Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On social capital, and other things percolating

So I just finished Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone: The collapse and revival of American community." DAMN, I say. Of all the books I've read the past couple of years on consumption, peak oil, etc. etc., this one hit me hardest. Right here, where I can feel it. I KNOW I can act here and I have to.

Lack of social capital is my problem. When I hear friends saying they don't want to join a group or volunteer because of the potentially "annoying" people they might meet, that's my problem. When I hear someone saying that they don't ride the bus because too many random people talk to them ... that's my problem, too, in more ways than one.

I don't like talking to strangers. Here in The City, you never know what one will say. Will it be a come-on? (When I moved here I was 23, and leaving work late at night, some guy in his 50s asked me if I'd like to get a room. Really? Really?) Will it be someone drunk or high or psychotic? Will it be begging?

Mostly, it will be begging. The homeless and down-and-out contingent here is huge. And sometimes the group that seems even bigger is the canvassers. CalPERS, Greenpeace, Ron Paul. Good for the world, bad for my sense of personal space. Bad for my (in)ability to say no and only to avoid. You wouldn't believe the contortions of time and space I've gone through to avoid a Greenpeace canvasser asking cheerfully, slightly aggressively, for a minute of my time to help save the world. This, although I've happily donated to Greenpeace in the past!

It's all part of the same puzzle. No social capital. No trust that those Greenpeacers won't a) stalk me; b) insult me; c) hate my guts for the rest of their lives if I don't give to their cause right now. No trust in my own ability to cheerfully say "Not today, thanks." What that means to me is "I've already donated to an environmental organization/I've donated my time to a local cause/I'm researching the best use of my money/I promise to vote Democrat." What I'm afraid they hear is "I don't give a shit about the environment. Leave me alone, you dirty hippies." Can you see why I'd rather go through a parking garage and invent a cell phone conversation that's not actually happening to avoid THAT kind of judgment?

No social capital. No trust. No ability to DEAL with people that may or may not want something. No training in how to do that. Just wrap yourself in your bubble and hope they stay far away.

Well, that's been my MO for the last howevermany years. That's got to end now. I can't work for change, I can't be the change I want to see in this world, if I'm afraid of other people. And when I say afraid, I don't mean for my safety. I mean for my precious comfort zone, so carefully cultivated.

Nothing works -- no social change works -- without a community holding it up. I cannot contribute to revitalizing, even keeping on life support, a concept of community without talking to other people in it ... or at least listening ... or at the very least not hiding from them!

I will not be afraid of strangers. The only thing I'm going to fight is the instinct in myself to fear what's different.


Small print update: I'm four? three? days into a little bit of Internet deprivation. I'm not sure whether it's affecting my to-do list but it's clearing the extra-social fog in my brain a little bit. I need a lot more doing and a whole lot less reporting about what I'm doing. Often I've spent more time writing up a recap of an event than I spent at the thing. Or conversation, or dinner with friends or whatever.

PS Two, I'm afraid that since so many things seem so clear to me now, I'm setting myself up for a good fall on the heels of hubris. My mom says just because I'm trying to make positive change doesn't mean the universe is going to punish me. I think, without saying too much personally, that's quite a progressive statement. A lot of people would like to see those who try to improve themselves, and their world, go down at the sword for their crime of "self-righteousness" or possibly "hypocrisy." Or "making other people feel guilty about how they're spending their time." Apparently these are worse crimes, in some opinions, than wastefulness, ignorance and apathy. Luckily my family doesn't see it that way ...

PS Three, I can't decide whether I'm going to try to write a novel for National Novel Writing Month: 50,000 words in 30 days. If I wrote it it would be about peak oil and a town trying to get through it. I have my plot and my characters; the only thing I don't have is the willingness to devote several hours each day of the month of November to it. Well, we'll see. It's a fun thing to do (especially the community aspect of it), it would give voice to a lot of these post-peak-oil survivalist scenarios bumping around in my head, and it would be fun to tell people that I wrote a novel in a month. Of course, I've already done it twice, with poor results each time. So we'll see what shakes down.

Speaking of which, there was just a rather midsized earthquake here, felt most definitely in The City and the house of tk specifically. This reminds me I need to write here about NERT training. Our final two classes are Thursday and Friday nights. On Friday night we graduate after we review our take-home test and play out a disaster scenario. I'm trying to remember as much as I can that's not in the textbook to post here, and hope to get to it this weekend before I forget everything.

Monday, October 29, 2007

On the New Solution

In the last couple of weeks it's become very clear to me what the "next step" in Getting Things Done terminology is.

My adult life has coincided with my Internet-using life. I got on when I was 18 and had left home. I have been connected ever since with no breaks except maybe a week on vacation, and even then I've always been able to get some connection.

At the same time, I've nearly always been disorganised, overwhelmed, and perpetually behind, while having my carefully arranged Internet life in meticulous order.

I can tell you which of my "invisible friends" on LiveJournal are dating each other, where they're working and which physical ailments they're battling. I can tell you which friends on text BBSes, which is where I started at age 18, are feuding, as well as their kids' names and ages, and often I can tell someone where a certain user is likely to be at any given moment. This is even if I've never met the person. This is very useful in a lot of cases to other people. "Where's so and so? I bet tk knows. What's going on with so and so's relationship? tk is sure to know that."

It's useful for other people, and it's useful for the part of me that likes escapism and avoiding stuff in my real life, but it's not useful FOR ME anymore, and I'm seeing that very clearly now.

I can tell you all that stuff about my Internet social life, while my obligations and chores and to-do lists pile up and I wonder, "Where's all my time going?"

And I don't want to be that person anymore. And I'm not going to be.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

On church

... Church? Me, write about church? This is the least likely thing that's probably happened in this blog so far. I was raised with no religion -- my parents were atheists for all practical purposes. My dad is "culturally Jewish" but nobody in his family has actually believed in the religion end of it for three generations. My mom was raised generally Christian and didn't buy it, and her grandparents, who were raising her, didn't force her to go to church after a certain age. My mom did sometimes start getting into Buddhism or Mary-worship or Taoism, but she never tried to pass the interest on to me. I basically had no spirituality at all (except for six months in the 11th grade when I tried to be a Taoist as well, and a month in college when I decided to try Judaism out. Neither one took). This has never bothered me.

What other people seem to get out of religion, I'm satisfied either not getting or getting somewhere else. The faith that everything will be OK and that people are generally good, I just was born with. The need of someone "higher" to turn to when things go really sideways ... I like philosophy for that, but also, nothing has gone so wrong that I've been compelled to pray about it, so I'm lucky that way. The awe of this beautiful planet, however it got here -- got it, but I don't see any creator behind it. I chalk it up to the miracle of science.

So, no church, no religion. Last night my husband (also agnostic) asked me if I'd like to be Unitarians. I said I didn't even think I had enough spirituality for that. He laughed but it's true. I'm about as secular as you can get.

But lately -- in the past month or so -- I've had this urge out of nowhere to join a church here in The City.

Go figure, huh?

When I realized this I blinked at myself. What? A CHURCH? Then I had to start figuring out why.

Of course, it all starts and ends with my own personal Bible -- the Little House books. I should have known.

When they're 40 miles from anywhere, or it's a day trip into town, the Ingallses kept Sunday sacred in their own way but without going to church. But when they got to where they could all travel to a town easily, one of the first things they did was join the church. Specifically in Little Town on the Prairie, the church was the center of the new town. The church put on sociables for the women to get a break from housework and come have some adult conversation; the church was the recipient of or the benefactor to other towns on the frontier (Christmas barrels, donations); the church put on the holiday suppers. Of course, church was where you saw everyone you may not see the rest of the week. Say you have a person who lives ten miles out, and they're busy -- they have a bunch of kids maybe, or a lot of animals or land to take care of or even a busy office job. Year after year, you see that person at church -- and they're in your extended tribe.

If church wasn't the community, church definitely facilitated the community. And church was where all the action -- the activism, the improvement, the charity -- took place.

Last night my husband and I came to the conclusion that when this country became non-church-centered, no institution stepped in to take its place: to take care of the needy, to give the people a place to meet and share in something common. You had a civic-minded institution in the church, so people didn't need the government and kind of looked down on the government or didn't trust it. Now, the government (town halls, city council) may be the only institution that could take the place of the church, but while we don't trust the church, we also don't trust the government. So we're adrift.

The church in the prairie idiom, of course, is something I can't aspire to right now. The main reason is that those towns were conservative socially and that was the end of the story. If you had to wrestle with a possible un-belief, you'd better not tell anyone or it would get around that you were a heathen (see Laura not wanting to go to revival meetings but even her best friends begging her to). In general, you just WERE a Christian, no ifs, ands, or buts.

I kind of think that the spirituality was secondary in the prairie church -- at least to some people. If I had been raised in one church and it was a good community and a bunch of decent people, I don't think I would leave it if I decided I didn't believe in God, Jesus or the Bible. I think the church was a conduit for community.

That's what we don't have anymore. If churches and entire religions weren't so full of abuses and repression, maybe more people would still be interested to go just for the neighborly aspect of things. But they are, so you have to be really committed to the spirituality of a church to put up with the kind of things you might encounter -- judgmental authorities, political maneuvering, money grubbing, desperation. Nobody I know is willing to do that. The community of the church is not worth the trouble.

And I know, personally, it would be wrong-hearted of me to join a church to hook onto the communal aspect of it. Something wouldn't be right about that: not that I would go to hell or that the other parishioners would know I was a "fake," but that regardless of its benefits, a church is still primarily an avenue of worship, worship of a higher power. If you don't believe in that kind of thing and aren't interested in cultivating that belief, it seems kind of hollow to go to a place, ignore the elephant in the living room, and avail yourself of the charity, community and leadership.

So what's next? What has the potential to bring a town or neighborhood or group of people together that isn't focused on everyone being similar (having similar interests, the same skin color, the same money, the same background)? Groups based on similarity are often comfortable but not terribly dynamic. What, in the secular world, can fill the role of the old-time churches?

Town hall meetings are a possibility. We trust the government ever less, even when Democrats are in power, even when grassroots activism has been shown to work. We're cynical over the government and we don't want to put our energy into it. This is what I hear from more people than I can say, old and young. We live in a corrupt system, they say, and while we don't have to work against it, we also don't have to work with it. (The same goes for the churches, by the way.) So while we're not working with it, we're also not working with anything. We're adrift.

Clans and extended families are good for survival and support. But those are smaller, even, than I'm thinking is necessary. Your tribe is your inner circle, but you still need an outer circle around that, where the town should be.

Neighborhood associations are based on socioeconomic similarity; but if you could get a neighborhood association that would work outside its own neighborhood, reaching out to people NOT in the club, you might have the potential to do some real good and some honest community building.

Unions, school groups, charity/volunteer groups ... all good, with limited potential. There's a reason most activism takes place on college campuses: actually two reasons -- the first one is that there's a context for what you're doing. You see the people you're canvassing with or whatever in your math class. You trust them because you see them in front of your face every few days, so you're more inclined to get into something a little more deep with them. The second reason is that there's leadership. If you join a campus activist society, or a high school one -- you know that someone there is in charge who won't send you off to get killed.

If you decide to undertake charity on your own, you can't TRUST your own instincts as much as you can with a church/campus/even governmental leader. You don't know whether you should talk to that homeless guy on the street because he hasn't been vetted as someone who will or won't stab you. So you have to leave him alone. If you're part of an organization, with a leader, dealing with this kind of thing, you have more backup. That's something else a church provides that nothing else has really stepped into the place of.

So, a lot of possibilities, not a lot of answers. I need to start thinking of community activism and building in a different light -- or decide that God really is the answer -- which I don't see happening. I also have to realize that alone, I can't have as much of an effect as if I were part of a group, all working toward the same basic goal. We are so isolated nowadays that even thinking of being in a group gives us the willies -- who will be there? Will they be old, sick, irritating? Will it be more fun, rewarding, easier to stay home? This way of thinking has to go. I'm not in college anymore and don't have a calendar of clubs in front of me to cherry-pick from. I can't be a passive observer while I watch people unable to deal with their communities because of fear or lack of leadership. It's the point in my life where I have to maybe think of being PART of the leadership, or at least of the movement.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

On the parents

For weeks I've been wanting, inspired by Casaubon's Book of course, to write about something very hard, and very big. It doesn't seem that way now, but it will be. I've had to talk to to my husband about it and figure out whether we're on the same page. It turns out that, for the most part, we are.

The fact of the matter is unless something catastrophic and sudden happens, we're going to end up having to take one of our parents in. Between us we have four parents (and two steps) -- all still living, primarily thriving. My parents aren't even at 60 yet. With me at 30 it suddenly seems like my parents and I are in the same age group: Adults.

But the fact remains they're 30 years older than I am, and my husband's parents are 30 years older-plus than he is. At some point they're going to get infirm and have to have some help.

I'm the only child, and my dad isn't remarried. For him, I AM the help. For my mom, she's in a little better position because she's married to a guy younger than she is. But he leads a high-risk life -- drives for a living, and rides motorcycles for a hobby. They both smoke. My dad smoked for more than 30 years. Whether my stepdad manages to keep himself safe or not, the odds are good, just on my side, that my husband and I are going to end up with one of my parents when we're all older.

And I have had to get my head around this.

I won't quote Sharon at length at you. You've probably read the post -- but the salient bits go like this. We, people in my age group, are scared to death of the idea of ever co-housing with someone who isn't our partner or our child. This used to be a pretty common practice, but the gods of marketing and "lifestyle" have said we deserve, we NEED, our privacy and our space -- above all, our privacy. Even from our siblings or their kids. Even from the people who lived with US, sheltering us for 18 years of our lives.

I have felt this way. I've thought, There's no way, absolutely no way I can live with one of my parents. Noway, nohow. One of us won't make it out alive, to say nothing of my marriage. I had been dreading having to tell them they can't come, and explaining why.

Now I can't explain it even to myself. It's a culture of isolation, a culture of selfishness I've grown up in, that makes the idea of my parents (or just one parent) moving in so terrifying. I even get along with my parents. They aren't psycho, they aren't abusive. They have their quirks. My parents are described as characters, unusual, good hearted, and hip. They were hippies, after all -- my mom was in the first wave -- and now I can't trust them to be good living partners?

It comes down to a case of trust. It goes like this: When I was growing up my parents were overprotective. Whose weren't? I had a great time in high school. I had a social, romantic and even sex life despite the fact that I had to call home whenever I got to my destination if it was away from home; despite the fact I was held to a curfew; despite the fact that my parents didn't want me to hang around with drug dealers; and despite the overwhelming, obsessive worry that sometimes crept into their interactions with me. This last is what I haven't trusted to begone now that I'm an adult. Some of this mistrust is borne out; my parents still put on a mild display of panic if I do something they consider unwise or unsafe. I don't like it and I deal with it. When I think about them coming to live with me, I think of that. I think of my mom sitting up waiting for me to come home from a bar when I'm 45, I think of my dad insisting we don't go to a certain restaurant that he didn't like once. I think of this lasting until we -- my husband and I -- end up hoping for a quick exit, either for us or for them.

I think of the worst, and I don't trust them to be adults, and to realize that they're dealing with an adult and not a child when it comes to me. I don't give them credit for adapting, for being the decent humans that they are with brain cells to rub together. I don't know why this is. It's a matter of fear and the fear of being inconvenienced, even for your tribe.

The tribe, the roots ... these are the terms that haven't meant much to me before. I'm close with my family, as small as it is. I'm close with my inlaws, and with my extended family. I'm almost always glad to see any one of them. But I'm also glad for them to go home, so I can have my house back -- my three-bedroom house where nobody cares whether I lie in bed all Saturday reading or not.

People living with me that aren't my husband would take me out of my comfort zone. I would feel like I couldn't do the things I wanted to do, that I had to do things others wanted to do. I would have to sacrifice my personal space. My biggest fear is that I would have to sacrifice, after all these years of living independently, my autonomy. I don't trust my family to let me keep my autonomy.

It really isn't fair to them, is it? They're rational (as rational as anyone else is), yet it's a gripping fear that suddenly I would become the 14-year-old again, even as I was in the position of co-head of household and THEY were in the position of dependents. Does this happen? I don't even know. I don't really know anyone who's let their parents live with them.

That's not true, I do have a friend whose mother got severe Alzheimer's in her early 50s. She lived with our friends for a few years. She didn't even know who was there most of the time, let alone where her kids were coming and going to. I know my friend would have wished his overprotective mother back in a second. She's in a home now because she was requiring more care -- to eat, to be fed, to relieve herself -- than these two working parents with two children, including one disabled, could provide.

But they gave it an honest shot. They didn't turn the woman out for others to care for without trying to see how it worked. I don't know how many years it took off their lives to care for her, but it may have taken more off if they'd never tried.

I don't operate in too many moral absolutes. I've been accused of being too relativist. But I do truly think that it's straight-up wrong to refuse to care for an aging relative just because it wouldn't be much fun, it would be a pain in the ass, it would cramp my style. In my very small (and growing) book of ethics, that's just something I can't contemplate anymore.

Maybe it won't be an issue. I was scared to death when I sat down my husband and said: The reality is that we're likely to have to take in one of our parents. He said: You might be right. I can't remember his exact words, but they weren't "If you do that, I'm out of here." So it's a start that we're both on the same page with that, and with what's right to do by our families, even if the issue never does come up.

I don't want to be a person anymore who would put my all-encompassing comfort over the life and health of someone else, especially someone who wasn't long for this world, especially-especially someone who's an integral part of my life and always has been. And when it comes to me retaining my autonomy and not being forced into a child-role if I'm the caretaker: The fact is this -- I'm an adult and I can call my own shots now as to whether I get treated like one. They will understand that, and I have to trust that. And I have to trust myself to back up these words.

Monday, September 17, 2007

One small step

This weekend I had a big party. It was a barbecue/picnic in Golden Gate Park, and it was a beautiful success. I saw people hanging out together who had never met but who had more than knowing me and my husband in common (and don't give me any of your Geek Fallacies -- connection might as well start with who you both know!), people hanging out who knew each other from working together ten years ago, people who said they had no use for kids babysitting a 2-year-old while his single-"parent" guardian got to socialize with some adults for a change. People playing croquet, frisbee, me playing catch with the toddler and the former softball player, the toddler and his new previously-child-disliking friend playing with other little kids and their parents. Lifelong residents giving tips on living here to the guy who had just moved to town -- no bitterness about newcomers or tourists, just advice from a local. People cooking for each other, making four burgers, not just one that was for them and then leaving the grilling to someone else. In the late afternoon sun, everyone lying together on a blanket, with one woman knitting, the toddler at his bottle, my husband taking a well-deserved nap, and me hearing plans being made all around me about "let's get together for ..." from people who had only met that day.

Now, that's what I call a successful party!

There was also a lot of food. I mean a lot. I spent $250 on food and I had told the guests to bring whatever they wanted to grill. People brought lots of meat, veggie burgers, buns (oh, the buns), but they also brought sides, desserts, drinks (oh, the beer). Not many of them took home what they brought, especially since plenty of them biked, walked, or took public transit.

A couple of friends of ours who stayed around till cleanup did take some food home; but we ended up with the bulk of it.

My mission is to use up ALL that food.

I have a bad habit about throwing food out that looks old or just inappetizing. This time I'm not going to do that ... for one thing, my friends have great taste in food and nothing looks like something I wouldn't eat. For another thing, I bought a bunch of high-quality food too, and I'd hate to throw it out.

The first order of business is salad. I bought a ton of salad greens. I don't usually eat that much salad, but we're going to finish it all. We benefit from not throwing out food we spent money on, and we benefit because of the vitamins and nutrients!

Then there's meat. There were 2 lbs. of ground beef that didn't get used. I made burgers yesterday for lunch; today I'm going to cook the rest into ragu sauce, freeze some, and eat some for dinner.

And there's fish. Tuna was put into a salad yesterday (with mixed results; but at least I tried), and trout is frozen for use soon. And there's veggie burgers and plenty of buns. Those are in the freezer and will get used in the fullness of time.

And there's hot dog buns. I don't really eat hot dogs. But I do eat chicken-apple sausages, and those can go on hot dog buns for a little starch. If I end up throwing out or not using all of something up, it's going to be those hot dog buns, and that's OK.

And there's beer. Oh, the beer. We aren't huge beer drinkers and I still have some Christmas ale in my fridge from LAST Christmas. What I want to do is start cooking more with beer, in addition to taking it to parties and stuff. I'm going to start looking for recipes with beer marinade, I know they're out there because I went through another phase where I cooked with beer all the time. I don't fry stuff much but I can beer-batter some fish. But mostly I'll re-gift it to BYOB parties.

And there's cake and pie and cupcakes. I expect these to not be a problem in the next ... oh, three days.

So, that's the one small step. Use what I have left, what friends generously gave to the party that didn't get eaten, what I bought expressly for the party that wasn't eaten. It honors the guests and the gathering.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


It IS very hard to stay off the consumption wagon while you're working an office job. I've found that out. In the week that I worked only three days downtown, I spent more money than I'd spent in the past three-four weeks. It goes something like this: I'm not very hungry when I wake up, so I eat very lightly. Then I get to work and I'm starved at 10:30 -- too early for lunch. So I go out and buy a $2 snack. Then I eat lunch, which doesn't come for less than $8 (except yesterday, when I got a bean and cheese burrito for $4). Then I make do with the office snacks during the afternoon, which aren't proteinful. I have a 75-minute train-bus commute home. By the time I get to the butcher they're closed and I'm too tired or starving to stop at another store that's out of the way and get food for dinner, let alone cook it, let alone wash all the dishes I'm going to need to cook the dinner. So we order out or eat out, which is usually $40. And then I come home and collapse with mindless Internet reading or a book and then I go to bed.

And the funny thing is, when I'm drawing steady pay, this seems just fairly normal.

Not to mention the other seventy five things working makes me want. Want, I keep telling myself, not need. Since I work in a nearly-silent office where everyone wears their headphones, I want -- I will not say need! -- new pads for my earphones because the plastic hurts my ears. I want fancy new shampoo because I don't like going out of the house without my hair smelling like my Lush violet shampoo and vanilla conditioner. If I buy those things at the best price per unit, each bottle is $25. But I want it, for going out of the house. I want new work pants because I only have about five pairs that are usable. The others are stained or not quite business-y enough. I want a new black sweater. I want a new gray sweater. I want to buy a salad bar lunch that's $10.

And when I was working full-time the last nine years, that's exactly what I got.

You see how this goes? Luckily, I'm only in the office from here on out two days a week, working from home the other three. So I can of course get by with only five pairs of work pants and not as many sweaters as I want. If I spend $20 a workday on food, so be it. I won't spend any (or not much) the other five days I'm home, because the stuff I want will be in the house, already bought in bulk or at the co-op.

Then last weekend I was in a wedding. I traveled to Milwaukee and I budgeted for the plane ticket, the dress, the hotel room, the wedding gifts. I also spent almost half of what I had left in my checking account on incidentals. I wouldn't un-spend any of it, but it sure did go fast. It was kind of a shock to see that what I had previously considered a very normal amount to spend on a trip or even a few nights out was actually quite a lot of money. Of course, this is a one-time thing, and so I don't mind the expenditures. It's not the money spent that shocked me, but how much that same money goes when I'm at home and conserving.

But this post is really about something else. See, I'm turning thirty tomorrow. I'm having a little angst.

It's not "Jesus Christ I'm OLD!" angst. My husband is nine years older than I am and I've felt like I'm in my 30s for at least the past four years anyway. It's not "What have I done with my life?!!" angst. I'm happy with my work history, my marriage, my social life, the community I've built up over my adult life to this point. It's not a bunch of other kinds of angst that women, and people, get when they're turning a round number.

My turning-30 brain weasels are basically this: I have not progressed as far as I wish I had since I turned 20.

Here are some ways I haven't progressed (I listed the ways I have above):

I'm not in shape.
I'm not organized.
I'm not focused.
I'm still too much of a drama whore. Pardon my language.

Those are pretty much what I'm going to focus on for a little while. I'm also not financially independent, enlightened, or living quite as ethically and peacefully as I'd like to, but I'm on the path toward those already so I'm not criticizing myself for them. But those other four, well. It's a little late to start, but "however far you've gone along the wrong path, turn back." (Thanks to reader Cindy for that quote. I remember it all the time.)

Here are some brief snippets from my ponderings on these topics.

I have a friend who works out pretty religiously. (I have lots, but this woman is local to me.) She also works full time (on site), has an hour commute each way, gets superhuman amounts of knitting done, cooks dinner based on her diet/exercise plan and doesn't eat out much, and spends time with her partner and closest friends on a very regular, if not daily, basis. Implied in the cooking is that she goes grocery shopping. I also know she watches a lot of TV. I also see her socially so I know she goes out. Yesterday I asked her, how do you do it all? My aim was to try to figure out how she fits in her gym time. She said she has to prioritize her activities. What goes out the window in her life is that she doesn't clean her house. Beyond the time that she has to spend working and commuting, she prioritizes the gym, shopping for the food she cooks, and spending time with her partner and friends over cleaning and organizing. The fallout is that she loses track of things she shouldn't and that she has to go into a cleaning frenzy if she's going to have a party or have family over. Also, she said, sometimes when she's extremely focused on a workout goal, she doesn't ever go out with friends. She also multitasks. She knits while watching her shows on TV, she knits while listening to an audiobook, she straightens her house during knitting and TV breaks, and she knits during her commute.

So most of the way she does it won't work for me. I have to have a relatively clean house or I start going insane. I also don't like the idea that I wouldn't be able to see my friends. But regardless, I have to fit this gym time in there somewhere -- not to mention the grocery shopping. What I need to start doing is budgeting my own time and figuring out where I can replace a one- to two-hour chunk to work out. I don't want to add hours to my day. I don't want to lose any sleep. And I don't want to lose time with my husband. Somewhere, though, there's wasted time in my life. Talking to my friend made me figure out I need to ferret this out by myself and figure out what substitutions I can make.

Being organized and focused will wait till the next post or until I have coherent what to say about it.

The last issue is kind of a big one for me; more than not being in good shape or even having my paperwork sorted out. The last issue may fold into the first issue nicely, if I can get it worked out that way in my mind.

I have a need, and always have, to follow other people's drama. I cannot stand drama in my own life, and I think the way I live reflects that. My marriage is a non-issue when it comes to drama. I'm not saying it's not sometimes chaotic -- there's upheaval and upset occasionally just like in any marriage. And I've had jobs that are full of drama. I left them. When a friend starts causing drama at me, as in not complaining to me about his or her own problems but actually starting it AT me, I usually give them their space and sometimes fall off the planet, but I don't fight them back. Every time I have, I end up feeling like I've been run over by a truck. It's not worth it.

But when I was twelve I got addicted to soap operas. Even though I haven't watched TV for ten years, I'm still addicted.

Now it manifests in getting involved in situations I don't have anything to do with; maybe asking an acquaintance (usually online) how that very public argument with so-and-so worked out, almost salivating over the details, as it were. It's almost like I get a rush from it -- not just trying to help and solve, which I do, but getting to look in, "watch" their drama go down without actually having it happen to me.

This is not the way for a 30-year-old to act.

I want to be clear on something: when drama and chaos are happening to my friends, I don't consider my support and listening and offering suggestions to be part of this drama addiction. It's a different motivation. I want to help my friends, but with people I don't really care about and in some cases don't really even like, it's feeding the addiction. I'm afraid I have a very clear line of who are my friends and who are just "people out there," people whom I'm basically using to give my life a little soap opera to watch.

This is not an adult thing to do.

So I'm going to try to stop it. It's not going to be hard to know where to draw the line; as I said, I know when I'm being supportive of real friends and when I'm spying on someone else's problems for fun. It's not going to be easy, because these same people expect me in this position, and sometimes do come to me for advice. I may be good at giving advice. My real friends consider it and maybe take it, or maybe not. My drama-quotient "friends" and acquaintances never will. But like me, these "friends" are addicted to the hashing-out of drama. They'll miss me in their scene.

I'm going to be leaving some people behind, is the bald fact. My life will be better, not because the people are toxic, but because the way I react and interact with them is toxic. It doesn't matter. It's time to start being an adult about this stuff.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

On the nature of friendship

There are some weird things I've been thinking lately about friendship. Before I was 18, a freshman in college, I had friends. Friendly acquaintances (tons), un-friends (some), best friends (lots), and just plain friends. They were all over my life. I was a very social girl. Even when I was "unpopular" before 9th grade, I was still social. I hung out with my girlfriends and their families, with my parents and their friends and their friends' kids. I hung out alone a lot, too -- about as much as I do now. That's the only constant.

In high school, my friends were my life. They saw me in my good moods, my workaholic stage, my panic attacks, my terrible moods, my depressions, my triumphs. They knew when something horrible happened in my family; they knew when I reached a sexual milestone; they pretty much knew every aspect of me that friends can know. And I knew this about them, too. We didn't hide much from each other; we never tried to put on a certain face. When I was trying to get someone interested in being my friend, I certainly didn't hit them with the PMS monster or bitchface right off the bat. I showed them my best side. But then when that person was my friend, they got the whole shebang (and I got theirs).

Now, it's different. Now I have "real life friends" and "Internet friends."

Some of the Internet friends are people I see in real life; some I've never met. Some of the real life friends I have more contact with online than in person, because they're far away, but I first met them in real life. Out here in The City, there's a lot of overlap. There are people I've met through other people, who I first met online. Or there are people I met first in person but don't see them very often, so I sometimes see them again in The City and can't think of their real name, despite the fact I was introduced to them first by their name, not their Internet handle.

It starts to get a little weird. I seem to have prioritized looking good for my real-life friends at the expense of my Internet friends. To put it bluntly, the 'net friends get the brunt of the worst of me, and the RL friends get the best. I am not sure why this is. Here are a couple of theories:

1) I'm over-clinging to my real-life friendships to the point where I'm afraid if I whine, angst, or otherwise comport myself less than pleasantly, I'll lose them ... AND THEN WHAT? This is absurd. Like my mom would say, if a friend would ditch me because I wasn't sugar and spice all the time, they weren't a real friend in the first place. I know realistically that most of my friends wouldn't decide they didn't like me or want to see me anymore if I had a bad day or two in front of them. But I can't seem to share this part. That means I'm holding back on them. Sure, we get together and have bitch sessions -- about work, guys, money -- but that's topic-based and I don't think I could just show up at one of them's house in tears and say I need some company and comfort. It's like that's not a place I'm comfortable going -- with some of my closest friends! I see writing this that I'm responsible for this lack of closeness. Friendship means seeing all aspects of a person, not just the fair-weather side.

2) I'm devaluing Internet relationships. The Internet is for navel-gazing, snark, gossip, talking about people behind each other's backs and saying things you would never say to someone in person -- right? Well, I don't do that last one, but I do indulge in the rest with my Internet friends. Is this because I think that's what the Internet friends want? They'll find me boring if all I do is talk about how great things are going, I reason to myself. They'll think I'm being smug and self-righteous if I talk about, for instance, the things I write about on this blog (things that I can talk to several RL friends about with no worry about that kind of thing at all). I believe that online, the lowest common denominator is in full effect, and it's my laziness that causes me to sink to that. I'm pretty sure my online friends would like a little more positivity out of me. Who knows, they may think I'm a total trainwreck, like my RL friends think I have it all together. Of course, neither one is true.

So basically I've succumbed to the schizophrenia of having two communities. There are things I'd talk to someone online about that I wouldn't want to bring up to a friend face to face. I don't think that's right. I'm depriving my real life friends of knowing all sides of me, and I'm depriving my online friends of a productive, nontoxic friendship -- which I'm obviously capable of having.

This is the paradox of the modern disconnection culture, or one of them. You cling to the people you know in real life and don't trust that they'll stick around, while you use the people you don't see in person as a sounding board for all your negative stuff you won't show to the RL friends. It's very odd.

There are a few people, of course, who fit into both categories (I'm equally comfortable talking to them online and in person), and these people get the real deal. The only thing that this took was a whole lot of time.

Friday, August 31, 2007

On adaptation

I haven't worked steady since March. I got married in June and have been working very infrequently since then. This has given me a lot of time to read and think about things related, not coincidentally, to saving money, consumption issues, and why I worked full-time at decent wages for eight years and have not much to show for it.

Now, I'm about to start a full-time contract job that will last at least until the end of September. It doesn't pay amazingly well, but it is steady money. It's money that I know when it will arrive and how much it's going to be. It's stability.

There have been some hints and allegations from my loved ones (none taken the wrong way, of course) that when I'm solvent again, I won't be so heavy into the anticonsumer, not buying it mindset. The implication is that I made myself believe that living a nonmaterialist lifestyle is the right thing to do because that is the ONLY thing I could do. The implication is not that I'm hypocritical, but that I had to adapt.

Like a person who's been diagnosed with a fatal disease and is given a year to live might start believing in God and heaven, to take an extreme example. That way she keeps herself sane and keeps herself from completely falling apart into the hopelessness of it all. But say she's cured or that she was misdiagnosed, and now she can look forward to a long, healthy life again. Will she forget about her strong belief that she'd taken up during her illness, since it wasn't serving her needs anymore?

I don't think she would. And I don't think I will. The anticonsumerist mindset is not a trend or a fad, for me. I feel very strongly about it. Of course when I'm working I'll have to go out to lunch sometime like I would when I was working full-time before. But now, I can think about what I'm ordering, where it came from, whether it's got ingredients in it that I'm not comfortable with, what kind of systems are in place so that I could get that food, in addition to how much I'm spending on it.

The philosophy I'm developing isn't just about saving money, it's about workable systems. Not just workable for me and my family and our budget, either -- workable for society, for my community. The anticonsumerist philosophy is environmental, economical, psychological, political, and sustainable. I've mostly talked about the psychological aspect in this blog, because that's the part that fascinates me -- why we're so susceptible to brainwashing by this machine. But it entails all those aspects, in varying degrees of progression and understanding.

The personal is political. This journey has taught me that I don't need to consume to be a professional, or to be successeful at work. And while I'm on my lunch break, if I buy a $2 McDonald's value meal, I'm saving money -- but I'm not holding true to my ethic, I'd only be serving one part of that ethic. There aren't very many things that can serve every part of the ethical construct. But I've got to try to do better than just one piece of it.

So while I'll have more personal income soon than I have had, I'm not just going to ditch this journey I'm on. That doesn't even follow for me. The perspective I've gained now will benefit me the rest of my life -- that's what my best friend told me when we talked about this the other night. She's right -- and it will benefit me whether I become a millionaire or move off the grid and live entirely self-sufficiently. I think this is what's called a personal philosophy. I never entirely had one before.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

On dichotomy

The market has united us all as consumers, but divided us as citizens. I don't mean divided us into two parties or anything like that. I mean divided each one of us into two parts: the "I-want" consumer and the "We-should" citizen.

Here's an example I'm dealing with right now. If I eat locally and organically, maybe a hamburger and french fries dinner will cost about $7 for me -- that's if I cook at home, not if I eat out. If I eat the same amount of food, with the same amount of protein and "fuel," at a fast food restaurant, I can spend as little as $2. Obviously there are health issues at play, but all things equal (amount of grease and salt used, etc.), the mass-market option costs me less. That's money I can use, since we're none of us rolling in the dough. Five dollars saved for dinner is not negligible.

Then there's WalMart. The writer I'm reading, Benjamin Barber, calls the new economy "the WalMart economy." The WalMart economy divides each of us between our desire and sometimes our need for cheap products -- not because we're supporting Asian sweatshop labor but because we do not have $200 for a local, renewable-resource, craft-made set of dishes. What we have is $30 for the on-sale stuff made in China, and sold at WalMart. But given the choice, would you buy the same toilet paper for $1 a four-pack on sale at WalMart, or $3.50 at your independent drugstore? Well?

That's the problem. For me, and most of my friends and family, the issue is not "I want it cheap and I like to go to WalMart!" (as Barber claims is our infantile "gimme" desire). The issue goes beyond that into what can we actually afford in this economy that looks to go sideways at any time, and leave our generation with no Social Security and no retirement funds. But we also know that the WalMart and fast food model is not something we can afford, either, as a society.

So I've figured out the way to get out of it. Of course, it's theoretical ... and on something like TP, you can't really do this ... but the only way I see to get out of this is to get off the ride of where to get this stuff entirely. Just jump off. If I think I need something and can get it for cheap at a big box, or I can get it for too much money locally made, maybe I don't really need it. I can improvise something else, I can get it for free on freecycle, I can buy it secondhand in any number of places, I can borrow it from a friend, I can fix what I have that the new product would replace, or I can just do without it.

Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.

That's why I want to grow and raise my own fruit and vegetables. This gets me off the organic/local is expensive / Safeway is cheap seesaw. Right now I just try to compromise and buy local, organic, and cheap stuff.

And then when it comes to the TP, the only option is to support my independent drugstore. I can save that $2.50 by failing to go into WalMart at all and picking up those other things that seem to attach to big box shoppers like leeches.

Monday, August 27, 2007

On Christmas

This Christmas I hope to do all homemade, used, or edible/use-up-able gifts. I HOPE, I'm saying. Not "I resolve" or "I will" or any of that. Right now it sounds incredibly easy. Just knit socks for the parents and the husband. Well, I don't know how to knit a usable sock just yet. That's OK. I can learn.

For my dad's birthday (December 3) I want to make him a spice collection with herbs and spices from the co-op. The container will be hard to find but I'll figure out something -- likely something I already have or from a thrift store. Then for Christmas, I'm going to write him a book of my recipes (many using the spices!). He knows how to cook, he just doesn't have much of a repertoire.

For my mom's birthday (December 21) I'm going to send her a bunch of books from here. She lives in a very small town without a bookstore or much of a library -- and what library there is, she can't use because she's highly allergic to cats and if someone with a cat has touched the book, and my mom opens it, she'll have trouble breathing. She doesn't feel like driving an hour to the nearest Barnes and Noble is a good use of her time and fuel and I agree. So I have more books than I can ever read in a lifetime, including a lot that I've already read and don't intend to reread. Off they will go. For Christmas it's the socks, or a hat if I can't seem to make the socks. It just doesn't sound that hard to spend time on gifts that are usable (not macrame things that people have to find space for on their walls), gifts that don't take up too much space in someone else's house, and that don't cost more in money than in time, and that don't add to the endless consumption machine that eats us alive, especially around the holidays. The hell with all that! Socks ahoy!

Friday, August 24, 2007

On toys

I'm reading "Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole," by Benjamin Barber. It is simultaneously blowing my mind and echoing back what I think. I'm not going to quote the author, but I'm not even 100 pages in and it's already stirring up some pretty good questions, new ways to think about how we "all are."

When did adults start wanting toys? The deeper you get into this stuff, the weirder it gets. I first wanted to say it was the advent of the PC. No, it was video games (but weren't those first for kids? I don't think I knew many adults who played video games when I was a kid). No, it was muscle cars, points out my husband. No, maybe it was even before that. I go back to my life's source material, Little House on the Prairie, and I remember Pa whittling checkers and playing Laura, and then playing the men in town. Were all those men guilty of infantilism? Or is a game not a toy? I would hardly have thought the men who played checkers during the Long Winter were playing with children's toys, but does it fit under the definition?

When did marketers -- merchants -- ANYONE lose their souls enough to consider children "the prime target"? And can you protect a child, your own child, from this without raising them in the woods? We don't seriously consider having children, as I've mentioned here before, but if we did, I would push hard for homeschooling -- not to keep my kid safe from other kids or whatever they may have to deal with socially at school, or even to give them a better education than I think they could get at a public or private school. I would homeschool to avoid the Coke sponsorships in the hallways, to avoid Channel One and its Nike advertising, to avoid the story questions about "If Chris has four Oreos and Melissa has eight Oreos ..." with an Oreo coupon on the paper book cover.

I will paraphrase Barber here. He says: We may think we have a choice -- the choice not to participate in the consumption machine. But our only choice is really HOW we will participate, not if.

That is something I just don't buy, excuse the expression. I'm just not there yet. I don't think buying veggies at a farmer's market counts as participation in the consumption machine. I don't think making your own sweaters does -- even if you buy the yarn. I don't think making your bread does, even though you have to get the flour from somewhere. You could take it further back and say, like Father did in Farmer Boy: On a farm, a man is free and independent. You grow what you wear (they raised sheep), you grow what you eat, and you cut your shelter from your own timber. But Father bought the first pair of sheep from someone; they didn't rise from the ground like tree stumps. He bought seed potatoes and seed carrots. He bought the loom that Mother spun the yarn on. He bought the woodstove she cooked on. He bought the saw he cut the trees down with. You get the idea.

So that's where Father drew the line on participation in the machine. Buying the raw materials is OK; buying the finished product is not. For me, I draw it a little further down the line than that -- and hopefully it's not just because this is what I do. To me, it's about the where, and the who grows what you buy question. So tomatoes from Safeway are part of the machine; tomatoes from the farmer's market or the CSA are not. Bread you make yourself isn't, bread you buy is. A pair of jeans bought second hand is not. A pair of new jeans is. These are all my lines in the sand, and I'm drawing new ones every day.

My husband said, "I know you're just walking over this ground for the first time," with regards to consumerism dominating my reading, writing and most conversation. That's the truth. I just wish it hadn't even taken me this long to get here.

(Postscript: When I was in high school, I wouldn't buy anything unless it came from a thrift store. Six years later it was all Banana Republic, Victoria's Secret and Old Navy, all the time. So it seems I have been here before, in a sense.)

Monday, August 20, 2007

The Humanity

Some days I don't feel too good about humanity. I feel like most people I know, and everyone I don't know are judgmental fuckatoos who won't cut anyone else any slack. I feel like we're a warped society, manipulated and brainwashed into the idea that image and "cool" are everything, or contorted into the idea that we have to reject those things and so does everyone else or they are just "mundanes." Either way it's a hell of a lot of judging, condemning, smack talking, and general asshattery. I hope you pardon the language in this post but I'm just about at the end of my rope here.

People are cruel, and it's worse than seventh grade. I'm not the victim of this because I manage to straddle enough people's "cool" lines to get by fine, but I certainly see it often enough, and hear it out of my own mouth a lot of times, and those of my friends, who are really good people yet we all feel compelled to judge and critique each other into the ground (not face to face, of course). In talking to my mom, who's in her mid-50s, this is also how her friendships operate. I don't need to talk to my 16-year-old cousin, who got flamed online for being "ugly" and having the audacity to have a girlfriend who loves him, to know it happens in that age group. My point is not that some people are judgmental. My point is that it's systemic across society. I don't know when it happened or what to do about it, so I probably need to stop paying attention for awhile or I'll make myself into as much of a crank as the type of people I'm (you guessed it) kvetching about right now.

Here's what it has to do with simplicity. One of my mantras is: "It's not too late for a little bit of clean living." And it's not.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Little House

I learned to read early, and the first things I ever read that weren't picture books were the Little House on the Prairie books. I took a break from them in high school and college, but since becoming an adult I've had a Little House renaissance and am closely reading them again for all the details, as well as reading every bit of Little House scholarship or lit crit that I can find. It's getting to the point where (so says my mom) I'm an expert in my own right on these books. I'm not sure if I'd go that far. She thinks I should publish a book. Right now I'll start with a blog.

I'll get into the domestic details in a later post (my favorite character was always, and remains, Ma). Right now I want to outline a few reasons why I have Little House worship. In short, the 1880s-90s are my ideal decade, and the western frontier my ideal time-travel destination. Here are some reasons why:

There was no advertising.
There was minimal "pop culture."
The family was the center of life.
The community was the center around that center.
Everyone made something.
You knew where your food was coming from (barring Long Winters).
You knew what ingredients were and were not in your food.
You had to work with the Earth.
Your rhythms were in sync with the days and nights.
Nobody was "cool."
Nobody was "ironic."
You didn't have to worry so much about your life path, only how well you were doing.
You had to wait a few months to get a letter. You enjoyed the letter a lot more.
Ditto for new clothes, household items, and the newspaper.
Nobody got bored.
There was always something that needed doing or the structure wouldn't hold.
There was a sense of purpose.

Now for some cons, or reasons why I'd probably like it better now:

You had to be a Christian.
Women couldn't do anything but marry or live at home.
Women had no control over parenthood. They spent a lot of time pregnant.
If your family were assholes you couldn't leave.
If your family was poor, often there was no way to improve the situation.
Medical care was poor, rare, and prohibitively expensive.
Disabled people had to stay home and could not have their own lives.
Women whose husbands died often fell into abject poverty.
Children of such families often couldn't go to school.

So from these off-the-cuff lists, I have a conclusion: If things are normal, life in the Little House era was wonderful. But if anything went wrong, everything could get far more screwed up and more seriously screwed up than now. There was less margin for error, acts of God, disasters, sickness and death. There was not much of a safety net.

The question now is how to take those positive aspects (family, community, purpose, thrift, busy-ness, ignorance of pop/cool culture) and integrate them into the very safety-netted time we're in now. I suppose this is the best of all worlds and I hadn't looked at it that way before.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

On community

A lot changes in your life when you get married, goes the conventional wisdom. Maybe your name changes (mine didn't), maybe you plan to start a family (not so much here), maybe your relatives got too drunk and now they aren't speaking to each other (thankfully, a negative).

I'm not going to get into the relationship aspects of what changed for me when I got married. But one thing that did happen was a pretty seismic shift in the way I looked at community. It happened on our honeymoon, in a cabin at Willamette Pass, Oregon. Before leaving Ashland, I had just finished reading a blog post by an Internet friend, where she asked for advice on what to do with a financial situation. As it usually happens online, 30 or 40 people responded with suggestions. As it usually goes with people telling you what to do online, she took none of them (and was no better off for it).

I was venting about this, in our cabin, to my new spouse. It sounds funny to call him that when I've known him seven years, but there you are. Why even ask!?, I complained. Nobody's going to ever take the advice of someone on the Internet. So then we got into this discussion, while I cooked pasta puttanesca on the stove and the temperature outside dropped into the 40s, about what online communities are good for. I said, kind of tongue-in-cheek, they were good for naming your dog and your kid. Who hasn't seen those polls? "What should I name my kid" and then 5 suggestions which you're supposed to vote for. I wonder if the one that wins ever gets picked. In my experience the name that's chosen wasn't even on the original list, proving that these people had the capability to pick out the perfect name without ever involving the Internet.

He said: "For all of history before 1990, people were able to name their dogs by themselves."

Anyway. With the dog name poll out of the way we started talking about more serious Internet and community issues. I won't reproduce the entire conversation here, but what I came out of it (and this is the changey part) is this: The greatest investment of one's social energy should be in their in-person community.

This is way different from how I'd thought before. I know people for whom "the Internet" IS their social life. I never thought it was weird, just figured there were more people they could relate to online. The problem is, is it really relating, especially when it's blogged (I'm thinking more LiveJournal than blogger) and not directed to anyone? Email is one thing. Email is like a phone call, but quiet. Text BBSing and LJ, the two Internet social avenues that I've had anything to do with, feel to me more like ... consumption. Oh, it's all coming together, isn't it. Well, it's funny, but it is.

When I read a post from someone I have never met face to face, and it's not "to me," I feel almost like I'm reading a book (depending on the quality of the writing, I suppose). Who hasn't wanted to jump into a book and make friends with the characters, or tell them exactly what they think? Maybe give them advice ("It's coming from INSIDE the house! Don't trust that guy!"). Maybe just bond with them because you're so much alike. Is the Internet one big book, and we all are characters and we all are readers? I think for some that might sound actually attractive. But to me ... well, I like to have a drink with my friends. Go over to their house and play with their dog, swap clothes, have them over for eggnog. I think I may be stuck in the 1950s. (Really it's the 1880s. I'll get to that in another post.)

There's a certain kind of energy you have to put into face-to-face interactions. It takes way more investment -- emotionally, physically, mentally -- sometimes financially -- than doing the same thing online. There's a certain part of the brain that lights up when you see another human face, and it does not light up when you get even the most personal of messages sent to you online. I think the investment is worth it. I don't think face to face, local, in-person community should fall at the hands of something that's much EASIER.

The Internet is good for a lot of things. What I'm doing now, for instance -- reading others' progress toward a certain end (simplification, financial independence, environmentalism) and sharing my own experiences toward this same end. The point is to gain understanding about what we've undertaken. I'm likely to add a thrift blogger to my reading list, but I'm not likely to add a monster truck fanatic's blog to it EVEN IF I love their "personality."

The Internet is good for information, and relating in a goal-driven way. The Internet is great for keeping in touch with friends (the ones you see and love in person) who are far away. It's cheaper than long distance and it's a good way to send family photos. But the Internet is not a substitute for community.

This is so different from what I believed since I got online in 1995 -- even while maintaining a pretty large circle of real-life friends and acquaintances -- I felt like you could never have enough Internet friends, too. Even ones I'd never met. Even ones I met and didn't get along with in person. If someone was interesting (and who isn't?) I felt compelled to add them to my list of Internet friends, and this was before LJ collated them all into "friends." But it started going into overdrive. The bigger your Internet circle gets, the more interesting people you meet and the more you and they start to think of one another as "friends." And become invested in each other's lives -- emotionally, not just intellectually invested.

When it got to the point where I'd rather sit home and chat online (to someone I'd never met in person) than go to dinner with some friends of the family, I knew something had gone wrong. We only have a certain amount of energy that can go toward socializing. I'm pretty energetic and I have this limit. When time is invested toward online friends, that energy and time will take away from OFFline friends, or even people right there in your own neighborhood. The relationship with your store clerk, I will argue, is more important than the relationship with someone who shares your interest in the poetry of Phil Rizzuto (RIP, Scooter) who lives across the country. I hadn't believed this to be true until a few months ago. Now it's pretty much unshakeable.

I have a lot more to say on this subject, including: my mom's assertion that you can't be picky when it comes to local community (you may not like the way that store clerk dresses, but unless he's a total asshat, it's still important to interact with the guy); the Internet's ability to feed the instant gratification urge (I write something; I don't want to wait till I can show it to my girlfriend at dinner in a week. I want feedback on it NOW!); the Internet as a place to share things you would not share with your girlfriend at dinner or with anyone who knows you in real life and is liable to label you a freak based on what you share (I wouldn't show my cousin or my husband's best friend's wife this Harry Potter fanfic, but there are 20,000 women online who will eat it up) -- and whether that stuff should be shared at all. Does every bit of information about every person out there with a computer want to be free, as the open sourcers say? Or is there some value in the self-censorship we have to do to maintain our real-life relationships?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

On consuming

I can't condemn my younger self for anything; we all grow, and this is the phase of life I'm in now. But I wish I'd known when I was younger -- even two or three years younger -- what I understand now about buying things to fill up my life instead of doing things to fill up my life. The desire for things that was actually a desire for a different aspect of my life. The wish for status, at the expense of the future.

Right now I don't see myself having any kids, but if I did, the thing I'd try to teach them (because who else would listen to me except, maybe, my own offspring?) is that the consumption machine is just that -- a machine, which we're fed through since we're conscious -- since we're 1 and 2 years old all the way until the day we die (and even after, if you want to buy a prestige coffin...). The work-to-shop, earn-to-spend ethos is so ingrained in our society that it's a wrench to get us out of it. But now I know: we do not need all the shit we're told we need, or even that we're told that we should want. You can be a classy person without the goods. You can be a smart person without the accoutrements. You can be attractive without all the product, even. That's what I know myself, now, and what I wish I'd known earlier.

In my 20s, I bought because I earned. I thought I earned it -- the word does more than imply it, the word tells you you deserve what you want to buy from the machine, because you work so hard. I'm not advocating stopping work and stopping spending. I wish I had thought, when I was 24, that I didn't need the $40 blouse I saw just because I could afford it. It's not the large things I regret. It's the small things -- all the small things, since I started full-time work in 1999. It was the comfort shopping, the shopping out of lack of anything else to do, the shopping because I was missing meaning and community. And then when I moved to San Francisco in 2001, I had meaning and community, but I also felt I had to shape up for The City coming from a smaller town where fashion was purely the domain of teenagers. Here, fashion was more for adults: people exactly my age. I bought into that, and I bought -- everything I thought I needed. I didn't spend $300 on a pair of heels; that wasn't my bag. I didn't buy anything much over $100, whether it was clothes or anything else. But it doesn't really matter about the numbers. I BOUGHT because I could.

Now I can't so much, and that's what it took. Now I know. I wasn't raised with materialistic parents, didn't grow up with the cheerleader gang, didn't go to an Ivy League school or move to a rich neighborhood. So even someone moderate like me still ended up buying the line: you need to buy, because you deserve it, because you can.

Well, now I deserve not to buy. I don't remember the last time I went shopping for something that was for me, and not for my wedding or a gift, in the last four months. Four months is not a long time, but I feel like there's no going back. Something final has shifted. I value almost anything now more than consuming.

But even with this knowledge, even with the forgiveness of the younger me, the line keeps running through my head, "Why didn't I know it then?!"

Friday, August 10, 2007

Walk out with me toward the Unknown Region

The title comes from a Whitman poem, repurposed by Veda Hille into a lovely piece of music.

I might use this to write about: urban self-sufficiency, downshifting, compacting/not buying, baseball, San Francisco, physical vs. virtual community and a-plenty of other things as they come to me. But mainly I wanted to have a Blogger account so I can comment on other people's blogs without it showing up as Anonymouse every time.