Thursday, September 2, 2010

Come! Let us go back!

The Thrift Culture Now interview in the post below put me to thinking outside the thrift store.

It’s not rocket science but it’s a bit amusing and disturbing. The forward-looking folks, pursuing healthy economic and environmental practices, are actually looking back.

It’s frightening how this “Use it then lose it” culture in terms of human history is but a blip in time. But this tiny blip has done and continues to do great damage.

The majority of us have no awareness as to how new this the “Use it then lose it” culture is. It’s like the child who grows up in the dysfunctional family and thinks all families are that way. It’s all they ever knew. Unless they do some hard self-reflection (an often painful process) and work for a change (one that usually involves a fight because rarely does any one else want to change), things will remain dysfunctional.

If I could escort my great grandmother, as a young woman, to today’s grocery store and show her the shampoo/conditioner/styling product section I’d have to revive her with smelling salts and not because of her corset. Born in the 1880's she studied Elocution at a women's college and was known to be a lady. But I'm convinced that she would fall out of character, turn to me and say something like, "What the hell do you need all this stuff for?" I somehow don’t think she would feel like she landed in the glory land of hair product.

Know what she probably used to wash her hair? Baking soda. From what I’ve learned it’s actually better for your hair.

This is a woman who kept a book to record her spending. Not her receipt spending but itemized spending. If she bought sugar, she noted the amount and the cost. She was well off. By today’s standards people would think she’s crazy to be in her financial position and write how many pounds of corn meal she purchased in a book. But, I think it’s crazy how most people don't even reconcile their credit card statements. Is it denial?

Assuming you know it’s definition - the word is almost as dead as Latin – elocution may sound archaic and pointless. But, take away all the entertainment electronic gizmos in the house and sit down and converse with your family or roommates. Might go well for a half an hour. But, eventually you’ll be in need of a person versed in the art of conversation and would welcome a poem or story. I love listening to stories that transform into a journey: the voice, the intonation, and an appropriate pause make it so. Let’s face it; America’s Next Top Model and professional wrestling are replacing the art of storytelling in America. Yesterday a kid made fun of my daughter for watching PBS. I imagine the shows he watches are empty in content, as as empty as the calories in the food he ingests. And he’s making fun of her?

Let’s face it, there are few great elocutionists left in this time. Along with our spending habits we’ve become sloppy with words. Not only that, but we are not trained in the art of gathering them together in our mind, we just spit them out with no care for consequence. Sad that we do the same with our hard-earned money. The perculiar thing is we are often taken aback by the response; we’ve either offended someone or we’re broke.

Aside from this, we are terrible listeners. So bad, that the self-help industry has made grocery bags of cash writing books on teaching us how to listen. Obviously we still don’t get it because those books are still on the shelves. Perhaps the mere purchase of the book makes people think they’ve done their duty.

We do seem to think a purchase can transform ourselves into something we are not whether it be younger, more attractive, like we have more hair on our head or chest, sexier…it’s all a bit silly.

There have been studies that suggest our flash culture is re-wiring our brains – not for the good. Understanding there have been many studies, "The Shallows: This Is Your Brain Online" caught my attention on NPR. This piece also mentioned "Is Google Making Us Stupid" a piece in The Atlantic by Nicholas Carr. Carr took the subject and wrote a book on this subject, the title being the title of the NPR story.

I suffered a brain injury from an auto accident. One of the first things I noticed was how painful it was to watch TV and certain movies. The get-as-many-scenes-in-a-short-amount-of time method gave me headaches. It left me distracted, confused, and unable to remain focused. Yeah, I was recovering from a head injury. But don’t tell me that you don’t feel that way at least twice a day. Concentration is critical. We will not problem solve if our minds are turned into a manic mess. Nor will we create for as soon as an idea appears, it will be replaced by a new thought. I’m not certain the young minds of today have the bandwidth for a story. I’ve seen it on shelves and it makes me angry, “Five minute fairy tales”. What!?!?! My daughters and I have read books at bedtime for hours even to the point where I’m fighting to stay awake as I read and Petite Poe is demanding “Read!” because she is so involved in the story.

Of course we’ve made great strides in Civil Rights and Women’s Rights and bringing to light many bad behaviors that must change. But, perhaps there is a value in the past that we have forgone, thrift.

As you go about your day, look at the items you encounter and ask yourself if a person 150 years ago would appreciate them or find them pointless. No doubt my great grandmother would appreciate the clothes washer, well maybe not because she did not have as many clothes as I. But, I’m not so certain she’d think a shine serum for her hair (especially given the cost) or a bubble bath that may contain skin irritants would not be so wonderful.

What actually provides an honest comfort or need? Hold those things close and dump the rest. The world will not collapse and you will not be a bad person if you do not buy a new bedding set because fall is coming and your house must show that in with a celebration of autumnal color. Want fall colors? Go pick some bittersweet and put it in a clear vase – one that is not seasonal. They make seasonal vases now.

I’ve written about my great grandmother in the past, the post was “Six Baccarat Tumblers”, a story about how being thrifty doesn’t mean you must be cheap and have junk.

Now that I think more about visits with her as a child, I don't believe she even owned a television. A visit to Mamaw's was like time travel and I'm so fortunate so have had that experience. She told me stories. One of my favorites is one when she lived in Chicago and was in the fabric section of a department store (Marshall Field's I would assume) where the fabric bolts were kept in huge drawers. My grandfather, then a toddler, climbed out of his pram and into one of the drawers and all the women in the department store went on a frantic search. One of those stories that wasn't fun at the time but, funny after it was over.

I lived in downtown Chicago in my twenties. When they remodeled the State Street Marshall Field's, I frequented that beautiful store and wondered. Follows is a rendering of what the store would have looked like around her time.


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Well said and you are
right on!!! Marie

Anna Hardin said...

Very true!! Is this a Hardin great grandmother you are writing about?

Alex M said...

But our society and modern life is on the other hand so safety conscious/liability debilitated too!

I swim in the river with my dog every night. It's pleasurable -- much more rewarding than going to a gym. And I'm fine with the sun-exposure (yea, vitamin D).

I get warned all of them time that it's dangerous. Toxic. Irresponsible. Crazy. But personal water crafts (Jet Skis) are considered acceptable.

There are things our grandparents do that today our society is afraid of or discouraged from doing.

Shopping Golightly said...


In this case she is on the maternal side. I knew her well. She lived to be 104.

Now, I have written about Grandma Hardin. She was an institution of love, strength, thrift and humility. Little Pie has her maiden name for what she did for our Granddad went beyond her call and she did it with grace and gratitude.

Shopping Golightly said...

Alex M.

Couldn't agree more. I had to pick up Petite Poe from school today from a severe allergic reaction. The nurse could not give her Benedryl with out a form filled out by our doctor.

About that river? We swim in chlorine and that's supposed to be okay? Give me a fresh water pond in the mountains and I'm happy.

Megan said...

The Bible says that there is power in the watch what you say (I'm paraphrasing). You are also supposed to be quick to listen & slow to speak...I think that would help alot of people from putting their foot in their mouth!
I become overwhelmed by the amount of items on shelves & in some thrift stores or antique stores I simply can't feels like sensory overload & I simply walk away.
It's unfortunate that your daughter was teased b/c of what she watches, but just remember that she will be the better person for what she is learning (from you and from PBS).

Anonymous said...

You always amaze me with your insight...this column should be required reading for all!

Shopping Golightly said...


Thank you for those kind words. Sometimes I feel like I'm stating the obvious and people will read it and think, "Well no duh!"

Sensory overload is what you get in America. And it's not the good kind like in an open market in say, Italy where you see striking colors and smell heavenly spices that awaken possibilities. Here, it's and unnatural, pre-fab perfume, loud music, and too much product.

Have you ever been in a Forever 21? My daughter and her girlfriends think that's the coolest store. I told Petite Poe it makes me feel like I'm in someone's dirty closet and though I don't normally have a problem, I feel claustrophobic.

Anonymous said...

I remember listening to the adults converse at holdiay gatherings. They knew how to tell a story. The conversations would start out at a low and even volume and would grow louder and more emotional until everyone was conversing with great conviction! Thanks for the great column.

Saver Queen said...

Your post has made me think about storytelling. I'm trying to think of interesting ways to bring people together beyond the standard bar or restaurant context, to promote more interesting experiences. I'm wondering about a storytelling night...
Thanks for the inspiration!

Shopping Golightly said...

Saver Queen,

Check and see if there is a folklore or story-telling school in your area. They're usually small an unassuming.

Denver's Swallow Hill School of Folk Music, something like the second largest in the nation, was born of the Denver Folklore Center. Pretty cool.

Sherrie said...

Hear, hear! I agree with so much of what you have said. I often feel like a dinosaur for wanting to carry on an in-depth conversation with anybody. I have to constantly remind myself to keep it short. What is up with that? For what it's worth - I watch PBS, too. I wouldn't care if I didn't have cable TV (hubby likes it for sports games, tho). I'd rather read anyway. Thank goodness there are people like you rearing their children to have an attention span, to read, to create, to think. I'm going to try your exercise over the next couple of days, looking at the things around me that I've accummulated and try to determine their timelessness. :)

Proud to be Her said...

This is a great blog! It is the exact kind of thing I want to teach my someday daughters, I wish I could go back in time and raise myself properly instead of to be so engrossed in the way things are now. If you say some one is lady like its usually an insult. How awful is that!?!
I actually wanted just to tell you all that I always thought I needed these special shampoos to make my hair nice. A couple months ago I switched to Baking soda for shampoo, and 4 parts water, 1 part vinegar with some essential oils and cinnamon sticks in it to give it a good smell. I love my hair more now that ever! If it helps at all I am 18. So that really is quite a big deal!
That was all :) thank you!