Sunday, April 24, 2011
I'm trying to remember exactly when it began. If I close my eyes and think back, white go-go boots come to mind. Or Barbie's friend Midge. She appears. Then I recall penny loafers and needing to have the shiniest of new pennies in the slots. Perhaps those red, white and blue rubber balls, or the extra long pink skipping rope that was long enough for double dutch. All these items blur together around the same time period. I was about 7 years old, give or take a few months. It was my induction to materialism. Things I thought I just had to have. Things I thought I could not live without or at the very least did not want to live without. Over time the wants became more substantial. More expensive. A new bike - a CCM with a carrier and a bell. I recall a twinge of disappointment that I got a girl's upright instead of a boy's bike with a banana seat and upright handle bars. Seems I was starting to get a little picky, or shall we call it more "selective". A few years later it was my own roller skates - no rentals for me! Of course, the buckskin jacket with fringes that would trail behind me in the breeze as I skated round and round inside that roller rink. That was de rigueur! At 15, the CCM had to go and a 10-speed Peugeot was in order. No - not some no name brand - the real deal, from France. It was twice the price, but just think of the prestige. "That girl has style," they would say. "She has taste. She knows about good quality." Even the adults around me were impressed. "Wow, fancy wheels," they'd say, eyebrows arching up. It fed me. Spurred me on. Two wheels were left behind to the land fill as years passed. Now I needed four. And not just any four. Sure, that was OK to begin with, when I could not afford to buy my own. Whatever car mom was driving at the time - well, I'd have to make do with that. For a short while she actually drove a car I considered cool - it was an old Morris Minor, grey with red leather interior - just different enough to stand out in a crowd - how I saw myself as well. It had a standard transmission and posed a bit of a challenge however, being new to driving at 16, but it still had some panache. My first car was flashy, a special edition red Le Mans with white leather interior. I bought it from my dad for $2000. I had to make monthly payments to him. In the end I decided to strap on a back pack and go see the world (well, Europe and the South Pacific and Western Canada, anyway) and I sold it back to him, or gave it back, the details are fuzzy now. Staying in the city I grew up in was no longer an option. I had bigger ambitions than that. I think I would have to call that trip and the following few years of travel my "break from materialism." Whatever money I earned doing jobs like working in a French vineyard, or as a hotel chambermaid, or a waitress, or a bartender, driving a pizza delivery truck, picking apples in a New Zealand orchard - all just a means to an end. Earn enough to pick up and go somewhere new. See more of the world. Carry my entire life around on my back. Leave a few boxes in a basement somewhere with the rest of my worldly possessions. So simple. So unencumbered. SO MUCH FUN!!!!! Yes, there were times when it was a little scary and times when I felt a little lonesome for home or any home, but I was free and rarely afraid and not hung up on designer labels, fancy cars, home ownership, interior design, or living in the right neighbourhood. What changed? Why did I choose this fork in the road on my life's journey? What made me need those go-go boots again? I'm at another fork now. It feels that way. All these things I thought so necessary in the last couple of decades suddenly hold less and less meaning. I am exposed to the "wanting" every day with my work. Perhaps it's like working in an ice cream parlour. Eventually you get sick of ice cream. I just get sick of the excess. The constant clamouring for more, for newer, for more original, for bigger, for better. And for what? To prove your worth? To get some recognition? Are you taking all that stuff with you? Most of it will end up in a land fill somewhere anyway. Nothing lasts. At least not the average stuff we seem to collect and accumulate. On my recent trip to London, my daughter and I joined the throngs at The Tower Museum to have a glimpse of the Crown Jewels. Such a bizarre concept I kept thinking. Little bits of shiny coloured stones and metals treated with such respect and admiration, as though they were animate objects. How the world holds these silly things in such high regard. What have they contributed to the world? Other than being pretty to behold? The fact that we place such value on them just seems so outrageous to me. Outdated really. If I were the last woman standing, stranded alone on a desert island, what good would they do me? I couldn't eat them. Couldn't trade them. Who would I wear them for? Nothing but a bunch of useless rocks. I suppose I could try to throw one at a fish swimming by, in an attempt to stop it and feed myself. You get my point. I am all for beauty. Don't get me wrong. I love looking at beautiful things. Art, design, nature, fashion, you name it. But do we have to OWN it? That is my challenge from here on out as I walk this next third of my path in my journey through this all too short life. Admire it. Enjoy it. Take a mental snapshot. Then walk away. It won't be easy. But I might get there.