Poems by Gretchen Dandrea Blynt

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Conscious Cohabiting

by Gretchen Dandrea Blynt

From Canary Fall 2012

Gretchen lives tucked away in her Catskill Mountain home, way up in the "Land in the Sky", traveling around the Pepacton Reservoir daily.

       Living with roommates often requires the consideration of others in your decisions. Choices are made based on information that includes factors presented by these cohabiters, and are likely not the personally preferred option. Waking twenty minutes early to squeeze in a shower and morning bathroom regimen before the others awake to prepare for their work days, rescheduling a party to a night after which your roommate does not have an important presentation, and agreeing to sit through another episode of Dancing with the Stars, instead of whatever timeless film is on Turner Classic Movies, as a means to remedy your buddy’s bad day, represent only a smattering of the choices made everyday to ensure a peaceful coexistence.
       It was with these ideas firmly in my conscious thought that I approached my new living situation at the southern graduate school where I was beginning a Master’s program. I was slated to occupy a quad apartment, sharing my new home with three other girls. The formula was a familiar one, as I had lived this way for the past four years during my undergraduate experience; however, the faces would be foreign, not to mention the personalities and mindsets, in a place over six hundred miles from my New York home.
       The first major adjustment actually had less to do with individual clashing of character traits than with the inter-workings of the locale in which I was residing. After about a week, the old newspapers and rinsed out aluminum, plastic, and glass containers I had so diligently collected for recycling had built up, and I made their removal my first chore for the day. Gathering up the bags, I walked to the dumpsters in the parking lot to learn which was designated for each type of refuse. There were only two large green bins at my destination, both appearing to be the normal trash disposal type, but I circled them for nearly five full minutes as if to will one of them into changing color and having the word paper or comingles stenciled on the side. Still not completely discouraged, I decided that I must be in the wrong place. Surely after the turn of the millennium, recycling was a universal routine, and an area committed to that end was somewhere on campus. I was just in the wrong place.
       I returned to my apartment with the bags, receiving a puzzled look from a roommate who was probably wondering about this Yankee who takes out the garbage only to come back with it, as if merely walking it as one would a pet dog. I dove into my explanation and questions about specific recycling procedures in this region, expecting her, a fellow out-of-stater, to exhibit astonishment similar to mine that it was not as readily available as in my own, but the reply I received was, “Why do you recycle in New York? Do you just not have enough money?”
       I struggled hard to maintain outward composure. I could not allow myself to get upset. This new roommate was obviously coming from a totally different experience. But “enough money?” No one has enough money to buy a new earth.
       That summer was a rough one. Though I did eventually find one of the two campus recycling dumpsters, I had also read enough of the school’s literature to learn that the recycling program had been canceled, so it was always with a half-hearted heave that I hoisted my recyclables over the rim of the newly discovered receptacle. I hoped that at least some weeks the material was actually taken to a plant that would ready it for reuse in an environment friendly manner.
       Luckily the college recycling program was back on track for the fall semester. No longer would I need to feel waves of anxiety I every time I bought a newspaper, unsure of where the perused pages would end up. My other challenge grew larger, however. Winter was approaching, which means the heat in the complex was turned on. Now, I come from a family who puts Jimmy Carter’s request into action, keeping our heat at 65 degrees and adding an extra layer of clothing to increase body temperatures. I am also aware others were not raised under such energy conscious roofs. Nevertheless, part of activism is to spread the word, and, as an aspiring public educator, relay of knowledge has for me become second nature. I began making little suggestions, “maybe we could just keep the apartment at one temperature instead of everyone adjusting it whenever she gets cold or hot,” “you know, if we rolled the carpet out to cover the living room floor less heat would escape, and we would be warmer” while inside I was screaming, “You are melting the polar icecaps! There is never a reason to put the heat to 76!”
       I know the battles will continue. They have been plaguing humankind for decades. Choices of personal convenience over global benefit abound in everyday life. Frightening statistics are in the news daily. Drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is a current hotbed of debate: the issue being the choice between a possible new source for American oil and the destruction of countless natural habitats for such fragile creatures as caribou and polar bears. Updates tracking temperature increases and greenhouse gas emissions now crowd the science section of the news; however, I think the possibility of having no arctic ice left in the summer of 2060 may actually be more worthy of the front page.
       The headlines are there in your local newspaper delivered to your private home. I have been urging specific environment friendly actions upon people since I was an eight-year-old climbing a rope ladder to my organization’s base camp. Today I simply wish to point out that we are all in a state of living with others even if your home contains only your own belongings. Regardless of roommates, spouses, children, or any other combination of people living together under the same roof, we all share our planet with the other citizens of the world. The Inuit people in Alaska petitioning for more control of carbon dioxide emissions, claiming a violation to their human rights in an area in which temperatures increase at a rate twice that of the rest of the world, the Central Americans who fear deadly outbreaks of cholera and malaria due to markedly hotter weather, and the thousands of Africans who are starving from the destruction of their environment, their land unable to be cultivated, their water sources dried up, are merely a few of the many people being devastated by environmental emergencies. Today, rather than preaching about carpooling, bringing reusable bags to the grocery store, and putting a brick in the toilet tank, I ask only that each of us think about our many roommates, globemates, and factor some of their circumstances into our own life decisions.

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