Waste Lines

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Issue 291
July/August 2015
Climate: It is a moral issue

Ethical Living

Waste Lines
by

issue cover 291

Cover: Community, 2014 by Giorgia Siriaco www.gioeucalyptus.com

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Matt Harvey goes with the flow.

"I put it there - it's the only way I can get five minutes to myself" © www.jonesycartoons.com

"I put it there - it's the only way I can get five minutes to myself" © www.jonesycartoons.com

Maybe you’re wondering what I was doing picking up other people’s dog poop and putting it into a plastic bag on a windy Tuesday while my dog walked some way off, wearing an ‘I’m not with him’ air.

I’ll tell you anyway. I was exploring the gap between my comfort and discomfort zones, the Challenge zone. I was experimenting, reaching for Happiness, working with Waste.

You’ve seen them, hanging in the lower branches of trees, fetishistic offerings, dark baubles such as you’d find on Darth Vader’s Christmas tree. They’re a mystery. Someone took the trouble to pick up their dog’s poop in a bespoke plastic bag. Then they hung it in a tree. What’s this about? I don’t know, but I can no longer walk on by. Just as a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so getting to grips with society’s waste has to start somewhere.

I’d resolved to put my hand round the metaphorical U-bend. See what it felt like. Follow the flow.

So there I am, halfway up a tree, poking at the dangling bag of dog poop with a not-long-enough stick, and the woman who’s stopped to pet my dog spots me, and asks, “Are you okay?” “I’m good.” “What are you doing?” I shrug. It’s too complicated. “Um, going with the flow.” She just looks at me. Her look says, “Really? Is that really where the flow led?”

But it was. It did.

A curious confluence of currents took me first to the Network of Wellbeing’s Community Potluck in Totnes Civic Hall, then later to Devon County Council’s Waste Summit. At both I was to unburden myself of questionable verse.

At the potluck I felt nervous and shy. My poems would inevitably cut across convivial conversations. It didn’t help that the event coincided with the International Day of Happiness, an event that I was not handling well.

All day I felt pressure to be happy – unlike during National Depression Week, when I felt a strange peace. I went to the Action For Happiness website and learnt their acronym: GREAT DREAM – each letter signalling a recommended practice or attitude by which we might enhance our wellbeing: Giving, Relating, Exercising, Appreciating, Trying out, Direction, Resilience, Emotion, Acceptance, Meaning.

The Waste Summit was strangely redemptive. Digging for 20 minutes of waste-related poetry brought memories. Chief among them of Robin Kevan, the retired social worker from Llanwrtyd Wells, who became affectionately known as Rob the Rubbish for voluntarily clearing litter from his town’s streets each day.

Back then he’d inspired me to verse. Now he inspires me to action. The voices in my head say: It’s ridiculous, it’s embarrassing, it’s yeuchhh.

Another voice says, Deal with it. Pick it up.

So I do.

And I am living the Great Dream. Giving to my community; Relating to Waste; Exercising poop-scooping mucles; Appreciating the fresh air; Trying out a ‘new behaviour’; Direction – I am purposeful; Resilience – tell me about it; Emotion – I feel embarrassment and hope; Acceptance – I accept I am ridiculous; Meaning – I mean well.

As I get home I hear another, deeper voice. It speaks with the wisdom of this and other ages, where the shaman meets the modern health and safety officer.

It says: Now Wash Your Hands.

People would probably take more responsibility

For the jobs done by their pets

If they themselves were penalised

With humane injections

Administered by vets

From Bad Jobs (A meditation on urban pet droppings and the nature/nurture question)

Matt Harvey is a poet and author of The Element.

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