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Amber Paulen

Good Waste, Bad Waste

Bad Waste: Waste: To use, consume, or expend thoughtlessly or carelessly; squander. “We live in a disposable world,” so said someone to me lately. My jaw dropped in disbelief for shock came up over me and washed into my mouth on a wave; I responded, “That’s not what my father taught me.” I was taught that everything is used until it is finished.

I think he who said such a thing wanted to shove the blame of disposability onto the products he bought; I think he wanted to not feel as bad for creating so much trash. Waste is made. And though our society encourages fly-by night treats wrapped in plastic, coffee bought in paper cups, plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic toys, aluminum cans, paper wrapped, candy wrapped, shrink-wrapped bounties, we should feel shame for clogging the earth’s pores. After all, “We love because He first loved us.”

“Haste makes waste,” is the old adage. We tumble through our lives at an ever increasing break-neck speed. Back in the old days it was easy: silverware was made of silver and tin cans out of tin. Now it’s all made out of plastic and we can’t but help ourselves to think: plastic is trash, cheap shit is trash, because in essence it is. That’s why we have been given some choice, a free-will, a brain to make decisions for all our choices have outcomes.

My dad used to tell me of his tribulations. His dad was even more of a hard-ass for waste than my own. His dad put water in the catsup and squirted it on the french fries. Now my dad doesn’t eat french fries and cuts the plastic top off the catsup so that he can get at all those hard-to-get gobs and streaks; now my dad puts water in the dishsoap and I do too.

There are of course “the movements” and as long as one doesn’t get tangled in jargon and “rules,” – for all groups, -isms and -ists, are the same — they are OK. Movements coming to us from our life-soldiering sisters and brothers evenly distributed along the States’ most westernly and most easternly coasts: organic marketers, fair-traders, raw-foodists, recycle advocates, sustainability preachers. They all have small ‘ecological footprints,’ as they say.

Good Waste: Waste: a. A useless or worthless by-product. b. Something, as steam, that escapes without being used. Life makes waste. Like Annie Dillard said, it is death which breeds fecundity, it is death that keeps us going. That senseless waste abounds is a condition of which we have zero control. And that’s OK, because I wouldn’t be able to so acknowledge my life as such, without it.

I got thinking about waste, good and bad, after my friend said such a shocking thing and after I had to again throw away another stack of papers. Art makes waste and the waste is like steam for it pushes me forward ever forward. If I decided to keep all that shitty writing I would be wallowing about in the quagmire, wondering and backtracking, thinking, “What went wrong?”

As Simon says, “Waste is part of the process.” It’s unavoidable, it’s good and bad and in-between all at the same time and there’s nothing that we can do about it but use what we have been given until it’s finished.


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