Friday, April 12, 2013

A Film About Clotheslines

I grew up in the bucolic far reaches of the greater Pittsburgh area in western Pennsylvania. I always enjoyed those lazy days of summer, when gentle breezes punctuated the thick humidity, making the climate bearable, sometimes even pleasant.

My family was large, and even though we owned an electric clothes dryer, my mother often hung sheets and other laundry to dry on clotheslines strung across the length of our small backyard. I enjoyed the lingering sweet smell and the warmth of the sun left behind on the laundry as I helped my mother fold.

I had forgotten about those sensations and about the calming effect of seeing laundry billowing in the wind, having long ago surrendered myself entirely to the convience of the modern dryer. Indeed, for many years I had even adopted the practice of sending my laundry out to be laundered. As a lawyer, my time had become too valuable to waste it on doing my own laundry.

Then in 2005 I married a German-Austrian. He moved to the US, and we made our home in New York City. Now we were sending all of our household laundry out to be laundered. My husband seemed torn. He could appreciate the luxury of having someone else launder our clothes. At the same time, he missed the stiffness in his shirts and the crunchy quality of towels hung dried, as he’d dried his things in Europe. I had problems understanding his perspective, until we moved to Germany in 2009.

In German households, there are two very common conditions with respect to laundry. First, most households, even those based in rental apartments, have washing machines. (Laundry mats, in fact, are quite scarce.) Second, most households with washing machines do not have dryers. 

That factor alone, that I do not use (or pay someone to use) a dryer for drying my laundry, greatly reduces my ecological footprint. 

So why all this talk about laundry and dryers? 

About ten years ago, I met Alex Lee, the founder of Project Laundry List, an organization that promotes clothesline drying to reduce energy consumption and impacts to the environment. The PLL website describes its founding, “in 1995 when Dr. Helen Caldicott gave a speech at a Middlebury College symposium in which she said, ‘If we all did things like hang out our clothes, we could shut down the nuclear industry.’”

Dr. Caldicott’s statement was not hyperbole. However, hanging our clothes out to dry is easier said that done in the US these days.

A new film by White Lantern Films called “Drying for Freedom” very eloquently explains a few of the obstacles. The film begins with historical roots of the American culture of “living better electrically,” a cultural phenomonom born in the 1950’s thanks to a targeted  marketing campaign by General Electric. And who better to spoonfeed it to us than Ronald and Nancy Reagan who appeared in GE’s television ad campaigns. Combine the persuasiveness of the advertising campaign with a form of urban planning, hinged on strict conformity rules set by home owners associations, and hang drying’s days were numbered.

According to the film, the US has over 300,000 home owners associations (over 40,000 in California alone). It is a dominent form of modern living in the US, and I imagine that living in these housing developments is a symbol of financial stability and the staid American middle class. The rules set by these HMAs, put in simple terms, dictate how people maintain their properties. Besides banning clotheslines, they may dictate the color of one’s home and other cosmetic factors intended to maintain the orderly look of the community and thereby keep property values high.

After the film takes us on a tour of the historical underpinnings of clothes drying and clothesline bans, we meet several people across the US who are in the midst of battles to uphold their right to hang dry. The film finishes in India, where our energy appetite is put into a global perspective.

In arriving at that global perspective, let’s begin with a statistic: The US population is just four percent of the world population. The US population uses 25 percent of the world’s energy. (This statistic comes from the film, and I believe it to be roughly accurate.)

Several years ago when I was teaching at Tufts University, I traveled to India to attend a conference. The trip fell during the dark, short days of December. I landed in New Dehli, then traveled by chartered bus into the late evening deep into Rajistan province. I remember marveling at how dark the landscape became as the sun dipped below the horizon. Across the pitch black, I could see flickering lights, candles and oil lamps that lit the multitudes of homes without electricity. My mind wandered to a statistic I’d heard in a presentation by one of my students: If you hang your clothes in a closet and keep your food in a refrigerator, you are wealthier than 75 perecent of the people in the world. I don’t remember the provinence of the stastic, but its force brought tears to my eyes as I looked across miles and miles of twinkling lights.

India has a population of approximately 1.2 billion people. According to the film 400 million Indians -- nearly 100 million more than the entire US population -- live without electricity. Just imagine if the entire population of India, a country that is rapidly industrializing, had the same appetite for electricity as the US. It would be a catastrophe of epic proportions. Yet, why should the US and the global north be entitled unbridled use of world resources to the exclusion of the rest of the world? The simple answer is that they shouldn’t. 

The world is in desperate need of more sustainable and just models of energy usage, and we all can help. Start by seeing the film. “Drying for Freedom” is being screened in venues in the US and beyond during “Hanging Out Festivals” between April 19 and May 5. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

How to Purge Those Unwanted Friends

I typically blog about politics, social justice, or other weighty subjects. Today I'd like to take up a weighty subject that perhaps is even more important, as it involves our daily lives directly and intimately. What I'm talking about is our friendships. How do we end the friendships we no longer have use for?

You may recall my trademarked method, the "The Eady Method: How to Purge a Friend." (Okay, I didn't trademark it, but if you've known me for more than 15 years, you've probably heard me talk about it. No?)

My method provides three types of friend purges:

  • Hard purge
  • Soft purge
  • Graduated-hard purge
Let's review. The hard purge is when you tell the friend not to contact you anymore. Direct, confrontational, clear. (Example: "I don't like you. We're no longer friends. I never want to hear from you again.")

The soft purge is good for a more delicate situation, where you may want to avoid the confrontation. To implement the soft purge, you simply don't return the problematic friend's calls, emails, or texts. Eventually, the soon-to-be-ex friend gets the message that you no longer wish to be in contact with him or her. It's a bit of a softer hit, which may be kinder, but the downside is that if the friend is a bit dense, he or she never gets a completely clear indication that you're finished with him or her.

(I should note that I created my before we were online to the degree that we are today. I've adapted the method to change with the times, as you will see when I explain the expansion of my method.)

The graduated-hard purge  (also known as the semi-hard purge) is when your target friend calls you, and you say, "Don't call me at work." When later the friend calls you at home, you say, "Don't call me at home." Likewise, when the friend calls on your mobile, you say, "Don't call me on my mobile. You see what happens here, right? The friend has no where to call you, and you have effected a hard purge, though a bit less efficiently than the regular hard purge.

Well pupils, after many years of successfully using my method, I have come up with a new way to purge those pesky unwanted friends. I call it the hostile soft purge. Allow me to explain.

We now live in a digital age, where we communicate not only on telephones or in e-mails. Yes, today we function in a society with an online component where we allow or invite friends, family, and acquaintances to participate in our digital lives. Now we've got Facebook, Skype, Twitter, Pinterist and lord knows what else where people follow our lives and exist in our cyber circles. 

I recently wanted to purge a friend, and I quickly realized that in this case a normal soft purge wouldn't do. I wanted to quietly disappear from the friend's life, but I wanted that friend to know about it. What did I do? 

Obviously, the first step was to unfriend him on Facebook. Let me tell you, it was a good feeling. Next, I blocked him on Skype. That was followed by a rigorous cleansing of all traces of him in my computer's address book, my google address book, and my mobile phone address book, and I deleted all e-mails and text messages. Let me tell you friends, it was a true catharsis. I managed to be hostile without having to deal with the mess of a confrontation.

And now friends, I invite you to use my new purge method, as well as the old of course -- completely free of charge. Please tell your friends. With my new and improved Eady Method, we can indeed heal the world through relieving ourselves of unwanted friends.