Soylent Bonnie

The unkillable vibe of Bonnie Bucqueroux


THURSDAY, Oct. 15 — I had a date with Bonnie Bucqueroux and now I'll never make it. We were going to pull up a couple of chairs and watch the world end. It would have been grand.

Courtesy photo

Last December, with the Christmas season hanging in the air like the candy cane of Damocles, I felt a serious Bonnie deficiency. I got an idea. She and I would sit down and watch the dystopian 1973 film "Soylent Green," about a world dying from pollution and overpopulation where people are processed into little green crackers. Bonnie, a consummate connoisseur of catastrophe, would comment along the way on what the film had gotten right and what it missed, from the perspective of 2014. The title of the article would be "A Soylent Green Christmas with Bonnie Bucqueroux."

Despite her mounting health problems, she was eager to do it.

"This will be fun, but I will need to bring my own gluten-free crackers," she messaged back.

A few days later, I got the flu and we missed our chance. I suggested we try again in 2015. "Sounds like a plan," she replied.

I was looking forward to it this year like a kid at Christmas.

Bucqueroux, a tireless citizen journalist, self-styled "estropundit," Green Party candidate for Congress in 2000, voracious learner and teacher, double crossed us all by leaving this earth yesterday, and cheated herself in the bargain.

Not only do we have to face the end times without her, she'll miss out on the civilization-burying shit storm of ecological, financial, geopolitical and social collapse she felt was inevitable.

This is what I think about most when I remember Bonnie. She didn't let the sixth great extinction kill her vibe. Her vibe was unkillable, even in death, because of all the friends, students, colleagues and other people she influenced.

She was absolutely sure we are screwed as a civilization and wasn't shy about telling people so. She could explain to you 20 different ways why climate change is long past the tipping point, the global financial system is a house of cards ready to fall and so on.

And yet she didn't despair, freeze up or crawl into a hole. She did the opposite. She blogged, taught, gardened, painted, and never stopped learning. She knew the game was rigged and still played with gusto.

People are telling hundreds of stories of how she inspired them, helped them, cheered then on, but she did the most good by showing us how to be alive, sane and even happy with eyes wide open. I thought that was impossible and I bet most people still do.

She treated aging and getting sick the same way. Of course it sucks and it all leads to death. The point is, what do you do with that? She kept on reading, teaching, painting, making plans and encouraging her students to her last days.

Several years ago, Bonnie went to a seminar given by Al Gore on how to talk with people about climate change. Bucqueroux was one of 1,000 people picked by Gore to spread his message to the remote corners of the nation. At Gore's seminar, she sat in the front, even though she was a staunch Green Party member, and many people thought Green Party candidate Ralph Nader cost Gore the presidential election in 2000.

"I'm a notorious suck up," she explained to me with a grin.

Gore told her there was a "despair" budget to every public talk on climate change. Give them too much gloom and doom, he said, and people won't bother to do anything.

Back in Lansing, Bucqueroux gamely addressed church groups, parent-teacher groups and even the Rotary Club about climate change, keeping the despair budget tight, fielding the dumbest questions with patience and respect.

But in one-on-one conversations, she pulled no punches, on climate change or any other impending train wreck. For a while, I thought she was the sort of person who took a perverse pleasure in spoiling your day, but I came to realize it was a form of respect, for herself and others.

Bonnie's personality showed us an alternative to the sickly, sugary false notes most of us play all day. When she approved of something I wrote in the City Pulse, it made me feel great in a way nobody else's approval did. When we didn't agree, it was even more beneficial. I think she was nauseated when I wrote a zillion words of gee-whiz enthusiasm over MSU's glitzy, ultramodern Broad Art Museum in a special section in 2012. All that big money put her off, she hated the building and was skeptical about the art it would hold. She fired back with an online article assailing the limos lining up at the museum opening and other abominations, among them my story.

Her words were like a shot from a hypodermic needle: they stung for about 15 minutes, followed by a lifetime of being a little more alert to phoniness, elitism, money worship or anything else that wouldn't pass Bonnie's smell test.

The next time we saw each other, at a sustainable farming event at MSU, we got along fine. As we schlepped her video equipment back to her car, she told me again how we're screwed as a civilization, then ticked off five or six new projects she was working on and obviously excited about.

Two months ago, we ran into each other for the last time. She was on of the handful of MSU teachers who would go on record with their concerns about the corporatization of higher education.

She told me I looked "a little peaked" (I had just cracked a rib) without saying a word about her own mounting health problems.

In her last months, she was deep into her most ambitious project yet: an "immersive book" called "Saving Civilization One Tomato at a Time."

The book is full metal Bucqueroux, an amazing braid of autobiography, essay and "call to action" on how to survive "the coming chaos." Even the format was her own invention. She called it "spherical story-telling," instead of "linear," with several interactive options. The project pulled together all of her obsessions and added new ones. "I have also taken up painting and drawing to produce the chapter illustrations," she wrote me.

No summary does the book justice, but the convergence of doom and hope is pure Bonnie. Her main idea is that the world's vital systems are about to collapse after millennia of male-dominated, conflict-based economic and social regimes, and it is time for a woman-led, grass-roots (literally) cottage revolution, one tomato at a time.

You can argue about the premise, the data and the conclusion all day, but Bonnie's wit, intelligence and passion soak every word. Her paintings of tomatoes, the book's central symbol, will forever link her spirit in my mind with that life-giving, red blob of juicy life.

"Now, back to my obsession," she wrote after sending me a link to the book. "I am currently writing about Mary Houghton, the gleaner whose court case in 1788 marked the end of food as a human right."

I think of Bonnie often and will never stop thinking of her. Fortunately, she left us with enough mental and spiritual Soylent Bonnie to last the rest of our lives. Gluten free.

Often, I bike past an oil change place on Kalamazoo Street that puts up funny or inspirational messages. The latest message reads, "Everything is going to be all right." Every time I go by, I think of Bonnie and laugh out loud.


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