Earlier this week, we sold a book called I Want That!: How We All Became Shoppers by Thomas Hine. The blurb about it reads:
“Shopping has a lot in common with sex,” Thomas Hine observes near the beginning of this wide-ranging exploration of the history and psychology of one of the most commonplace and important activities of modern life. “Just about everybody does it. Some people brag about how well they do it. Some keep it a secret. Most people worry, at least a little, about whether they do it right. And both provide ample opportunities to make foolish choices.”
Choosing and using objects is a primal human activity, and I Want That! is nothing less than a portrait of humanity as the species that shops. “
Me? I hate shopping. My first reaction is always, “I don’t want that.” I have been thinking about getting a place in a more rural area of Wisconsin. Lying in the bathtub this morning, I was struck by a realization. Even if I pay cash for the real estate (from the sale of my former home), I still would have to pay property tax every year. I don’t want that.
I don’t want to be indebted; I don’t want to be obligated. I don’t want to be coerced or pressured into a relationship with any thing. I am beginning to feel a mounting sense of resistance. I’ve resisted getting a full time job for more than a year. I’ve resisted being a consumer, especially of clothing and beauty products. I’ve resisted Facebook. I’ve resisted television and movies. What is that about for me?
I am still struggling to be my own person, I guess. I am struggling to focus on the things that I do want in a manner that I like. I’m not ambitious. I am an observer, an appreciator, but not much of a go-getter. I resist marketing, for sure, but I don’t mind discovery. Maybe part of that is simple laziness. Maybe part of that is wanting the freedom to choose my relationships and responsibilities.
When I first read that comment about shopping having a lot in common with sex, I didn’t get it. I hate shopping. I love sex. I suppose my consistency is in insisting on having the freedom to be very particular about my engagement with both.
And now, for the photo portion of my blog. Choosing images and focusing where I want to, observing and appreciating has led me to these shots. If you discover you like them, great. I will not try to convince you to, though. (Do I sound testy? Okay, so be it.)
Yesterday, Steve & I stopped in at a Jimmy John’s sandwich shop for lunch. The guacamole and sprouts on their veggie sandwich remind me of my 15 years living in California and call to me sometimes, especially when I’ve had too much cholesterol-rich Midwestern holiday food. So, I ordered my #5 No Mayo favorite. Then I watched in horror as the guy gutted the sub roll of its soft, white, doughy insides and flung them in the trash bin. I thought of the ducks I visited on Christmas afternoon, swimming toward us in eager anticipation of bread bits. I thought of the two bread pudding cookbooks we have in the dining room just begging to be explored. “Why did you just throw that away?” I asked. “Oh, we do that in order to make more room for the fillings and so they don’t squish out when you bite into the sandwich.” Well, that explains why they take it out, but it doesn’t explain why they throw it out. Driving away, I imagined pithy slogans I could print on a poster to protest this practice. “Don’t hate your guts” or “Cast your bread upon the waters, not upon the landfill” or something like that.
At home, I looked up some statistics about food waste in restaurants. How depressing! I am one of those moms who felt compelled to finish what my kids left on their plates just so I wouldn’t have to throw it out. It hurts me to see food go to waste. All that work, all that water, all that petrol, all that went into getting that food to the table is someone’s life to give life to another. It’s sacred, in my opinion. Tossing it out is disrespectful to humanity. Something must be done.
Taking it up on a local level is probably the first line of attack. I wonder if that sandwich shop would save the bread cores for me to cart away. How often would I have to make a pick-up in order for that to be an attractive option to them? I’m sure they don’t want an overflowing bread bucket kicking around. How much bread would that be? What would I do with it all? Could I get someone to help me? What if I suggested they offer a bread pudding on their menu so that they would use the bits and make some return on their effort? Would they take that seriously? What if they donated their scraps to a community compost project? Do we have a community compost project? When I visited family in San Francisco and Oregon, I was impressed at the compost recycling programs they had. I have gotten tips from my daughter and her boyfriend about how to start a worm bucket of my own, which I could keep in the basement of this duplex, even over the winter months. My landlord who lives in the other half of this house doesn’t recycle anything. His bins stay on his side porch all year and never venture out to the curb. Would he support my effort to compost and add the products to his garden? He’s had the property assessed twice this year and may be putting it up for sale. Do I want to go to the trouble of enriching soil that I may not get a chance to use?
I hate the feeling of going from “Something must be done” to “I want someone else to take this responsibility”. What responsibility will I take? New Year’s resolutions are popping up all over this week. How many of us are really going to work on being responsible for cutting down on the waste of resources in this world? More to the point, what am I really willing to do about it? Do I have the integrity to take up the challenges I pose? Do I have the guts? I hope so. Stay tuned and remind me.
I hate shopping. It’s eerie to come home from a cozy, loving holiday weekend and find news that the larger world has sunk into madness. While I was enjoying a two hour Swedish massage in the comfort of my daughter’s home, others were dying to obtain merchandise. Fighting, heart attacks, assault with weapons and overnight exposure to the elements remind me of wartime conditions. Are we at war as consumers? Where’s my flak jacket?
Good grief. I’ve never celebrated Christmas in a very commercial way. As an Episcopalian, I tried to focus on the sacramental aspect of the holiday. I spent a lot of time in church, singing in the choir, rehearsing the Christmas pageant and taking my kids caroling to shut-ins. We made Advent wreaths, Advent calendars, wrote Advent letters to friends and family and donated money and gifts to charity in each others’ names. It was never about Stuff. As a kid, I made presents for my family. My kids made presents for each other. One year, Becca just wrapped stuff we already had. My toaster, with crumbs, surprised me into a fit of laughter. I could get sore about not being appreciated with a gift, but I took it as a joke on the whole scene.
Perhaps this is just my personality. I am gift-challenged. I’m not very good at giving or receiving them. It’s not one of my Love Languages. My husband truly enjoyed giving gifts. My eldest daughter is a very creative, inspirational gift-giver. They have a knack for finding grace and meaning in Things. I have trouble with that. I probably have an aversion to Things, actually, and definitely an aversion to shopping. When I was about 9 years old, my mother took me Back to School shopping at a huge discount department store called Zayre’s. It was August. It was hot and humid. Our station wagon had no air conditioning. The store was not in our village. It must have been somewhere in the Sahara. It took forever to get there, forever to get the job done, forever to get home. I was sick with heat stroke. I remember my mother putting me in the bathtub and bringing me bananas to eat. Sitting in the cool water, eating bananas was like heaven to me at that point. I couldn’t imagine why I had been made to endure the ordeal that brought me to that state.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about Christmas this year. I don’t go to church anymore. I don’t think about Jesus in the way I used to. I do love to celebrate with food and family and lots of love. I like appreciating others and being appreciated. I’m not sure how I want to embody that, though. I always write a letter to my children for them to read on Christmas morning, a letter of hope and pride and blessing, I guess. There are ideas I want to give, but not things. However, William Carlos Williams keeps whispering “No ideas but in things” and I keep trying to understand. Shall I give everyone trees this Christmas? Or soil? Or double helix shaped jewelry? The sun? Words?
Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you….The Universe! Applause, appreciation, celebration, Holiday. Think I can pull it off?
That is the question: whether it is nobler to support the hosting web manager directly or to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous advertisements that defray his costs. Or to take up arms against capitalism and occupy cyberspace, thereby ending it.
My apologies to the honorable Bard. I woke to a dilemma this morning when my sister noticed a “goofy” ad showing up on my blog that was totally incongruous to the serious, graceful tone that I’m trying to achieve. I found out that through the Terms of Service that I agreed to when I started this blog, I had given my permission for WordPress to run ads on my page to defray their costs. If I want to ensure that there will be no ads on my blog page, I can pay a yearly fee of about $30. So much for the idea of truly “free” hosting. To be fair, though, this is only the second time since August I have seen an ad on ANY blog that I’ve visited. I suppose I harbor a vain hope that there is a way to avoid capitalism in my daily life, and unfortunately, that is just not possible. What I do have is choices about how I will interact with this system.
What kind of choices do I get to make? Well, I can choose to avoid advertising by paying the fee, like I would do with Public Television (if I had a TV). I can choose to support local small businesses, like the family operations that fixed my car this week. I can choose “no ad” products at the market and avoid mega-stores and franchises. I can unsubscribe to all the junk mail I get online or through the Postal Service. Come to think of it, I need to find a better way of doing that. I am still getting junk mail in my late husband’s name at my current boyfriend’s address, which is kind of creepy in an absurd sort of way. It will be four years in February since he died. How do you turn that sewage off??
The fact that advertising is so ubiquitous is one of the things that makes it so objectionable. We are bombarded to the point that we stop paying attention. Our awareness is compromised, and that goes against the very thing I am trying to develop in my life. How many advertisements do you see in your average day? If someone came up with statistics about how many you encounter, how much time you spend reading them or viewing them in video, how much time you spend trying to dispose of them or avoid them, how much money you spend funding them (whether directly or indirectly), and how much noise and visual pollution they add to the environment, don’t you suppose you’d be surprised? Possibly appalled? Angry? Or wouldn’t you care?
I think that the sheer volume of advertising and the phoniness of it creates an atmosphere that is potentially damaging to the human spirit. I want to point my canoe in another direction entirely. My relationship with my blog host is not one that will allow me to get away from using currency, but I can get away from using advertising. I wish I could trade singing lessons or a home cooked meal for the use of cyberspace. … Yeah, that would be neat.