earth day, 1970

I originally ran this last year, on the fiftieth anniversary. I thought it deserved a retread.

Senior picture from July of 1969

A student committee asked if I’d host the art room discussions about ecology. I was in the room practically all day anyway; it was my senior year and I spent all of my free periods working on art projects. I figured I could wing any discussion since discussion was easy. A mountain of trash, industrial air pollution and chemical run-off- Pottstown had it all: It was rich material. But when the day came, Earth Day 1970, no one talked. None of my fellow students had an opinion. At least, not early in the morning. I stuttered and stammered through the first period class, just filling the silence with my voice. As the class filed out, the art teacher strolled past and muttered, “Better get your head out of your rear, Stong. Come up with something quick.” Yeah. Got it. Bob Kingsley with sound advice. He was probably the best teacher I ever had. Too bad it was just for an elective my senior year of high school.

As the next class walked in, already bored having spent their last period talking about “ecology,” I was blank. Should I focus on ecologically sound art materials? Probably; but how boring would that be? How likely was it that any of these folks would go in to the Arts? In frustration, I started tossing out opinions, but even I was bored. The second class moved on and the third period started. Good grief did this suck.

“Look,” I said in frustration, “So we pollute. What’s the big deal? There are a lot of people. They’ll pollute until people die and there aren’t enough people to pollute any more.” Bingo. Reaction and discussion. Not much, just a bit; but there was discussion. Some of the students actually took strong issue with what I said.

“If we change nature’s balance won’t nature just adjust? re-balance on its own? So some weak species disappear and some sick people die, won’t we be stronger for it?” Could I call it performance art? Not really; performance, certainly, but art? Nah. It’s difficult being artistic while you pull your head out of your rear. I did create a moment for myself, though; a point, like a seed crystal, for memories to gather on and clarify. I realize in retrospect that this was probably a first for me. Performances of all sorts, some contrary some exaggerated some as a devil’s advocate, would follow. The most recent, suggesting we publish our salaries and performance reviews, leading to an “early retirement.”

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