Work: Surviving the Arts

Exploring issues of sustainability in the arts.

~by Scott Pinkmountain

On the Killing of Small, Adorable Animals

Bunny

I was driving home the other evening around dusk. I was on a narrow dirt road in the middle of the desert. A cottontail rabbit darted into the road right in front of me and ran directly under my wheel. It happened so quickly I did not have time to step on the brakes. It was instantly a road-lump in my rearview mirror.

I didn’t even slow down, let alone stop and get out. Why? What was I going to do? Give it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation? Put a bullet through its head? Stand there and watch the blood beading on its soft fur?

I will feel horrible about this for the rest of my life, even as the number of small, adorable animals I crush will, undoubtedly, grow.

I did not tell my wife what happened when I walked in the door a minute and a half later. Why should she be forced to share in my misery? She would likely see the dead bunny twisted in the road on her way to work the next morning, and that would be a moment of trauma. I had no reason to give her an another. It would only be (additional) selfishness to ask her to share in my grief. And besides, my thoughts were more along the lines of “We, as a species, are awful,” than just about the dead rabbit, and out of kindness I try to shield her from my more apocalyptic human-hating thought spirals. They are not her favorite of my thoughts.

But we, as a species, are awful.

The killing of that rabbit cannot be called an “accident” on my part. The word “accident” implies a mistake. I was driving a large, many-thousand-pound vehicle home at the same “safe” rate and level of attention I always do. I didn’t personllay err, or the mistake happened so far back in my ancestry that it can’t exactly be called mine. It was actually the rabbit who made a mistake. If anything, it was the rabbit’s accident of miscalculation that it raced directly under my wheel. But since a rabbit is arguably not intelligent enough to have made a more accurate calculation with regard to my trajectory/weight/vector/death-inducing-heft, it’s more accurate to say that the death of this small, beautiful creature was simply an inevitable byproduct of my existing and performing my daily routine.

And this small action – one rabbit dying beneath my car wheel as an unintentional, but essentially unavoidable byproduct of my daily life – is a tiny-scale enactment of a much greater truth, which is that we humans are monsters, just by the nature and fact of our existence. Even the most careful, sweet-natured Jainist is implicated in our brutal, full-planet colonization and ceaseless resource devourment.

Rabbit Eggs

Someone recently gave us a fancy coffee machine that uses those plastic pods to make delicious, creamy café-style espressos. I tore open the box and tested it out with one of the pods from the starter pack. Excellent. Then I got online to buy a reusable pod because I don’t like the idea of disposing a couple ounces of plastic trash for every coffee I make at home. Especially when I can already make pretty good coffee almost trash free (minus the totally non-recyclable spacesuit-liner bean bag).

As it turns out, the particular brand of espresso maker we received, which I’d already used and rendered un-returnable, does not make a reusable pod. I will not comment on the motives or decisions of the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf product and marketing executives other to say that they should each be lined up and publically force-fed plastic coffee pods to the death alongside the fellow (yes, I’m going to assume it was a man) who came up with the idea of putting plastic stickers on nearly every single piece of fruit sold in this country.

Visualize a warehouse large enough to house the rolls and rolls of plastic used in one day of American fruit stickering.

That guy will be eating fruit stickers.

Sterilized hypodermic needles individually wrapped in plastic? Fine. Tamper-proof plastic wrap on Snapple caps? Ehhh…okay. Hundreds of boxes containing thousands of plastic coffee pods in dozens of stores in hundreds of cities? If you think that fruit sticker warehouse is big, quadruple its size for the daily coffee pod landfill.

Fish bones

A few weeks ago I was at a concert. It was in a private studio on a beautiful plot of remote land butted up right against Joshua Tree National Park. Word of mouth invitation to hear an avant-folk songwriter visiting from Australia, playing delicate viola and singing quietly. The audience was comprised entirely of mindful, art-positive desert dweller-types. Within the first twenty minutes of the concert, there were no less than three cell phone interruptions, even after the “please turn your phones off” beg. Given that it’s only more and more common for people to carry around personal telephonic macrocomputers, it strikes me that nothing short of a full-throttle Luddite revolution paired with a yet-invented electromagnetic pulse weapon will roll back this phenomenon. Hearing email alerts, cell phone bloops, text pings, any time, any place, is the new air.

So then what? We simply can’t have a gathering uninterrupted by what can only be called bullshit? We can no longer attain a moment of focused group attention? I haven’t been to a church lately, but I imagine it’s probably similar. What does this do to us over the long run? Where does this lead us? What’s the end game here?

I won’t claim, as I might once have, that there’s an answer to these questions. And I’m not going to say that art will save us. However, making art is one of the few things we can do that’s almost entirely positive. Friendship, intimacy, raising children with intention, and making art. Yes, there’s probably resource consumption in the making of most art (this essay ate some non-renewable energy and some fraction of hours in the life of a child-slave-manufactured toxic Apple product), but the average coffee pod usage probably laps the average art endeavor several times a year in terms of sheer tonnage and poison fumes.

It’s true there are doctors and teachers and aid workers and pro bono civil rights lawyers and journalists and maybe even a couple politicians who do incredibly positive things. Without them, we’d be fucked. But they are intrinsically snarled in the world of money and bureaucracy, supply and demand, red tape, government funding, public opinion, capitalism and other various dark forces.

Art doesn’t have to have anything to do with that stuff. It certainly can. The times when I’m bummed out with regard to my art life, it’s when I try to rub it up all on that business. But the making and sharing of creative work, if done selflessly and attentively, is one of a very few moments in life when we shed our monstrous humanity and maybe offer something unrelated to death and destruction, not necessarily in subject matter, but in implication.

***
Scott Pinkmountain is a writer and musician living in Pioneertown, CA. His writing has appeared on This American Life, in The Rumpus, A Public Space, HTMLGIANT, and other publications, and he hosts the Make/Work podcast for The Rumpus. He has also released dozens of albums of both instrumental music and songs. He works as a music analyst for Pandora Radio. He can be found at www.scottpinkmountain.com and @spinkmountain.

  • I recently moved onto the same desert road as Scott, and though I haven’t joined the ranks of inadvertent critter killers I know it’s just a matter of time.

    Every journey up and down the road involves some cute little desert dweller (who were here before I arrived) making a last second dash across the road and my noisy, rumbling, dust-cloud creating metal monster (it’s just a Honda Element, but still a monster when you weigh less than a couple pounds).

    I think I can see the panic in the little critters sudden leap in front of my monster, the confused dashes to the left and right before they dart off to the side of the road fractions of a second before my front tire rolls over the spot they just vacated.

    Part of me wants to think these critters are just playing a game, a “game of chicken” to liven up their day. Maybe a small crowd of tough little critters are hiding in the bushes waiting for a car to come up our road, waiting for the last second so they can prove how brave and cool they are to the other tough critters in their critter gang.

    Of course, I really know it’s just life and death in the desert. Where humans go other species suffer. We are pretty crappy as a species that way. But even without us, the predator/prey, life and death struggle happens. And that poor little road-kill bunny became food for some other critter out here…

    As for the rest of the article about our insane uses of plastic – spot on Scott.

    And please remember to turn off your cell-phones at concerts people. It’s really easy to do and that beeping cell-phone is making a very bad first impression on the people around you. Did you see them glaring at you? Well, if it’s your phone beeping you deserved it.