Sunday, August 26, 2018

Yes, Yes to Nanette!

© The New Yorker

Hannah Gadsby is an Australian-born comedienne. That is all you need to know before watching her Netflix special Nanette, because she explains the rest of her life experiences in that stand-up special. And you better brace yourself. Or not, because maybe not knowing what you are in for is at least half of what makes this performance worthy of its critical acclaim.

The best comedy delivers not just laughter, but provokes thought, emphasis on "provokes," and this is flat-out the most provocative writing I've seen performed on stage in decades. As another critic pointed out, it gets the audience to question themselves, and their role as either instigator or ignorant bystander, in the atrocities perpetrated against people from varying walks of life who we identify as "the other." Done incorrectly and you have the audience storming out of the venue. Done brilliantly, like this, and you have everyone's rapt attention.

If you do not see yourself in every facet of this monologue, then you lack empathy and honesty.

A graph of your comfort level during this seventy minute show would likely look like something off a seismograph, but that would be fitting because this is an earth-shaking episode. Part of the premise that got the attention of critics is that this was Gadsby's swan song, that she would be quitting comedy because....well, I am not going to spoil that for you. Gadsby is apologetic at one point for being so angry, and taking out her frustrations on her audience.

I disagree with Hannah that she is angry. She is assertive and emphatic, and displays a degree of strength that transcends gender, class, or any other category we so conveniently put each other into. If you do not see yourself in every facet of this monologue, then you lack empathy and honesty. This is funny, but at its core it is a plea for self-evaluation, and assessment of your own personal code of conduct.

Does the audience really deserve to be made so uncomfortable, though? The unequivocal answer is a resounding "Yes!" There are many ways to be "woke," and this is one of the tamer routes. It is like the tear-jerker rom-com movie, albeit a great deal more intense in parts. You may leave the show with feelings of shame and guilt. So? What are you going to do with that? This is really what the heart of great entertainment is all about: a jumping off point (not off a bridge for crying out loud) for self-conversation, for deciding how to redeem yourself. How best do you participate in the revolution?

Hannah Gadsby's writing and delivery are passionate and compassionate, despite her belief that she is just angry. You still want to give her a hug and say "Thank you!" when all is said and done. She manages to maintain the vulnerability we all have, that makes us caring human beings when we acknowledge it. Some will say that Gadsby gets her audience cheering for their own execution, but if you have been listening, you see a bit of your parents, or best friend, the people in your life who will not always tell you what you want to hear, but what you need to hear.

I hope Hannah Gadsby won't quit. We desperately need her voice, day in and day out. Heck, we need more people like her. Watch Nanette, it is must-see TV or streaming or whatever you call it.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Kinds of (Landscaping) Codes We Really Need

©, Naples, Florida

I have reached wit's end with code enforcement in cities, towns, and other municipalities. Do not even get me started on homeowner's associations (HOAs). The emphasis is clearly cosmetic and does more harm to our environment than even simple neglect of yards and gardens in this age of climate change. We need a total overhaul of the statutes.

Were I a conspiracy theorist, I would be claiming that local governments were in cahoots with landscapers to create standard urban and suburban landscapes that feed the landscaping industry, as well as pesticide, herbicide, and fertilizer manufacturers. Why do we continue to insist on models of landscaping that are no longer sustainable, if they ever were to begin with? The only thing "sustainable" about lawns and exotic shrubs, trees, and flowers is the heavy upkeep they require simply to stay alive. That usually necessitates contracting with lawn care services and other businesses that feed our addiction to showy gardens and pristine lawns.

Let's face it, lawns alone have become a status symbol, especially in the western U.S. A large, uniform expanse of grass says that you have the large sum of money needed to cover the water bill, and pay for a landscaper. What that speaks to me is an attitude of "I don't give a damn about water scarcity, native vegetation, or the future of the planet." You would rather spend money creating what amounts to an advertisement of your wealth. Wow. How responsible of you.

Meanwhile, municipal code enforcement tends to center on "weeds," many of which are actually native wildflowers that sustain pollinators and other desirable wildlife. If your grass gets too high it is subject to fines until you are in compliance. Tall grass and herbs are ironically considered a haven for mosquitoes and other disease vectors, as well as being "unsightly." This, in my opinion, is an overblown argument, if not even fallacious. You have undesirable rodents, for example, in urban areas lacking any vegetation. Feral pets are more likely to carry diseases than most wild animals, save for skunks, the odd raccoon and, sometimes, bats.

Were I writing the codes, they would be almost the polar opposite of what is in place now. I would limit the size of lawns to a percentage of your total outdoor landscape. I would enforce strict outdoor water use limitations, regardless of the current weather conditions because most regions are becoming more arid, with no end in sight for that trend. I would mandate that a percentage of landscape plants be native, drought-tolerant, and wildlife-friendly. I might require a permit for the use of any chemical treatment outdoors. This may be an area where contractors could really benefit because leaving chemical applications as do-it-yourself (DIY) has accident-waiting-to-happen written all over it. Failure to follow label instructions for applying pesticides and herbicides is a leading cause of household poisonings, let alone environmental hazards.

I would raise fines for feeding wildlife other than birds, and require anyone in bear habitat take down their feeders every night. I would raise fines for neglect of swimming pools and other water features, even including bird baths, as stagnant water is a breeding environment for mosquitoes and other biting flies. I would reduce outdoor lighting to prevent the interruption of normal behavior by nocturnal animals. Using wildlife-proof waste disposal containers would discourage raccoons, opossum, and other mammals from doing damage and maybe even frequenting urban areas at all. Ok, that is probably wishful thinking.

No entity raises my ire more than HOAs. They are entirely consumed with keeping up appearances, and have complete disregard for the mental health of residences and the environmental health of their communities. Raising property values is their bottom line, even if it means tearing out everything green except lawns, as our own townhouse property management agency is in the process of doing. HOAs put forth arguments for "improved security" as justification for removal of shrubbery and increased outdoor lighting. Baloney. You want increased security? Hold informal events so everyone can get to know their neighbors. Enforce codes of personal conduct instead of landscaping rules.

We need to collectively begin calling for changes to codes that begin to address what could be called environmental impoverishment. We deserve better, more diverse landscapes in our communities, but that cannot happen without some major alterations in governmental mindsets.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Anger and Apathy

© Pinterest

A few days ago I posted this statement to my Facebook page: "I am angry because I fear the only other option is apathy." I was curious as to the responses, and I was not disappointed. The comments reflect a wide spectrum of viewpoints and coping strategies in our troubling times.

I find that my mind often perceives things as black or white, as limited to only a couple of points on the spectrum. I have been known to become impatient with people who do not express outrage at what I see as an injustice or other wrongdoing, usually inflicted by a government agency or policy, or a private corporation or religious institution. A lack of response in the face of egregious acts I see as either agreement with the action, or apathy.

Why don't you care?! How can you not be as angry as I am? Do not get me started with "life isn't fair." Our only responsibility while we are on this planet is to do our best to make life more equitable. We have instead allowed ourselves to be channeled into a way of thinking that elevates the attainment of vast personal material wealth as the highest degree of success....but I digress.

The responses to my statement were more concerned with personal psyche than with whatever triggers anger. "Anger is only good if you use it for organization towards a goal," wrote the person who replied first. "I go with rage, because horrific sadness sucks," said another. "True...stay with anger," wrote another in agreement.

The next response was perhaps the most revealing, and puzzled me: "Have you tried empathy? I helps me when i get where you are at." That somehow made me even more frustrated, and I answered "My empathy often incites my anger. I have an intense sense of justice and fairness, and of course the world is anything but." Farther down in the comments was a similar answer: "I know how you feel, Eric. And my only statement is this: Empathy expands you while anger only shrinks you. Small words, I know."

No, those are profound words which got me thinking, after I wrote " But I AM empathetic! That is where a lot of my anger comes from: injustices to people I empathize with." What next entered my mind, but which I did not communicate outright, was something to the effect of "do you expect me to have empathy for irresponsibly affluent people, for racists, for bigots, for those who put profits above environmental health? Am I to empathize with people who deny others the right to affordable housing, healthcare, food, and opportunity?" I cannot imagine that is what you mean, but if so then I need to reconsider some of my social media friends.

I am not sure why more people do not see the link between empathy and outrage. You cannot witness injustice after injustice and not be driven to madness....unless you benefit from the status quo. "I too am angry," wrote another friend. They continued "It doesn't help. Neither does the immense sadness I feel. Between the two I am stuck. We have politicians who deny climate change, and politicians who acknowledge it, but refuse to do anything on their watch. I am 74, and will live to see the devastation and great extinctions. They are already happening. I think I am doing what I can. It is not enough." I would argue that sometimes it is enough to simply express solidarity with other empathetic people.

Another sentiment: "Rage, grief, when it's too much, sometimes a numbing sets in. When it hurts too much to care... Everyone has their own way of dealing. Some become apathetic and some don't recognize how much they've changed until an event occurs in their life to wake them up again. Some never wake up. Some never feel alive again. Some fight all of it within and some are lucky enough to have a life that sustains their spirit. Many are not so lucky." Well said, friend.

"I believe ACTION is a third option," mentioned another person, and my response was that I am very much an "idea man." I am horrible at taking action on those ideas. I often don't know where to start. That is why I write. Another person chimed in "Writing is action. And, if compelling, it propels other people to take action. We cannot sit by paralyzed by depression, disappointment, inertia, whatever! The stakes are much, much, much too high...."

I was reminded by another that it might help channel my anger if I read more: "It occurs to me that I ought to read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. We’re all talking in affirmative messages that are pertinent for 'normal' times, and they’re still true but don’t feel proportionate to the current set of catastrophes. I want to see how a man got himself through a time when the world was completely falling apart.

What do you do in the face of injustice and misguided priorities by those in power and those who do not know better because of ignorance? Are you shopping differently in the marketplace? Writing and calling your public representatives? Practicing civil disobedience? Please share your ways of coping, and changing the world. Thank you.