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Recreate-tional Writing

BY MARIANNA JAMESON

I write eco-techno thrillers in which nefarious corporate bigshots, tortfeasors, and political animals discover that messing with Mother Nature never works out well. What can I say? At heart, I’ve always been a green weenie.

I clearly remember the first Earth Day—on Wednesday, April 22, 1970 our entire third-grade class at Our Lady of You Are Not Here To Have Fun spent the morning fashioning trash buckets out of those small white cardboard “Chinese food” containers and decorating them. Then we were released into a gloriously sunny but chilly spring afternoon to pick up trash all around the perimeter of the school. What’s not to like about that? Art all morning and freedom all afternoon! We could get dirty and not get in trouble! (Kinda sounds like the same rules for writing, doesn’t it?)

I’ve always loved planting things and watching them grow. I reduce, reuse, and recycle. I use all those great canvas bags from writing conferences to haul my organic food home from farmers’ markets. So when I was reorganizing my office last year and realized that I had nearly three full cases of ARCs that I no longer wanted, I decided to do something environmentally conscious with them.

I considered it carefully. I didn’t want to toss them in the recycle bins because I figured someone would fish them out and sell them. I didn’t want to donate them because the books are long-since out, and some are out of print. And I certainly wasn’t going to toss them into the trash to add to a land fill.

A friend who’d just completed her Master Gardener certification suggested I compost them. Composting wasn’t something I’d considered, primarily because in my marriage the subject of compost is like the subject of finances or gambling or other bad habits is in other marriages: a major sore spot. My husband believes compost heaps are an eyesore (but beauty is in the eye of the beholder!), that they smell (yes, like earth!), and that they attract vermin (only the good, bug-like kinds that like rotting things!).

And, okay, I confess: we had a bad experience with compost heaps not long after we’d moved into our house in Connecticut 12 years ago. I discovered a many-years-old compost heap in the far back corner of the yard. At first, I was thrilled—I had my own stockpile of black gold and the perfect opportunity to show my husband just how wrong he was. I ask you: Does life get better than that?

I hired some local guys with a start-up landscaping company to clear out some of the non-composting things there, like old gutters and siding, Christmas tinsel, and broken Pabst Blue Ribbon bottles, and to help me turn over and aerate my new stash of gardeners’ crack. About half an hour later, the guys and I jumped back in collective horror as a large family of New York City subway-sized (possum-sized, for the Southerners reading this) RATS came racing out of their tunnels and across my yard. Turns out, the multi-story subterranean space beneath that nice, warm, old compost heap had been the perfect home for them. For decades, probably. That’s what the exterminator who set the breadbox-sized traps throughout my yard two hours later told me, anyway.

That evening, my husband was tight-lipped and frowny. I took a voluntary vow of silence on the topic of compost. Peace reigned in the household. (And even though I never saw another rat, I never told the neighbors.) Then my gardener friend persuaded me to give composting another try. She knew the ARCs represented times that were less than happy days in my career and I needed to exorcise the memories (she said). And books were made from paper, after all, and paper came from trees. I could plant new trees that would trap carbon (she said) and I’d feel better about reading all those frightening research reports from NASA and   

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