The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.

--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


So, about this time last year, I decided to boycott the rampant consumerism that--ah, ahem--consumes our country. I vowed to go an entire year without buying anything new.

To celebrate that decision, I immediately went and bought something new.

Starting January 1st, I indeed stopped purchasing anything new except for the few items I determined that if I needed to buy them, I would have to get them new (used underwear? yuck). This exercise in self control proved to be a very good thing in many respects. Gifts now took a lot of thought. Bad days were managed without shopping therapy. Wardrobe got very very creative.

I am now so much more a better person. I've given all of the excess money I've saved from not spending to Angelina Joli to help orphans.

Honestly, it's really that my growth as a quality human being has skyrocketed as I learned how to make people like me enough to buy me the new things I can't purchase myself.

However, I have a confession to make:

I did buy somethings new.

A few confessions in a list:

1. I have not saved any money for a few reasons.
a) I quit my job and am now making negative money because of school bills and working as a lab rat for free.
b) I have way upped my spending on dinners out and wine in.
c) I have also started being "artistic," and supplies cost a lot of money.

2. I have bought the following (gasp!) new:
a) an ice cream maker
b) two black dresses
c) other miscellaneous clothes

Now my defense for the second part of my list.

a) IboughttheicecreammakerformycookingclubbecauseIwassupposedtomakedessertandIjusthadtohadtomakeicecream.

The ice cream maker didn't work right. I had to borrow one from a lady in my club. The ice cream did kick ass.

b) The dresses are the most amazing things you've ever seen. I mean it. If you wore these dresses, they would change your life. Literally. Change it.

Is that enough to justify breaking my anti-consumerism oath? You bet it is. But beyond that, I did get both of them for the price of one.

A little flashback . . .

Picture this, San Francisco the summer of 2008. The summer of love with my son's other mommy. We are doing various amazing activities like making ourselves temporary locals at the bar by our hotel (thus facilitating a possible love connection between 2nd mommy and a certain chef), leaving a bag of vomit outside of other hotel room's door (okay, that was just me), having picnics in Golden Gate Park, and shopping at ubershishi boutiques. During one of the latter events, I found the first dress.

It was true love.

The dress was ballerina cut, sheer with an amazing plunging back. It is really the only dress you'd ever need or want.

But it was too big.

I couldn't justify my buying a new dress that also didn't fit as much as I loved it. So I let it go.

But it didn't let me go.

For three months, this dress haunted me until I broke and contacted
Mixie, the clothing company. They didn't respond.

Okay, don't need dress. Stay strong to my needs-only mantra.

But then, after three weeks, they contacted me, giving name to the dress of my dreams: Sophia.

Oh Sophia, you haunt me. You consume my being. Please cover my bare skin with yours. Change my life.

With a tiny bit of discussion, the company sent me not one dress but two in different sizes for the price of one. In full capitalist mode, I had schemes of selling the dress in the size I didn't want for serious cash.

Then Sophia arrived. As I pulled her out of the packaging, her shimmering black form promised nights of amazing passion and beauty. Until I put her on.

Sophia was not the dress of my dreams. She was a different dress. A more sheer dress with an alluring scoop in the back. I fell in love again, but it wasn't like the first time. It lacked some of the intensity of my first love. It must be true: you never love like you do your first. . . but it can still be good as long as your first love is also requited in a menage a trois.

So I contacted the company again, and they sent me the other dress. On the condition I sent back one of the Sophias. So much for my money-making scheme. But I now have both amazing, life-changing dresses for the price of the Sophia. There is a god.

c) The ice cream maker and dresses were amateur hour of consuming. They were quirky, one time things. I didn't fully pop my no-buying cherry until this last week when the airlines lost my luggage.

These expenditures seem the easiest to justify: the airlines lost my luggage. I needed some clothes to wear that weren't a size too small and weren't used underwear.

I needed a multitude of stylish and colorful clothes. Needed.

So I went to the one place that could fill that need and offered heat on a snowy day: the mall. Oh yes, at the mall, I unleashed an inner demon I could not imagine. This voracious beast shopped and shopped and shopped. Until hours later, she tossed her exhausted credit card aside and draped herself over a piping hot Starbucks Americano.

With a chain coffee in my hand and brightly color bags around me, I sighed. What had I become?

Did I need all of the clothes and name-brand caffeine I purchased? With the exception of the underwear, decidedly no. Did the airlines finally find my luggage after seven days? Yes (oh Southwest lost baggage ladies, I love you). Did I still keep all of my new clothes (and drink my overpriced coffee)? Oh hells yes.

But I will not feel (too) guilty. This last year has done amazing things for me. I managed to go 10 months without buying anything new. That's a baby. I gestated a new anti-consumerism me. And while I did break my oath before its time, I have gone through some surprising changes.

I used to be a person with a running tally of what I wanted. If you asked me at any given moment, I could have easily come up with at least 20 items I desired without a pause. Things were how I showed love to myself and others. Yet after this year, I find that my list is . . . well. . . non existent. As I sit here now, I can't think of one thing to buy that I actually want. Yes, new clothes are nice, but I am suddenly ambivalent about them. As I am about new cds or new books. Surprisingly, the used stuff is just as good. And waiting for things to become "used" is kind of exciting. The delayed gratification kind of allows you to find out if you truly want something. Most of the time, I don't. Most of the time I don't think any of us do.

This year, I learned that I really like to make things and give them as gifts. I made a cookbook for the women in my family. All artsy and shit. And it turned out really good. I started working with oil paints. And I like that. I am now dabbling in photography (with a camera I got for Christmas last year and never used). And yes, still cooking. That never changes.

It's amazing what you can do when you are forced to actually work at it.

So, while 2009 won't be the year of anti-consumerism. I'm hoping to bring some of 2008's simplicity into it.

Unless, of course, I meet another black dress.

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