Sustain Yourself/Maintain Yourself/Don't Restrain Yourself

Recently added to the ever-growing "books-I-am-currently-reading" list:

Zulieka Dobson. Max Beerbohm
In the Skin of a Lion.
Michael Ondaatje

In other news/on other notes...

I'm starting to see the word "sustainability" everywhere. I see it, of course, in the work I'm doing for my thesis (it being the theme that's rather tenuously, and all by itself, holding my essays together)--but not necessarily in the ways I always expect. Initially this was going to be a project, you see, on "sustainable energy"--which meant, I thought, things like solar power, wind power, turning unused lights off, using public transportation to get places.

And in fact it does mean all this. But the thing is--the thing I didn't realize, initially--is that it means quite a whole lot more. I pictured the word a little like an umbrella (a rainbow-colored one, for some reason), and at the center, huddled round the handle, are industries like "energy", "power", "transportation", and moving out toward the edges of the umbrella are all the other realms that "sustainability” touches. But that may not be the most apt image, because actually, while sustainability means more than I thought, it is also something that can be on a much smaller scale than I thought possible.

Here's how: I noticed it when I started writing a piece about making lunch for some friends. Not the stuff of a John Grisham thriller (thank Christ). But frankly, I'm more likely to salivate over good food writing than good crime writing any day. And about halfway through the piece, I started to see that I wasn't writing about sustainability in any grand sense at all: I was writing about something very simple, very real, and very bloody basic.

I was writing about sustaining myself.

I was writing about sustaining myself with food (which is a fundamental human need); but in a way such that my footprint on the environment was as small as possible. What I found out is that eating in a conscious way (making a meal for friends with as many locally-produced goods as possible, as just one example) is more filling than eating any other way: it sustains not just the body, but the soul, the spirit, the bit-of-you-that-wants-to-be-good, the bit of you that craves company and friendship and story (anonymous strawberries from the bowels of Tesco versus the British-grown ones that the cheery grocer hands you, etc.). E.B. White has a wonderful description of this--"peas without pageantry", he calls those anonymous things.

So "sustainability", in the sense that I'm writing on it, is about energy sustainability, body sustainability, spirit sustainability. I was in a meeting at work today, however, and someone said the word in a totally different context. My ears perked up like a horse who hears his hay: there is, you see, the issue is of sustainability in the healthcare industry; i.e., on its current track, America cannot sustain her healthcare system. I was listening to a debate on the issue recently, and I'll tell you what: every single major candidate for president agrees. We’re on an unsustainable track.

I don't know what the answer here is, but I do know that sustainability is something that extends far beyond the realm of energy. Fundamentally, we humans need to sustain ourselves, and we're going to have to stop stretching so far, spreading ourselves so thin, and fold inward, relax heavy shoulders, breathe, think. And look for inspiration in everything. All of this is interrelated: sustainable energy (reduce fossil fuel use by buying locally grown produce); sustainable eating (enjoy meals made with foods that are fundamentally fresher, because they've had so few miles to travel); sustainable living (perhaps--enter into a generally healthier lifestyle by consuming fresher goods that have been grown without harmful chemicals; reduce pollution in the air by reducing harmful emissions; reduce the need for quite so much healthcare).

This doesn't solve everything--and it's hopelessly idealistic, can you tell I'm young?--but at least, for the sake of my thesis, it's pretty nicely packaged...