Thursday, August 12, 2010

The fatted calf

"Chi troppo vuole, nulla stringe."

-He who wants too much doesn't catch anything"
-Italian proverb

For various reasons, I have an odd relationship with things and with want.

There are places in this world that feel like home to me, but I fear becoming attached to them.  This can be hard.

I have a lovely little bungalow with signs of age and need for improvement, and although we have done a number of minor changes to make it more habitable, I fear wanting too much. I find myself growing overly fond of my home, and feel as though I am jinxing myself.  What if something happens and I lose it?  What will I do?

Truth be told, I would probably cry for a little while, look for four-leaf clovers, gather my animals around me, and eat a sandwich.

I have art on the walls, books in my shelves, clothes in my closet, a competitively impressive amount of bubble bath, and I know that if I had to, I could leave it all behind, save a few things.  I know this because I have done so. And it wasn't hard. I can't even remember the treasures I summarily took leave of, and I have no desire to do so. There are things in my home - mostly memories saved: a four leaf clover, a special rock, a book from a dear friend's grandfather, a ribbon from Brazil, a stack of postcard love letters from my husband, a cherry pit, a letter from a deceased friend, my first book of poetry from my Gran that holds the memory of reading the poems with her - things that I would miss. They would fit in a medium-ish sized box.

Some have noted my detachment from things to be a curious part of my personality, given the fact that I do have a bit of a crush on shoes; others (my husband, bless his patient soul) have found it slightly frustrating in that I could probably take better care of some of the possessions I have...

...that cost money.

Which doesn't grow on trees.

Which is really the source of my frustration today. 

I work hard for what I have, but that isn't what drives me to work.  And what I have is more than enough.  It's actually quite a lot, compared to the rest of the world. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wake up and feel lucky: a job I love, a husband I adore, animals that provide endless amusement and joie de vivre, and as I climb up on my soapbox (fair warning given), I am kind of sad that a long walk at sunset doesn't offer the same happiness to people as, say, a new lamp. How could a lamp possibly capture the same kind of light that a sunset does? This is bothering me.  It is bothering me on some level deep in my belly. Despite my hard work and money earned, it makes me want to throw all of my things out of the window in protest.

(One time, when I lived in an apartment a few years ago, the neighbor living above me had the unfortunate habit of throwing things out of her window.  She was on the frayed side of lunacy. She threw money out her windows, mostly quarters.  Jewelry. Clothing, including lots of socks. And also tuna fish, which stuck to my window.  I was bothered by her daily purgings mostly because I could hear her stomping to and from the window in the middle of the night. In clogs. It was kind of annoying and more than a little unsettling. But another part of me celebrated that she did this. Even in her frantic, delusional state, it must have felt awfully good. I collected all of her quarters -a useful commodity for doing laundry- and slipped money under her door for the exact amount. She promptly threw the money out of her living room window. I wrote her family a check for the amount when they came to move her out and into a hospital. It was never cashed. I have always felt guilty about this.)

I can't recall feeling envious of someone else for having "bigger, better, more" - the unofficial motto of the United States, where people are so used to their creature comforts that they refuse to entertain what it must be like to downsize. But now in this economy, people are.

I am all for it. Downsize away.  Most of us haven't lived with food rations, with being permanently displaced from homes and families and towns.  And as an historian, I think about these people who lived on a jar of Marmite and a loaf of bread that was intended to last a week.  I read stories of the fun they had, because they were not focused on what they didn't have.  And I read of people today being displaced and living in makeshift tents. And they don't feel sorry for themselves. They want to know where their loved ones are. That seems a legitimate wish.

All of this sort of came to some fever pitch to me today as I sit in my new office, which is GREEN. Which I love. I have a green office chair. And it is quite possibly the most comfortable thing ever. And a soft green throw for winter. And a really cool map of the world. I started thinking about how much I love my office, and then was reflecting on the color green and why I love it so. Green will always be here.  If I go blind, green will be something I can still have. Its ineffable greenness will go on.  As a child, I stumbled out of my bed in full sleep and leaned precariously over our balcony, asking my mother, "What is green?"  After explaining to me that it was a color (apparently not a satisfactory answer for a sleepwalking four-year-old), my mother said, "It's not a thing. It's everywhere." Or some such philosophical reasoning. This apparently satisfied me and I went back to sleep. This may be why I ADORE Noam Chomsky's oft-quoted "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."  Why, yes they do.

And that's pretty much the coolest thing about green, sunsets, animals, and other things - like double rainbows.  Hey, I've seen a few.  That YouTube guy had a reason to be totally psyched. He made meaning out of what to many, is meaningless. And I would argue that GREEN has more meaning to me than the green chair, the green vase, the green throw on my velvet couch..and so on...

The fatted calf was for homecomings, reunions, the prodigal son returneth...that sort of thing. It wasn't for every day life. Neither are double rainbows, for that matter - but for that we make no claims to own them. And if you don't want a double rainbow, you have a far better chance of catching one.


  1. I remember a Hindhu saying to me once: 'It's OK to have riches, as long as you don't become attached to them.'

    I'm paraphrasing. What he actually said was 'As long as you don't care if you lose them.' Which amounts to the same thing, but 'attachment' is a big issue with me.

    But this won't do. It doesn't begin to do justice to the post. I'm not going to attempt to do it justice. Too many rich layers. You write gateau with a hint of the bittersweet, and I think you walk the line better than most of us, Paige.

    I wish I could write more, but some feelings just don't translate into words.

  2. Amazing that speaking just yesterday, Thich Nhat Hanh said this:
    "Many of us are afraid that we cannot continue with the living style that we have because of the economic crisis. And that fear is an obstacle. It does not allow us to be happy. If we can remove that fear, then happiness will be possible, right away, even if we have to live a little bit more simply."

    Now THAT'S someone who walks the line better than most of us. Wow.

  3. Excuse me appearing to take issue with you, Paige, but I would suggest you have a problem he doesn’t. I agree totally with him, but you have been raised in the richest country in the world and conditioned by a culture that is arguably the most dependent on material values. You still live and work in that culture. And yet you sail through it with your eyes – and more importantly, your heart – wide open to so many levels of the bigger picture. That’s what I find so lovely about your posts.

  4. your green office grows
    a lush indoor rainforest
    the dogs do approve