I Will Not Succumb (to Convenience)
On a spectacular spring day a couple of years before this project began, I was traveling through Ohio on a road trip and I sat down for a picnic lunch in the middle of a small town common. As I lazed in the sun, a distinctively blue plastic shopping bag skittered from the street. It got caught in a strange and unseen vortex of wind currents where it shifted back and forth across a smaller section of grass. With a sudden surge upward, this bag became balloon-like and floated.
Now, gently suspended in the air, it slowly rose higher and higher until it was even above the top of the giant oak in whose shade I was sitting. To my disbelief, the bag continued its climb into the sky until it became just a dot of blue and then too small to distinguish from the background sky. Ever since that moment, I’ve thought a lot about plastic bags. To me, they’re a potent symbol for bad choices. That single blue bag, floating well beyond my grasp, certain to re-enter the landscape and breakdown into its chemical components where it doesn’t belong, is a powerful metaphor.
The habits of our consumer society make it difficult to make the best choices. Every time I buy something, it comes in a plastic wrapper of some sort, then another plastic bag. How many times have I been through a checkout line, lost in my own thoughts, and forgotten to say “No”, to then find myself walking out with a plastic shopping bag in hand?
In re-visiting all of these trash images to prepare for an installation of my project, Self Portrait as Revealed by Trash in San Francisco, the photos became reminders of my consumption and sparked a renewed self-analysis. I see areas where I’ve certainly changed habits and reduced consumption, but I also see reminders of areas that still need improvement. Even worse, I spot evidence of where I’ve slid backwards.
Doing the right thing requires such perseverance and I struggle with it on a daily basis. Sometimes I make great choices, sometimes I make mistakes. Other times I’m lazy or I forget. So, I’ve set new goals – personal commandments of sorts – to guide my choices. I will not worship false idols; I will not accept plastic bags; I will not use plastic bottles; I will use my ceramic coffee mug and rinse daily; I will not succumb to convenience. These commandments are a work in progress that forces me to reconsider my choices on a daily basis.