“Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes.”
-Walt Whitman

My obsession with Walt Whitman began in the winter of my sophomore year of high school, when we learned about Transcendentalism: a 20th century movement involving Walt Whitman and other famous nature-and-independence-loving writers such as Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Margaret Fuller. The above quote specifically stuck out to me (and frequently comes into my head today) because I endlessly find myself in contradicting situations. One oddly perfect example of this was when I got my first car and named it “Walt” after the aforementioned transcendentalist. I am not entirely sure how much Mr. Whitman would have appreciated having his name repurposed by a gas-guzzling car, but I like to think he would have forgiven me because of the vast contradicting nature of humankind.

Another contradiction that has been bothering me is my relationship with paper. I have always been the sort of person who loves to read from books. I have stayed strong in my opposition to Nooks and Kindles and other electronic reading systems because there is just something about holding a book in your hands, looking at real printed letters on smooth paper that cannot be replicated by just staring at an illuminated screen. The electronic “paperless” type of reading takes away from the bond between reader and author.

Yet my connection to print books contradicts fiercely with my other connection to the environment — my desire to save trees. I have felt this contradiction sharply this year, when as an LSA student it seems that I am always printing articles and stories and chapters and plays to read or struggling to decide whether or not it is really worth it to print. There is something soul sucking about spending hours reading off the glowing LED screen of my MacBook. But also when I stand by the printer and watch 20-30 pages print of an article I will probably only read once, I feel like I am personally responsible for the destruction of forests everywhere.

How do I reconcile these strong opposing feelings? Honestly, I’m not sure. Maybe the feeling that reading from a Nook is sacrilege and the feeling that printing 100 pages a week is murder cannot go together. When I feel particularly perplexed, I just think of Uncle Walt’s quote. Being full of contradictions is what makes us human. Everyone has conflicting values and desires and needs. That is why life is so confusing, and also why life is so vibrant.

It is possible to be obsessed with shopping and oppose big business. It is possible to know that eating locally grown organic food is better for the environment but still physically need BurgerFi. I think the best way to deal with these contradictions is to humor each side, but in moderation. Personally, the way I cope with my need for printed paper is by promising myself I will recycle it later. Modern society is not just going to disappear, and honestly, it shouldn’t. The point is, in terms of the environment, it actually is possible to “have your cake and eat it too.” Just don’t eat too much of it. And maybe buy the ingredients from a farmers market?

Eliana Herman can be reached at erherman@umich.edu.

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