiety, perfectionist personality. Clutter gives me anxiety and the more stuff you have, the more clutter you inevitably live with.

However, it goes way beyond that. I truly believe the more stuff I have, the less happy I am. There are certain exceptions to this rule of course. There are things I own and would purchase again and again that I most certainly do not need. These are things such as books, electronic devices, musical instruments, and outdoor and art supplies, which I perceive as enriching my life. Most other forms of stuff however I see as vampiric in nature. Stuff lures you in when it’s shiny and new, promising a break from the monotony of daily life at the low low price of $19.99. It then grows old and loses luster. As it drains your paycheck it also drains your ability to appreciate what is actually important in life, and instead feeds into an insatiable need for the next cool thing. To me, unnecessary stuff in my living space is a constant reminder of my failures to spend my money, time, and energy enjoying experiences instead of buying into our culture of consumption. With a small living space it is virtually impossible to accumulate stuff. If something comes in, something else must go out. I have already donated several boxes worth of clothes and other items and my intention is to continue to slim my possessions down to the things I need or otherwise cherish.

  1. This is still a pampered life.

Even with my meager paycheck, I recognize that I am still living leaps and bounds above the standard for most people that inhabit this earth. I believe if we could all learn to live with a little less, the tremendous inequality displayed across the world might start to dissipate.

So that’s it for me. These changes aren’t so much “resolutions” as they are ambitious plans that may or may not go the way I envision. I do have resolutions but those are always personal things I keep to myself. I encourage people to make lifestyle goals and resolutions all the time, not just at the end of a calendar year. Thinking of ways you can improve your own life, as well as the world around you is refreshing and gives us hope for the future. Implementing these ideas in the real world is empowering. What will you do differently this year?

Categories: About me, Lifestyle, Money, Sustainability | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Beef With Humanity

Have a Coke

I took the above photo while hiking on the most breathtakingly gorgeous beach I’ve ever seen, Playa Llorona in Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica.

This seemingly lonely Coke bottle was actually found just meters from a giant trash heap on the beach that contained a myriad of man-made items, chiefly plastics. If you’d like to see the photos I took of this scene click here and click through to the right. Although our guides weren’t entirely certain of the origin of all the trash, they were nearly positive it was not a dump, as the national park is miles away from any residential areas. What was apparently going on was ocean currents occurring a certain way that a lot of the crap that gets put into the ocean, in Costa Rica or elsewhere, ended up here. I even hypothesized that some of the trash may have migrated there from the great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Needless to say, I found the scene disturbing. I continued the rest of my hike with a lump in my throat and a feeling of dark hopelessness creeping up my spine. Here I was what felt like a lightyear from civilization, taking a 10 hour hike…*ahem* I’ll say that again, a TEN HOUR hike out into the wilderness to see a corner of the earth not yet subject to human “progress”. What do I find? Trash. And it wasn’t just in the heap. I saw discarded containers every so often as we walked. I saw small fragments of plastic among oystercatcher (a bird similar to a sandpiper) eggs. I saw man-made debris just feet from a sea turtle nest. To say I was shocked would be dishonest because I have long known how far the problem of human wastefulness has stretched. However to be physically confronted with it was something I was just not emotionally prepared for.

So this is my beef with humanity. Waste. Not just any waste, but casual, pervasive, even encouraged waste. In our industrial era we have “progressed” so far yet taken care of so few of the problems that come with growth. Our culture of consumerism constantly encourages new purchases, while offering limited to no constructive options for what to do with the old “stuff”. To use the words of the director at the lodge I volunteered at, “I buy something, I enjoy the contents of this package, this thing I have purchased. But when I am done with the packaging or the item it becomes society’s problem, not mine”. Here is the underlying problem. Every thing that is produced, every thing that is purchased has externalities. These go all the way from enabling childhood labor to fossil fuel depletion (in the case of plastics for example) to the creation of trash when the item is no longer needed. Currently, these externalities are factored into neither the cost nor the decision to buy such a product, for most people at least. Because there is no personal ill effect of this waste, people go on purchasing until their heart’s content (hint: which is never) and there are oceanic garbage islands the size of large states.

Now I’m no idiot. I do not expect people to see images of trash heaps and lonely Coke bottles on beaches and suddenly develop a bleeding heart like mine and vow to overhaul their lifestyle. Not only is this a lot to ask of an animal, considering we are more or less programmed to think in terms of our own personal success, not that of our surrounding environment, but it’s also just not a practical means of changing an entire culture. The problem is not necessarily that people suck and I hate them (this is still up for debate), it’s that the evolution of our culture has completely ran away with the idea that material wealth equals success and happiness.

On a separate outing during my volunteer time in Costa Rica, I visited a coworker’s home. He was, by American standards, quite poor. His house consisted of two small bedrooms and an open-air front room and his shower was a bucket of water with a bowl to dip inside and pour over your head. He is also one of the most genuinely pleasant and seemingly happy people I have ever met. I say seemingly happy because I believe it would be inappropriate for me to decide whether someone is truly happy or not, but this guy sure acted like it. To avoid sounding cliché, I’ll assume you get the picture here. No, most people who live in abject poverty are probably not happy. But I tend to believe that once a certain standard of living is attained, more wealth and more stuff isn’t really going to do that much for your actual well-being.

The bottom line here is something big needs to change in the next few decades about how we as human beings view happiness and our place in the world. Before it’s too late. To me, finding a plastic graveyard on Playa Llorona convinced me for some time it’s already too late. In the interest of preserving my own will to live however I reserve a bit of hope that we may still have a chance to turn this around. I’m starting with my own life because really that’s all I can do right now. How will you be a drop in the bucket for positive cultural change?

Categories: About me, Environment, Humanity, Sustainability, Waste | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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