Friday, April 15, 2005

Shopping Blues: A Rant

Signs everywhere, shops everywhere: downtown, almost everywhere one goes there's an opportunity to spend money. To confirm your power as someone who can spend; to comfort you that however meaningless your life may be, you have the economic stature to gratify desire. Whether you buy a CD, a DVD, a piece of clothing, a slice of pizza: the comfort of it, to go in, to select what you want, to hand over cash (or slide that bit of plastic, so powerful-feeling between your fingers) and be given exactly what you ask for (and doesn't it almost always seem like you're getting a good deal?). Then back into the street to wander along until desire hits you again...

Having one of those epiphanal weeks where all the shit I own seems vaguely alien to me. Why do I need so much shit? What does any of this shit mean? Why have I spent my money on it at all? It all seems like so much distraction, a vast wall of shit that I've built up to keep me from looking at the fact that I'm almost completely morally disengaged from life. I do nothing real -- I produce product (as an ESL teacher or bookstore clerk, that is), which, sure, makes money for me and for someone else; and I consume the products of others; but what difference do I make in the world outside of being someone who buys and sells, what identity do I have as a non-consumer? Mostly with friends I'm just compulsively sharing the stuff that I buy, burning them CDs, lending them movies -- as if to validate, justify, give communal meaning and purpose to my acquisitiveness. Otherwise, what effect do I have, really? I blog, and I write, and I rant about movies with those who will listen -- I grasp for attention, howevermuch of it I can get, but what does any of it mean? What am I looking for it for? Why do I want anyone to acknowledge me -- what is it that I'm doing that's special or different or even remotely interesting?

I mean, what would I have to do in order for my life to feel meaningful? Producing art -- more product, more cries for attention? To what moral end? Helping the poor, so they can become consumers too? Pushing friends to put their own house in order, since mine is a complete disarray? What would putting my own house in order look like, exactly?

I know that I'm going to spend more money today. I've just got paid and have designs on a new pair of speakers (I don't think setting them up counts as putting my house in order, do you?). Plus there are those CDs by the Ex that I want to order (and how critical they are of our all-consuming consumerism), and that John Zorn/Eugene Chadbourne/Tom Cora collaboration I won on eBay, and that maybe-bootleg of Antonioni's Red Desert... I know how to consume for pleasure extremely well, and much of what I consume is tacitly or explicitly anti-consumption. It's still a poor substitute for meaning...

I feel a very old restlessness stirring in me, something I haven't felt for a long time, back during my period of religious fanaticism, when I alienated so many of my friends, made so many difficult but brave decisions, and ultimately changed my life a bit. Of course, I had guidance then; I'm a little shakier at the moment. But it's like I'm being given an opportunity to look at myself, to maybe do something with my condition...

...or to just distract myself and allow myself to sink back into my mediocrity. There's an element of self-mistrust here, a bit of fear; and long-standing habits of spiritual laziness.

Strange days. But now if you'll excuse me I've got to go see how much money I have in the bank. It's payday, after all.

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