Posts tagged motivation

How to Get Far Without a Car

Some of you readers may recall when I made a pledge to sell my car in order to green my travel around the city.  It’s been more than three years now, and I’m happy to report that I haven’t died from lack of access to basic goods yet, so clearly, it IS possible to make work, even in a city as sprawling as Los Angeles.  It’s fairly easy to trade in the frustrations of driving, paying for inevitable parking tickets, car insurance, gas, crazy-driver door dings and side view mirrors lopped off by passing cars for the peace of mind that comes with regular exercise and time spent enjoying LA’s incredible outdoor clime.  Of course it does have a few drawbacks, the greatest of which being that it’s harder to get out of town to places which are far enough away to necessitate a car but not far enough to be serviced by the Greyhounds and Metrolink trains of the world.  There are a few strategies I’ve employed over time to make it work without feeling deprived.

First, I took a good look at the places I travel in a normal day.  Since I work “from home” but live off-grid without power, my primary need in the work department is occasional access to an outlet to recharge the computer and internet to post stuff like this, converse with clients, etc.  About a year and a half back, I purchased a netbook with a seven hour battery life.  Best investment ever! This means that I only have to find an outlet for an hour or so daily to have my portable office up and running for more hours than I can practically stare at a screen.  So I hit a local coffee shop each morning, sip tea, upload posts, and download relevant research for the next edition or client.  The mile or two walk to and from the shop each morning gives me a chance to start my day outside, practicing walking meditation (a post on this coming soon!) and organizing in my head what I need to accomplish.  As a photographer, I carry my camera with me everywhere I go, and this walk also allows me to get interesting shots in the golden light of early morning before most people wake up.  What started as an obligation to get to a destination has actually become one of my favorite daily activities!

Over time, I’ve discovered local alternatives to my daily purchases.  The other day, I found the best little pupuseria while walking by on an errand, saving me a bus trip across town to my other favorite streetside vendor.  How’s that for ultra-localizing life!  Many people drive all over creation going to stores that they are used to frequenting when there exist alternatives right within their own communities.  By shopping locally, not only will you save frustration and gas/insurance money, you might also get to know your local business owners better, which helps build stronger community ties.  Of course, supporting your local Best Buy over a family run electronics shop just because it’s down the road isn’t necessarily what I’m talking about, but even franchise businesses are run by individual owners who may be from your community.  Take the time to ask, it can often lead to an enlightening conversation.

When needing to get out further than walkable distance, I can get most places for $3, the current price of a round trip bus or metro ticket in these parts.  Sure, it takes about fifteen minutes to walk to or from the metro station, but I simply view it all as exercise and think about the money I save by not having a gym membership while I walk.  If the destination lies off a main bus or metro line, then I might ride my bike to the station, which cuts the travel time down even more.

In order to head out of town/city limits, which is an occasional necessity given my other-other day job as a treasure hunter, I’ve had good luck by posting on Craigslist for someone to drive to a given destination, even one off the beaten path.  Usually it costs me gas money and the price of lunch, maybe an honorary token payment, far less than it would to rent a car for the day and I don’t even have to drive.  (yet another option is signing up for a shared-car service such as Zipcar, which I’ll cover in an upcoming post)  There are several rideshare sites which can be used in similar fashion, especially if one is not tied to a particular moment of travel and can be a little flexible.  Of course as a woman I am careful about this, bringing a buddy with me to share the ride and always being on top of knowing the exact directions to where I’m heading.  You can also run a classified ad for people to pick up items from further locales and deliver them to you for a nominal charge if they are headed some direction anyway.  Given the state of public transport here expanded by an additional biking radius, both this and the ride for hire scenario are rarely utilized but useful tools to have in the arsenal.

One final thing that I’d like to mention here is that of motivation.  If you’re going to be walking or biking, why not reward yourself for putting in miles toward the sustainable cause? There are many websites that let you track your exercise miles over time and provide like-minded communities for motivation and friendly competition.  I started using dailymile.com a few months back to log miles walked in order to see how much gas I would theoretically save each month by not driving.  It nicely computes my calories burned, keeps track of the amount of gas I’ve saved by not driving, and even tells me other fun stats like how many donuts I can now afford to eat after all that walking!  Though the site is primarily designed for athletes who are training for things to share inspirational workout routes, it serves well too as a general tracker of miles logged, featuring interactive route maps which calculate your mileage based upon the path you draw on a Google map.  One of my favorite features of the site is the challenge page, where you can sign up to try and complete a certain number of miles or hours spent exercising during a given time span in friendly competition with other athletes on the site.

The luxurious abode that is Trimpi Shelter.

Last Thanksgiving I signed up there for a virtual Appalachian Trail hike, in which walkers try to log the 2179 miles of the AT within a year’s time.  I use my distance data from the site (it keeps track of which types of exercise qualify, in this case walking and hiking) and compare it to a distance map of the trail to see where I am on a given day.  Today, two and a half months after starting out my “hike”, I’ve walked through Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and am venturing up through southern Virginia toward the Trimpi Shelter, pictured above, where I will virtually slumber this evening.  Right now things are on track to finish the trail with a few weeks to spare, which at the necessary rate of 5.5 miles daily is no small feat!  By looking up each county I travel through on Wikipedia and reading about what the areas are known for (the Trimpi shelter is in Grayson County, VA, mountainous home to several annual bluegrass and fiddle music festivals and a yearly through-hiker festival which celebrates those trying to complete the AT), my daily walking chores have changed from a simple necessity into an exciting and educational activity which feels more like a vacation.

The location of the Trimpi shelter along the Appalachian Trail.

Well, those are a couple things I have found useful.  What strategies do you employ to cut down on extraneous daily travel? How have they worked for you?

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Solarious, the Sequel

It all started with a plan to get a little real-world experience in green. I was going to learn how to use a solar panel, and maybe hook one up to the place where I live, achieve true energy freedom, and hopefully help a few mega-corporations forget my phone number in the process. It felt innocent, idealistic, practical even. So I started Solarious here to follow the journey and catalogue some of the things I learn along the quest for self-sustainability. Today, almost three years later, it’s the journeys I haven’t shared here that have most greatly affected my destiny on this planet. But I’ll have to fill you in on all that later. In an effort to explore the world of green employment and a couple creative projects as well, I took a break from writing here last year. But the good news is I’m back, and could never have guessed how fast things can change even in a single 12 month period!

One major change is that green has finally gone from the niche market to the mainstream. Now I’m not arguing that adoption of policies and practices has approached the levels which it should. If anything we are like scrawny freshmen showing up for the first day of high school, ready to have our minds filled with the “answers” to life. There is so much we don’t know, both in and outside the classroom/laboratory. We are hardly even skilled at figuring out the things we have to know, much less knowing those things themselves. But at the end of that first day of school, we are at least learning that the cool kids aren’t always the established social powers, the big companies and time-honored traditional ways of doing things. No, becoming an entity of value, and not just financial value but a more-encompassing social and existential value, is becoming trendy.

This is an important moment for the “green movement”. Suddenly, you bring your canvas bags to the grocery store and no one stares you down. The farmers markets are crowded like never before if the owners of hybrid cars are an example, then anyone can be persuaded to join the green team! There is a danger posed by the level of acceptance that trendiness brings. This is the period in which society opens its ears to an idea. The people who are committed to this idea have a responsibility to carry the weight of the lifestyle they espouse. If people think that going green is about canvas bags and farmers markets and fair trade certified and recycling, then it will become something like so many movements before, a fad which fails to entertain its masters, and what an opportunity we will have lost in an age of potential.

When I started to learn about sustainable living, I was fascinated by the number of different ways in which you can change your life to become more self-reliant. It’s a little intimidating actually, when faced with the vague idea of “greening” your life. As time has progressed, I’ve come to see this area of thinking less a green movement and more one toward sustainability. Semantics, you say. Call it whatever you want so long as the job gets done. Well, I heartily agree. But in this case, the idea of green has become something quite corporate. Coca-Cola has a green division, so do BP, Walmart, and countless other behoemoth corporations who clearly don’t place doing the right thing above financial profit. No, they would not even be allowed by corporate bylaw to exist in such a state, so I feel fairly comfortable saying that efforts toward “greening” their work processes and products are largely driven by profit and little else. And there is little doubt on the surface that such a condition is less than conducive to long-term sustainability!

But this is where one must look deeper. True self-interest alone would force individuals to not drive the world down to the rims, because they still need a place to live. It is possible to be quite “green” and lead a totally unsustainable lifestyle. You buy carbon credits to offset your abnormally high amounts of air travel for work. Or maybe you bought a Prius so that your 40 minute commute each morning and evening wouldn’t make you so guilty. How about going “organic” and paying more for the privelege to eat steaks and drink exotic coffee and eat fair trade chocolate without remorse.

Hey, I do love a good Andean chocolate bar too, no need to protest. Just realize that there is a difference between being green, which is largely about taking your current habits and sprucing them up to where no one was harmed in the making of your XX so you can consume it happily, and sustainability, which means that somehow or other, we need to start living within the means of this planet and the systems which operate therein. Change is coming and it’s not going to be found all dressed up pretty with a pretty organic hemp ribbon and pricetag at a farmers market booth. No, this change, like all before and the myriad yet fated to come is going to be gritty by the terms of the day. Trust me, there is nothing sustainable about sipping a fair-trade columbian coffee and ordering the free range bison burger if that’s all you’re doing to combat the processes of inefficiency taking over our society. You thought it was “green” to buy hemp clothing. Could you MAKE that fabric from a plant?

I do understand that there is a line to be drawn in this age of interconnectivity and mass learning called the internet. You don’t have to know how to do everything, you just Google it and ten minutes later you’re a Minor Expert, whose degree from the school of everything is already in the mail. So there’s plenty of time to look that stuff up when it becomes relevant. Again, we’ve got plenty in common, no judgements here, but what would you do if your cell phone and all-access (wind-powered?) DSL plan went down and there was no internet freely available to you? How would you go about getting the knowledge you need? Don’t you think it’s time to start taking some of those steps toward knowledge now? This all sounds a little doomsday, and it’s designed to, because the aim is more about illustrating that sustainability is the true paradigm for future decision-making.

When you make a decision in your life, it’s fine to start with thinking about reducing your current burden on the planet. There’s so much that can be done in this area you could easily occupy a lifetime in pursuit of the perfect Nalgene bottle and recycled tile for your bathrooms. It’s like being a programmer and wanting to know every latest language that’s introduced to the market in a quest to be the newest greatest thing out there. Facebook may have wanted you to learn their proprietary FBML in 2008 but now they are deprecating the entire language in favor of more traditional programming language solutions. So if you spent a lot of time learning FBML to break into that lucrative user base, your time would have been better spent elsewhere, learning a language that’s useful in many applications and will stand the test of time.  It’s a matter of depth, you have to know something pretty well, and for a time, before you actually know much about its strengths and limitations.

Too many green products still go by the adage “Why have one tool when you can have two?” when sustainable thinking, like the standard language framework, are built on the priciple of “Why have two when one will do?”. So pick your battles wisely by learning about the processes underlying the actions you take for granted in your daily life. It’s a level of scientific examination for which few currently have the stomach, but it’s essential that as people in the greater public come with questions about being green, what they see is a message of sustainability, one that respects nature and our place within, one that doesn’t gloss over the issues at hand in order not to scare away potential advocates, and one being delivered by people who live whole, happy lives that just don’t happen to hurt the planet. So find a corner of the issue and start biting away at it, get to know it thoroughly. When people come asking how you did it, it will seem natural to share your journey and help them to take the leap.

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Hitting Your Stride

Going green or cutting off the power line completely are not easy tasks. We are accustomed to our routine conveniences and live in a world that is loathe to advertise the actual costs of the products we consume.  When viewed in its entirety, the global environmental crisis we are facing is so daunting that many people fail before even beginning by despairing at the enormity of it all and then lapsing into apathy.  Obviously this is the largest waste of creative capacity imaginable on our planet.  You get it, so you’re smart enough to do something about it, yet you don’t.  So don’t let yourself become one of those people.  Do something today. Maybe you already are.  The thing about “Do something today.” that is so great is that when you take that approach you tend to set realistic goals, more on the level of an hour or two’s commitment than the nebulous grand ideas that tend to live largely on paper and never in the real world.  And you set a pattern that defies apathy, even if you eventually change the depth of your commitment. And one day, you will find yourself hitting your stride and it will become natural part of your life instead of a scheduled task.

There are a million ways to break a habit, and only one to make one: practical application.  You can read every book in the library about art, for example, but until you create something, you cannot call yourself an artist.  Your friend’s kindergartener who brings home finger painted pictures daily is.  Which should make potential artists feel better about the quality which one considers art (Isn’t art, in the end, really largely an issue of attachment?), but it usually doesn’t.

What it all means?  You don’t have to be a maestro to get involved.  Just pick something and implement it in your life.  Chances are, no matter what strategy you pick, it will be an improvement over the standard.  Many people spend a lot of time wondering which choice will be best for them, and in the end, don’t get anything, because the spark of ingenuity has faded which led them to that point.  Do your research, but understand that the energy revolution is not a plan for tomorrow, but for today. You’ve heard me say it before.  In the spirit of kindness, I won’t leave you all pumped up with nowhere to go.

Here’s a little inspiration for you for things that won’t take more than a few moments:

Plant a tree. The EPA estimates that a mature tree provides the same amount of air conditioning as five AC units.  You can take cuttings of most plants and root them, or simply plant a sapling or seed that you find in your surroundings.  Of course, if you then take care of it, making sure it has enough water to survive the first crucial year or two, then you can count that as doing something in the future too.  But by then you’ll probably feel so good from doing that, you’ll have a whole colony of trees somewhere.  Estimated time: 10 minutes, and time spent finding a tree to plant (or cultivating stem cutting in moist plastic bag).

Buy recycled shopping bags. It’s no accident that reusable shopping bags are popping up in stores these days.  What used to be the exclusive realm of whole foods has become big business.  And when you think about what you’re saving in terms of landfill space, and add in the fact that most large retailers give reusable bag discounts, you really can’t argue against them.  Of course, you’ll need your shopping bags if you take the next step and start shopping at the local farmer’s market once a week instead of a comparable grocery store trip.  Local farmers supported, all for the price of a little gas. Estimated time: under a minute.

Hydroscape your yard.  Print a Google map of your house and yard and draw on it the places where water tends to collect when it rains.  These are the low points, and when planned right, you can save a lot of money on property maintenace just by regulating the flow of water across your land.  Create a conceptual path through your area, create a path for water flow, and raise beds surrounding this natural flow to minimize your need to water.  This also gives you the opportunity to have a larger variety of plants, because you create tiny climate zones specific to each bed.  Estimated Time: a few hours planning, 2 hours per bed.

Freecycle something. Find something in your house that you don’t use and offer it to the local population at large for free at http://www.freecycle.org .  If you’re feeling generous, offer to post the item through the mail to the lucky recipient.  It really IS a good way to keep things out of landfills and it fosters your non-retail community.  Estimated time: ten minutes, including finding something to post.

Buy at least one solar light. These days, you can buy a set of solar lights for $10 -15.  The nicest ones I’ve seen are floating pool lights which change color, but there are also lots of varieties of solar yard lights, and also solar Christmas lights.  I particularly like the Lampion, pictured above. Try leaving these lights outside during the day while you are out of the house, and then using them to replace a light you use at night.  Carbon free power and mood lighting might prove the perfect combination for your evening.  Estimated time: half an hour on eBay and a minute a day.

Use greywater to flush your toilet.  Unscrew the pipe below your sink and place a bucket under the now-open pipe.  Use this water to trigger the toilet’s automatic flush response.  Combine it with the old “milk jug in the tank” trick and you’ll use a lot less water.  This will save you however much water you use at the sink by recycling it at least once.  Estimated time: fifteen minutes, and a slightly altered routine.

Visit your local library instead of the bookstore. Similar selection, better price.  And since you share the book with your community, you save resources and encourage further government spending in future libraries.  How many books do you read more than once anyway?  Donate the ones you own (outside your core library) to the local library so others can learn too.  I hardly have to explain the benefits of that!  Estimated time: Twenty minutes to clean out your closet.

So there you have it, something you can do today.  One last freebie: write a suggestion below, so that others can learn about your own great action idea.  =)

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Rogue Waves: Putting it in Motion

There is a phenomenon in the oceans known as a rogue wave. For reasons until recently unfathomable, occasionally, a single ENORMOUS wave would arise from its surrounding brethren and cause devastation to anything whose path it crossed. Sort of like a 90 foot tsunami without the underlying earthquake, and out at sea. According to the History Channel, recent advances in marine science have allowed us a better glimpse into possible causes. They theorize that these waves, defined by being more than twice the size of any surrounding wave, are caused by undercurrents which slow down the wave and basically cause water to pile up high. Other waves also overtake this slowed wave and add to its strength and content, pushing it forward with great power. Here’s my oversimplified diagram:

To me, this seems like the perfect analogy for changes in your life. We are all just flowing along like waves, each on our own “wavelength” but still in accordance with the greater tide. Occasionally, we are slowed down by currents flowing in another direction, currents which underly our own existence and form the foundation of our own flows. History, media, physical laws. These base currents are traveling in their own wave pattern, and so they interact with each wavelength, or individual, differently depending upon where in their period the two collide.

Obstacles in life be they physical, emotional, or intellectual can cause us to literally slow our roll here on earth. It can be frustrating. What I like about this analogy is that when you slow down, your momentum and that of others actually catches up with you and feeds you force and strength. What you might perceive as a breakdown in the flow is actually a period of recharge for you to gain whatever strength you require. If you are trying to get your landlord to let you install drought-friendly landscaping, and he or she insists on calling you that “garden nut” no matter how many good reasons you supply about how much money this will save their business, you can either be frustrated or you can use that to your advantage. After all, now you have a big folder of solid reasons that xeriscaping makes sense at your disposal. A folder that you can take to local businesses at which you already shop and show them why it is in their interest to consider such installations at their storefront. You can start a business that outsources the work of it, and you make money and the world gets a little more responsibly beautiful BECAUSE your landlord frustrated you by asking for fifteen sources and still saying no.

Or, if the last scenario seemed too user intensive to you, how about this one? You sit down at your computer, frustrated by the recent response, and you start searching for that perfect source. Along one of the twisted lanes that Google weaves, you discover a chat room of people frustrated just like you. You start talking about what you’d REALLY like to happen in the world. It makes you start thinking a little deeper about it, and you realize how much you love plants. So much, that you might like to get a plot at the community garden. You get one and get to know people there as well as staying in touch with people from the chat room. When a big-city developer comes in and wants to turn your community garden into condos, you rant about it in your chat room, and someone, a lawyer, offers their services to save the garden free of charge. Garden saved. A garden that you weren’t even involved with until your landlord said… NO!

Rogue waves are the result of the interaction of many different energies, just like social progress. It can feel overwhelming to think you are only one wave in a big old ocean, but rest assured, there are other forces at work that you can’t necessarily see, and that just might work to amplify your cause in strange and unpredictable ways. You’ll never know until you put it into motion.

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