Frugality Is Not a Crime

German chapel ornament

When you have to do it, belt-tightening’s no joke. But, gladly, most Americans don’t have to — not even in this economy. […]

If you’re blessed with good fortune in these hard times, you’re not helping anyone if you let frugality chic stop you and yours from having a very Merry Christmas indeed.

I nearly choked on my soy milk when I heard this commentary on Marketplace this morning. It’s yet another story about how resisting the urge to spend as much as possible this Christmas makes you worse than Scrooge – it makes you the scourge of capitalism and the American way of life.

I make no claims about having much knowledge of the economy. Nearly all of my news comes from NPR, and I know that’s not like being a daily reader of the Wall Street Journal. Maybe the commentator, Will Wilkinson, is exactly right and austerity is one of the factors that makes an already shaky economy begin to look even worse.

My issue is not with this interpretation of the the law of supply and demand, it is that we are stuck in a system that can only be salvaged if we acquire more stuff.

Wasn’t it greed that got us into this problem in the first place? How can buying more Gap sweaters in bizarre colors just because they are on sale and your sweetie should have a few more boxes to open make the world any more livable?

Change is a scary thing. Realizing that the global economic structures are being turned upside down and may never look the same again is frightening. Trying to imagine what might come after U.S. domination seems unfathomable for most of us in these fifty states.

Clinging to the very structures that have been proven to betray us is not helping matters. Continuing to shop like everything is normal isn’t the soothing balm the ad campaigns and the radio experts are trying to convince us it is.

detail of our treeWhat if we are choosing to buy less and handcraft more? What if it just makes sense to give to charity instead of purchase a book that your uncle will never give himself time to read? What if this down economy, even if you are yet unscathed, is just the reason you were looking for to ditch materialism and show your family you love them by giving them less clutter, not more?

I cannot believe that this financial crisis is just a fluke of the markets. With all of the internal shifts that are forcing people to look at their lives in entirely new ways, we need our relationship with money and consumerism to be transformed as well.

Our souls need room to breathe. Wouldn’t there be a lot more time to figure out how to do that if we spent less time in the mall and less time dusting our new trinkets?

Our earth needs room to breathe. Won’t easing the yearly December burden of delivery trucks and crowded landfills and depleted resources be the greatest gift you could give to your Mother this holiday?

Self Promotion: The Blog Versus the Big Box Store

The ever brilliant BlissChick sent me a note with some suggestions that might help me bring more readers to my itsy bitsy corner of the virtual world. She made some great points in a gentle and generous fashion that have really set me thinking about everything from my blog platform to my means of expression (long tangly sentences anyone?).

It also got me thinking about self promotion.

A chat with a friend today brought this phrase to my attention. At first it seemed like a real turn off. A bizarre behavior exhibited by salesmen who constantly passed out business cards.

When I realized that maintaining a blog and trying to increase readership is one big game of self promotion I started to feel a little sick. What have I been doing? Selling myself like some tattooed contestant on Rock of Love?

Of course, we engage in self promotion in countless ways – writing a resume, creating a Facebook account, telling others about our trades as healers or carpenters or pastry chefs. There are famous authors out there who wrote in isolation, only being published posthumously, but they are few and far between. Now, the artists and writers we know are also clever business people. If one enjoys recognition for her creativity it often means that the creator is engaging in some very conscious practices aimed at attracting an audience.

When I finally absorbed the shock that this Girl Who Cried Epiphany wants to engage in some self promotion of her own, I could follow my friend through a conversation about the way that this online world is shaping our vision of community.

As a 29 year old who came of age when AOL chat rooms were cool places to be, I don’t have a real perspective on how the Internet has shaped the way we engage in our passions and communicate our interests and talents.

  • What do we gain and what do we lose by typing daily snippets aimed at eliciting immediate responses from strangers rather than shaping a novel that, even if it published, promises to keep readers at arm’s length?
  • Was the spiritual quest more powerful when it was about solitary contemplation and some thoughts jotted in a journal rather than these endless field notes written not just as a record of personal experience, but as a product of some kind to be devoured by others?

Before I go spinning off to ask a million different questions sparked by this train of thought, I must return to this discussion of this grassroots movement to get our ideas and visions into the public sphere.

Is it a little frightening that we live in a culture where everyone needs to broadcast his or her stories, be they about last night’s pub crawl or the antics of the pet chihuahuas or a successful meditation session? Yes, I think it is – if we are just obsessed with spewing the unprocessed content of our lives into the electronic world as a substitute for actually being present.

BUT, I think there can be great power found in this ability to craft our lives and passions into narratives that help both writer and reader understand a little more about what it means to be human, if we do it with a liberal helping of consciousness.

My friend made the great point that, in this age of consumerism, as we watch the rise and fall of the big box stores, blogs and this non-commercialized version of self promotion is actually incredibly healthy and necessary. Bring on the Etsy sites and the late night scribblings – it is our best (and cheapest) way to stand against a monochromatic culture that is sold in bulk at a Black Friday sale.

The Universe of Illusions

I have been away from writing in this space for more reasons than I really understand. Imminent plans to pack up and more back to Cape Cod are not amongst them, despite my last post, but I still have faith that such eventualities will be revealed in their time if it is meant to be. It is not that I have been off on a crusade against global warming either, despite all of my fiery rhetoric from a few weeks ago. Neither of these things are any less important to me; I was not speaking anything other than the truth when I bathed the topics of climate change and the desire to return home in such urgent tones. It’s just that I fell back into the rhythm of living life rather than talking about it for a little while.

Across the Universe* * *

I spent yesterday reading David Edwards’s Burning All Illusions: A Guide to Personal and Political Freedom and then we watched Across the Universe, that movie about the sixties with the beautifully Beatles-laden soundtrack. They complemented one another in a stirring way.

The basic premise of Edwards’s book is one that reverberates in my core, even as I yearn desperately to push such insights as far from me as possible. He describes the commodified, profit obsessed “reality” of modern life, the inescapable pursuit of property and status that marks Western life (so often at the expense of the rest of the world) and leaves us all empty, devoid of purpose of our own. To him, being caught in this trivialized culture is exactly the opposite of freedom. Though it seems as if we have limitless options, our paths are all predetermined because they function to support the ever expanding financial markets. We stand in a place where it is impossible to discern the truth because it is filtered through the media machine that is just as much in thrall with conformity and the bottom line as the corporations. Success is counted in dollars and pounds; happiness becomes an elusive, undefinable destination often only understood in monetary terms.

I know, I know, maddened lefty rhetoric from a guy who probably couldn’t hold a real job, right? He quotes Chomsky and asserts that Shakespeare is not actually a very good writer (he was just someone who eloquently dressed up themes that the elites have continued to approve of), so he must be an irrelevant wacko, right? I mean, we can all list our myriad liberties and successful instances of insightful, investigative reporting, right?

The problem is, what if he isn’t nuts? What if there is real truth in these ideas that our society demands we reject? I know I am susceptible to his message since I have been plagued with my own questions about what to do with my future (dreams of being a healer and a writer and a yoga instructor with the ocean not far from my door) and am constantly confronted with “but how are you going to pay the bills, kid?” and “don’t you worry about not having benefits?” And these comments come from those I love and respect, those who only want the best for me! But I am certainly not the only one to have woken up to realize that the layers of schooling and networking and financial obligations should not lead to a life sentence in a sensible job that leaves one feeling soulless – despite the health insurance and the fact that there are plenty worse places to be. Since the picture of society that Edwards creates seems accurate enough, clearly most people who wake up in such a crisis listen to those concerned friends and worried family members and continue to do the job and make the sacrifices because that is the only “realistic” way to go.

This unusual (bizarre?) perspective is difficult to express since I am far from comfortable with them myself and fear my readers who will shake their heads at another of my flights of fancy, another of my quaint hypocrisies (how easy would it be for me to forget this Sunday morning ramble and go shopping this afternoon and watch brainless television tonight?). The film Across the Universe at least can function to illustrate some of these ideas.

The movie, of course, is steeped in all of the idealism of the sixties, the nascent radicalism of (most of) a generation. Though it includes some cringe worthy musical theater style dance moves, it really was a beautiful kaleidoscope of an era. What really struck me was the contrast between the emergent, rebellious youth culture and the American war machine. In that case, movement and dance and song made the argument so much more compelling than tradition storytelling. Perhaps I am soaked in my own idealism of my parents’ college years, but it seemed as if a truly independent spirit still inspired the young people of that decade. Maybe it was because music was not yet a completely corrupt industry. Or maybe it was because the war affected so many people so much more intimately than the current conflicts that rage across the globe. Maybe it was just because the military industrial complex was just not as sophisticated as it is now. Back then, the unholy marriage of big business and the “defense” industry was not yet so powerful that it became invisible as it has now.

Of course, in the intervening years, what sounds have become more part of the general culture than the music of the Beatles? It is hard to believe sometimes that their music was once strange and revolutionary, rather than a set of familiar anthems of a now quaint time rife with free love and heavy drug use.

This is not a post that really goes anywhere in particular, except for halfway through a book that just might urge me to analyze some of my own perceptions of the world, but I think that is ok for now. At any rate, check out the movie – it offers an entertaining couple of hours that will make it so you’ll never look at the Statue of Liberty in the same way again. And I think I would recommend Edwards’s book too – I think…