Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Heart is a Lonely Shopper

A new acquaintance recently gave me the serious astrologers definition of an Aquarian: alien anthropologist. OR, alien, anthropologist. Either way, it was enough to get my nonbeliever's attention for. "You're alien in any group. There, but apart. You're just gathering data, doing anthropology. You are the record keeper. " I thought, "Why yes, yes I am." Always knew the alien part, but the anthropologist part struck a new chord of recognition in me.

I've spent my whole life trying to trace a vector of meaning from stuff I've found lying around, and people, too of course. Things, however, have a much more potent mystery: they can't pollute your interpretation of them with contrary dialogue or actions. This is much more satisfying.

My folks were kind of weird with money and weird with people. We never bought anything new- clothes, gadgets, furniture; and we never had any new people in the orbit. They didn't have friends, really, or any type of social life, just each other and a few family members. While my mother was lavish at Christmas with unwanted gifts, my father was almost luddite in his aversion to consumer goods. I was discouraged from bringing friends home during those critcal middle school years because of the condition of the house- it infuriated my father that those little girls looked horrified by the dark, kind of creepy condition of the house, and I would be harangued by him about it later. The message I picked up was that there was something wrong with the outside world- there was something wrong with those people becase they judged the condition of the house, they had wrong priorities- there wasn't anything wrong with the condition of the house. It was wrong to want new, nice things. It was wrong to want to have any control over your surroundings. You were to make the best out of what you found lying around. My whole life was built on the principle that you built a life around the stuff and materials that you found lying around, and if they weren't quite right, or didn't work, you didn't need them anyways.

In the credit crunched, hyper consumer early 00's, I know that philosophicaly, my father was ABSOLUTELY RIGHT. But I also know that his correctness was a complete accident. It wasn't a grand political statement, or even financial savy, but a total refusal to define his own life by any yardstick other than 'what he wasn't' or what he 'didn't believe in.' I can't think of any time that my father professed an actual belief insomething- just a long listof things he doesn't believe in. Now, a lazy thinker would say that you could easily extrapolate what he believed in by working backwards from what he didn't believe in, but that just isn't so. It implies a sort of binaryism that doesn't exist outside of a lab. I also know, from my own academic and personal development, that it's the coward's way out. Dissembling is easy Barnum and Bailey stuff- it's the equivalent of late night comedy- that mentally (and emotionally) challenging bit is the part where youlook at all those disassebled pieces and see how they would best fit together, how they would best serve your needs. The reason that that's so hard is that you have to have thought about and made a decision about what you want/who you are/how you'd like to be in the world. You have to know what relationship you want with stuff.

I heard loads of "That's nonsense!" but I never once heard "Here's the right way to think/do/act." I never got the message that someday Iwould have to find a way to be content in the world, make a living, or develop a satisfying life. It was always clear what was wrong (or would incite Daddy's wrath) but it was never clear what you should do/think/be. So I never learned the important set of skills required to determine what is right, or less globally, what is right for you.... I got the message that you shaped you life according to what you found lying around.

So, in addtion to the oddball nature of the Aquarian anthropologist, I have the need to collect data from people on how they use stuff- both in the physical sense of "does everybody have an industrial sized potato peeler, or is it just me?" and in the "how do people figure out the sort of life that makes them happy?" My orientation to these objects is generally skewed, and I over collect- both 'path of life' stuff and actual stuff, because I have no mechanism for judging the importance. I was raised by a man who thought that my cassette sollection was the pathway to Hell (not becuase of the content, but because it represented buying into consumer culture) and thought it was a great idea when I announced that, after college, I thought I might just get a van and drive around playing my guitar. This is not the kind of parenting that outfits you for everyday life in America. Here's why:

While it was fantastic that my dad thought it would be great fo me to hit the road, and try to be a musician, it was a joke, because he had spent my whole life denying me access to the the material things that would have made my creative development natural and easy. I had to sneak around to buy guitars and musical items because they were a waste of money. As a result, I found used and broken things and wasted a of time and energy trying to make things work. The stuff of the craft became it's own nearly full time occupation. I still struggle with that- I am likely, to this day, buy some marginal piece of equipment, with the idea that I will somehow make it work. This kind of magical thinking permeates every dealing I have with 'stuff,' - kitchen items, furniture, clothes. I accumulate a lot of 'not quite right' stuff, thinking that magically, I will make it work. I thwart myself, over and over again. I buy used self help books at the thrift store, figuring I can extrapolate something from them, even if the topic isn't an issue I face or a problem I have. What the fuck? And in the moment, it seems perfectly reasonable. It wasn't until I realized that I have a shelf full of books referencing problems I don't have but I still haven't managed to light the fuse to my own life, that I realized somethign was, well, off. And though it was intially amusing to make huge quantities of spiral cut potatoes for my friends, it wasn't part of essential plan and I'm just wasting time with it.