Consumption compulsion

Muddling forward into our shared future, let’s have a cuppa and talk about the elephant in the room. Lust.

Yes, you’ve felt it. Unbidden, from deep in you rises that heady, powerful urge to purchase. New things. Shiny things. Perfect, desirable, cool, promising things. We have an affair with that orgasmic moment of transaction. The Purchase. *sigh*

This is what gets us into trouble in the first place. It is easy to believe that we’re all immune to the lure of the marketing demons and advertising parasites, yet our houses, garages and storage units are bursting with gadgets and gear that we’ve barely used. We’re cheating on the side with stuff, and it’s an affair we swear off and crawl back to. I’m not pointing any fingers or throwing any stones here, I’m coming clean and asking for help.

It starts off, as every affair does, innocently. You see it in a picture alongside an article, or as a prop in a film or tv series. Maybe you notice it, maybe you don’t. Then you spot it in another feed or your favourite blog or pinterest board. Oh, here it comes, the momentum is building and it is already too late. You click through. You note the hashtag. You check the site and are appalled at the price, and then all over again at the shipping. You close the window. Swear off but you know you’ll be back.

Whatever that item is, you DO NOT NEED IT.

You don’t. You just want it.

A friend and I were talking this week about notebooks (We’re mad for stationery. Don’t judge.) and we’ve both been “looking at” (you know what this is code for) a particular name brand ‘notebook’ that is actually just a cover that you buy inserts for. The covers are expensive and hard to get. Perfect. They’re also not all that practical for how I live and work. Even better. Plus, they’re made of leather. Watch two committed vegetarians rationalise how this is ok because at least it will be long wearing. Oh dear.

Why? Why do we sometimes want these name-brand items, no matter what? How does it become, out of nowhere, such an urgent passion? We can drive ourselves almost crazy with the craving, even though we know it can cripple us financially (or send us into a spiral of unmanageable credit card debt).

I wish I knew how this happens, so I could unhook from it. I feel it *all the time* it is like a constant undercurrent in our culture. Watching a lot less TV does help – but now the internet is littered with visually driven content – and these ‘notebooks’ seem to be everywhere that aspirational images are and nowhere in my mundane, suburban reality. They exotically promise creativity, freedom, and a life unfettered by the necessity to carry anything other than this in your tiny, light bag. Probably you’re too cool for a bag because you’re such a free spirit. You travel so light you just live out of a pocket.

Let me tell you why I’m a tiny bit bitter. It is because I’ve been down this road before. Let me introduce you to The Filofax.

My 20 year old Filofax (almost exactly the same size and concept) is still in perfect condition but now just looks daggy and old-school. So 80s! Yet at the time, it was the same, I burned for a Filofax. Burned. Planned it for so long, shopped around (pre-Internet!). The fact that the card slots in it are US size and none of my cards ever, EVER fit was shaming but I pretended that I didn’t care. I still use it at home to keep all my friends’ addresses in (yes, by hand, on paper!) but I would never carry it around (like we all used to) because it is just too heavy and really it is a back-up for my phone (yes, before there were mobiles!). Even carrying my B5 journal feels bulky and I sometimes see people with kindles smirking at me. I have a little pad of A6ish post-its in the back of the journal and that works really well for any notes on the go, so I know I would never really use this notebook and even so, I STILL WANT ONE.

For now, I recognise that my affair with compulsive consumption is destructive. The seductive allure of fresh pages; or the glamour of pristine, unscuffed bags; the excitement and promise of exactly the right shoes is the frisson that hooks me in and keeps me coming back. I’m getting better. I tell myself little white lies (“I can’t afford it”) or keep a 30 day list. But what really keeps me on the straight and narrow is the thought of that perfect, beautiful almost useless Filofax on my cluttered desk at home.

I’m going to get that Filofax out tonight and give her a glass of wine and gentle rub. Make it up to her. Let her know I still appreciate her patented system and secure papers and useless card slots. Most of all, I’m going to thank her for being a lesson well learned from days long past about how lust fulfilled fades so quickly and leaves a wake of bedraggled leftovers cast aside to make way for tomorrow’s rising favourites.

Let us settle for love and honesty in the face of these incessant temptations. You have enough. We are already enough.

Confessional quirk

Over the last two weeks we’ve looked at themes of provisional living and choice. Like all victors I get to write my own history so they’ve been about fairly positive aspects of that experience. Both focussed around ‘stuff’ as that is an external thing and it can be quantified and measured. So reassuring. Stuff has let me start exploring the topic of freedom, which is what I think we’re edging towards talking about.

Before we get there, it is worthwhile talking about a choice that didn’t go so well and some payoffs from provisional living that haven’t been so easy to give up.

I haven’t given up making voluntary contributions to my superannuation account. Even though I know it is essentially futile. I still want to believe that somewhere in a future I might get to are golden days of leisure where I am ‘retired’ but still physically functional. I *know* right?! That retirement age went up to 70 years of age already. As the Boomers’ demographic bulge really hits the retirement costs wall, that will be bumped up again, we all know it.

I haven’t given up on fantasising about which set of high-end luggage I will buy (I favour Rimowa) when I start travelling the world in this mythical parallel life where I have the same income but somehow no costs of living or debt responsibilities (and I don’t get homesick every 5 days).

I keep promising myself that *next* spring I’ll get the garden going properly and get back into growing at least tomatoes so that I’m not totally dependent on other people and fossil fuels for every single thing I eat. I believe there’s still plenty of time to get that organised and somehow it doesn’t quite make it up my list of priorities, but you can guarantee I’ll rant about toms being $10 a kilo come February.

This little list of hypocrisies is barely indicative of how many deals there are still in place. Maybe you’ve got some deals of your own – where rationally you know one thing, but behaviourally you just keep hooking in to doing the thing you’ve always done. Maybe you’ve ‘made’ a whole bunch of choices without ever really thinking about it. Why aren’t you vegetarian? Why do you have a credit card? Why do you watch tv in the evening? Why do you assume this is the only way it can be?

Last year, as these questions began piling up, I tried to find the unified theory that would answer these conundrums and deliver unto me a blazing, pure path of honesty, integrity and clarity. I hoped that wanting this very very intensely and visualising it as though it had already appeared would help to manifest this life-changing awakening. I knew in my heart that when it came, I would be incandescent in every sense, the wisdom of all the ages would illuminate my problems and my failings with pure love, and they would melt into submission in the face of ultimate reality.

Beautiful no?

Ah, beautiful indeed. While I waited for this magnificence to manifest, I kept working hard and diligently at everything. I felt the pain of my failings and of my compromises. I felt like a fraud at the deals I made to keep going. I pushed through the fatigue of commuting, the hollowness of a meaningless job and the maintained the façade of a good modern cog – I was productive.

Without making a choice, I had chosen denial. I was, with the very best of intentions, breaking myself.

Eventually, I failed at breaking myself. In the aftermath, I realised my golden answer, my unified theory, my ‘access all areas’ lanyard was simply not coming. (Let me be clear, this is (or will be) a Very Good Thing even though at the time it was hard to handle.)

Where I am struggling, is that in-between the pushing to make it so, and the failing to change, I’m in a place of confusion. Some things (stuff!) are under my control and some things (climate change) just kindof aren’t. No matter how much I reduce my carbon footprint and make my boyfriend think twice about his use of the clothes-dryer I can’t stop the polar ice-caps melting. If no one is going to listen to Al Gore without getting snarky about what car he drives, who am I to try to change the world while I own a car at all? Hmmm.

More than confusion. I just gave up. But that’s not living from my values either. The sun keeps coming up each morning and the wheel of this year is turning. I am asking, not for a golden answer now, but for a way to muddle forward. I’m asking for sustainable freedom and my deepest wish is that you and I will find it together.

Making choices

Last week I shared with you the idea of provisional living and touched a little on the bubble of the myth of constant and inevitable progress. In writing, we’re always making choices. We’re constantly selecting one word or phrase over another, crafting images and stories that will resonate with our chosen audience and choosing when to pause or stop a narrative and leave the rest to our readers.

no answers only choicesAn aphorism that I’ve tried to live by for the past decade or so is “There are no answers, only choices” and I’d like to share that today in the spirit of exploring how to live inside of and create from a position of values in what feels like an aggressive, shallow and purely commercial world. I will disclose at the outset that I have a day job. I pay my way in the world from the position of a cubicle in which I write for my corporate overlords. I chose to get (and keep) this job and bear the consequences of that choice. One of those consequences is that I do not have the bo-ho credibility of ‘living off my art’. I don’t see it that way, but you might. My skills in communicating with people (and translating between people who speak the same language but can’t understand each other) make me useful in a business environment. It is no mean feat to remain useful, relevant and employed these days, but that’s not the most interesting choice to talk about.

Instead, let’s think about giving up the emotional and psychological payoffs that come from the behaviour of provisional living. In place of daydreaming about what life might be like ‘when I win lotto’ there were questions that started with ‘What is wealth?’ and ‘What do I think of as freedom?’ and lead to ‘What if I already have enough?’

Money wasn’t the only topic that came under review. Relationships of all kinds, working, debt, health, writing, travel, relaxation. In some ways nearly everything had become infected with an expectation that it would just get better by itself (thanks Progress!) or that eventually a day would dawn where I would be handed a golden answer. To *everything*.

While I lay on the couch, watching the sun pass across the ceiling and really getting it that the golden answer wouldn’t come, I started to play a game of ‘what if?’ Maybe you’d like to play it too?

What if I already have enough?

What if every life really is sacred?

What if I could help someone every day, just in the course of my normal life?

What if there are no unsacred places?

What if my purpose is simply to love and be loved in return?

What choices would I make if these things were true? What would I chose to live by – if I could chose anything? How would I be in my life if I sought out ways to bring my choices to life? Would I select different experiences, people, priorities?

What would you do if you turned out to be responsible for your life and your choices without recourse to any wish for it to be different than it is right now?

It is what it is. Then what?

One little thing at a time, you make choices.

For stuff, I decided that one thing in meant one thing had to go out. That tiny choice created a cascade of implications and considerations, not least was creating a kind of mindfulness about quality, emotional shopping, waste, recycling and boredom. So many choices we make without thinking. There are no answers about how much stuff is right, or which stuff is better or why stuff is such an obsession. There are no answers about why, or when, or who. I just made that one choice that felt right in my situation, and I committed to living by it and within the consequences it produced.

It took some time, but inside that choice came a new type of freedom.

Ripening New Year

Like many people around the world I sat down to write out what I wanted this new year to be like. Unsurprisingly it was very similar to how I had hoped that last year might be. At first I was despondent about my life having turned into a drab kind of  “rinse and repeat” cycle.

No. Honestly I was gutted.

Wheel of FortunePerhaps this would be all that I could hope for into the future – fresh chances to try and get just one year right. One year where my modest goals could be met; where I might weigh a little less instead of a lot more, where I might see my loved ones more than my work colleagues. Simple, humble goals that I have failed to achieve in the last year. And indeed the year before that too.

You might suggest that having a process fail regularly would be a good reason to let it go. New year’s resolutions are for chumps, everyone knows that. Yes, so just give up, roll over and let it happen how it will. After all, I am 42 now, a middle-aged lady. Nobody cares. All my rage and fury and desires are unbecoming on podgy hips and graying hair. Passions and hopes are for young people. I should just shut up and pay my taxes. After all, I had my chance, I made my moves. Time, as they say, moves on. Every new year just reminds me that I’m racing against the clock and I don’t get to start from scratch, I’ve got a handicap from all the time I spent learning the wrong things, following stupid advice and bumbling around life’s maze.

But time has moved on without so many of us I cannot be alone in hoping for a second chance.

Then I remembered an amazing phrase that had lodged like a burr in my mind since I had read it on the Archdruid’s Report sometime in the last month or two which I have remembered as “we ripen towards death”* and it took the sting out of my haunting sense of another ‘failed’ year. It hinted of slower, gentler rhythms and reminded me that life’s purpose is not to ‘arrive’ at our final destination. We will, most certainly, get there in due course. Our purpose is really a deliberate and mindful process of combining our own selection of influences and inspirations to constantly become our own selves in relationship to the world around us and its major events.

This then is why I keep my little lists in the front of each diary of my intentions and goals. They are my deliberate and mindful process of who I wish to be in face of what life will throw at me.

In the midst of the year’s wheel, I will have a compass to help me towards what will make sense of this world for me. We all want it to make sense, for there to be a reason behind the pain and the obligation and the duty and the frustration and the lost days.

So many lost days in the life that is ticking down to a long cold end but let us each at least be ripe in our own time. If you are thirsty, seek water. If you are fearful, leap. If you are on fire then burn as bright as all the fires in the heart of the sun.  Your path is towards your own end. Let each step on that path be your decision as much as possible. Seek your own flavour in this new year.
Say ‘yes’ to your time.
Be brave. Be incandescent.

* the quote is actually quite different – and a lot better!:
“These people aren’t looking for salvation, at least in the sense that word has been given in the religious sensibility of the last two millennia or so, and which was adopted from that sensibility by the theist and civil religions of the Western world during that time; they are not pounding on the doors of the human condition, trying to get out, or consoling themselves with the belief that sooner or later someone or something is going to rescue them from the supposedly horrible burden of having bodies that pass through the extraordinary journey of ripening toward death that we call life.”
http://thearchdruidreport.blogspot.com.au/2013/11/at-closing-of-age.html

Can’t find the stories for the books

Too much of a good thing?
Too much of a good thing?

Writing has stalled.
Bogged.
Lost in the wilderness.

The discipline is there, time in the saddle, words down each day but the fire in the line is missing. How to fix?

I got up from my desk, very slowly and very carefully so as not to disturb the references on my right, the notes and journals on the left, the correspondence behind me, the ideas and clippings behind me to the left, the recently read and waiting for review, the to-read, the not-sure pile and then finally the dog who had curled up on the stepping space. They used to be a path to the door but it had shrunk when I cleared some of the books out of the kitchen. The stovetop and the bathroom were the only places in the three bedroom house free of book piles due only to the unrelenting truth that fire and water remain the mortal enemies of paper.

I made a cuppa and sat on the back stairs as the couch was covered in magazines and papers and the dining table was hosting a long-term craft convention, complete with comparative pattern books and technique tomes. The dog sat in the sun in the yard and looked at me. I sipped and thought. Perhaps sometimes too much of a good thing is simply too much.
“Something has to go.” I said to the dog.
“Better not be me.” he replied and wandered off to sniff at some grass and see if the crows had dropped anything interesting from their headquarters.

I sipped on, realising that my bibliophilia had reached an unexpected crisis point. My hoards of books were suffocating the stories trying to come to life. It wasn’t just books stashed and crammed into the house until there was no room left for my heart to break but they were the most symbolic, they would be the hardest to release. Each one was a promise, a kiss, a call, and a friend. I believed in some deep and sad way that I would be irrevocably diminished in some ineffable but vital way without every single one of them and yet something really had to give and it had better not be me.