This story is a potent mix of genuine compassion and total naivety: a story about one man giving himself one year to save all animals everywhere.
There’s no fixed plan, I’m not working with any specific organisation, and I’m not a vet. I just want to follow my heart and see how far I get – somewhere inside I have big bag of compassion….how on earth do I use it?
My name is Martin Usborne. I’m a photographer in the UK. I’m also a failed animal lover.
I love pigs and yet I eat pigs. Mmmmm.
I love cows and yet I wear cows on my feet (I have big feet).
I love all animals deeply but I have done virtually nothing to help them.
So I want to take a year off to see if I can finally do something to make a difference to whatever suffering those creatures I apparently love might be enduring.
Who the hell cares?
Well, I suppose this is an experiment.
I want to ask – and maybe answer – the following simple question:
What happens if a very average man decides to drop everything and just follow his heart? (even if he doesn’t know much about his heart)
Or perhaps this question:
What happens if a man with a tendency towards anxiety, a massive taste for bacon, two small miniature schnauzer dogs and a mild wheat intolerance decides to see how many animals he can help in one year?
I’m no hero. This is a crucial fact. I wake up most mornings, look at myself in the mirror and say ‘oh… it’s you’. I’m not a vet, I’m not a politician, I don’t have a PhD in marine biology, I’m not a multi-millionaire and I don’t speak Monkey-ese. But I do have a heart…somewhere. A stuttering heart perhaps (Martin, it’s called a ‘beat’) but nevertheless a heart. Deep down, beneath layers of inaction, laziness and half-chewed steak I really care . And now I’ve taken 365 days off to see how many furry creatures I can help. Even unfurry creatures.
Do worms count? I hear you ask.
Or maybe I won’t.
I’ll be writing this blog from July 2012 – July –2013 and my intention is to tell an honest, funny story.
This will not be a tale about how we should all be vegetarian, and certainly not about how great I am (that would actually be a rather entertaining lie, which personally I would very much like to read) but a fairly light-hearted story about the pitfalls and benefits of what happens if we try to rediscover something that was once meaningful but has now got lost. And I want it to be funny and not too gory – precisely because the topic is deadly serious . And no doubt I’ll have to be brutally open about myself – in this confessional age of facebook-twitter-bare-your-knickers I’ll have to let it all hang out, emotional warts, weaknesses and all.
I’ve always loved animals since a young age, instinctively, deeply. I remember seeing a TV show (probably before I could tie my shoelaces) of a whale being slaughtered in the far-out ocean, and while the water turned a rich crimson and the blades cut deep through the buttery skin I felt the outrage across my shoulders and chest, my body tight and it stayed that way for days after. That was my first taste of deep instinctive compassion and I’ll never forget it. That feeling was more intense than any excitement I felt over receiving a new pair of trainers or mini-gaming machine that I could attach to my keyring. I swore then that when I was big and powerful (i.e. grown up) I’d do something. And now I AM big and powerful. I’m 38. I can probably bench-press a small cat. I can order an Indian take-away with an app on my phone (actually I can’t). And yet for all my knowledge and maturity and strength and wisdom I probably washed my hair in shampoo this morning with a formula that has come directly from the eyes of small bunnies. So here I am, planning a year of compassion, really wanting to help but having no idea how I can.
Why have I turned out this way? Why does anyone not really follow their heart? I’m not a bad person, I don’t fire shotguns out of my window at squirrels, I do throw bread to the ducks, I give Christmas cards to my neighbours (if they remember to turn the bloody noise down). But what’s happened to that deep childhood compassion? Why am I just a nice bloke that has not really helped anything? Will my compassion remain a kernel buried beneath the chaos and contradiction of my adult self or can I make it grow before I reach my suburban grave? Am I just too middleclass and comfortable? I blame my parents for everything!
Why are you so crap Martin?
Before I go on to explain how I might tackle such an enormous and thoroughly naive project, I should briefly consider my excuses . They are various and, let me tell you, extremely powerful. Hmmm.
I’ve done nothing to help animals because…
1) I know that we should care for humans first – the dying children in Africa come before the badgers with broken limbs don’t they? Animals…are just animals after all. A lower set of beings. Well, I’ve succeeded on that front – I have given money to human charities, I care for my friends and family, and I don’t save flies before helping grannies cross the road. But somehow I still care for animals – deep down.
2) Because I have to earn a living and make a name for myself and impress people with my career. Saving worms doesn’t stack up on the CV.
3) Because I live in London and there are just TOO many things to do / watch on TV
4) Because someone else (with hair-braids) will do it
5) Because the older I get the easier it is to turn away from the problem. I don’t feel things like I did as a kid. Clever me.
6) Because I have a dog and I feed it raw meat and stroke it. Surely that’s enough, give me a break God (Allah, Jehovah, Bill Gates, etc.)
7) Because someone on Facebook will make a video that will do it. (what?)
8) Because animals taste too good. And after all, moral consistency is more important than kindness. Nothing is worse than a vegetarian that proclaims his goodness and then sometimes eats fish, wears leather shoes and swats flies. Right? So if you are going to eat meat you might as well be consistent and run-ver those badgers over as well.
9) And… because… and this bit is a little more serious. I have a horrible tendency to slip into depression and anxiety. Not for nothing have I been on little anti-depressant pills for most of my adult life. I’ve tried to come off, believe me, but those dark clouds and negative voices just start rising. And not for nothing have I avoided doing anything that is too risky, that feels too much like going into the unknown – like this does. I don’t say this out of any sort of self-interest, only because it will inevitably play a part in this journey and the chance that I will fail massively – I’m terrified of this year to help, partly because I’m terrified of myself. For more on this click on ‘Who am I?’
Where will I start, what will I do?
Does this project sound naive? God, yes. I stand up and readily admit ‘I am a naive animal helper’
I will start from scratch and follow my instinct. I have no definite plans before I start and that’s how I want it to be. To start from zero. I’m fed up of listening too much to my head. I want to harness the same energy I had as a kid – when I would find the tallest chair to open the highest window to let out that fly. Logic will help me of course – it will allow me to use spellcheck when sending emails, to lock the door behind me on my way out, to open Tetrapacks (when did logic help with that?) and to allow me to reach the fly without falling off that very tall chair… but my heart must do this rest. Whatever happens on this adventure will be story. If I fail, well, then that is the story: why did I fail? Why can I not reconnect with my heart?
My promise to you is written in my manifesto on the right hand side, please read it, and if you like it then subscribe to this blog and spread the word. I need support, if only people laughing at my public stupidity. Come on a bumpy but heartfelt ride. If you are a monkey, I can’t promise I’ll save you, but I’ll try (at school they gave marks for effort)
If you want to donate, then please click on the link above and it will tell you exactly how the money will be used. I’m not earning an awful lot this year, and the money I do have is to live off and I don’t have money put aside for that much needed monkey shelter / hippo first-aid kit / pelican leg-splint that no doubt I’ll need. I’ll mostly living off savings and doing the odd photography job so any financial support would be appreciated – but given what I’ve said you might want to read the blog for a bit before you decide if its worthwhile. If you want to offer advice, support or anything else then please drop me a message.
(that’s Monkey-ese for ‘thank you’. You see, I know more than I think I do.)
PS. and for those of you thinking – what will you do with your two dogs on your journey? That’s a good question. Those dogs are dear to my heart and I won’t neglect them – but I doubt they’ll be much use helping save parrots in the jungle. We shall see what pans out…please read on…