Getting Started

Pictured: harmony.

Momentum. It takes time to generate, but once it gets going, it’s unstoppable. I’ve been building up momentum for several years now. When I complained to one of my friends that my life is shitty, she said, “No, it’s not. You just need to give it time to get it where it wants to be.” As far as I’m concerned, that still counts as shitty. You may have heard that I got into Columbia. That’s exciting no matter how you spin it. Of course, it still leaves the question of how I’m going to pay for my education. The master’s program I’m looking into costs close to 100 grand, living expenses and tuition included. Does anyone have that kind of money lying around? I’m looking into scholarships, federal aid, and work study. I have confidence that I will come up with an answer. The hard part is getting started.

I was not going to go to grad school at first. My plan was to get my B.A. and go out into the real world. It wasn’t until last March that someone explained to me that that’s not a viable option anymore. I was handing out magazines (I used to write for a student political magazine) when a total stranger stopped me and asked what our staff members were majoring in. “Well,” I said. “One is planning to go to law school, at least one or two are going into business, and I’m an English major.”

“I know English majors,” he said. “They’re cashiers at Walgreen’s. You should go to grad school.” For ten minutes he spoke to me, telling me that he knew smart people who couldn’t get good jobs because they didn’t realize how difficult it is to stay competitive these days. “I’m forty years old and I’m an undergrad,” he said. “It’s taken me this long just to reach this point. Go to grad school.” By the time he was done, I was starting to think about grad school. And I didn’t even know what I’d be studying.

The programs I’ve applied to all deal with environmentalism, public policy, or both. My goal is to fuse grassroots organizing with the lofty goal of saving the world from global warming. Most people don’t realize how interconnected those two are. That’s exactly the problem. Perhaps you’ve been stopped on the street by a canvasser asking if you’d like to save the rainforest today. You’re sympathetic, but you have to get home and make dinner. What I want to do is teach people just how little difference there is between making dinner and saving the rainforest.

If I remember a statistic that was quoted in one of my environmentalism classes, the average American produces more carbon by eating meat than by driving. I won’t be able to go full vegetarian until someone figures out how to make a bacon cheeseburger and rib-eye steak out of soy that taste exactly like the real thing, but I try to go vegetarian on weekends just to show a bit of solidarity. Sometimes I lapse, and sometimes I go for an entire weekday without eating meat anyway, but that isn’t the point. The point is that people need to be aware of the way that everyday decisions affect the environment. Most people like to think of the natural world as something that is completely walled off from their lives. It doesn’t work that way. Nature is sneaky. It creeps into your life when you’re not looking, sometimes in the form of rot in your floorboards, sometimes in the form of a tornado destroying your house. You can just say fuck the truth if you like, but usually, the truth fucks you.

There are people who manage to live with a negligible carbon footprint. They use green power, don’t own a car, and rarely travel. You should not live like that unless you want to. One of the most common accusations made against environmentalists is that we want to tell people how to live. That is false and defamatory. We want people to understand that there is no such thing as consequence-free living. Simply being aware of one’s place in the natural order is frequently all it takes to make the difference between harmony and discord. The world does not run on a closed loop. It gives back what you give it.

You should have seen my face when I read the acceptance letter from Columbia. Their program is heavy on science, but I haven’t taken a hard science class since high school. When asked to write a personal statement explaining why I wanted to go to Columbia, my answer essentially amounted to, “Because I’m good enough, that’s why.” Not everyone bought that. Syracuse said no. I don’t care. I like Columbia. And I’m not particularly distraught by people who tell me that I should consider taking a year off to raise money before going to school. I think I can find the money. I have no way of being certain. I’m just tired of waiting.

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