Buy Nothing Day

Today is Buy Nothing Day, as brought to you by Adbusters for the last twenty-five years, apparently. I haven’t been aware of the campaign for that long and I am not writing here about Adbusters in particular, but about what this meme has meant to me. For I do remember that the first Buy Nothing Day I can recall found me shopping. I can’t remember the details, but I am pretty sure I went grocery shopping which I have a tendency to put off until desperate – out of food, or out of coffee, more likely.

I suppose I was already absorbing the lesson of how dependant we North Americans are, all but a very few of us in any event – whether we live in big cities, small towns, or sleepy rural villages – most of us  depend on the work of thousands of people to sustain us: to feed and clothe us, to keep us warm, to transport us around. Should any of these systems fail we are in trouble, and that is rather contrary to the picture we like to paint of ourselves as free citizens exercising a choice. We consume because we have to, so the idea of Buy Nothing Day is an exercise – for a day – of examining what and when and how and why we consume, and I think there are some terribly interesting things to be learned from that.

 Perhaps Buy Nothing Day has been misunderstood as a kind of earnest, lefty rant about consumerism, or maybe even conjures up the crusty old Scrooge or some such image. So I want to be very clear that I am writing about my experiences and what I have learned. I haven’t much interest in writing prescriptions for anyone else, save this: that in the quest for the ‘good life’ it is worth examining everything, I think. (I must insert here that I am irritated to have run out of lined paper to write my first draft on, and have resorted to the keyboard. I really do observe Buy Nothing Day, these days!)

 I will take you back to when this began in earnest for me: I was running a business, a rather successful business with thirty full-time employees and usually another dozen or so part-time, and I simply couldn’t keep up with the demand from consumers. I did not see how I could logically manage more employees, more customers, more, more, more – that is, not if I wished to run a small business that brought me a comfortable living. My business consultant thought I should sell franchises, but that didn’t appeal: I did not have it in mind to be an executive, but a small business owner doing the things I loved. I set about creating a business that sustained a steady range of income, that neither grew too much, nor contracted too much, and that proved much more interesting to manage and required me to be much more creative in my planning too.

 It was inevitable that I would look at my personal life too: I think in those days I spent a fair bit on clothes, and shoes, and cosmetics, and books and CDs and going out for brunch, lunch, dinner for lack of time, often, and I also had a small house. I loved the small house and wasn’t willing to move, so managing stuff took up time, time I resented. It was easier to stop buying some of the stuff in the first place, so I did. Everything I decided to stop buying at first was the obvious stuff; obvious because I didn’t miss it and nothing was missing in my life: just the opposite, I had more time and I wasn’t managing stuff. Naturally I had more money: money that went into a savings account, and money that I could be generous with when it came to charitable donations. That giving gave me a lot of pleasure, I found.

Of course, I am trying to compress here a kind of ongoing game I played for more than 15 years. Did I need it? Did I love it?  These were always the criteria, and it is now an absolute reflex, and ingrained habit for me to ask of myself when buying pretty much anything. These days it is out of necessity that my purchasing is restricted – as is true for so very many of us – but necessity does not feel harder than choosing, paradoxically. True, there are things I must give up in order to drink the fair trade, organic, bird-friendly coffee that I love – Kick Ass Roast from Kicking Horse Coffee – but I love the coffee. It is a morning ritual to prepare it just so, and to spend an hour or so enjoying the flavour and aroma and terroir of the bean. More importantly, it is an integral part of my day that brings me immense pleasure and satisfaction. In the main, that has become the ethos of Buy Nothing Day for me: that I do less, and have less, but what I have and do is so much more intensely pleasurable and joy-constructed.

 We are not what we buy, but what we love. No matter what the marketers tell us, we cannot be defined by our possessions. We cannot be defined by which of the colas we drink, and you know who they are, I refuse to name them, and I do not drink them – or what laptop we purchase or what cell phone we  have. Neither by movies we might care to watch, or books we read, or what brand we purchase. For me, there are ‘right’ choices and ‘not right’ choices, and those choices might be different for you. But if all each of us does is to make the choice that feels good and right to us, that brings us pleasure or brings another pleasure, then we have set out upon our true path to a life of meaning. I think Buy Nothing Day is worth thinking about, and talking about, and reflecting upon for these reasons. We can awake to a sense of both purpose and pleasure in the day ahead of us, as well as constructing our days to bring us joy. I suspect that might mean less is more, for some things, and more, much more, of other things. But I am pretty sure we cannot get there without some deep reflection on the ways we spent our money and the things we do to get that money, and of course, all the things that money cannot buy.

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What Dreams May Come?

I have unabashedly borrowed my title from the movie of that name; the film had some delightful scenes of the afterlife, imagined. My favourite was the scene of walking through a mountain meadow, as paint splooshed up from the flowers – but here, you can take that journey yourself, briefly.

Our hero finds himself in heaven, and his guide informs him that his world is anything he can imagine. Which is true, really, in some basic way in our own world, is it not?

 I find myself wondering about dreams that die, or are forgotten or laid aside, dreams that can’t be resurrected, dreams that just refuse to come true. For there seems to be essentially two kinds of people in my life: those that have realized their dreams, but now think they are a sham, and those that have come to realize that perhaps they did not dream largely enough. I expect there are more variations on the theme, though maybe my imagination is not up to the task. Here are those who have married and had children (or not), built homes and careers and friends and lifestyles and accoutrement, and now appear to be bored and tired of it all and unwilling to build new dreams. These people say that this is a function of getting older and wiser: you know, you just can’t have it all. Never the less, there is something weary and dispiriting and soul-destroying in that message.

 The most interesting people seem to recognize when it is time to let a dream go and to dream a new one, but not at all in the practical sense of giving in, dreaming smaller, or limiting the imagination – just the opposite. That perhaps their original dreams simply weren’t big enough, or grand enough, or imaginative enough, that their dreams didn’t, and don’t measure up to the kind of person they were and are. There is an old saying: Be careful what you wish for. What you wish and dream may come to define you in ways you cannot foretell, I believe, whether or not they come to be.

 Me, I have lived with a dream that has been present for as long as I can remember, and I have been ruminating on giving it up. In one sense I am very fortunate; none of my dreams have been very conventional, that is, what my friends and peers and population cohort have been dreaming, so I have always had to explain my dreams to others. Why I dream of this, and not that…I have never dreamed of having children, for example, and I do not have them; that particular choice used to engender intense questioning and accusations of selfishness. I suspect that this scrutiny led me to very sure of my dreams: I had examined them, after all.

 Everyone has had dreams that did not come to fulfillment, of course, although for me it is harder to acknowledge that most of my dreams did come true…and so, here I am, not done dreaming, but neither satisfied. I must further illuminate this: I hope and believe it is the true human condition to never be satisfied, although this has nothing to do with material things and everything to do with things of the heart and spirit. And also, I do not berate myself or have many regrets, only one sincere regret of a hurtful thing I did that I would erase, if I could. No, it is not about failure, it is about choosing the dreams that will define me for the next few decades, and so, I think, one closely held dream has to go, for I am becoming sure that I would not like the way it might define me.

 I am not up to the task, I fear, but let me limn a new outline of what dreams may come for me. I should like to walk through painted landscapes of beauty. I should like to have had some part in creating that beauty, with hands and heart and eyes and pen. I should like to cook delightful meals for friends and family, and make new friends, many new friends. I should like to inspire others to dream of their true calling, and how that might invigorate both work and play and even the ordinary, prosaic tasks of the day. (It could also invigorate politics, banking, and neighbourhoods, but that is a subject for another day.)

I should like to imagine the world the way I wish it to be.

 It is no small task, my imaginary friend, I know. For the constant drone of the unhappy and deadened spirits in the background take both largeness and loudness to overcome, and they must be overcome, lest we slip into a world of their making, horror of horrors. For their world is outlined by such words and phrases as practical, common sense, not possible, not sensible, idle dreamers. Not idle, we dreamers. We are busy making the world.

The Dignity of her Death

Dignity is an echo in the heartbeat of the people

~OccupyWallStreet

Occupy Vancouver (British Columbia) has been much in the news of late; first, a mayoral candidate succeeded in making the encampment a municipal election issue for the city. Then an unfortunate person who drug overdosed (now recovering) in the camp, with the mostly predictable and pointless media response. Last Saturday, a young woman died at the site, apparently of an overdose, although the cause of death is not yet official. Mayor Gregor Robertson called for the camp to be dismantled, and the city is at this moment applying for a Supreme Court injunction to move out the tents. The death of the young woman has become a platform for people to rant about their opposition to Occupy Vancouver, a talking point for opportunistic politicians, a sound bite for the news.

The Tyee published a piece by David P. Ball today; you can read it here. The family and friends of the young woman don’t appreciate the fact of her death being used in this brutally insensitive fashion, and the Tyee piece is a respectful response, I believe. But I must draw your attention to some distasteful comments following the article also. I shall not deign to mention the ‘names’ they post under, as they shall be self-evident. It is these actions and comments I want to speak to, however.

For this is not a matter for politicking, or soap boxes, and most assuredly it is not a matter of ‘right’ or ‘left’, or any other political/philosophical orientation. It is a matter of a death, and how we respond to a death. We do not know her, we the public, but surely our first feeling must be sorrow. A range of complicated emotions might ensue – pity, fear, anger – but these are not the emotions one hears in these actions and comments. One hears the manic voices of those determined to impress their views upon others; the robotic voice of uniformity and conformity; the voice of corporate attack dogs. Perhaps I should say this is what I hear, in the metaphoric sense – a kind of horror image of a mechanistic world view arises – the film Metropolis is brought to mind.

And so I turn to you, my imaginary friend – and I shall ever after call Ashlie one of my imaginary friends – someone I would have loved to have known. Someone who seems to have been quirky, and interesting, and rather beautiful and whose loss I regret. Someone whose loss I mourn, for it is the natural human response. I cannot erase those hurtful, hypocritical, awful words and deeds, but I can assert that the natural human response still resides in some of us and we shall not forget the dignity of all humans, even in their death.

Her name was Ashlie Gough.