In Offense Of A Throwaway Culture

I often find it so enchanting… The mysterious paths life leads me down… The nooks and crannies it sends me exploring…

In thinking about the commercial work I do (when I’m not indulging with my blog and out there trying to ‘adult’!), I often consider my purpose as a writer all the same, to put positive and responsible work out into the world I care about. This, in turn, often directs my research and the ideas I pitch.

More often than not, I am inspired by my incredible friends and the ways in which they are trying to live authentic lives. I listen to what they have to offer, I beg of them to please send me reading material that has spoken to their many-faceted mission statements. And that is how I landed up writing for a Hong Kong blog on what has perhaps become my favourite buzzword: SUSTAINABILITY.

It is a word that found me, a word I had so desperately needed to introduce into my vocabulary.

My younger self was a bullet. A steam train straight ahead. Use whatever comparison you like. But sustainability was never key to my practice. I’d give but give too much. Work but work too hard. Party, but party until the sun came up.

And I had to be independent. Fiercely so.

But a month as a ward of the state in a mental institution… Well, let’s just say that changes things, that it changes a person. Forever.

Does that mean I never fall back on old habits? Never find myself overextending in what I have to offer? Hells no. But to put it plainly, I know now to check myself before I wreck myself.

Thinking sustainably, living sustainably, has not only taught me the value of myself, that care of the self is an integral practice; it has also taught me the value of others and the value of the things I have in my life, that they too need care and attention and nurturing to grow, to sustain.

And so today, I am writing in offence of a throwaway culture, in offence of a diseased world where so much is taken for granted, so much is disposable. Disposable razors, disposable napkins, disposable nappies, drive-ins and disposable food to scoff in our cars… Even, disposable people. *

By way of illustration, I will tell a story, something I was told by a dear, dear soulmate of mine, a sister from another mister.

She had kitchen chairs that needed re-upholstering and well, just some basic TLC. They were not special in the general sense of the word. They were not priceless antiques by any stretch of the imagination. They were just plain ol’ pine chairs. But, like the little prince and his precious rose, they were special to her. Her boyfriend suggested they toss them and hit IKEA for new ones. She stood firm. There would be no replacing them. They were her chairs. No. Instead, her mother was instructed to select fabric from South Africa that would remind her of home. The fabric was sent to London. And my friend spent the weekend, restoring her beloved chairs. Perhaps now, because of her investment in them, they are dearer to her than ever before.

But her and I spoke about how these small choices demonstrate more than we may at first come to see. We begin relationships, live through the honeymoon phase, but head for fresher pastures when our green patch of grass is thwarted by a heat wave. We forget that after a fire, the rain will come and nature will spring eternal. Instead, we move on to the next relationship, only to repeat the same disastrous patterns that got us there in the first place.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps we grow. Get smarter. Wiser. Self-aware. Perhaps some of us learn not to flee at the first sign of adversity. Why? Because we know we lead lives that are all the better for it.

So in exchange for my friend’s tale, I will give you one of my own.

Many moons ago, I read a beautiful book that inspired me to make a humble attempt at gardening on my little balcony and in my home. The book was called The Virgin Gardener and was written by a plant enthusiast who had the habit of rubbing off on one, Laetitia Maklouf. * She encouraged me to start a Lust List of plants I loved and desired for my small space. A fan of all things lemon and lime, I decided upon a lime tree because I thought its colour invigorating. A plant that would in time be of immeasurable worth to me. Fresh Thai curries made from scratch. A gin and grapefruit juice with a revitalizing squeeze of this magnificent, waxy, green citrus fruit.

Alas, all did not go so well. I was young. I was lazy. I had not learnt that without attention and some love, growing things will seldom thrive. I never fertilised her pot. I forgot to treat her when she fell ill. So she never grew. In fact, she began to wither. And when my cat ate her last few leaves, she died. I was momentarily dismayed.

But of course, back then I was so quick to replace things. Off to the nursery I went, and came home with another specimen that had appealed to me for her sweet little leaves and white and pink blossoms. So delicate. So lovely. Now remember, I was still young. So I did not care for what the plant was. Or where she came from. Or what she needed. Only that she was pretty. Through little support from myself, this one has done a great deal better than my pitiful and neglected lime tree. Until now.

Four years I have watched this one grow into a magnificent tree, making a sanctuary of my balcony. And I have since learnt she is a River Indigo. I discovered this only because my grandmother desperately wanted one of her own so I had some investigating to do. It was my gift to my grandmother when she moved into a retirement home in a neighbouring town. Something to give her delight and remind her of me and my love for her, and the friendship we share.

Now mine is sick. But I tell her, this wiser me that knows the pound of flesh a throwaway culture demands of us, I tell her, with love, I will not desert you. We will battle your illness together and you have been so strong all these years. It is my turn to be strong for you.

I know people, people who advise on indigenous gardening (for my darling is native to the Transkei… or so my research tells me). And I do not need to fear for the things I do not know because there are others who do. With their help, I will heal my fragile plant. Nurse her back to the pillar of strength she once was.

And yet, all living things die. This is an inevitable truth of life. But we cannot dispose, we cannot throw away and replace, until Death has uttered the final word.

So in memory of the dead…

To my dearly departed lime tree, with sincerest apologies, this one goes out to you. Thank you for the lesson you imparted, fruits of a different but no less important kind. I think of you today.

* To read more on a disposable culture as a result of planned obsolescence, click here.

* To follow Laetitia Maklouf’s blog, click here.