Sustain and Renew

March 1, 2013
I was visiting with my buddy Vito maybe a decade ago and we were walking around in San Francisco when I happened into a shop that touted sustainability.

I was visiting with my buddy Vito maybe a decade ago and we were walking around in San Francisco when I happened into a shop that touted sustainability. Vito lives in the land of the politically and environmentally correct, so I asked, “Hey, Vito, what does this sign mean?” He couldn't give me a precise definition of what sustainability meant, although he was sure the proprietor's goal was to project an environmentally friendly hue that would result in additional sales. Vito couldn't find any obvious sustainably traits to the products for sale. And I was pretty sure the products couldn't sustain themselves.

Sustainability in our culture has become such a feel-good word that, as long as a product doesn't overtly damage the environment, it can be claimed to be sustainable. And things are ever murkier now that the marketing world has embraced sustainability as its own. Being an editor, I checked the meaning of the term in my favorite dictionary, Merriam-Webster. There, I discovered that sustainability is “relating to or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.”

Okay, so using that definition on myself, I can state that my sense of humor is definitely sustainable. I've had it dogging me for years. But to keep from using it up, to keep it sustainable, I try to parse it out.

My wife is a psychologist and tells me that at least some of my aberrant behavior could be attributed to the fact that I am left-handed and (thus by association) right-brained. She sees in me common lefty traits, including creativity and speaking without mind engaged.

Here is a typical “speak before you think” experience. I was in a room full of engineers and managers, and the discussion was being dominated by one particularly difficult manager who was quite critical of others' opinions while quite fond of his own. In a gathering of 15 or so, Mr. Odious got on the topic of diet and made this statement: “You are what you eat.”

Before I could stop my mouth, it responded to this irritant with: “Then Buddy, you need to change your diet.” I expected this comment would garner a few snickers or a laugh or two, but the room instead was filled with tomb quiet. Oh, no. This was awkward, and I could think of no way out. Evidently, I had hit too close to home with what others were thinking, and there was no way I could glib myself out of this bit of self-induced ugly. I could only wait for a seemingly eternity of silence to pass.

My confidence was dinged. Any desire to deliver another zinger was squelched. But time restores, and my temporarily depleted well of off-the-cuff comments was replenished over time. With a lifetime of rebounding from comments of this sort, I can positively state that my sense of humor is sustainable.

Now I am a flaming environmentalist compared to Vito. This Italian, Louisiana Cajun scrunches up his nose when politically correct people make unresearched statements like “We need more renewable energy” without any true understanding of the impact of their energy opinions. As you might imagine, when Vito and I talk, discussions can get a little heated when the word “renewable” works its way into our talks. Renewable seems to take on some of the same attributes as sustainable but with maybe a slightly more radical connotation. Going back to my man Merriam, renewable is “capable of being replaced by natural ecological cycles or sound management practices.”

I'm not often accused of demonstrating sound management practices, so let's take a look at my natural ecological cycle. After a day of heavy pondering, when I disengage the brain, it seems to renew and refresh on its own. Yes, I am here to state here and now that my brain is renewable. Here's how it works. When my brain is overly engaged, it simulates an overloaded transformer and saturates (a real transformer term); no more will flow in without some downtime. But the brain won't stop churning on a topic unless it is given something else to obsess over. In my instance, the best activities to refresh the brain are golf and fishing. When golfing, my mind churns on a dozen swing thoughts as I try to make that little white ball go in a straight line. When fishing, my thoughts typically turn to casting techniques, shortly followed by analyzing methods to extract lures from tree limbs and underwater snags. In fact, these activities kick up such a fast brainial refresh rate that I could make a case for being paid to golf and fish.

The best proof of my own renewable ecological cycle is that I have not lacked for an editorial topic in 18 years. Once the brain is renewed and those old synapses start firing again, I will surely get riled up or tickled by something. And then, as I sit down at the keyboard, words start jumping up on the screen. Not all editorials flow that easily, but I can say with confidence that after the brain is refreshed, a renewable flow of consciousness will show its handiwork again.

In full disclosure, I have to admit this editorial is not what I started out to write. I intended to write a column on economic sustainability, a much more serious topic. And now, well, my mind is saturated. I have hit my 850-word limit. It's time to hit refresh and hit the links.

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