I, Consumer

We are living in interesting times. Our consumerist paradigm is slowly shifting. We are doing things differently than we once did. Our expectations of what we should have and what we should want were molded in an earlier world. One that is passing away.  The internet has changed almost everything. Some changes are obvious some slowly shuddering, rattling and causing slo-mo upheavals that may escape our attention as we continue our work-a-day lives with eyes averted. 

Our mental and even physical geography is changing.  These changes seem to be democratizing aspects of our culture, even our commerce. I expect our consumerist desires will evolve. 

I spend the money I have on the basics — food, shelter, transportation, reading material, music, cinema, art/photo tools and materials and thrift store finds. 

I think I’m still learning about the relationship between work and consumption. Money is a strange beastly mechanism. It freaks me out. I struggle with the one to one relationship spelled out on each dollar. What does money mean? 

Yes, we need money to live. Yes, I have accepted help when I really needed to do so, but money for money’s sake has never been my goal. There are many kinds of enslavements born of wealth. I want to be as free as I can be. 

I work seven days a week but pretty much on my own terms. I feel I still need to buy less, consume less. I know that when the time comes for a change in my lifestyle, when I am no longer occupied with caretaking, I can sell off or recycle a thousand little odds and ends, and move lightly through the world once again. 

I must have lived previous lives of great self-indulgence. I have some strange and disembodied guilt, shame, disgust about possessing giant wads of cash. 

As Andy Warhol said about sex, it’s so abstract. 

Yes, I imagine that great wealth grants a certain kind of freedom but it has a sickening power to pervert relationships between the haves and the have-nots. It becomes a necessity to swim with one’s own kind to avoid the unpleasant aspects of power imbalances — jealousy, envy, murderous intent. 

I have been able to observe a sort of muddy area from my worm’s-eye view. 

I was raised by my grandparents in what would be identified by sociologists as a working class environment. Though we had everything we needed, we were low men on the economic totem pole. I noticed, only occasionally, through accidental encounters with more lavish lifestyles. These were few and far between and the gap was fairly small. There are barriers in place to prevent crossover of from semi-poor world to exceptionally well-off  world. Moving between these worlds has been, traditionally and intentionally,  discouraged. 

If a young man/woman grows up with money and fails to follow the prescribed path to produce $ at the level of his/her elders he/she is in for a very rough transition from his/her privileged world to a less well-endowed reality. That is, if he/she believes that lots and lots of money is the goal of life. They are condemned to a sort of  limbo. Remembrance of all the comforts they had in youth stick with them, taunt them, as they live with less, as they fall just short of what once was theirs. 

It is no easier to make the transition from poor to well off. We’ve all heard the horror stories of  what happens to  big-cash lottery winners. The good news is when Oprah-rich you can hire gurus to guide you through your mass-cash discomfort. New age econo-gurus who will show you how to feel deserving. You can institute all sorts of helping agencies. You can encourage others to do so. You can arrive at the belief that every man/woman is responsible for their own economic enlargement. You can believe that you are helping the bedraggled to step a bit closer to wealth by exposing them to hucksters who will sell them “The Secret” on DVD for $35. There have been times for some of us when $35 was an impossible sum to raise for non-essential goods. 

Can we learn to be happy with something less than the dazzling candy mountain of goods paraded daily before our hungry consumer eye? I’m stuck right in the middle of the spider web. I love to make things. I can’t keep them all so I sell them on the interwebs. I contribute to the vicious cycle of wanting more than what we need. I’m trying to be my own guru. What a sloppy struggle. 

Maybe I’m incapable of paring down to essentials until I have no other choice. Lordy.

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2 Responses to “I, Consumer”

  1. Connie, I love this essay. Thank you for such a thoghtful reflection on consumerism. I think that yes, we are experiencing a definite shift in consumption as a culture and that it is going to be radically different in the near future because of “peak oil”. Can’t wait to see you in Aug!

  2. Thanks, Susan. Sometimes I hafta spill.

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