Monday, November 26, 2007

Excited, Terrified, Puzzled, & Disgusted

I’m very excited today, but also a little terrified. I finished the manuscript for “What So Proudly We Hailed” last week and I printed it out on Thanksgiving Day. That’s the exciting part. The terrifying part is now giving copies of it out for people to read to see what they think of it. As a writer, I’ve run into this before many times, but it never gets any easier.

For over half a year now, this novel has been my own sole possession; I’m the only one who has read the words that I wrote, and in my mind, all the way up to this point, it has had the ability to be as good or as bad as my imagination would believe. Obviously, I like to think that it’s very good, but personal perception and cold, hard reality are not necessarily the same thing. So while I hope that my initial reviews are good (and think that they will be), a part of me is also extremely apprehensive right now as I wait to see if all of my time and effort has actually produced good fruit. Time will tell – it always does – but I can’t deny that sometimes I wish it would hurry up a little bit.

On a completely different subject, if you’ve read some of the things that I’ve written in the past, you may have noticed that I have a tendency to be very skeptical about what the world presents to me. I have fostered a distrust of what the media, government, and corporate America tell me is true. Part of this has come about due to my growth as a Christian (and for me it is most definitely a journey), but a substantial percentage of it is also due to simply being more observant, and by taking the time to think for myself and come to my own conclusions regarding what I see & hear. Here are a few examples of what I’m talking about:

Last week on NBC news, Brian Williams gave an update on the Marion Jones story, citing that she had been stripped of all medals back to the year 2000, as well as having to repay the $700k of winnings that she had earned during that time period. Nothing unusual about that. But what did catch my attention was the wording used to relate the story. This isn’t an exact quote, but Williams stated that Marion Jones was “paying the price for admitting her use of steroids”. Isn’t that odd? She’s not paying the price for taking steroids, she’s paying the price for admitting that she took steroids.

I have to wonder, was that wording intentional, or just a slip? Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but you would think that a group of professional writers working for a national network news program would have the ability to type out a couple of sentences without containing an error so large that it completely changes the context of the story, as this one did. The end result is that, regardless of whether they intended to do it or not, what they told everyone watching was that her crime wasn’t the cause of her misfortune; admitting that she did the crime (i.e., getting caught) was.

As a second example, I wonder if most people notice the potential for big business to exploit everyone with the incredibly popular and politically correct “green” movement. I have no problem with going green; there is no doubt in my mind that we’ve been negligent stewards of the earth that God has given us. But who’s been the most negligent? You and me? Or the giant corporations whose sole motivation is to post continuously increasing revenues at any cost? Yeah, I’ve been guilty of littering in my life, but then again, I never pumped millions of gallons of toxic waste into a river. My point is that it wasn’t you and me that put us into a situation where we had to “go green” in the first place, but it is you and me who will bear the brunt of the cost to do it. “Going green” is a business opportunity, and if we can’t be encouraged to do our fair share, we’ll be guilted into doing it.

Let me take you back to Thanksgiving when I printed out my manuscript. I knew it was a big job, so I installed a brand new ink cartridge (HP-92) into our printer. After 100 pages, the cartridge ran out of ink. To put this into perspective, that ink cartridge costs $18, which means that it costs me 18 cents to print a single page of B&W text (not counting the paper). As you might imagine, my love for HP is not exactly overflowing at this moment, but luckily, I can make myself feel better by recycling the empty cartridge. HP makes it easy with the pre-paid envelope that they include when you buy a new cartridge. The envelope is green (of course) and has these words: “Free Recycling! Recycle your empty HP inkjet cartridge(s) into raw materials for use in new products. It’s free. It’s easy.”

So let’s put all of this into context: The ink cartridge contains 0.17 ounces of ink (less than 1/5 of an ounce!), costs $18, will only print out 100 pages of text, and comes in a ridiculously large box sealed inside of a protective plastic container. Now, after providing me with that kind of value, HP wants me to be a good “green” steward and send the old cartridge back to them so that they can use it again and cut their costs even more. I don’t even get a rebate on my next purchase; just the warm, fuzzy feeling that I played a part in saving the planet.

Am I wrong to not feel the guilt? Forget the ridiculous price that they want for their ink, if we’re really concerned about being “green” here, wouldn’t it make more sense to maybe - I don’t know - put a little more than 1/5 of an ounce of ink into the cartridge? Can they not be designed to hold more than that? Wouldn’t doing that result in less packaging trash? Less fuel burned to transport both the new & recycled cartridges back and forth? Less work for everybody involved: me, them, the retailers, the post office, the garbage collectors?

If ink really costs $105 an ounce, then that’s what it costs (although it’s hard for me to believe that it can be that expensive), but I can’t help but feel that I’m being taking advantage of here, and that by recycling these ink cartridges I’m not only rewarding the very entity that just raked me over the coals, but I’m also enabling the continuation of a business practice that is the root cause of the very guilt that this entity is now attempting to lay back on me. I’m really sorry. I recycle as much as I can, but these things are going in the trash.

One last thing: carpet cleaning. Over the years I have cleaned the carpets in our house(s) many times. With 4 kids and 2 dogs running over the "light beige" carpets that always seemed to be in any house or apartment that we've ever moved into in, I've become more familiar with the process than I ever wanted to be. At first, I always used to follow the directions printed on the bottles of $20 a gallon carpet cleaner blindly; they're the experts, so I'll defer to them to tell me how to do it. Why wouldn't I?

Well, here's why. Tell me one single thing you wash that you don't then rinse, usually multiple times? You wash your clothes; you rinse them. You wash your dishes; you rinse them. You wash your body, your car, your dog, your hands . . . and then you rinse the soap off. But you don't do that when you clean your carpets. Go ahead. Read the bottle. Not a word about rinsing.

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but if I don't rinse the soap off of my carpet, doesn't that mean that the soap remains on the carpet? And if my entire carpet is covered with the residue of a soap solution, will the carpet not then act as a soapy scrub brush and clean the bottom of every shoe and bare foot that it then sees? Might that not be the reason why our carpets would be so filthy again just 3 short months after cleaning them, which would then require me to go out and buy another $20 bottle of carpet cleaner and rent another machine? Am I supposed to believe that somebody forgot to put the part about rinsing in the directions, or am I supposed to believe that carpets are the only thing in the world that don't need to be rinsed?

Color me "had".

Here's how I clean carpets today: First, I only use about 1/3 of the amount of cleaner that they tell me to use (for the machine I own, I'm supposed to use 8 ounces - a full cup - for the 1/2 gallon of water the machine holds; folks, we don't put that much soap in our washing machine running a large load of clothes). Then, after going over the carpet once with the soapy solution, I rinse it at least 2 times using only clean water. I still pull a ton of dirt out on those two "rinsing" passes (and why wouldn't I? the carpet is still chuck full of soap!), the carpets stay clean much longer, and I'm not spending near as much on carpet cleaner.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from all of this (other than the fact that in addition to being excited & frightened, I’m also apparently a little puzzled & disgusted), it’s this: Think for yourself.

The truth will set you free.

1 comment:

Mama Hen said...

I think it is very GOOD to have a healthy skepticism! Why would I want to be spoon fed a diet without having ever read the ingredients? If only everything in life came with a "Made in _____" label or a content/ingredient list to let you know what was REALLY contained in it or where it REALLY came from. Wouldn't that be so much easier? But since it doesn't, I think we have to be a skeptic, and dig a little deeper.

And about the carpets....I always rinse mine! As a matter of fact, I rinse them with a bit of vinegar to get them extra soap-free :-)

You are such an entertaining writer Mr. Staat. I can't wait for your next book.....I know it will be a hit!

CJ