Stone: Taking out the trash: A chore that’s never finished
A Stone’s Throw
I took the garbage out this morning because it had to be done, and if I don’t do it, my wife will.
Taking out the garbage at our house involves walking a couple of hundred feet — not a major distance but far enough to allow for a few moments of contemplation.
Often enough, I spend those moments appreciating the astonishing beauty of where we live. Sometimes I spend it contrasting that astonishing beauty with the less-than-beautiful nature of the chore at hand. My eyes and spirit soar up to the majestic mountains, while my body is weighted down by a sagging plastic bag full of trash.
But today I found myself with a more philosophical focus: resenting the fact that the damned trash needed to be taken out. Again! How many times have I taken it out before? And yet now I have to take it out again! Just doesn’t seem fair.
Taking out the trash is one of those tasks that we are never done with. I could cite Sisyphus here — but, being me, I will instead note that we never outgrow our need for toilet paper.
And so I had the day’s cheap philosophical insight: Life is a series of repetitive tasks, large or small, that we never outgrow until we are done with life itself. We breathe in; we breathe out. And then we must breathe in, and out, again. In just the same way, our hearts must beat over and over. Until, as noted, it is all over.
Writing this column is like that.
Don’t get me wrong. I know full well that writing the column is a privilege. I am fortunate indeed to get the opportunity to spew my random thoughts and opinions out into the world.
But like many privileged opportunities, the column can become a chore.
It can be a chore when I don’t have anything I really want to write about. It can be a chore when I have other things I’d rather do (or desperately need to do). It can be a chore when I have a vicious headache (or, in my younger and more heedless years, a vicious hangover).
And it most particularly becomes a chore when I stop and think that it doesn’t make a damned bit of difference — when I consider that I have been writing about the same topics over and over again for decades.
I write about the same things over and over because Aspen has been fighting the same battles over and over.
I have been writing, in the most general sense, in protest against those who consider Aspen to be a commodity rather than a community. Where some of us see a world to enjoy, others see an opportunity to exploit — an opportunity for their finances or their egos.
On occasion, I get notes from people who liked one of my columns and write to tell me that. And I often respond by thanking them and then rambling on to admit that I get frustrated when those columns don’t seem to make any difference. I say that I take the barbarians to task for their depraved indifference to a wonderful town — and, damn it, they cheerfully ignore me and keep doing exactly what they were doing. Well, what else can you expect from depraved barbarians?
Of course, I am foolishly flattering myself when I think I could or should make a difference in Aspen. Or, more to the point, change human nature.
Upton Sinclair famously wrote, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
Given that we’re talking about Aspen, perhaps we should replace “salary” with “obscene profit,” but the point is clear: Nothing I write is going to make the greedy any less greedy or make the heedless pay any more attention.
And yet, of course, I have to keep trying. That’s the nature of the business.
It makes me think of an article I read following the deeply tragic alligator attack on a young boy at a Florida Disney resort. In the story, experts were offering advice on what to do if you’re attacked by an alligator.
Poke it in the eye, they said. Punch it in the snout. Those are the most sensitive parts of that armored prehistoric leftover.
Fight hard and keep fighting, or you don’t stand a chance.
Those experts didn’t add the obvious: You probably don’t stand a chance anyway. But keep fighting.
Which brings me back to where we began: taking out the trash.
I would not be so rude as to suggest that Aspen’s assorted high rollers and hotshots are nothing more than trash. They’re more like the alligators in the shallow lagoon of our little Disneyland in the mountains.
But my point here is that fighting them is a lot like taking out the trash — in that it is a chore that is never really done.
There is always more trash to be taken out.
And no matter how often or how hard I pummel our local alligators — stick a thumb in their eye, hammer their snout, always trying to find the sensitive spots that will make them wince and maybe even let go of their prey (who knows; it could happen) — there are always more alligators lurking, waiting for their chance.
Let’s pause a moment here to be clear. This is not a “poor me” essay. Maybe it’s “poor Aspen.” Or maybe it’s “that’s life” — just one damn thing after another or, as someone once pointed out, just one damn thing, the same damn thing, over and over.
Taking out the trash.
And so we keep fighting, knowing that we can never really “win” but knowing that not fighting is surrender.
And surrender is fatal.
Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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