Mine is a gaseous psyche. If I leave it uncontrolled, it expands to fill up all the space it can reach with hedonism. I’m capable of decent feats of self-control, but in the absence of any checks that I impose on myself, I become greedy and shortsighted, almost exactly like the culture I’ve spent so much of my life demonizing. I don’t think I’m that way inherently, from the roots up; I think it’s at least partially because I live in that culture, and I’m earning my living by doing the very most typical thing the culture expects middle-class people such as myself to do, a 9-to-5 desk job, so I’m falling into its patterns. And it’s also because I spent a year and a half learning how it feels to live with no money, and now that I have some, I’m discovering what money can do, and while it’s nice in some ways, I can already see myself being taken over by its hypnotic power. Money can be used responsibly, but we all know that a lot of the time it isn’t. It requires a conscious exertion of willpower to make sure that, of you and money, you remain the master. Scientists have found that the richer you are, the tighter your fists get, and the meaner your spirit.
I recall a Jack London story where a man wanders the woods for days, knowing nothing of how to forage and not much more of how to hunt, and slowly starves until he’s discovered in a barely living heap by a crew of miners or boatmen or someone. As he’s rehabilitating, someone watching him remarks to a friend how alarming it is that he eats all the food he can see and hoards what he can’t swallow as if no food would ever appear again. The friend says that’s how it is with people who have nearly starved, and he’ll come back to normal. I’ve allowed myself to stay in the gorge-and-hoard mode for far too long after the end of my travels where food really was sometimes short. But I was short on more than just food, and I’ve allowed myself to hoard more intangible things, like goodwill and favors. It’s time I let my bubble expand again to include more people.
The effect of all this is that I’ve been letting myself be driven by things that aren’t that important to me. I let my days fall into place on a scaffolding of meals, when I feel so much more fulfilled when I let the question of food just answer itself as it always does and instead orient my day around creating something or meeting someone or reading or learning something. I’ve been convincing myself that I don’t have time for the stuff that makes life really interesting, while filling in all my extra time with webcomics and clickbait internet articles and long dinners eaten on my own.
This stuff sounds dramatic, and you might think I’d secretly become a Grinch or a robber-baron. Actually, more often than not I end up being the one who gets harmed. For example, I’ve been letting short-term thinking take the reins and that’s resulted in me putting off my healthy eating start date farther and farther, while rationalizing that if I’m not eating healthy, I guess I’m eating unhealthy, so I’d better eat really unhealthy to make it count (and to take advantage of it since I’m going to stop forever sometime). I’ve had about a dozen “last hurrah” days to say extravagant farewells to bad food. I’m still eating it at last count. But now I know when I won’t be.
Other times it does affect other people, but I find myself being sneaky about it so they won’t know, and then I feel worse than if I’d done it outright. I pillage my floor’s communal fridge shelf and cabinet shelf, taking plenty more than my share, and while it’s true that a lot of the stuff in there is weird or old stuff that only I dare to face, it’s also true that the stuff I end up making from it turns out to be delicious and entirely shareable, yet I keep it all for myself. I share some things, like my car for instance, but I keep a lot private, and more disturbingly, I always seem to discover whenever I share that I’m subconsciously working out whether it’ll end up being to my advantage in the end. That’s not how the gift economy works, and that’s not what I believe in.
A lot of the time, it affects people I can’t see or hear, but I excuse myself by saying that my own personal effect is so tiny that I can’t really be meaningfully contributing to, say, climate change or sweatshop labor. But I am. Living within the Earth’s allowance for a single human takes a lot of trying, and I haven’t been trying. I’ve been taking long, hot showers, leaving lights on, and eating and drinking food that travels thousands of diesel-fueled miles from remote tropical regions (coconut oil, exotic cheeses, abundant coffee). The patterns are hard to change, but Maddy, who I’m coming to appreciate as one of the wisest people in our house, has reminded us of what we’re supposed to know already, but we all choose to forget: if we don’t take responsibility ourselves, the system will never change. Changing the system is the one biggest thing I’d like to see in my life. I can’t excuse myself from changing it just because I don’t happen to live on a rural permaculture intentional community yet. Excuses do no one any good; it’s time for me to start doing what I can with what I have where I am.
To put it briefly, I feel like I’ve been taking more than I’ve been giving. Our ethic has to be to leave the world better than we found it. We can’t just leave it not much worse than we found it, because “not much” times seven billion equals what you see now.
All of this is meant to explain my New Year’s resolutions. They’re hard to articulate: vague but far-reaching, more to do with patterns of thought and behavior than with any single habit I want to take up or stamp out. But I need something to grab onto, so I’m going to take a stab at codifying them so I can have something to think about whenever I find myself doing the opposite.
- Take control of my thoughts and self.
- Stop making excuses. Life isn’t going to happen sometime in the future. (Affects: deer hide project; starting to eat good food not just for a month but forever; finding love; reading and writing books; almost everything.)
- Open my bubble up. Let other people in. (Good way to tell: when successful, my journal entries will have less “I” and more “we”, “she”, “he”, and “they”.)
File under: deep thoughts