Back when we were in the trash phase of the project, Michelle and I went to the farmers’ market at Union Square and walked up to the booth of the Lower East Side Ecology Center.
I said, “Let’s look at the worms.”
“Worms,” Michelle said. “What worms?”
“They sell worms which you keep in a bin and they make the food scraps turn into compost faster.”
“Wait a minute. I didn’t agree to having any worms in the apartment.”
The documentary makers who follow us around caught that particular scene on film. Tonight, I gave a talk at Solar One, down by the East River, and I showed the rough cut of the film-maker’s new, 12-minute fundraising trailer that included the scene. Everybody laughed when Michelle rebelled at the worm idea.
But of course, as you know if you’ve been following my blog, we do actually have some worms in the apartment eating our food scraps. I won that one.
On the other hand, there is another scene in the trailer where Michelle is saying that she is on deadline at work and that withdrawal from caffeine—because of the local eating stage of the project—is just more than she can take at the moment. I try to talk her into persevering. The trailer then cuts to Michelle sitting in a Starbucks drinking coffee out of her reusable cup. Victory, this time, to Michelle.
Anyway, during tonight’s talk at Solar One, after the trailer was done and the lights came up, one of the questions people wanted to ask about was negotiating eco-actions within a marriage. One woman said that her husband believed that the system is so screwed up that recycling doesn’t make a difference so she couldn’t get him to do it. Another guy copped to being a Prada lover—like Michelle—while his wife sitting next to him was a back-to-the-earth queen.
How, people at Solar One wanted to know, do you work these things out? I’ve had emails too, asking the same thing.
Now then, it’s one thing to come to me to ask me about non-toxic household cleaners. It’s entirely another thing to ask me for marital advice, but here goes.
When the No Impact project started, I was incredibly rigid about the rules. I hovered over my poor wife. “That roll you’re eating, did it come in packaging?” Michelle must have felt like telling me to shove the roll, well, you can guess where. And she did once or twice. I deserved it.
Maybe you guessed: I’m a Virgo. I wanted to be sure that no rule was ever broken. I made myself into the No Impact police. It caused problems and arguments. It made for less fun.
Only after a couple of months—yeah, I’m slow—did I finally realize that being kind to the world meant nothing if I wasn’t even able to be kind to my own wife. I kept saying, “Each of us can only do what we can do,” but I wasn’t applying that to Michelle. Meanwhile, my Virgoing everything had the effect of making her want to do less, not more, within the experiment. We were doing to each other what the whole project was about not doing: pointing fingers at each other.
It took three months before we finally adopted the No Impact Man philosophy of keeping your own side of the street clean within our marriage. Michelle came up with the idea that she should be the arbiter of her own adherence to the rules of the No Impact experiment and I would be the arbiter of mine. In the end, both of us are on board with the rules of the No Impact experiment, but both of us are free to interpret them our own way. And guess what? There is a lot more peace and fun between us.