The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

February 8, 2008

Giving up the struggle: stories of ants and cats and hair products gone awry

I was planning to write about DIY hair care products this week. But so far, my experiments have been less than successful. Take, for example, the sugar water hairspray, exhibit left. Here’s the recipe:

Dissolve 1 tablespoon sugar in a cup of water. Boil 3 minutes. Be sure the sugar is completely dissolved. Add 1 tablespoon vodka and 2-3 drops essential oil of your choice for scent. Pour into a spray bottle.

The instructions should also have said, “Keep out of the reach of ants!” But then, I guess the writer figured most sane people are aware that sugar attracts ants. Just to clarify, this hairspray ant invasion happened a month BEFORE last week’s sugar incident. You’d think I would have learned. And you would be wrong.

So, about the hairspray. It didn’t work anyway. Still looking for a plastic-free alternative. But that’s not what I want to talk about in this post.

What I want to talk about is letting go of the struggle against reality, accepting things as they truly are, and finding ways to work with the world rather than against it. As I mentioned in my post about the ant invasion, constantly spraying them with vinegar was not working. I was in a never-ending battle with these creatures that was overwhelming and disheartening.

First of all, killing living beings every day is not fun. I’ll admit there’s a certain satisfaction in wiping them up and washing them down the drain. But it comes from a very dark place, the same as pouring salt on slugs and watching them sizzle or teasing tigers at the zoo. It doesn’t make you a nice person. And an FPF reader, who also is one of Michael’s co-workers and a Buddhist, was kind of horrified at the idea of mixing borax with sugar. Her reaction made me seriously reconsider anything lethal.

Second, the ants weren’t actually invading me. They were trying to escape the rain. We know this because during normal dry weather, the ants disappear from my kitchen and stick to farming the scale on my potted citrus trees. (Ew!)

Third, the ants were in my cupboard and last month all over my hairspray because that’s where the sugar was. Perhaps if the sugar were somewhere else…

So I did try the measure that I mentioned in my post: putting a cup of sugar in the cabinet under the sink to attract them away from my countertops and food cupboards. And guess what. It’s working! The ants are all over the sugar under the sink (where I can’t see them and they can’t hurt anything) and almost completely gone from everywhere else. I guess once the rains have stopped for good, I’ll start moving the sugar towards the back door and try to lead them back outside. Or maybe they’ll just go on their own. We’ll see.

Humans have different ways of describing the experience of living with reality rather than the fantasy of life as you wish it were. Going with the flow. Following the tao. Byron Katie, author of one of my favorite books, calls it loving what is.

“Loving what is” doesn’t mean that when we see injustice or harm occurring in the world we sit passively by and do nothing. What it does mean is that we can work with things as they actually are rather than how we think they ought to be. Instead of thinking, “These ants should not be on my countertop!” I can say, “These ants should be on my countertop because that is what ants do when it rains outside and they have no other source of food. So I’ll put some food for them down below and leave my countertops free for my own food.” Or some other solution that recognizes the nature of ants rather than the idea of how we wish ants behaved.

Okay, so I learned this lesson a second time this week with my kitties. They are not allowed into our bedroom at night because they chase and bite and wrestle on top of our heads. (Why it is necessary for the wrestling to happen on our heads, we do not know.) So every morning, there are kitties outside the bedroom door scratching and mewing and oh so excited for us to come out and be with them, or at least give them food. And every morning, when I open the door, these kitties rush past me into the room and under the bed, where I spend many minutes trying to coax them out.

Why are they coming into the bedroom? Don’t they know I’m leaving the bedroom? Don’t they know the food is in the kitchen? Are they stupid? These are the kinds of grumblings that were running through me each morning. Until finally, I realized that I was expecting my kittens to think like people instead of kittens. So instead of trying to coax them out of the bedroom, I simply left them in there, closed the door, and walked away. It only took about 5 seconds before they were scratching on the door to be let out. And zero frustration for me.

So what does this have to do with plastic and environmental issues? Here’s the thing. Plastic exists. People use it. People throw it away. It harms animals. It’s also extremely convenient and useful. It is reality and no amount of wishful thinking will change that. If we’re going to create a world without harm, we somehow have to work with reality the way it is and go from there, rather than grumbling and mumbling and getting angry with people who don’t agree with us.

What does that mean? I don’t know. I’m trying to figure it out. I do suspect that fighting doesn’t work and that there’s no winning “the war against plastic” any more than “the war against drugs” or “the war against terrorism.” There’s only seeing the world as it actually is, working with reality, and creating change from the inside out, starting with ourselves.

It’s as my meditation teacher said at the last retreat pointing to his noggin, “The real garbage is in here.” Perhaps once we realize that, the rest will come easily.

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11 years ago

I realize this is crazy old, but if you’re still looking for a hairspray alternative, there are a couple decent ones I know (nothing that works as easily as plastic). Stale beer makes an excellent setting lotion, although it’s holding properties are set by heat – so if you don’t blowdry or straighten, it’s not going to be as effective. Next, there are recipes using fruit pectin – and you can derive this yourself easily, with old apples and your stove.

15 years ago

Oh, this is wonderful and beautifully profound.

I just found your blog a few days ago and have been working my way through it from the beginning. It’s making Teh Sick a little less onerous, I can tell you. :) Thank you so much for everything you’re doing here.

15 years ago

I’ve just started reading your blog and really like the concept.

One concern that I have tho is that you said the ants ‘cant hurt anything’ under the sink. I’m not so sure about this, because enough of an ant infestation can seriously damage a house. You may not think about it at first, but if they are in the walls and everywhere, they will eat through the building materials.

But I don’t have any real solutions, its not like with a grasshopper in your house where you can pick it up and put it outside.

Shannon Hodgins
15 years ago

Lovely and thoughtful post. Shannon

Bianca in Brooklyn
15 years ago

Dear Anon, Buddhism takes into account the realization that suffering is part of life and is all around us. The idea is to reduce suffering as much as we can. The individual must begin with themselves in order to eventually be able to help reduce the suffering of others.
I did find the story of the buffalo in a Native American tale somewhat heartening, but in that story the buffalo knows that in order for the suffering of the others to be reduced he must sacrifice himself. Pests and vermin are not hanging out in my space in order to sacrifice themselves. Simply, they are looking to survive. Even knowing this I still get very frustrated with the elusive cockroaches who’ve set up shop in my kitchen.
Killing the pests can be enjoyable in the instant moment when I’m grossed out and frustrated but soon after I feel guilty for killing an innocent being that was not directly causing me any harm (the mental anguish is my own fault, not that of the cockroach) and guilty for not being in total roach control. Then there is the realization that killing them one by one is a fruitless endeavor because it’s not getting to the root of the problem. If you don’t remove the root of the weed, it’s going to grow back every time you cut the part that you see. And in the case with Beth’s ants it doesn’t seem like there is a root so much as a natural part of where she lives. But it is important to evaluate the situation and come to understand the nature of the issue and then move on from there, keeping reality close in view.
Just before I read this post I was doing clean up combat and feeling really frustrated. But I feel a bit relieved now. Thanks Beth.

15 years ago

Wonderful, thoughtful post. Just found you thru Best Green Blogs.

Try Aubrey brand hair products – all natural and made in Tampa Fl.


15 years ago

Great post! I just getting into this topic, and finding great stuff. I am makeing an ecolifestyle group in , would be great if we canall meet and join ideas.

Cathy Mullins
15 years ago

What wonderful and insightful musings. Thank you. I’m newly inspired and of course, it’s always a blessing to read such heartfelt words. Again, thank you.

15 years ago

Beth, I can’t thank you enough for this post!! I have been fussing with a member of my family these past two weeks over a contemplated purchase. It’s created a lot of tension in our home. Today, I will focus on how I can accept and work with what is, rather than how I would like it to be. We don’t appreciate you nearly enough!

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Anonymous, I agree that we have to kill every day. And I have not stopped killing ants. However, I would like to minimize the killing as much as possible, and I would rather not kill them if I don’t have to. The few ants that do make their way up to the countertop get wiped away. But the fact is that with the sugar luring them down below, far fewer ants must be killed.

“I kind of like the attitude of some Native American tribes, thanking a creature for giving up its life for the benefit of the person about to kill it.”

But killing ants unnecessarily doesn’t benefit me. It strikes me as no different from sport fishing or hunting.

15 years ago

Last week I gave my ants an apple core which they worked on with such gusto that after 2 days I put it on a plate with another core, and a few days later they got another core. Instead of spreading out, they are focused on the plate of cores. When I’m out of the kitchen, there’s a thick black line of ants leading to and from the cores, which get smaller every day. When I come into the kitchen and start working at the counter, they scram. They’re interesting to watch and I think I’m going to miss them when they’re gone.

Try washing your hair with bath soap. It adds a lot of body and if you’re lucky, afterwards you won’t need to use any hair tamers or stiffeners or whatever.

Axelle F.

PS Soots & Arya think they can stop dancing on your faces but they are so wrong. They will only be able to stop once they’re about 2 years old.

N. & J.
15 years ago

I think lots of people struggle with the balance of doing what is right, what needs to be done and the daily grind of doing that in the face of such adversity. But I never would have thought to start my own blog or pay as much attention to my impact if it wasn’t for bloggers like you so remember that even on your worst day when you feel like things can’t change you are still an inspiration for others. Each person that joints the “fight” brings us all closer to a more sustainable life. Keep it up!

Bay Area Boy
15 years ago

I agree with you that one’s current obsession can become overwhelming (ultimately leading to abandonment)
and that perspective is always necessary and welcome to preserve one’s sanity!

The marketplace people (and the libertarians) like to say that the scope of human economic activities is essentially governed by price…the plastic problem will end when the price of plastic exceeds that of alternative products which are not as environmentally damaging.

But at times action must be taken right away, not years down the line. So it is good that you and many others are spending enormous amounts of time building the basis for, eventually, wide-ranging governmental action.

15 years ago

“killing living beings every day is not fun. I’ll admit there’s a certain satisfaction in wiping them up and washing them down the drain. But it comes from a very dark place, the same as pouring salt on slugs and watching them sizzle or teasing tigers at the zoo. It doesn’t make you a nice person. And an FPF reader, who also is one of Michael’s co-workers and a Buddhist, was kind of horrified at the idea of mixing borax with sugar. Her reaction made me seriously reconsider anything lethal.”

I kind of like the attitude of some Native American tribes, thanking a creature for giving up its life for the benefit of the person about to kill it. This thought could be extended to noxious vermin and microlife, thanking them for giving up their existence so that yours is make more comfortable or extended.

We HAVE to kill! Every action we take in life kills life: where we step, when we wash, when we cook. Just living kills. Our immune systems see to that.

At what point does the Buddhist cease thinking about killing creatures? When it can no longer be seen? (Would there be different standards for Buddhists with eye problems?) Are there Buddhists who scope out the territory with a magnifying glass? With a light microscope? With an electron microscope?

How low do you go?

TI Guy
15 years ago

Since you are using a lot of vodka in your recipes for hair spray and whatever, check out the cost of pure ethyl alcohol (at a liquor store) compared to the cheapest vodka, adjusting for the 190 proofness of the pure product with the 80 proof vodka.

(BTW, 200 proof ethyl alcohol -absolute alcohol- is undrinkable because methyl alcohol is used in the extraction process to get out the last 5% of water in the 190 proof sort. The traces of methyl alcohol are not compatible with health should some of it wind up periodically in the festive Bacchanalian punch.)

15 years ago

I’m sure you get this all the time, or at least, I hope you do, but I’m going to chime in: Thanks to your inspiration, when I made three recent orders online, I requested in the comments section that they not use plastic packaging if at all possible. I never would have thought of this without you!

15 years ago

We olny dance on ur faces cuz we luv u. U no like? We stop k?

Dis cartoon not tru!

15 years ago

Very zen post, Beth. I agree with you whole-heartedly. Do what you can, be deliberate in your actions, but don’t make yourself nuts worrying about how life SHOULD be. Thanks for the meditative moment. We need those now and again.

Beth Terry
15 years ago

Tracey, I am totally interested in hair gel ideas. I’m planning to try the flax seed gel this weekend. I tried it once and couldn’t strain it properly, so I’m going to try a different straining method. What other types of gel should I try?

15 years ago

Such a beautiful post!
THANK you.
I have some hair gel ideas if you are interested.

har mar
15 years ago

this is nice. and insightful. and a struggle i think we all go through regarding whatever issues and causes we are passionate about. dont stress too much about it all…you’ll figure it all out and you’re doing a fantastic job inspiring so many!

15 years ago

Great post Beth! I struggle with a lot of these same type of issues. I’m still working on not pushing against the world. It’s like we learned in Doggie 101. You can push on your dog (physically) and he will just automatically push back and not do what you would like him to do. Better to not push at all and find alternative ways to get him to perform the appropriate behavior. How good for all aspects of life! PS. I’m not convinced about the ants though :) I have them year-around!