Sign of the Times
Just before American Thanksgiving (for those of you here in the US who never gaze northward, Canada celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday in October), a friend of mine posted this photo on Facebook. I don’t know the name of the man in the picture, nor who took it, but if you do, please let me know and I’ll give credit where credit is undeniably due.
The statement on the man’s sign refers to the decision made by some retailers in this country not only to continue the bizarre tradition of “Black Friday” sales — wherein prices on goods are said to be slashed so low they are worth camping out in freezing temperatures overnight for — but, new this year, they would open their doors on Thanksgiving itself. I put the word said in italics because I think if you can slash prices by 50% and still make a profit, they were priced far too high to begin with. You can see a list of all the stores that opened by clicking here.
I think this is a bad idea, for exactly the reasons this fellow illustrated. Although I understand that in hard financial times small shops may feel they can’t afford to close even for a day, I can’t help but wonder why Target, Tommy Hillfinger and Victoria’s Secret felt it necessary to haul employees away from their families. The argument might even be made that this is a Christian holiday (although I certainly have First Nations friends who will break out in choking coughs at the idea) and non-Christian folks should certainly be allowed to work if they choose to. Fair enough. But I might counter with the idea that a day of offering thanks transcends religion. It’s a good practice for everyone. In fact, I might even say it’s a psychologically necessary practice.
Those of us who live in the “First World” are awash in junk. And just like food of the same quality, it always leaves us hungry and wanting more, more more. Just like the sign says, very few of us profit from all this junk. Most are just hamsters on the rusty treadmills built by people so astonishingly wealthy already that the mind can barely comprehend it. Think pooping on platinum potties. That kind of rich. The bottom line is: They don’t need our money and we don’t need their junk. But sometimes we think we do. Why is that? Why would we come to blows, actual physical violence, for the privilege of buying a cheap television? Books are cheaper and last longer. I’m just saying.
By the way, I actually do think it’s worth it to get out there and shop small and local on “Small Business Saturday.” There are wonderful, privately-owned shops whose owners really could benefit from the support, and that helps your entire community in a way that ensuring Kohl’s profits increase just doesn’t. Local independent bookstores for example. I really like them.
But let’s go back to the idea of thanksgiving for a moment, and my belief that a period of time spent in gratitude is a psychological necessity. That’s not news, is it? Lots of people talk about gratitude lists and so forth. I’m all for it. And yet we (and yes, I include myself in this), don’t seem to practice it regularly enough. And that lack of practice leads to the false impression I need stuff I don’t need.
As a writer I live in a world pocked with envy and longing. There’s very little money to be made at this gig, the criticism is brutal, the praise spotty or non-existent, and other writers are always getting what I think I should have — grants, great reviews, invitations to festivals, better advances, better sales, etc., etc. Should I sit my butt down in the puddle of self-pity, I’m apt to catch a full-blown case of the poor-mes. It’s an easy virus to catch. And difficult to treat. And prone to relapse. But, just like staying sober one day at a time, the solution is simple: concentrate on what I truly want, what I truly need, what truly suits my best self — you know, the self that is a healthy and useful and serene human being.
So what do I really need? The money stuff — like grants and advances and sales and so forth — would be nice, but are pretty much out of my control. The market dictates, or the opinion of other people dictates, neither of which I have any influence over, and besides I have a roof over my head, more than enough to eat and to wear and all that. So sure, it would be nice, but I don’t NEED it. I can do without it, and so I shouldn’t let it trigger cravings. Okay, so what about the intangibles — reviews, invitations, reader reception, etc.? Well, not much I can do about that either. And all writers get crap reviews and don’t get invited to stuff they’d like to go to (although really, do I want to get on another plane and travel away from the home and people I love? Probably not.) and travel miles and miles to do a reading when no on shows up. So, if it comes along, fine, but no point in craving stuff like that either. Besides, what I really want is to be loved and safe and warm and fed and to have time to write and to read and to walk the dog.
There will always be people who get more attention, more money, more acclaim than I do. On the other hand there will always be people who look at me and say, “Wow! I wish I had what SHE has!” That’s life.
Enough is never enough unless I recognize it as being enough, unless I make a conscious decision to look around and see that what I have is, certainly in my case anyway, far more than I ever thought I’d have and certainly more than I need. I am not saying poverty and want don’t exist. I am not saying starvation and deprivation are not serious issues. I am not saying there aren’t people living within walking distance of my house who didn’t get enough to eat on Thanksgiving, or who couldn’t afford to keep the lights on or the room heated. I’m saying scooping up junk isn’t going to solve those problems. I’m saying whacking your neighbor over the head for a television won’t help anyone.
None of us are immune to craving. It doesn’t mean we have to act on it. It will pass.
But to spend some time — even just one day a year — engaged in saying thank you, just sitting quietly and gazing on the miracle that is your life, and recognizing that perhaps, just perhaps, you have everything you need already and that all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well, is time well spent. Certainly the return will be higher than if you spend it shoving aside your neighbor to grab whatever sparkly, tinny thing it is you crave at that moment.
Addendum: I just saw this post about the number of dead and injured on Black Friday.
Hi Lauren, what a marvelous blog. Thanks to you for sharing these messages which I can certainly relate to. With the push for stores to be open early on THANKSGIVING DAY this year, I had similar thoughts to those you’ve expressed so well here.
I really love your comments about supporting local stores and especially independent book stores … this line made me laugh out loud “Books are cheaper and last longer. ” .. how very true.
Thanks very much, Brenda. I’m grateful for your comment!
I agree with you also, Lauren. Maybe as an older woman, I now know how media, shops, advertising filled my life with thinking what I purchased in all the years past was exactly what I needed, when most often need was not the right word. It’s about adults, young teens, even children thinking the word, ‘want’ is synonymous with ‘need.’
I often see children sobbing leaving store, maybe with some items they picked for themselves, but crying because they didn’t have the “but I want that one too” item.
We are quite honestly groomed by the marketers of all the First World products and become what they desire: The Ultimate Consumer. Black Friday just confirms this in all corners of North America.
Thanks, Wendy. Have a merry, unmaterialistic, Christmas!
Hi Lauren, it sure seems like materialism is distorting some people’s sense of what’s important in life, and marketers have figured out exactly which buttons to push to get consumers to run to the stores to get a “great deal”. Often spending money they don’t have, and increasing their debts. I love your essays, as they cover a range of subjects that strike a chord with me, and you articulate your perspective so well it helps me get to the essence of how I feel about certain issues.
Warm regards, Sandra
Sandra — I heard Jon Stewart say that the 6 Walmart heirs are worth more than 42% of Americans, which means their employees can’t even afford the cheap goods they sell. How awful is that? Seeing all those folks bashing each other over the head for junk is a symptom of a systemic disease. But I read an article by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in which she said, “”Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” http://theunboundedspirit.com/we-were-made-for-these-times/ Couldn’t agree more. Today I’ll focus on that.
Thanks for your comment. I appreciate it very much.