The Story of Stuff

Last night Michael and I were up at the mall (again?) and he remarked, “isn’t it amazing how this season just gets people to go out and buy stuff? Look at this place.” And it is. I’m a victim myself. Stuff. Lots of it. Piled in the aisles, marked up and marked down. Shoppers elbow to elbow sniffing around for bargains. Occasionally and more recently, this is really beginning to nag at me. And I admit to being a lifelong shopper, a just in case, you never know what you’ll find, store cruiser. But my visceral discomfort is disrupting my natural internal browser — I can’t even look around with guilt free pleasure any more.

I wrote a poem, Don’t Bury Me on Brookpark Road, sometime in 2001 after the President told us to go shopping after 9/11. Excerpt:

When I’ve punched the snooze button for the last time,
I don’t want to wind up pew-wedged between the honk and wheeze
of Mr. Donut and Mr. Muffler, across from the pawn shop,
marooned at the crossroads of more. More billboards, more tacos,
more mattresses, nail shops and temporary stops on this path to the land fill for
rental cars, wastebaskets, and girls baring a** for more.
More cat beds, more tennis racket teddy bear welcome signs,
collectible designed for ease in obsolescence.

When the non-transferable terms on my desk drawer
of lifetime warranties run out, don’t plant me beside this
hurried stream of humanity, its pace accelerating frantically
as it tapers into the purchase of today at crazy low prices, guaranteed to satisfy
(for six months or ten thousand miles whichever is lower) . . .

Which is a pathetic place to be in life — not buried on Brookpark Road, but walking around the mall mentally quoting myself from five years ago wondering why I haven’t been heeding my own words. Which reminded me of this little 20 minute video that I stumbled across, that is so succinct and precise, it is a poem in and of itself.

There are a lot of amazing observations in the video, but the one that smacked me the most firmly is how happiness goes down as advertising goes up. It is as if our entire media culture is producing generations of malcontents. I’m a poet, so I was born a malcontent, but I hate to see the rest of the planet pushed in the same direction. What fun is that?

Well, apparently, not much if the commercials for antidepressants are to be believed. They are almost as scary as their warning labels. Michael point out one drug advertisement to me the other day that lists “urge to gamble” as a possible side effect.

I think we all must have this affliction — we are all gambling wildly with our futures every time we buy more of this stuff. The other day we walked into Walgreens to get a prescription and up and down aisles of stuff that no one needs. I mean no one. Plastic flowers, flashing greeting cards, synthetic garlands, all harvested from — where? All going where?

My new year’s resolution is going to be to think harder about purchasing stuff. I’m going to write that down and tuck it in the same pocket as my credit card. We’ll see if that works better than just feeling guilty.

2 responses to “The Story of Stuff”

  1. kathy says:

    Now that we have a relatively long term apartment here in Oaxaca, I’m constantly fighting the urge to populate it with “stuff.”

    So far I’ve resisted purchasing a beautiful hand made rug… I’m hoping I can hold out.

    Smith & I are NOT buying presents for each other for tomorrow. We’ve decided that Oaxaca is a good enough present.

  2. I think we have to draw a distinction between “beautiful hand made” by the aritsan and “crappy plastic from slave labor.” Go for the rug. I’m always for buying artwork, how esle will the artist eat? Thankfully there are some people out there who buy poetry!

    Miss you!

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