Nary Food Nor Laptop

16 May

Lise Keeney with the burger
she couldn’t have.

One recent morning I arose to face my harshest judge: The scale. It confirmed that, thanks to  burger, fries and Skinny Cow English Toffee Crunch popsicles — the latter of which wouldn’t have been so bad had I not had SIX of them — I still weighed the same as the day before, and the day before that, and …

A half hour later, after settling down in my easy chair with a cup of coffee and a Smart Ones English biscuit breakfast sandwich – cost $2.99  – I called up Facebook and caught an update from Lise Keeney, a former Assumption Writing and Mass Communications star now working in New York City.

Lise was informing her followers that, for one week, she was taking on the Live Below the Line challenge. This innovative approach to raising awareness and funds to combat poverty lay in a simple behavior modification challenge – try to eat on $1.50 a day for an entire work week.

Why $1.50? As the website explains:

“The challenge is set at $1.50 a day, because this is the current equivalent of the accepted global figure used to define extreme poverty. This was set by the World Bank as US$1.25 per day in 2005. Basically, if you live on less than that every day, you’re recognized internationally as living in extreme poverty. …

” ‘It’s not that bad,’ you might say – ‘$1.50 goes a lot further in developing countries’. Unfortunately not. The $1.50 figure represents the amount someone living in extreme poverty in the U.S. would have to live on.

“And for people who live in extreme poverty that $1.50 has to cover far more than food and drink – we’re talking everything – health, housing, transport, food, education… It’s impossible to imagine, but that’s the reality for an incredible number of people.

“Gandhi said that ‘Poverty is the worst form of violence’ – and we agree.”

As do I.

Of course, despite the gravity of the issue, Lise’s challenge was not without its humorous side. As she wrote me midway through her semi-fast, “I am absolutely. starving. I also can’t think or look at beans without feeling physically ill … It’s amazing to see how much thinking you do about food when you can’t have it/are limited to what you can eat. Walking past pizza places and smelling the melty cheese is so tough!”

Following Lise’s quest – and even though her fast is over, you can still go to her page at Live Below the Line and donate in her name – I naturally asked myself: “What can I give up that would be equivalent to food for Lise?”

So, OK, the honest answer is: “FOOD!”

Second, however, might just be my laptop computer. (Setting aside, of course, loved ones of the more human variety.) I don’t mean this because of Facebook, or Twitter, or the fact my fantasy baseball team is in first place for the first time since Reagan was president. I mean this because I am a compulsive note-taker and journal writer: Even the slowest of days offers some anecdote, earnest or humorous, that  I witnessed or learned of through others.

And when I’m traveling, well, forget it.

Tonight I mean that literally. For I just confirmed that in addition to other things I’ll sacrifice on my upcoming SEND trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, I will not be allowed to bring my computer.

No blog entries in the heat of inspiration (there won’t be an internet connection anyway). No typed diary entries that become cooler and calmer versions blogs of the future. Nothing but notebooks in which I, the worst hand-writer in America, will slowly scribble a few legible words, hoping I remember the entire story in all its richness of detail upon my return to the New England balcony where I write these words.

I recognize that this is a trivial complaint in the grand scheme of things. We will be working next week on a reservation of disenfranchised Lakota, struggling with per capita incomes of approximately $4,000, unemployment rates of 80 to 90 percent, and a life expectancy rate that’s the lowest in the U.S., and the second lowest in the Western Hemisphere. Small wonder, then, that there’s also an 80 percent rate of alcoholism and a teen suicide rate that’s four times the national average. Admittedly, I’m paraphrasing from the binder I received from Re-Member, the organization that will be hosting us, but I’ve heard similar numbers in mainstream media reports. At least from my cultural perspective — and I think most people’s — it’s a bleak reality, a world unto itself within our own borders.

Being a born writer, my first instinct in the face of something so compelling and so important is, of course, to write about it. One could even argue that, given my relative ineptitude at more physical skills, writing is my way to serve. But of course writing is one more way of distancing oneself from the immediacy of experience – as, of course, are cell phones, which Re-Member also forbids. One leaps to process into words an experience you haven’t yet fully engaged or absorbed, let alone truly understood. I’m wondering if, a week from now, students will come to see this as the most important thing they learned.

My only journalistic security blanket is that I have finagled my way into being the group’s designated photographer.

Of course, the lens can be almost as distancing as the laptop.

Oh well. With any luck, the memory card will fill the first day.

You can see now that I’m starting to sell myself on this computer-less proposition. Thanks in part to the inspiration of a student past. Hey, if Lise Keeney can live on $1.50 a day …

See y’all on the other side.

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