Thursday, September 19, 2013

sleeping in the bed you've made; or, a metaphor

In June, I made a "no spending" challenge. The challenge is simple: I cannot buy anything for one year. There are exceptions of course, food, necessary hygiene products, and other sundries. But, no new clothes. No new toys. No unnecessary trips. No nonsense. I am trying to make sensible decisions about money and finances, something I have never really done. And as they say, any journey of 1000 steps begins with one step, and for me, learning how to curb my spending and getting out of debt is the first step.

Three months into this challenge, I am learning things about why I spend money and what I think I am getting. For instance, I love to shop. It is one of my most favorite activities. With each purchase I am not just buying an object, but feel like I am building a life. I imagine what I will do wearing that sweater, and it isn't just the sweater I am buying, it is the experiences lived in that sweater that I am buying. But in reality, it isn't the sweater that makes good times. Those good times don't need props to happen. It doesn't really work that way. I am also really good at getting good deals. Coupons, sales, fashion steals, I am a maven. However, you get what you pay for. And what I paid for was a party dress: not a party. A poster of France: not France. Uncomfortable shoes that are not taking me anywhere. It's just stuff. It's not a life. I do see the importance of having nice comfortable appropriate clothes. It's just important that I see them more practically.

It is not just the psychological aspect to shopping that I am dealing with now. I am also dealing with the consequences of buying the wrong things. Cheap things. Frivolous thing. Impractical things. For example, that duvet cover I bought last year that was such a good deal? Well, it turns out it was very cheaply made. The purple color has faded to an awful brownish mauve color. The "cream" leaf print has grown dingy (probably from the purple dye bleeding into it) and is now really more the color of old socks. The cover has shrunk and has permanent wrinkles that would likely not come out even if I did iron it--which I am not going to do.  In short, my bed looks sad, old, faded, wrinkled and tired. In the past, I would have just bought a new one. But now, I have to just live with it. There is nothing really wrong with it, it is just unattractive. It will keep me warm for several more winters.

The unintended consequences of the choices I made without really looking far enough down the road--or without looking ahead at all--are the ones I am living with now. The material side is easy to see. Last year I bought a bunch of flats from a popular chain store, one we all know the name of (it rhymes with Bold Mavy), that makes cheap clothes that aren't really meant to last very long. In a year, I have worn out the black and brown ones, and now I am left with silver, green, and of all things orange. Those silver flats that I bought without really thinking are not so great when you have to wear them all the time. God only knows how silly I will look when I am left only with the orange. Sigh. Those clothes I bought on clearance that fade, shrink, and lose their shape over time are not such a great deal in the end.

 So here I am--on my journey to trying to get my financial life in order so that I can have a future--walking in inappropriate shoes and last season's jeans, thinking about how many times I just made a decision that felt right in the moment, but wasn't really built on any sort of plans. One thing I do know, when this year of no spending is over, I am going to shop much more wisely. For, if I am going to take this journey of 1000 steps, I should at least have some sensible shoes I can walk in.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

poems; or, turning to art when everything else fails

I haven't read much in recent years. Yeah, I've read for work. And, yes, for me as an English professor even just reading for work is probably more than many. But, for me, by my standards I haven't been reading much. My books have been replaced by TV, and facebook, and nothing. I do try to remind myself to read, and recently, thanks to a classroom assignment, I have been craving the comfort of poems. There is something about poems that offer a balm when no other curative will do.

In my Critical Reasoning class we turned to poetry last week to talk about 9/11. In the end, we read an essay by Mark Doty which asks whether or not art can console. In reading their responses today it interesting how this discussion was accepted. I had a student who has been completely disconnected and distant become invested and passionate. I had students, who were willing to at least attempt to try to do the work I asked for, turn surly and responded to the assignment with anger. It was hot and cold for almost everyone. There were few neutral responses.

Today, I woke in a funk. It was one of those days. Those days when life appears at its bleakest. I felt old. And alone. Relationships that I have been clinging to as a lifeline suddenly spiraled out of control as if they had been cut free from the other side. The realization that I have lost hope in even finding something to hope for weighed heavy. From the bottom of this hole, I was looking for light, any light. And today, that like came from poetry. In such a time, it seems that the answer to my own classroom question, "Can Art Console?" is yes. Yes it can. Here is the poem that I am thinking about now.

Book of Memory
By Rebecca Hazelton
In my seeing there was a blank and he filled that blank
with words, there were words for darkness which made it lift,
there were words for cover which ripped them off,
there were legs that crossed and hearts that crossed,
promises red and read, and the pluck of banjo had a name
for that twang, and the way he called the world into notice,
that had a word, too. Once I saw I couldn’t unsee
and the worst was that the light glaring from the letters
left blue haze under my eyelids. There are no photographs
of this time, and I can only go by what others
tell me: I was blurred and erratic, I drew a circle
of white chalk around me and called myself inviolate,
I watched for horses on the horizon, my walls
were under siege from smaller men who called themselves
heroes. They say I reached over the balustrade and picked
up the tiny ships and threw them over the edge of the world.
I tore my hair, cut one breast from my body and plattered it
as around my fortifications one man pulled another man
behind his chariot. If they say that’s how I was,
that’s how I was. I have no words for the one in the mirror
who apes me every morning. She’s not the one I remember
imagining as a young girl. There must be a way to unsee
how I tap the glass and she taps back, and which wall,
which Cassandra weeping—everything I saw I spoke to his ear,
and the wall crashed into place between us, the horse
had a bellyful of it, the blank was full of small soldiers,
and he turned from my beauty and said my name.
Do you have poem that is on your mind these days?