Consumerism


Someone asked me that tonight on Twitter. It’s a fair question if you don’t know me because, while I have a fairly consistent set of core values, I am not easily categorized in everyday terms.

I think he was annoyed that, despite my following Green people and sometimes tweeting green causes and issues, I am not green enough to not question things that don’t make sense or don’t match up.
But I am not any more liberal than I am conservative. I am not green because of my pragmatism or a socialist because I was raised by Depression Era parents. I subscribe to no particular worldview because there is validity to be found everywhere – if you keep an open mind and you can’t do that when you’ve picked a side. I learned that in Catholic school.

Yeah, I know.

I don’t believe in a god or gods, but I don’t discount the probable reality of a purpose driven universe and the immortality of that some of us call a “soul”.

I think religions have done more harm than good but don’t think people who practice a creed are necessarily bad or deluded.

I am a progressive though I don’t belong to the cult of “progress”. Science fiction will not save us.

And  I do believe in being accountable; earning your own way as much as possible is good for you and that a lot more issues than people realize are nothing more than distractions to keep us from paying attention to what is really important.

The economy, for example, is a distraction. Or at least all the hyperbolic rhetoric and mock warfare and shell-game math that gets tossed at us by the main stream (and off the beaten path) media, politicians and activists.

Justin Trudeau (infamously and to his likely dismay now) once said that “the economy/budget will take care of itself” or something close to it.

His opponents far and wide mocked and continue to mock such “naiveté”, but he is really not that wrong.

Budgeting has to be done. By everyone. Households, businesses and governments. But it is a lot less quantum physics than you think.

And for the most part that which is the free market – from which economies and government budgets are birthed – does take care of itself as it is largely outside the influence of even those who try to influence or manipulate it.

It grows, contracts and collapses and staggers back to its feet again. Driven a tiny bit by us but it’s mainly dependent on the fact that humans have needs and those needs are met via consumption.

We consume therefore we must work and have a system for bartering.

It’s kind of simple.

Even if everything imploded tomorrow morning with the bell on Wall Street (as likely a place as any), we’d still need things. We’d still have skills to ply. The economy would just flex to accommodate the new reality.

Whatever. Most talk of the jabbering about the economy and budgets is nonsense. Political parties can’t grow economies anymore than they can save jobs that are naturally migrating to newer, cheaper emerging countries. Politicians are impotent forces in terms of doing much good on a large-scale. They can (and have) managed to muck up a lot of things though. Leafing through any history book can tell you that.

But they’ve done great things, you will argue.

I will grant you that, but mostly by accident or as a by-product of something that was probably self-serving and turned out better than anyone could have dreamed.

So do I know who I am?

Do you know who you are?

You’ll give me a list of things you believe in. Groups you belong to. Things and people you love. Tell me about your causes – passionately, I am sure. Assure me that you aren’t a whole host of things.

The way you dress, wear your hair, your markings and piercings, taste in music, food, books and movies/tv will all scream something that probably isn’t you at all.

And in the end, you still won’t come close to telling me anything about the real you.

People’s natures can only be known through real time experiences. Whether that’s via intense conversation or adventures or just hanging out (and yes, it can be virtual).

But getting to know someone is intentional and time consuming.

Unlike my Twitter or Facebook feed, or even this blog.

If who we really are was so easily divined, people would get along better and the world wouldn’t teeter on so many brinks and we wouldn’t be worrying about economies or climate change to the extent that many of us are at actual or virtual war with so many others.

I just finished Justin Trudeau’s “memoir*” and the only thing I know for sure is that he held back. I still have no idea who the man really is but he probably isn’t the anti-Christ and Canada will survive him just like it’s surviving Harper or would survive Mulcair or May.

Look, just because I find this or that news article worthy of sharing or commenting on and just because in your eyes my thought pattern seems contradictory doesn’t mean I don’t know what I am doing or where I would like to go or have forgotten where I have been.

That which is me has survived more ups, downs, and twisty turns than you know or I could ever blog about.

My favorite Father of Confederation is Thomas D’arcy McGee.

He was born in Ireland. A gifted writer and a silver-tongued little devil who began his career at the tender age of barely 18 when he left Ireland for the United States to preach to the immigrant masses about freeing their homeland from British occupation.

He was an activist who eventually became a full-fledged terrorist and wound up in Canada solely because he needed a job and couldn’t go home to Ireland where an arrest warrant and deportation to Australia awaited him.

He ran the gamut from near apostasy to fundamentalist Catholic.

He was an alcoholic and a born again teetotaler.

An Anglo – Quebecker, he worked with McDonald to birth a united Canada and ended his life dreaming of a multicultural society of Canadians.

He died at the hands of a terrorist organization he once believed in with all his soul. They killed him because he knew their vision threatened his Canada.

Along the way, he changed his mind and rhetoric and ways so many times that his critics’ most consistent argument against him was that he never seemed to know what it was he stood for.

But he always did. In the moment and going forward, he knew who he was. He was, like everyone else, a work in progress.

His progress lead him on quite a journey. Mostly because he had an open mind (though he lacked the interest in ever admitting he’d changed it or had been wrong about anything ever).

I am not who I was thirty, or even ten, years ago. I won’t be of the same mind always as I go forward.

That which is me is always me, and it’s only for the privileged few to know. But who I am in this life changes as I learn and grow, as it should, and when I am in a growth spurt – as I am – is not the best time to try to pin me down.

I am just rambling, you think.

No. I’m thinking. On paper. If you’d been paying attention, you’d have figured that out about me already.

And you should try that sometime. You might learn something.

 

*Memoirs should be saved until one is old enough that one no longer worries about the fall out of being frank and having opinions about one’s one life and experiences. Just my opinion, mind you.


83rd ANNUAL MACY's THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE 201...

Macy's Thanksgiving Parade by asterix611 via Flickr

It’s not Thanksgiving here though the dreadful traditional shopping orgy that follows has permeated Canadian culture to the point where it rivals our own consumption holiday on Boxing Day. Today is just Thursday and while the Christmas lights are decking the house and Dee has set up the tiny pre-lit tree she’s had since she was three in her bedroom to act as a festive night-light, there is nothing particularly holiday about today.

Our own Thanksgiving is on a Monday, which might seem odd but three-day weekends with a holiday at either end make far more sense than sticking a holiday in the middle of a week and trying to pretend it is a four-day weekend. It’s not for most people and many people don’t even have Thanksgiving off either when you consider that those in retail will be going to work in the middle of the night to accommodate Black Friday gluttony.

I haven’t shopped a Black Friday in five years and I can’t say I miss it. Alright, I miss having lunch out that day, but that’s about all, and eating lunch and having a chai was about all the consuming I did on that day anyway. Thanks to my peculiar habit of starting my Christmas shopping pre-Halloween, I was normally done before Thanksgiving. As everyone else madly lunged for the bargains, I was just looking and sipping my tea and thinking about where to eat lunch. The highlight of the day was spending time with whoever I happened to be shopping with – BFF, Sis, Mom, and very rarely DNOS, who would rather have stakes driven through her arms and legs than go shopping just about ever.

It was all about the lunch. In Dubuque, we went to the Mining Company. Mushroom burgers, baskets of fries or chicken taco salad. When the shopping venue was Jordan Creek Mall in West Des Moines, Cheesecake Factory – which is also where Sis and I went when we took bus trips down to Kansas City to Christmas shop in the downtown.

Shopping with Dee means Kelsey’s and out and about with Rob on a shopping trip could be anything quick, Wendy’s or Timmy’s.

On Thanksgiving itself, I never had to cook. The first Thanksgiving meal I made was for my first Canadian Thanksgiving, and I needed Rob’s help because I had no idea how to cook a bird. Zero. Putting together a large meal for many people was not even on my list of skills. I faced a steep learning curve that first year of marriage. It’s somewhat amusing to look back at it now when one considers that I was 43 with a five-year old and a previous marriage of six years under my belt and I couldn’t cook a dinner of note to save my very soul.

The purpose behind days of thanksgiving is reflection, taking stock and recognizing what you really have.

First thing this morning, I walked into the office to find my freshly showered husband chatting at the Bell customer service rep about issues with our data plan, I realized all over again what a magnificent mate I have, wrangling with the little issues might seem a little thing until you stop to think about the fact that life is built on a mountain of little issues.

I was reminded a bit later during my chat with CB earlier today that whatever our short-comings, we are blessed to still be in contact. Not every everyone stays connected to some or all of their siblings over the course of their lifetime.

During our conversation CB mentioned that he’d chatted with Mick on Facebook that morning, and I am reminded that I have two of the most amazingly awesome grown daughters.

A snowy white owl Christmas tree ornament at Chapters today reminded me of Dee and her little tree and how both make me smile.

Facebook was littered with updates from this relative or that old friend, marking the day and wishing well.

It’s just a Thursday. Even in the States, it’s just Thursday. But, despite Nickelback’s marring of the traditional NFL game in Detroit, which at least held to the tradition of the Lion’s losing, it’s a glorious day and one I am for which I am thankful. Those thanks are numbered in people.


The Macintosh 128K was the first commercially ...

Image via Wikipedia

I can’t say that my first exposure to the computer found me instantly smitten. I didn’t even know what it was and, looking back, it was amazing that my dirt poor Catholic grade school even had a computer that students were allowed to use. Not that we used it for much. The only thing I can recall doing with it was playing one of the lame original versions of The Oregon Trail. I can’t recall if we were supposed to actually learn something from the experience but, periodically, small groups of us would be sent to the small office behind the main office, where the sacred computer was housed, to “play” this game. Perhaps it was a teamwork thing?

No matter. I didn’t love computers at that point. With their dot matrix print and slower than blobs of spit drying on the pavement processing, they lacked even the basic personality of their fake television and movie counterparts. As far as I was concerned, even that most boring of video games – Pong … or Ping? was more interesting and I use the term “interesting” quite loosely, even for me.

There were computers at university. I have vivid memories of the Math Lab and playing endless rounds of games that were supposed to help me learn algebra. The tutors were so confident when they assigned them to me and so deflated when they realized that they were simply going to have to teach me math the hard way – by actually tutoring me.

I did not learn to love computers then.

My first brush with word processing was on an Apple II during my student teaching at Northwest Junior High in Iowa City. They had a computer lab with computers;  thirty-five of them. Enough to take an entire Language Arts class at once. I would never have such a thing again in twenty years of teaching, by the way, which is more sad than I can tell you.

The program was FredWriter, an open source version of AppleWorks. Already possessing competent typing skills, thanks to dear Sr. Deborah back at Wahlert High School, word processing unleashed me, freeing me from my own bad spelling and typos with the ease of backspacing.

From there it was the Apple IIe and the Macintosh’s.

Not a single teacher at Hoyt Middle School in Des Moines wanted the Mac Classic when we were finally alloted our five. Five. That’s it for a school with close to 700 kids in it and 35+ staff members. The principal had to actually beg people to take one and try it out.

Not me.

“Give my a printer,” I said, “And I’ll figure out how to put it to use.”

Between my Mac and a small writing lab with about 10 IIe’s, I taught every single kid who came through my classroom in the next three years how to use a word processing program. This was years before we had Computer teachers and well before English teachers began to stop regarding spell check as something evil and anti-dictionary.

Sadly, the first computer I owned was an IBM. Apple had a program for teachers to buy computers from them but they wanted over $1000 more than IBM was asking for a similar package. PC’s, I soon discovered, mostly suck. They don’t make sense. They assume that one cares about why they function and the programming that makes the function happen. Which is incorrect. The majority of computer users want the computer to perform. The DOS of it is beside the point

Sometime in the late 90’s, my school district threw over Apple for Dell. And Windows.

And I coped.

Learned just what I had to in order to do the things I wanted and needed to do, and missed Apple and Mac’s.

I didn’t own another Apple product until 2005 when their store arrived at the nearby mega-ish mall. I bought the cheapest computer they had – a cumbersome eMac which, in spite of its ungainly size and retro appearance, did everything a Mac should do. Work. Without my needing to know or care why.

Two iPod’s later – and really, the iPod saved my sanity – I finally had the capital to purchase my beloved MacBook. Sleek. Sure. Friendly. Wonderlicious. If ee cummings had owned one, he’d have written the perfect poem about it. If Hemingway had written on it …. well, okay, he still would have come off as whiny and effeminate, so bad example.

Shakespeare would have rocked the house with a MacBook though, that I am sure of.

When Steve Jobs announced that he was taking another medical leave not long ago, I knew he would die soon. He was lucky to have lasted as long as he did, but it was folly to think that someone with that particular type of cancer can continue to beat the odds forever. The last photos of him on the web clearly showed a man with little time left. And I am not so trite as to believe that even leaving behind the legacy that he has made leaving any easier for him or his family.

But isn’t he lucky to have touched so many lives?

I think so.

Rest in some kind of peace, Steve. And thank you.

You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path.

Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Address, 2005


Compulsive hoarding in a private apartment

Image via Wikipedia

I am a purger extraordinaire. Nary a sentimental bone in my body. About the only thing I have difficulty shedding is paper. My desk and more than a few boxes can attest to the fact that I loathe chucking my own words or any scrap of paper that relates to anything I think might come back and thump me if I can’t produce it. The former is a side-effect of being a writer, and the latter stems in part from my father’s training concerning finances and record-keeping but more from the days of care-taking during my late husband’s illness. Between Medicaid and Social Security, keeping a paper trail become a bit of a mantra.

Where stuff is concerned though I am stone cold. Clothes in particular should be gifted, garage-saled or donated with merciless regularity. I don’t understand hanging on to apparel that you don’t wear and are unlikely to ever wear again unless you should find yourself suddenly thrust into an ice age survival scenario that requires you to don as many articles of clothing as possible.

My sister, DNOS, has a closet containing clothing from every era of her life . Acid washed jeans, Flash Dance sweatshirts and probably jelly shoes. There are articles of clothing in her possession that I gifted to her when I left college … in 1987. She comes by this as my daughter does – paternally. Our father kept dress clothing until the fabric was shiny and nearly transparent.

Recently, we helped Rob’s mom pack up her home for her move south. Boxes of things that hadn’t seen the light of day since her last move four years ago, were taken from their current area of limbo and packed into boxes that will eventually dump them in some new Twilight Zone space in Arizona.

Perhaps I am missing something but how important can something be if it’s primary residence is storage, and you only think about it on the occasion of moving it from one residence to another?

Because that’s the reality of most possessions. Think about all those dimly to not at all lit spaces in your home where stuff resides like residents of the Island of Misfit Toys.

The oldest daughter, Fare, reclaimed her childhood from the basement storage not long ago. Books, school records and stuffies.

“She says she’s keeping it for the children she wants to have,” Mick told me.

“You should tell her that there is maybe one thing I saved from my childhood that Dee ever glanced at more than once,” I said though that’s not quite true. She played with my first Barbie as a tub toy until the mold got it and my Malibu Skipper currently enjoys second youngest daughter status with the family of dolls currently residing in the doll mansion Rob built for her.

But Murphy’s Rule of Saving One’s Childhood Crap for Your Own Children states: they will ignore, hate or break the stuff. All of these things will make you regret having sired or birthed them in the moments afterward when you are cleaning up the remnants of your memories and tossing them – instead of your child – into the trash (though you may briefly consider mending the object and tossing the child).


Coat of arms of The District of Summerland

Image via Wikipedia

Summerland, British Columbia is a place that’s name says it all. It’s a place that lives in the warm months and hibernates the rest of the time. Orchards and vineyards dot the landscape. Fruit stand every 100 metres and wineries nestled in any available nook or cranny.

Sitting along Lake Okanagan between another aptly named town, Peachland, and the retirement/summer playground of Penticton, I’ve only really seen summer there once. Most of our visits have occurred during late fall or winter when brown colours and cold air dominate, and even the local inhabitants seem to have snuggled in like bears for the duration.

In an attempt to make our hastily scheduled trip for G and G’s wedding more of a get-away than an obligation, Rob booked us into one of the nicer resorts on the lake, a place that is cost prohibitive in the high summer season.

Whenever possible we go for the suite option because it allows us all some space and Dee is no different from Rob and I in needing space.

It was a lovely set-up. One of the nicest kitchens I have ever seen in a suite with a full range, large fridge and a dishwasher. The cabinets were fully stocked with any type of dishware, pot/pan or utensil if cooking was a must, and the bath had separate tub/shower and an awesome vanity that stretched nearly the length of the room with an equal sized mirror and under the vanity a light that was motion sensitive for night-time use.

It also came equipped with two televisions.

TV is one of those weird things that while I don’t miss not having it on a daily basis, I do tend to check out when we travel.

Mostly, I channel surf. A few minutes here, twenty minutes there or just flipping at the speed of sound. I seldom watch anything from beginning to end because nothing is captivating or creative enough to compel me to do so.  And so much of it is horrifying anyway.

It appears that most television is some sort of reality themed show where the objective is to find the most objectionable representatives of humanity to showcase for entertainment purposes.  One such show – which I had no idea existed or that there were people in the world desperate enough for attention to agree to be a part of – is called Hoarders.

Part extreme intervention with a touch of home improvement via organizing, the show finds people who are steps beyond an Oprah moment in an attempt to help them reclaim their homes from mountains of crap and possibly direct them toward mental health services. The latter is, I suppose, noble. Every person they highlighted had severe OCD in addition to an alphabet soup of other issues ranging from personality disorders to dysfunctional family or intimate relationship problems.

I couldn’t watch more than 10 minutes or so at a time, but I kept coming back to it in my meandering in the same why you’d like to not look at the accident on the side of the road but you slow down, block traffic and size it up anyway.

The houses were nightmares. Not an inch of bare floor with all manner of items piled and mixed with garbage. Most of the people had animals, which totally contributed to the unsanitary conditions with their food and waste droppings.

One woman had two small children whose rooms she took over to store her “stuff” which forced one to sleep with her because his bed had disappeared and her daughter to sleep on the floor with her Dad in a child’s size sleeping bag. She was the one who thought there was nothing wrong with cat crap on the kitchen floor and a fridge stuffed with rotting food. Rotting. And she got all up and snarky when the psychologist insisted that she clean it out herself to see what was in it and understand why it was a hazard to her kids.

And that lady wasn’t the worst one the show highlighted.

“We need to clean,” I told Rob as we watched.

“We are not that bad,” he replied.

“Yet,” I countered as I thought about the box of cards I have yet to sort and Dee’s desk in the office which is the repository of anything that doesn’t have a home.

Granted. We are short on space because of the renovation. But the storage room in the basement, which we were able to walk through in the summer is now impassable and I can totally see how people can allow clutter to become hoarding, which flows like lava through the house, solidifying and turning to the emotional equivalent of stone.

My dad was a minor hoarder of tools, car parts and paper, but I didn’t grow up in a house where the floor disappeared for extended periods of time or the sink choked on dirty dishes until we were eating off paper plates. Even the rooms of my siblings and I never reached tornado strewn disaster level like Dee’s does though she isn’t as bad as she was when she was little.

She inherits her laissez faire attitude from her late father, who grew up with a hoarder mother.

One of the issues between my former mother-in-law and I was the perpetual filth and growing mounds of “stuff” in her home. By the time Will got sick, I wouldn’t even sit down when I visited – often because there was no place to sit – but mostly because the house was disgusting.

The dog, which wasn’t even hers, destroyed her backyard to the point that the neighbors were forever calling the city on her in the summer when the smell radiated to street side. When he died in the garage after days of bloody diarrhea and vomiting – she never cleaned it up. It dried and flaked off and as far as I know when the new owners began their renovation (it had to be completely gutted) that mess was still a giant crusted stain on the concrete.

Rob’s sister is a hoarder. The authorities eventually removed her teenage daughter and the girl, who is now a sixteen year old mother, is not allowed to move back in if she wants to retain custody of her son. It’s that bad.

My mother-in-law has a bit of a stuff issue too, but not to the point where her home is dirty. There are too many possession and no space, and one has to wonder why a person needs so much when it sits in closets, drawers and cabinets never to be used and probably often forgotten about.

TV is bad, but ultimately this foray into the kind of voyeurism that makes one want to use a wetwipe on her brain and scrub her eyeballs has renewed my purging purpose.


Creepy Old Navy mannequins "in person"

Image by Daniel Greene via Flickr

Before I lose internet … again … a wee update.

The kitchen/great room renovation hums along. The entire front half of the downstairs is gutted and closed off with plastic sheeting that reminds me of those movies where virulent epidemics are sweeping à la apocalypse and everyone is wearing hazmat.

I spent over four hours yesterday pulling nails left behind after Rob and I yanked the old hardwood up by its 60-year-old roots. The dust was killer, and it occurred to me as it puffed up and settled again that the particles contain remnants of everyone who’s ever lived in this house. Skin flakes, hair follicles, disintegrated food and dirty debris from all over creation of people who had no idea that their imprints on the floor were more than just passing, easily mopped up or swept away.

Life to ashes and dust, man, remember that.

Dee bore up under the crushing boredom of a school vacation minus the vacation until Friday, so partly because Rob was worn to a nub and I was itchy to do something other than provide spotty physical labor and teach yoga, we went shopping Sunday afternoon.

Rob would rather hump plaster to the dump like Atlas than shop. Particularly at Old Navy, which is where we went. Because we had coupon and but also because I like it.

“Did you not see the level of clientele?” he asked.

“Low rent,” I agreed, “but that’s because the clothes are cheap.”

“And gaudy and meant to be replaced often due more to the poor, made-by-Chinese-school-children quality than anything else.”

And because I resemble that remark a bit, I paused, but I can’t justify spending tons of money on clothing anymore. Sturdy may mean it never wears out, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t tire of it and want something new or bright? In which case I am stuck with wearable clothing and though I do periodic closet sweeps, I don’t do garage sales more than once a year and there is a limit to my need to give my stuff away – even though that is a guilty pleasure of mine.

I also like their yoga-ish duds. As I am over Lululemon, I am in constant quest mode for the most comfy yoga pants – and no, sadly, I have yet to find them – but I did find these awesome walking capris at Old Navy for HALF-PRICE.

Suffice to say, with coupon we spent on four long sleeve shirts, two capris and a comfy fleece jammie bottom, the same amount of money that one pair of Lululemon pants would have cost. Added bonus is not contributing to a company that doesn’t have plus-wear (and by “+” I mean anything over a size 12 and I loathe companies that feed the sizism monster).

Then we went to the bookstore and BOUGHT BOOKS!!

Love browsing a bookseller on a Sunday afternoon. Heaven. And one consumer unnecessary that I sorely miss.

The awesome thing about shopping, when you rarely do anymore, is how awesome it really is.

Winter arrived today. It’s visited here and there since early October, but I think it will be staying now.

Oh, and Rob’s mother will be getting married in less than a month. No surprise – to me – but Rob is still incredibly ambivalent and the older girls have yet to publicly comment. A December wedding though does free up June again for Edie and Silver though when I mentioned that to her, she just stammered and blushed.

The wedding moving up is more to do with the groom being an American. Rob and I faced the same dilemma when Dee and I moved up here. We planned a September wedding to mollify Rob’s family a bit because a year would have passed since Shelley’s death. The year thing is a big fat hairy deal to a lot of people. However, being an émigré makes marriage a thing that can’t be put off to please one’s sense of timing. Governments get growly about foreigners taking up residence without cause – in their eyes – and paperwork. There are oodles of papers and stamps and approvals and other such nonsense.

So it is for my future father-in-law. He must be legal and the quickest path is to get the marriage thing taken care of upfront.

It’s not romantic. It’s hard on the extended family. But really? All that matters is that they are together and happy.

“I don’t know what to say, ” Rob confessed in the aftermath of a phone conversation with his mom.

“You can’t say anything, ” I said, “because you don’t have a leg to stand on.”

“Payback is a bitch,” he agreed.