Forgive me, Reader, for I have sinned:
Last weekend I had the overwhelming urge to go shopping and buy some new clothes.
It really isn’t all that complicated. I had broken my foot at the beginning of July, I had lazed around on my butt all summer while the foot healed, and I had gained weight. I simply wanted some pants that fit. And maybe a nice, bright, stylish top to go with. And some pretty earrings. I was in full-blown consumer mode for the first time in months, and I didn’t even try to fight it. I stumbled. Hard.
To cut myself a small break, I did try to find a Mardens (a Maine-person owned company, not a conglomerate-owned company) on my way to the mall. I heard there was one going in on the site of the old Wal-Mart in South Portland. Apparently, Wal-Mart had deserted one cement-block box and built a new one a few hundred yards down the road. Someone told me they were selling the old building to Mardens, but the site was still and bleak as only empty, big-box retail buildings can be, devoid of personality or charm.
Even a ghost-town would have more interesting architecture.
Okay, I may be projecting my guilt onto the Wal-Mart’s of the world rather than owning up to my complicity with them. For one thing, last month the school sent home a list of supplies my daughter is supposed to take with her to the middle school. She needed folders, pens, dry-erase markers, colored pencils, book covers (whatever happened to covering books with paper bags from the grocery store–and what do the kids do with dry-erase markers, anyway? Do they get their own white boards?), and a three-ring binder plus reams of paper to go into said binder. I bought what I could at the Sanford Mardens (pens, loose paper, sticky notes, tape, gluestick), but Dear Daughter had specific requirements when it came to the design of folders and notebooks, i.e. they couldn’t be plain and ordinary. They had to be cool and colorful and funky.
Off to the new Sanford Super Wal-Mart we went. Dear Daughter found what she wanted . . . and I came home with a bunch of spiral-bound and marble-top notebooks for me. How could I resist twenty-cent and fifty-cent notebooks? My conscience screamed at me all the way home, but I kept thinking about how in a post-oil future I’d be happy for a supply of paper. Uh-huh. Justification. Self-delusion. The Wages of Sin.
Maybe I was infected right then by the back-to-school virus that makes one long for new clothes, new shoes, and the latest shade of lipstick advertised in the September VOGUE. Or maybe one sin leads to another. In any case, I didn’t have the strength to resist temptation. One Friday night, despite thunderstorm (and tornado!)warnings, I headed to Macy’s women’s department and checked out the sales racks where a pretty fushia top jumped into my hand. No sooner did I think “khaki pants” did the perfect pair present itself . . . in the right size . . . on the other side of the rack. On the way to the dressing room, I spied a blue, ruffled top on clearance. And wouldn’t you know it? They all fit. If I were superstitious, I’d have thought a devil was aiding and abetting.
Here’s the worst part: It felt so good to be in an air-conditioned store with a smorgasboard of clothing options, soothing music pumping through the sound system, and an attentive saleswoman eager to carry my three sale items to the register, where, with a quick swipe of the credit card, I bought myself a big, warm slice of American Consumerism. After six months of local buying and doing-without, that twenty minutes in Macy’s felt like coming home.
I walked out into the humidity of the parking lot with its circles of brightness cast from the sodium-light streetlamps and wondered if maybe I should simply give in and live the life I was born to, this energy-sucking, high-speed, overabundant, luxurious American middle-class life. It’s an old issue for me, this tug-of-war between the world that is and the world as it used to be and might be again. I never felt totally comfortable with modernity, didn’t trust that it could last or even progress much further, and yet for my forty-one years it has continued and it has progressed.
I like to read fashion and shelter magazines, romance novels, and chick lit. I watched the entire run of SEX AND THE CITY, and I just ordered the movie from Netflix and hope to watch it this week. This part of me appreciates our instamatic lifestyle–music at the touch of a button, movies at the click of a mouse, travel at the turn of an ignition key. It’s magic, this life we have here at the edge of the century, and I wonder how many of us actually stop to admire the sheer audacity and brilliance of our modern life even as we ponder the possibility of its ultimate demise.
I’d never heard of personal computer when I was my daughter’s age. The internet hadn’t been developed. A mouse was a little rodent you hoped not to find in your cupboard. Talking to someone on a screen was something from the cartoon The Jetsons, and I remember watching the cartoon and thinking “that will never happen.”
As I type this on my laptop, the little eye of my web cam stares at me, accusingly, like the eye of some techno-god irritated by my lack of faith. Maybe technology will save us, after all, as our oil supplies diminish and we continue on with our consumerish ways. Delusion. Self-deception. Sin?
Is it a sin to want the comforts we’ve enjoyed for so long? I just don’t know for sure. It’s easy to plunk down that credit card and walk out of the mall with new clothes when you don’t stop to think of the third-world worker who made them. When you don’t stop to think about your fellow Americans who lost their jobs when the manufacturing sector closed shop here in the U.S. and moved to those third-world sweat-shop hives. When you refuse to think how those dollars could have been spent supporting a local business struggling to make it in a “flat and crowded” world. (See Thomas Friedman’s book.)
Unfortunately, I thought about those things and suffered pangs of guilt.As penance, I headed off to the brand new farmer’s market in Newfield the next morning. The market was set up at Willowbrook, a historical village and museum. At nine in the morning, the vendors were just setting up, and I was charmed by the setting, the goods on display, and the nice people. I came away with a loaf of Anadama Bread from the Brother’s Bakery in Alfred, a bouquet of curly, green kale, some cookies from the Boy Scout troop, and a pair of earrings.
For those of you in the neighborhood, the market is open at Willowbrook on Saturdays at nine am. There is also a new farmer’s market that has opened up in South Waterboro, just up the street from the Milk Room. This one is also on Saturdays. I checked it out a few weekends ago, on it’s opening day. Vendors were offerering local produce, homemade charcoal for the grill, ice-cream, pottery, and some hot food items. The Shaker Valley Farmer’s Market even had a band on site to celebrate the day. See this write-up about it in the Waterboro Reporter–our local newspaper.
What have I learned from all this? The obvious lesson, of course, is that we aren’t perfect. All we can do is try to do the right thing . . . whatever we think is the right thing . . . as often as we can. For me, this means putting on my new clothes and acknowledging the sheer luck of having been born in this place at this time. It means regretting an impulsive and possibly selfish decision to do what came easiest rather than suck it up and wear the old clothes until I found a local option. It means vowing to do better in the weeks and months ahead.
While out and about, I picked up a book of sewing patterns which included a pattern for a pretty, wrap skirt. That’s one step in the right direction. The book is called WEEKEND SEWING: More than 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Stitching by Heather Ross. Click here to see the book. Ms. Ross has compiled a lovely bunch of sewing projects including table napkins, an apron, a tunic, kids clothes, and even slippers! She has included patterns that can be traced onto transfer paper. I’ve never done that before, but I’m looking forward to trying. It’s definitely time to get out my dusty sewing machine. Back in college, I used to make some of my own dresses, but then clothes just seemed to get cheaper and cheaper in the stores. The cost of materials was more than buying something premade. Not stopping to think about the reasons why this might be, I simply put away the sewing machine and got on with my role as a Great American Consumer.
But if I’m going to be serious about staying out of the Boxes, I need to start making my own clothes again. Wish me luck!
Fiction. It’s been awhile since I’ve tried it, but in keeping with today’s theme I thought it was only right that I tell you about my latest project. I’m writing a confession magazine story. And I’m having a blast doing so. If you don’t know what a confession magazine is, I’ll fill you in. You know those thin magazines with titles like TRUE STORY and TRUE CONFESSIONS you see in the grocery store next to the teen magazine and crossword puzzle books? Those are confessions mags. Each issue has six or seven stories of varying lengths, all in first person, most following a formula that goes something like: heroine makes a bad decision, heroine digs herself in even deeper, heroine suffers, heroine repents, heroine is redeemed.
These stories aren’t as bad as they sound, actually. They may not be what they purport to be–true–but they can be true to life. Since I haven’t had much drama in my own life, I’m forced to take smidgeons of personal stories I’ve heard over the years and to try to morph them into a story resembling truth. And isn’t that what all fiction is–even the most literary of fiction?
I was thinking about the power of story the other day. Here’s a confession: I listen to Christmas music in the summer. Just the instrumental stuff, but still. I don’t quite know why I get the urge to hear O Holy Night in the middle of August, but there it is. So I was thinking about Christmas and the Christmas story, Jesus’ birth, the angels, the star, the whole deal. I’m not a true believer as I once was, but I have to admit there is something powerful about the story, something that speaks to me even though I think the “truth” of the story is about on par with those of the “true” confession stories. A little bit of reality mixed with alot of desire for order out of chaos.
It struck me that we humans have a deepseated need for story, for the order of story, and if we could only realize that the various religions are all attempting to create that order, telling of a universal truth if not an exact historical one, we might be able to tolerate or even celebrate our religious differences. How many religious stories speak of the god being born, usually under mysterious and magical circumstances, growing, and eventually dying . . . and then being reborn. It’s an old, old story found in many cultures and religions, Christianity obviously included. One could argue that the pre-Christian religious stories were only there to prepare the way for the One True Religion and all those that came after are mere peversions of the same, I suppose, but that’s a stretch for me.
So, the big question. Can we fulfull our human need for spirituality, for order out of chaos, if we lack unquestioning faith in one religion? Or can the story itself be enough?
It seems to me that as adults, we are able to filter what we learn of religion. We take what we need from it and let the more disturbing elements go a little fuzzy and bleary along the edges. Kids don’t have that filter. If they hear it, and if a trusted adult tells them it is The Truth, they’ll believe it. Concretely. Think about the kids being taught in the madrassas in the Middle East right now. Think they have a filter for what they are being taught?
I was taught that one of these days Jesus Christ was going to blow a trumpet, dead Christians would rise out of their graves, live Christians would disappear into the heavens, and all hell was going to break loose here on earth. No filter. For years I lived in fear that my salvation “didn’t take” and that I’d have to live through said hell on earth before being thrown into a fiery pit. Lovely stuff for a bedtime story, right?
Now I have to think that the adults in my life just didn’t realize they were using a filter. They were not going to worry about the supernatural stuff. Not really. There was a mortgage to pay and jobs to do and, well, church to go to. Those prosaic concerns filtered out the usuable stuff like the Ten Commandments from the less usuable stuff like lion-headed locusts in the story.
But what about the kids? I wrote a story about this about six years ago. It’s called Second Coming. I’ll post it under my Fiction Corner, but with a warning for those of you who are strong in your Christian faith. It isn’t pretty. There’s stuff in there that will disturb you. In other words, Read At Your Own Risk, and don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Since writing that story (and, man, it was cathartic!) I’ve come to a more tolerant view of my Christian upbringing. I can see the beauty and power of the Christian story, so wonderfully encapsulated in the music. Birth, life, death, rebirth. Good stuff.