Will Shetterly is a writer who often concerns his blog toward social issues; lately, he’s been writing about consumption. What he and his wife eat, which brings his writing close to home, I think, but also in a more general sense, with links to energy consumption, smaller houses, and social justice. It’s worth poking around just for the ways he can make you think, but his post yesterday (in combination with another) really got me thinking. It concerns a ‘subversive fairy tale,’ as well as discussion of an article concerning American consumption versus French consumption.
I found myself smiling knowingly at this article. One of my favorite restaurants in Hollywood was the Maggiano’s at the Grove, where I used to eat dinner with a friend on a monthly or so basis. I always noticed that at Maggiano’s; their portions are huge. No, bigger than that. Seriously, keep going. We’d always go home with leftovers.
I’d often think it silly, until I remember we tried a different Italian restaurant whose portions were more normal-sized. And you know what? I looked at my plate of gnocchi and thought “That’s it?”
It wasn’t because I wanted there to be more, actually. It was because the latter place was more expensive than Maggiano’s, and I felt like I was getting ripped off. Because, of course, I could get twice the amount of food for about the same price elsewhere. Nevermind that I didn’t need all that food in the first place.
Back when I was in college, I was a big fan of Edward Burns, and I read a magazine article about him right around the time Saving Private Ryan came out. Burns had just gotten a first-look deal with Dreamworks with his scripts, and he was producing, directing, writing, and starring in basically his own movies (like The Brothers McMullen and She’s the One). He mentioned, in the article, that he’d begun to worry about the new pressure and that his career could go, really, anywhere, and when the future is that wide open and filled with that much possibility, it’s a little scary to consider also all the ways it could go wrong. But he spoke to Tom Hanks about the issue on the set of Ryan, and Hanks gave him some pithy advice:
“You know, Eddy, a man can only eat so well.”
(of course, this is The Da Vinci Code Tom Hanks. Who probably eats really, really well)
And finally, I was also reading Jonathan Carroll’s site the other day. Carroll is one of my favorite writers, and in his blog, he made the following observation:
Isn’t it interesting how many of us will spend a lot of money on clothes (or for that matter, other valued possessions) we rarely use– that beautiful cocktail dress or sharp looking shirt. But in our every day, we much prefer to wear clothes that are years old, beat up, and probably cost little when we bought them. Yes, the comfort factor plays heavily into this, but recently when I came home wearing a very nice suit and tie and couldn’t WAIT to tear them off and change into some old jeans and a ten year old sweatshirt, I suddenly thought something’s odd about this. An expensive suit, or a fountain pen you only use to write your name occasionally, a new car you’re often worried about driving because someone might scratch it, the crazy-expensive shoes you never wear in bad weather, the fabulously delicate silk lingerie you haven’t worn since buying it six months ago… the list is surprisingly long. In other words for many, we continue to pay lots of money for things that make us uncomfortable, worried, wary or worse.
I guess I’ve just been thinking about this a lot in the past month; packing up all your worldly possessions to move a thousand miles away forces you to confront just how many worldly possessions you’ve actually got, and makes me consider how many I actually frickin’ need. I have no less than 11 boxes of books at this point, most of them shoved up against the wall and none of them really unpacked; books are great and all, certainly, but do I really need eleven boxes of them? I’ve got both a suitcase and a laundry bag full of clothing, and that’s not even to mention the blazers on the hangars.
But on the other hand, I use my stuff. Many of those books I bought for research, or to support the writers who wrote them (there are books by both Shetterly and Carroll in those boxes). Many again are signed (my copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods was the first one signed on the American Gods tour, which I think is pretty rad). And my clothes . . . I don’t suffer from Carroll’s affliction; I often look forward to occasions when I can wear my suit, or dress up a bit.
In the next few weeks, however, my goal is to cull down a little bit, at least. Separate out at least two boxes of books I can sell, and set aside some clothes for a GoodWill or something.
It’d be nice to come to a point where I could fit everything I need into my car, but then I realize, it’s not so much about how much shit I’ve got but rather how I think about that shit, and the word need. I’m one of those people who believes we need books and art and music in our lives, but there is a difference between sustenance and consumption, and I’d like to find some balance between the two.