Big Mamma Dilemma

I tried to think about the ramifications of a year without buying and naturally some things got left out. For instance, the Mother of All dilemmas slipped my mind. I knew my artwork was going to be reproduced in a book but I didn't know that I would make the cover! And so I face my first huge problem. I've managed to avoid buying tupperware and alarm clocks and all sorts of things to make my life easier. But can I bring myself to give up this bit of vanity? In a few months we'll know. Bill says that if his work appears in print, damn any compact. Ah, how easy it is to sell your soul to the devil! Hey--is that sulfur I smell?

Studio Time and My Vintage Tango

Last year, in the midst of an intense purging of household "stuff" I thought about filling envelopes and boxes with extras from my art studio and mailing them off to random friends, acquaintances and postcardx strangers. But this is a good year to actually use all the goodies I've been acquiring for the last several calendars. So far I've accomplished multiple projects using only what's squirreled away in my cabinets and drawers, including a series of 35 mini art quilts, 21 4"x4" hand-stamped art prints, several hand-carved stamps, 30 artist papers, 100+ 1" collage squares, atc's, artistamps and a zine! Whew! I don't think I've made a dent in my supplies.

Yet, traveling by my favorite antiques haunt, I felt a tremendous compulsion to stop. I've always gone in, just to browse, in search of no particular item. This is a mondo difficult pleasure to give up. But as far as I can tell it's shopping in its purest form. The acquisition of material goods for no other reason than to own little pretties. A year's moratorium on that kind of shameless pursuit of goods can't do anything but good. That won't stop the sweats that break out within a few yards of every antique shoppe, old schoolhouse full of vintage discards and retro boutique. I admit it. I like stuff that's curious and tells a story. And I'd rather own it than visit it in a museum. I just have to keep reminding myself that it does little, if anything at all, to make my life better. So, another deep breath, and keep on driving. All those antiques have survived this many years--they'll still be there next year if I decide I want them. But I'm hoping that next year's person is new, improved and a world away from shopping fever. A girl can dream.


MCY : The Zine

Since I am an artsy type and a mail art glutton, I've turned this blog into a personal zine. Ish #1 is ready to mail--all 24 pages. It's a reprint of blog entries interspersed with some funky collages like the ones here. If you want one, simply send me a fun postcard or mail art of any kind with your address visible and the word "compact" somewhere on it and I'll send you MCY The Zine in return. It's a quarter sheet-sized black-and-white photocopied rag, but it's mine. And it can be yours too! Think of all the recycled bits here from my stash! Even the text is recycled! Mail to ephemeral alchemy at post office box 1092 in holland, michigan with a zip of 49422-1092. That's not so hard now, is it? I should add that the offer will be limited if I'm deluged. Don't email me or leave a comment requesting a zine--I want mail art, so gimme some! Tit for tat my friend.


Revenge of the Mind Candy

Bill tells me that the reason I desire to acquire is a longstanding homage to the hunter-gatherer in my genes. Centuries ago I would have been downing mammoths with my bow and arrow and filling my apron with bounties of found fruit, but as this is 2007 I am more likely to toddle over to the local Barnes & Noble and collect knowledge in paper form. Yes, books. Intoxicating, magical, orgasmic oceans of wonder. My personal addiction. But I've given them up for the year.

There was a definite salivation earlier today when my colleague at the library mentioned that the latest issue of Quilting Arts had arrived down in the processing area. I do mean salivation--of the Pavlovian puppy kind. The thought of possibly *new* and *improved* knowledge all packaged up with vibrant illustrations caused a physical reaction. I don't know whether to feel embarrassed or shrug it off as normal.

If I take a step back and evaluate the long-term emotional value of owning books, the hollowness is apparent. The rush, however, is quite real. My regular visits to the bookstore have yielded oodles of treasures...even if 95.8% of them have never been read from cover to cover. It's true that after the first blush of acquisition the honeymoon only lasts a day or two, then it's into the slush pile with all the other half-finished but much desired volumes. It is a certainty that I will never get back to them. There are too many new conquests to woo to get hung up on yesterday's news.

My library use is definitely up this year as I try to satisfy that hunger for newer and better mind candy without yielding to the shopping monster. It's revealed the real impetus behind my ownership mentality: my staggering lack of patience. Each book is a lover I yearn to embrace and there's sure to be a temper tantrum if I have to wait. Much easier to plop down a debit card than get in line behind a bunch of undeserving book whores. But this year mine is not the easy road. Add to the list of challenges the ability to appreciate what I have right now, right here before me. Learning to put my name on a waiting list and letting go of it. Getting past a few greasy fingerprints and beach sand in the creases. Realizing that mind candy is all around me and isn't dependent on a book warehouse with an espresso shop. Life is my mind candy, and it's all free.


Unfamiliar Jingle

My wallet is singing a new tune. There's an unfamiliar "jingle" to my step. It's cash. I can't get rid of it. Between no purchases in the last 14 days and bringing my own mug to work for hot beverages, the money I took out of the bank is growing moss. My former money mindlessness is replaced by awareness, and even more exciting; the possibility of harnessing my jingle for a bigger cause. The urge to spend is a constant companion but it's merely a habit born out over many years. Similarly, the need to be nibbling hasn't gone away. I've just replaced cookies and candy with their lower-carb brethren--nuts and green tea.

You would think this would be enough to work on for one year. But alas, in another cost-cutting measure handed down from our inner scrooge, we are venturing toward the Luddite border. It's not quite that bad--the Internet is alive and well at our house. But my mobile "habit" has been nipped in the bud with the forfeiture of my Treo universe. No more driving while thumbtexting emails. My phone is mostly just a phone now. Ouch.

And thus, having been deprived of the constant stream of exciting, synapses-popping experiences, I have to find other uses for my mental energy. I believe I can learn to better appreciate the stimulation I do get by slowing down inbetween and digesting my life.

As for the jingle, I'd better hide it from my teenagers. That's a tune they're sure to recognize and want to dance to.


The Sweet Life

I've always billed myself as a hedonist. The brevity and uncertainty of life seemed to call for it. Recently, I've had much cause to ponder the concept of natural sweetness and how overloading on peak experiences blunts our appreciation in both physical and metaphysical ways.

This year finds me challenging my eating habits, morphing my sugar addicted lifestyle into a moderated, low-glycemic one. It didn't take long for me to taste the sweet life. It takes no more than a few days for the taste buds to spring back to duty after years of blunting with sugar. It turns out that sugar is but a drop in the ocean of sweetness, and I was making a poor substitution. So poor that I just now discovered fruit is actually sweeter than doughnuts. I'd always considered fruit to be something you ate when there were no cookies available; the poor man's cake. The glorious complexity of the naturally sweetened world was lost on me.

There are chemical reasons why sugar-laden goodies are the valium of the taste-buds. A substance called lactisole is manufactured by sugar companies, and at concentrations of 100–150 parts per million in food lactisole largely suppresses the ability to perceive sweet tastes from sugar and artificial sweeteners. Huge amounts of sugar can be added to products like sports drinks without the tell-tale taste we associate with sugar. Googling "natural sweetness" yields 122,000 entries. It looks like I'm not the only one searching for it. It's worth finding.

As I sit here savoring a whole bran blueberry muffin (sugarless but incredibly sweet), still warm from the oven, I reflect on how my appreciation for every experience has deepened. The urge to submerge myself in a big box store or designer boutique bursting with the heady fragrance of new merchandise is still there. But, increasingly, it feels more and more like a circus.

Last night, a quest for mouthwash took me past the personal beauty section of our local grocery emporium--a former favorite haunt. As a new consumption outsider, the bright lights, startling colors and huge seductive signs appeared to have all the hallmarks of the Las Vegas strip. Win a chance to be model-perfect, they scream; only $8.99 per roll of the dice. It's difficult to focus on natural sweetness with all that hype flooding the senses.

Natural sweetness can be found virtually anywhere and it costs very little. It's a matter of beating back the brambles of too many peak experiences and uncovering our appreciation. Dusting it off and tuning it to the complex beauty of subtler experiences requires some time away from consumerism. But the reward is wonderful. Suddenly, the mundane is spectacular again and simple things like naturally-sweetened blueberry bran muffins become a reason to smile. I like that.


Novelties 'R Us

Novelty: the quality of being new; also refers to something novel--that which is striking, original or unusual.
Novelties: small manufactured adornments; a toy or collectible.

Once the bug for something new gets under my skin, it's a hard sucker to obliterate. Case in point. My nose piercing was radical, given my career and social sphere. It's a small sphere, but I'm afloat in a larger pool of conservative certainties, which makes me about as popular as a germ at an immune system convention. It's been 8 months now and the novelty (definition #1) has worn off. At least for me. I still get double-takes, but more smiles of recognition than anything else.

Now I have the itch to plunk down some green for definition #2. I want to swap out my stainless steel ring for something fun. Cost is not a factor, but the compact is. I suspect that used nose jewelry is not a popular commodity and even if it was, I don't think I could go there. This falls to the same disturbing area of the brain where I store all the other senseless learned taboos like "can't eat food that has a hair in it." Technically, there is no reason not to share sterilized jewelry, but I've been mind-screwed out of it.

I can't believe that the piercing jewelry comes from anywhere but third-world countries, pumped out by uncaring, resource-mining corporations, despite being sold in hip shops marketing themselves as underdogs. So unless I find someone handcrafting nose jewelry out of recycled bits, I'm not going to get my novelty for the coming year. The smart bet, however, is that I'm going to be trying to put my earring studs on double duty. At least until I realize it wasn't meant to be or until I suck an earring back into my lungs during the night.

This leaves me obsessing over my nose ring. It's boring. Unoriginal. Usual. I'm left to wonder why I have such a strong need for novelty. It may be a human trait, or it may be my initiation into the world of spoiled, affluent America. Either way, I'm going to find a big stick and beat it out of myself.

Today's euphemism: "Value Engineering"

Yesterday there was a call for an alarm clock from the teenage department of our household.
My first response was to wrack my brain trying to recall whether I'd seen a surplus of usable clocks at the local thrift shops. My second thought was a recounting of all the alarm clocks I've had and disposed of in 45 years of living. A series of plain and fancy units began dancing in the fog which purports to be my memory. I determined to better understand "planned obsolescence" to see if I've been a victim. It turns out that there is a business buzzword for the concept--"value engineering." Have alarm clock manufacturers engineered their interests above mine?

The insidious markers of planned obsolescence show up in two ways. The cost of repair equals or exceeds the cost of replacement or repair is impossible because parts are made unavailable. And to keep us buying new new new they make sure prior versions are not interoperable with current ones and that the stream of "new enhancements" (technically minor) are hyped to the max.

Although I don't lose sleep worrying about the fashionableness of my bedside radio, at some point old technology looks embarrassing. An accidental amble down the electronics aisle is likely responsible for most of my "updates." But the last clock I remember tossing in the trash was too complicated to figure out and the battery cover had joined the cast of missing household goods. Somehow those seemed like good enough reasons to give up on it. How pitiful is that? My thoughtless tossing of endless paper cups and packaging materials has degenerated into a wholesale abandonment of the value of useful things. Magic things have become more important than useful things, which is why I'll shop all day for that special something that sparks an endorphin rush, but I can't seem to honor a chunk of metal that gets me to work on time.


Non-Consumption: The Anti-Drug

Not purchasing, like not eating (ie. dieting) is anticlimactic. Here I am, not buying anything, which is essentially a non-act. It doesn't look very much different from sitting and cogitating or simply living my life; reading a book, editing photos, cleaning the kitchen. The real activity is the war raging in my mind. Just like dieting - the constant denial of scratching the itch to eat something gooey and delicious - not consuming is a war waged with self-talk.

The real question is what *haven't* I bought. I can tell you both what I haven't eaten and what I haven't purchased in the last week. That's a pitiful state to be in. There was the degrading rationalization of those weight loss DVD's which, inexplicably, are the only things on the planet not available used from eBay. Despite an intimate knowledge of limited carb diets, a plethora of books on the topic and a lifetime of readings on diet (not to mention access to the Internet and multiple online communities of dieters), my brain has convinced me that the knowledge contained in these particular DVD's surpasses all which has gone before. I had planned to buy them before the year ended and simply put it off a few weeks, never suspecting that I might take a flight of fancy and change my consumption habits altogether. What if, I told myself, what if I pretend that I ordered them last year and they are just now arriving? What if my need to lose weight is more important than my desire to save the planet? I have to accept that I'm going to have a number of wars with myself this year.

Both arenas of non-action are going to have to become lifestyles. At that point they'll cease to be anti-anything. They'll just be part of who we are and what we stand for. And that's a good thing.

The Cadillac Karma

According to Douglas and Isherwood (summarized in "Not Buying It" by Levine), "consumption is an instrument that both confers social privilege and effects social exclusion." It was the year of the Cadillac Seville that opened my eyes to the social influence of goods. In line at the local coffee drive-thru I realized that I felt pity for the cars around me. Rusted, emitting smoke, dented. Nothing like my well-used but pristine Cadillac. Somehow I'd also managed to dredge up a sense of disdain for anyone driving a larger, more expensive car (SUV syndrome). Driving a better car surely had no impact on being a better, or worse person, yet I detected an undercurrent of judgment based on the hulking metal shells we chose as our facade. Here it was an undercurrent. That's only because I'm somewhat removed from the screaming ads on popular media, having no television. We aren't much better than hermit crabs taking up residence in ever shinier beach combings. It made me sick to realize that I actually felt superior because of my ride. So some of us come to these realizations later in life. Since that time I've worked to reduce my dependence on status trappings for self-esteem. It is not easy--probably impossible as I sit here realizing I'm one of the world's richest .59% of inhabitants (http://www.globalrichlist.com). This year will be a great time to evaluate how I put that privilege to use.