Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Am I Here?

$1.48 cash
$22.32 food stamps
5 days 'till payday

I am bored, thumbing through Oprah and Real Simple, half-distracted by child-care co-pays and a formula for exactly how many miles I can drive my car with my tip money from work ($8.52 = 82.5 miles). I skim through the articles featuring all the latest trends I will need to become beautiful and successful and a perfect housekeeper.  The largest photo on the page is a plum-colored cashmere sweater. It promises everything. The price listed is $652. Shit. That leaves me out. I guess I'll have to do without........ everything. A few pages later there is a helpful photo-illustrated article with exercises.......... for your shoulders. Fuck. Now I have to have beautiful shoulders too. I begin to ponder my own soft folds, an anatomy lesson in and of itself. I wonder if there may be a shoulder consultant I could schedule between dropping off paperwork at DSHS, finding a babysitter for the kid, and getting to work by 2:30.
My mind starts racing. Who the hell are these people that spend $652 on a cardigan? I think of everyone I know. I picture them buying a cardigan for $652 dollars. I laugh.
I begin to realize the precipice that the majority of us live next to each and every day. No, it's true we're not eking out a life in a landfill, and not to detract from this greater social problem, but I find that what is actually happening right now, in this particular time and place, has never happened before and is rarely, if ever, represented in a truthful way.
I have decided to try to represent this tight rope walk because until we have real examples, how can we ever begin to fill in the truth?
I would like for this blog to become a chronicle of my life, focused mainly on the balancing act at the precipice. No, I haven't fallen into it yet, but every day Americans topple over as a result of a perhaps singular event. Someone becomes ill or injured and can't pay their rent or mortgage, families declare bankruptcy because they were using credit cards to buy groceries, someone becomes unemployed and the foreclosure process avalanches. I believe we are the majority. I believe most people cling perilously close to the edge of what is commonly believed to be "a good quality of life" the definition of which is, always changing, relative and completely personal.  I believe we need to reconsider the $652 sweater and develop beautiful shoulders from gardening and swinging an axe. Our concepts about what is important need to change, we need to shift away from how we categorize excess. This process needs to include the consideration of mankind, not just the self.
Two winters ago, Keavy hosted some Masai dancers from Kenya in his home for a few weeks. One night we decided to take them on a tour of the downtown YMCA. They loved the pool and panicked the lifeguards when they started jumping on the wet deck for some curious and enthusiastic children shouting from a water noodle. The Kenyans chuckled and talked excitedly, jabbing each other in the ribs with their elbows until we reached the fitness room. There was the hum of the stair steppers and treadmills, pony tails bobbing, and men doing the breath of fire. The Kenyans were stunned. They were completely speechless, silent.  Mario, the most proficient English speaker, said, "What is this room?" I imagined why the fitness room made no sense to them. I began to imagine a life, my own, that could be improved by my time spent on the precipice.
So I am swinging my axe here, on this blog and raising my glass to the precipice. May it be infinitely more thrilling than a $652 sweater.


  1. Beautiful... I saw that coming... Dammit Oprah! Why do you spend so much money on clothing? I imagine one is perfectly amazing, without cashmere draped over a perfect plastic shoulder.

  2. Ah Kristi- Your warm and thoughtful words weave a better sweater, for my mind.
    Write on, Lady. Right on!

  3. I also feel the weight of the debt of trying to live a lie that unbalanced consumption is necessary and sustainable. And I love the images of people in the gym. We could create systems that set everyone on track to shovel snow or do other necessary labor as one option for exercise and community building. The community gardens popping up everywhere are inspiring, right? I am striving to end my recent habits of getting into bubble of a car. Anyway the Roxbury YMCA is sending me to collections for not paying my bill and I haven't even been getting there to use their 'facilities'! That seems to fit the profile you are describing. I have to cut back on ways I waste food or other resources. I'm grateful for being able to buy things and it's easy for me to feel comfort from a purchase which I am also trying to avoid. Not wanting things I don't need is a good way to do that. I think of people living on small portions of very simple food every day and I think about what I take for granted as needing. What you wrote reminded me of the day I spent a long time appreciating an orange peel I was peeling from an orange. At least mindfulness like that makes living on the precipice more serene. Your poem "Gratitude" made me feel that (and more) and I thank you again for sharing it with me.

  4. If nothing else, I've got an orange peel and a good view. Thanks Heidi.