What are you really buying, anyway?

paper lantern It's been an interesting week so far, and it's only Monday.

First of all, something seems to have been dislodged in my brain, that thing that keeps me from processing stuff I don't feel like, like paperwork and phone calls (wah wah wah, First World white girl) and from finishing things I've started, like work. Not that I've gotten everything tidied up and on its way: today saw the dispensing of my DMV registration, some queries about my post-COBRA world (universal health care cannot come soon enough) and a number of other annoying/scary if smallish items, but several others are getting rolled over (again) to tomorrow, my favorite day. (Just like my favorite week, month and year are "Next.")

I made a dent in it though, especially by my standards. And I felt so gosh-darn good about it, I decided I would spread a little of that sunshine and head over to My Country House (a.k.a. The BF's) to visit the dog (a.k.a. Arno J. McScruff) as his master (a.k.a. The BF) is living in the Land of the Stupid Day Job for the next several weeks and poor Arnie, well, he has dogly needs.

Now, this sort of thing does not occur to me usually, and when it does, to actually do it feels burdensome. Yes, I'll go see you in the hospital or water your plants or take in your mail, but only if I'm allowed to feel grumpy and put-upon, at least to start with. Do not let the cheery photo fool you, my Internet friends! I am a crab and a bee-yotch of the highest order, and I've got plenty of real-life backup on that.

But today, I'm driving the five miles from my place to Arnie's and practically whistling. At 3:30, no less, pretty much guaranteed that I'll hit traffic going at least one way. In fact, I think I probably was in traffic; it just didn't bother me, so it didn't feel like traffic. And as I'm cruising through this traffic-that-is-not, I pass a place I've passed 1,000 times before. No, really: this is the route I take between my place and The BF's; I could probably drive it blindfolded. Once, anyway.

It's a shitty little storefront restaurant, nominally Chinese, but selling all manner of crap from gyros to boba tea like every other shitty little storefront restaurant I've seen like it. Might not, probably isn't even run by Chinese people. Could be Koreans, could be Salvadorans, could be Armenians: it's that kind of neighborhood.

But whoever owned it had hung one of those bright paper lanterns with the fringe on it that you see in Chinatown stores. It was kitschy and alive and pretty, and one thought flitted through my head:

I want.

Now let me assure you that while my taste in furnishings is somewhat eclectic, it's not so boho-funky that a Chinese paper lantern would fit right in. In fact, it would look dreadful. I know this because I'm a designer, and I make my living knowing what will look right and what will look like ass. This would be the latter, trust me. There's not one place in my place it would look right, including outside my front door, bapping about in the breeze just like it was in front of the not-Chinese restaurant.

Instead of feeling disappointed, though, I had this amazing flash of insight into why, for most of my life, I've been a hopeless accumulator of crap: I want that feeling.

That feeling that a particular shirt or dish or gadget gives me. The promise that's inside that book, I want to retain that rush of inspiration I felt when I pulled it from the shelf. Or to be the person who has absorbed and processed its contents. Or to have a piece of that author (or artist, or musician) in my hands.

Or I want to be the person who can cook a perfect omelet with that pan. Who has pictures filling frames hanging on walls that burst with life, a host of beautiful craft projects made from these bolts of fabric, a lady who has the carefree life requiring, as my old art director, Sherry Scharschmidt used to call them, "Running-on-the-Beach Dresses."

Maybe that's why Peter Walsh and his ilk are making so much money these days: because we all have needs we're shortchanging ourselves on; we're all spending money instead of time, which becomes starting instead of finishing, which becomes a heap of never-worn, never-used crap we eventually haul off to Goodwill. And, since I've trained myself to understand that I never will have the time, that I will rush and rush, on and on, never stopping to take a breath and do the thing or even feel the feeling, I buy the souvenir instead.

It's scarcity thinking in the middle of unprecedented abundance. And it's a bitch of a habit to break.

I stopped myself today, though, in the middle of a thought of buying such a lantern. Because for ONCE, I realized I wanted the feeling of serendipitously stumbling upon a beautiful thing like that, blapping around in the clean, post-rain breeze. And I can't own that any more than I can bottle happiness and save it for later. The wet jewels you find along the shore on holiday are just dull bits of rock when you get them home; a fleeting whatever is beautiful, in part, because it's fleeting.

I'm not quite ready to do a spend-out yet, although I'm starting to see how it might help people like me who are used to going too fast and treating themselves too roughly. For now, though, I think I'll try something else: going slower and treating myself more kindly.

Better. Cheaper.

And takes up a lot less room in a tiny apartment...

xxx c

Image by Geopelia via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.