Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Do Not Chop Me With An Axe!

My 7th grade English teacher insisted that we skip lines when we wrote on notebook paper. I was unreasonably incompetent at this.

The rule made sense for someone who has to decipher student handwriting all day, but all the wasted space caused me physical pain. I think she even made us use only one side of the paper, and with every blank sheet I shed the sap-sticky tears of endangered forests. I even wrote her a melodramatic poem about the tragedy:

I came by this resource obsession naturally. Both of my parents spent years in the conservation-oriented National Park Service, and the combined forces of nature and nurture stopped just shy of turning me into a compulsive hoarder.

Shortly after I was born, my mother made an agreement with God that, if she could only use disposable diapers with a clear conscience, she would recycle everything else she ever laid hands on. So far she has kept her word to the tune of several tons of plastic and aluminum, every item of clothing discarded in the household, and at least one entire toilet.

The impact on my personality showed early. My elementary teachers repeatedly caught me rescuing inch-long pencils from the trash can and integrating toilet paper rolls into my art projects.

I also picked up a habit of reenacting the Sesame Street sketch with Frank the Water Conservation Fish. It’s still hard to breathe when I watch that animated water gushing down the drain.

I keep coming back to paper, though, because it seems to be thrown away with more gusto than other recyclables. I, meanwhile, can get three or four birthdays out of a single piece of giftwrap.

I’ve also been known to tear Kleenex in half when the immediate mucus incident did not merit a full sheet. Then again, that’s probably more because I’m cheap.

I pay my credit card bills online, but the bank keeps sending me paper statements and return envelopes anyway. Like the proverbial Native American using every part of the buffalo, I file the statements, keep the outer envelopes in a drawer for grocery lists, and squirrel away the return envelopes against the coming apocalypse. Last month I realized that once the world ends I won’t need to send letters, so I took a stack to the bank for reuse. The teller said, “I’m sure we’ll find something to do with them” in the same way that your 2nd grade teacher says, “Our class gerbil went to live on a farm after spring break.”

My current crusade is the office, where we toss or shred truckloads of stuff that is still, by my standards, perfectly useful. You say this letter is going to National Headquarters? That’s no reason not to print it on the back of last week’s pizza flier.

Since we’re a nonprofit and always scrounging for money, I’ve tried using the financial angle.
Me: You know how pay raises have been frozen for years?

Coworker: Yeah.

Me: That’s because you keep printing out your emails.
Then I opted for the Merciless Enforcer, but that was problematic.
Me: DON’T THROW THAT OUT OR I’LL SPIT IN YOUR COFFEE Oh hi, Boss, wasn’t that a fun joke hahaha but seriously put it in the recycle tray I mean it only don’t fire me please.
Now I’ve enlisted some coniferous help for an emotional blackmail campaign in my signage.

If this doesn’t work, I’m going back to Frank the Fish.

(P.S. Yes, we used the movie UHF to study the Hero Journey archetype in English class. This experience probably explains a lot about my worldview.)


  1. The first stanza of that poem is the genuine article from 7th grade. I can't remember the other 3 or 4 verses anymore, but they were very much along the lines of what you see written above.

    Ha! "Along the lines!" Get it?

  2. Clara, I love you. Seriously.

    I had a teacher in eighth grade who told us we couldn't type our first paper, because not everyone had computers and she didn't want anyone to be at a disadvantage. But we also were not allowed to cross out mistakes or use white out. It was frustrating beyond belief. I wasted so much paper on that one assignment. It's a good thing you weren't in that class; you would've been appalled.

  3. Kelly,

    Teach For America is addicted to evaluation questionnaires (which I appreciate). They once asked if I thought the amount of paper used at the summer training institute was appropriate, and I gave them a large piece of my mind--electronically, of course. The turkeys probably printed it out.