Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Material Girl (?)

Being a kid in the 80s meant caring, deeply, about the material possessions that informed my identity. My brother and I craved name brand clothing so much that we named our first bunny rabbits Guess and Polo. We counted our unopened Christmas presents. Despite these excesses, though, our single mother modeled opposite behavior: she never used a paper towel to wipe a spill without swiping the entire kitchen floor with it, until it hung limp and greasy as an old man's balding ponytail. Mom hated shopping, grew a garden, and saved any leftover food, no matter how small the amount, to be eaten later. When recycling became a household choice, she embraced it wholeheartedly, dutifully rinsing out the soda cans before plunking them into the plastic bin.

My relationship with stuff has undergone a radical transformation. I love the feel of a well-worn pair of jeans; I love finding that creative non-corporate edge of "fashion"; I love saving money, so I shop at thrift stores, where an outfit costs less than a trip to the movies. I, too, grow a garden, recycle, hand-make birthday cards, try never to waste even a few bites of food. I am grateful for this consciousness, mostly because it feels good.

Still, I consume, often unconsciously, because I am still a child of the 80s burned up with desire for a new bangle bracelet and striped leg warmers. In Berkeley on Friday I came dangerously close to blowing some hard-earned cash on a new pair of earrings at a hipper-than-thou boutique. But instead I crossed the street, browsed the Lonely Planet guidebooks in the bookstore, then joined a friend for a rollicking poetry slam where twelve to nineteen year-olds hollered raw truths like the Beats blowing lyrical mad genius symphonies into America's heart.

On Saturday, the holiest of holy days for me, pure do-nothing or do-everything day, we (that is, my fiance and I) headed north under a bright sunny sky. We wandered the ramshackle streets of Geyserville, landed at an antique store, where (surprise surprise) I found a darling hand-painted jewelry box that I wanted. It cost only twelve dollars, and somehow that fact momentarily trumped the fact that I already have two jewelry boxes, and, ironically, that I hardly ever wear jewelry. I strolled around the store trying to convince myself that this thing would enhance the quality of my life, but ultimately left empty-handed.

We walked along the railroad tracks, overgrown with sweet peas, poppies, and fennel, and picked a bouquet of wildflowers, and thought how pretty our wedding would be, with flowers just like these. We stopped by a cemetery where we listened to the quietness of life already lived, and picnicked in the grass. We were sitting near the Russian River, talking, when the sun began its cool descent. It was about as lovely a day as it gets, here in this spring-green Sonoma County paradise, and part of what made it so luscious and inspiring, was not having to buy anything, being free enough to not spend money, to appreciate the sublime beauty of partnership and grass and decrepit buildings.

The difference between me and wealthy people, as someone very wise once said, is that I have enough. I am not poor, but I'm starting to realize I should thank heavens that I'm not and never will be rich, either.

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