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.


Not Buying It

I recommend "Not Buying It : My Year Without Shopping" by Judith Levine as a thoughtful introduction to the life of non-consumption from a secular, feminist perspective. Levine goes all the way and eliminates all luxury items, including entertainment. A provacative look at what it means to be relatively affluent in the city of plenty--New York. She has a wonderful grasp of some of the philosophical pro's and con's of choosing non-consumption.

Fearing What We Don't Understand

Working from the theory that understanding my consumption "problem" will help me overcome it, I've gathered a pile of reading for this undertaking. Grabbed off the library shelf today: "Consuming Desires : Consumption, Culture and the Pursuit of Happiness" by Rosenblatt, "Spree : A Cultural History of Shopping" by Klaffke, "I Want That : How We All Became Shoppers" by Hine, and "Call of the Mall" by Underhill. I also picked up "Sleeping With Extra-Terrestrials : The Rise of Irrationalism and Perils of Piety" by Kaminer, which has absolutely nothing to do with consumer habits but may relate in some small way to my "book issue." At least I have found interesting reading material at the library and avoided Barnes & Noble (aka the crack store). I'm hoping to find some insights here. Although understanding is not the same as action, it may spur some kind of self-talk to help me get through the bleaker moments of not consuming.

Happiness is as Happiness Does

I am a true believer in Daniel Gilbert's (Stumbling on Happiness) premise that happiness consists of a series of small joys scattered throughout the day. If I deny myself the fractional rewards I rely on for my mini-thrills, what will I find to replace them? I'm not willing to choose unhappiness in order to balance my ecological footprint with the rest of the world, so I will have to find a substitute to the easy joys I've entertained myself with. I could name them, but you probably know what they are. They range from a freshly-brewed cup of steaming espresso in a cozy atmosphere bundling tasteful decor with relaxing music to a zen-inspired bottle of ridiculously fragrant bubble bath promising many nights of sensory intoxication.

But what acts do I commit which actually have a negative impact on my joy quotient? One of the purchases I immediately mourned was art magazines. The library doesn't carry my favorites, and even if they did, I *need* to hoard every issue to collect all those sparks of creativity, like fireflies in a jar. Upon reflection I think that these magazines actually detract from my happiness. Although I eschew television and music videos for their unrelenting focus on what we don't have and what our lives are not, aren't my pretty art magazines guilty of the same crime? They're really quite depressing when I poll my memory. All the art I haven't made, all the artists more talented than me, all the juicy art supplies that might transform me into a "real" artist. Not only do "I want that" but add "I want to have made that" to the mix. I'm entirely better off without them. Who knew?

Saving Time is Like Nailing Jello

I thought that the whole point of achieving a certain level of materialism was the quest to "save time." Presumably, time saved on dreaded activities (washing dishes, taking two days to walk to the next town, cleaning the carpet with a lint roller) is time gained to spend on enjoyable activities (reading, watching movies, reflecting). In reality, my time is entirely fixed. It will pass at exactly the same rate no matter what activity I engage in. Time isn't saved, but rather enterprises swapped out in the hope that I've chosen one more likely to cause bliss. Although I've yet to achieve a state of bliss while watching a movie, there is no harm in hoping. Like a game show contestant I ponder my choices and select the door, package or date most suited to my vision of happiness. I'm usually wrong.

"Saving time" can be pathological. Sometimes I'm so incredibly lazy that I've purchased new items just to save the effort of cleaning the old one. This is particularly true of shower liners. A nice hunk of plastic added to our growing pile of landfill flotsam. Hey, it was slimy. Maybe it's just become more difficult to enjoy work as I've gotten older. It might be a better investment of my time to learn to enjoy each moment, no matter what I'm engaged in. After all, the faster my revved up life accelerates to the finish line, the sooner I'll reach "game over." I don't think my saved time tokens are going to get me much credit at the end. Nailing jello, herding cats, saving time--all impossible tasks. The sooner I realize this, the better.

Climbing the Ladder

Maslow's ladder that is. How many years have I spent scrabbling toward the topmost rung? At some point haven't I achieved the "right" to frivolous waste like lotion-infused tissues (see "Mankind's Greatest Inventions"), pre-packaged salads and 47 colors of nail polish?

What does self-actualization require? This will be my discovery in 2007. Maslow's basic needs are expressed as air, water, food and sex. I've got that covered in spades. The next rung includes security and stability. I'm privileged to have attained these to the level which any American can really possess them in the post-Katrina, post-9/11, post Patriot Act world. The third rung consists of social and psychological needs for love and acceptance. Again, I'm truly fortunate. Beyond these lie the peak experiences available to self-actualized individuals. Nowhere on the heirarchy of needs do I find a new sofa, cherry red lipstick, the crisp, creamy pages of a new book, sparkly earrings or an electric can opener.

If I'm shooting for profound moments of understanding, happiness and rapture (I'd settle for less), a self-sufficiency in the world, and an awareness of truth, justice, harmony and goodness, there isn't anything stopping me. Peak experiences must be based on choice and I can choose to find them in simpler ways. It may be harder but the journey may be, in itself, a peak experience.

Who is That Masked Man?

My self vs. self debate began before the nylons-as-necessity mental tirade. What started as a question about whether nylons were absolutely necessary ended in the complete deterioration of my compact on grounds that it's pointless and arbitrary. So much for self-talk. Could I live without nylons? Of course. Do I want to be seen as the kind of person who goes without stockings? No. I've spent the last 45 years refining my image and learning to live in the limbo between the person I'd project to the world if I had unlimited funds, and the person I can reasonably project. This is a compromise I'm used to. Not so for my teen daughters. They are still at the age where their image is crucial to survival. They haven't achieved the nirvana of not caring--a state made possible by self-esteem. Either the kind bought over a lifetime of struggle or the natural kind a-bubblin' up from the ground like Jed's crude oil. Black gold, Texas tea.

Who is that masked man? Everyone knows. Who is that librarian with the hip glasses, streaked hair and nose ring? Whoops, my ego is showing! I feel devastated by the knowledge that I can afford to have an identity. This particular identity is dependent on shopping, even if it's thrift stores for me and tattoo laden men poking my ears with metal rings. How quaint to have the ability to choose not just anything, but something so very "me." Maybe choosing not to shop is the same as choosing to shop. The mere ability to choose is what brands me as affluent. The choices themselves are insignificant.

The debacle in New Orleans horrified me. Less than a year before Katrina hit I'd been combing Bourbon Street for plastic beads, faux gumbo magnets and cajun alligator sausage, carefully stepping over the homeless and avoiding eye contact with the choiceless. It upset my equilibrium to see the veneer of civility laid bare by a storm. Now people were sleeping and dying in the mall where I'd agonized over which t-shirt to bring home. It's all about perspective. But why is perspective so difficult to maintain?

This year of non-consumption is really a perspective-building exercise. Like having cancer. I hope to emerge a better person.

How Many Coffee Cups Does it Take?

One cup at a time I've clogged landfills with my coffee habit. How many disposable cups have I used in my lifetime and how many does it take to make a mountain? The simple act of making my own coffee in the morning and drinking it from a washable mug will be my first act towards reducing my impact. I'll also bring one to work and realize more garbage savings there. In some larger, more "hip" towns, people schlepp their own mugs to java joints, but I'm not sure what the protocol is here in my town. Would it be a faux pas to show up at McDonalds with a ceramic cup and ask them to "fill 'er up?" Probably. I have a lot to learn.

Along with my endless stream of paper cups with lids, plastic grocery bags line my nightmares. If I get up the courage, I'll bring the old ones along to reuse or find some cloth bags instead. It's hard to imagine how many I'll need for our family of four, but it's worth investigating. Nothing quite says "I'm an eco-hippie wannabee" like bringing your own bags to the grocer.

Mankind's Greatest Inventions

No longer taking things for granted, I've started a list of mankind's greatest inventions--particularly those inventions forbidden during the compact. Headlining in the Hall of Fame is lotion-infused tissue. Today, while I think about my life before and possibly after this stunning innovation, I am grateful, misty-eyed, proud to be an American in a land of nostril-soothing delight. No more coughing and gagging, no more red, itchy noses. Ahhhh. To think that I never really appreciated these little boxes of joy.

Welcome to My Compact Year

On January 3rd, 2007, I read about the San Francisco Compact on our local television station's website. By January 4 I was IN! Could I really make it a year without purchasing my regular consumer goods? I ticked off the days....Jan. 1--everything closed for New Year's Day--no purchases. Whew! January 2--a magazine promising weight loss inspiration and secrets and two packs of safety pins for daughters goth apparel. Not a spending minute wasted here! Time for a new start and a chance to really think about my impact on the planet. Time for my compact year.