I was in the city doing a bit of errand running (read shopping) and while I was waiting at the cashier I was surprised by one of my colleagues who was similarly occupied. We both looked at each other sheepishly, made awkward small talk, and then separated. There was an unspoken agreement to not recognise the fact that at least one of us was wagging…(me)*
My expedition into the city was somewhat something of an anomally. I’d been feeling sad for weeks, sad and tired. It had been such an effort to drag myself out of bed and I had decided that if I wasn’t to become a complete hermit I needed to start scheduling regular tasks and activities to make it necessary to get dressed every day.
I had been working on some charcoal and ink scribbling and found that despite trying to avoid it, one really can’t work with charcoal using only those charcoal pencils. They just aren’t black enough. Thus as part of my “get out of the house” doctrine I rode my bike into the city centre to get some art supplies. I also wanted to find a couple of hair accessories as the elastic was going in my existing ones, and maybe some essential oils with which I could fumigate the house. None of these purchases could be described as frivolous, but they were those small niggling necessities that can be postponed indefinitely.
I went to my regular mini-shopping mall place. It has a bunch of specialty shops, including a really good art/craft supplier. After I picked up the charcoal, I agonised over whether or not to buy a 10 cm high wooden sketch model, but decided that I already had enough single-use junk in my tiny flat. Instead I went ahead and made my purchase and then trundled down to the health store to finish the rest of my errands. It turned out that the shop assistant in the health store was out to lunch. I didn’t want to wait around so I thought I’d give the major department store across the pedestrian zone a try. And thus are we back at the awkward encounter with my colleague.
I searched the cosmetics section for the things on my list to no success. However there were lots of cosmetics products in beautiful well-lit displays. I realised that, though these items weren’t on my list, some other niggling purchases were nail-polish remover and a new eye liner. To be perfectly honest the whole time I was walking around the city I felt so disconnected to my surroundings. Like I someone had just shaken me rudely from the middle of a deep sleep, but when I made the decision to buy those extra things I felt somehow a kind of thrill. I mean I was hardly mortgaging the farm but in some ways those two small items were indulgent. They weren’t on my list, but I was buying them anyway.
In the end I went into town and bought one thing I intended and two things I hadn’t. Don’t you call that impulsive.
I felt slightly thrilled. Even through my encounter with my colleague and after the purchase had been completed, the feeling still remained. And then I was thinking. My father has always complained about him and my mother not being able to save. In their relatively anachronistic (for my generation) relationship, he brings bacon, she cooks it. My Father wouldn’t know how to pay the first of his bills let alone acquire food**, even though he has been relatively successful at what the majority of people would find a complex job and my mother, who does keep the household running, did not attend high school for any time that counts. His main complaint was/is that if at the end of the month there is any money left over in their budget, my mother spends it. Normally she spends the remainder on nick-knacks that she later discards or potted plants that she quickly kills. She consumes, as all good little consumers should. I tell my father it’s the small price he has to pay to have someone manage his private life. If he had a PA it would probably cost him about the same. He grumbles.
However that day, after years of the same argument, it struck me that perhaps my mother isn’t another drone in the Western patriarchal military-industrial complex :p . Maybe she’s sad. Maybe she’s been sad for years and the busy-ness of activity and of errands and things to do is the only thing getting her out of bed in the morning…and maybe when she buys some more useless crap at the end of each repetitive cycle it just takes the edge off of life, creates a thrill, a transient thrill, but enough of a thrill to keep her going until the next valley of necessity.
And then I thought about my father (and me) and his disdainful anger/frustration at her behaviour. I ask myself, though we are all from a libertarian viewpoint autonomous agents, doesn’t he (and I) bear some responsibility to ensure that she as someone with whom we have a primary relationship can have a fulfilling, and if not happy, satisfactory existence?
Mostly I just felt guilty, that I perhaps I had been so myopic and made so little effort to empathise with those around me. And waiting in line to buy my trinkets watching all the faces around me also shopping. I wondered how many of us are sad? and whether we cause this sadness in each other?
I wonder about our responsibility to each other and I think we are failing.
I should really explain why this is relevant to those who do not know me well. While I have nothing against consumerism I am by no means a shop-o-holic; I have been described as tight with money, even miserly. This is an erroneous characterisation. It’s not that I hate spending money or I want to hoard money. I just have high expectations and am willing to make a purchase only once I have found the thing that matches what I’m looking for exactly. I must admit, I do have to force myself (or be forced) to buy things. It took me 5 years to finally settle on the model with which I would replace my aged laptop. However I love my new laptop and I’m glad I took so long to finally decide on one. I want to buy things that are high quality and exactly suit my needs regardless of the price (relatively speaking).
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Actually, since he has become semi-retired he can now do this. He can now also cook pineapple chicken.
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