Monday, January 17, 2011

Pondering Postconsumerism

I experienced several pangs of consumer craving yesterday and was quick to sate them all. We drove up to Blue Back Square in West Hartford, a very aesthetically pleasing, thoughtfully structured outdoor mall. It’s bordered by a huge Whole Foods store. I often find myself thankful that Whole Foods is quite a distance from my home, because I could spend a lot of money there! Everything smells and looks so good, and you get to feel (pun intended), Wholesome when you shop there, because, hey, it’s all organic and socially conscious and healthy.

But before Whole Foods, we were lured into the larger-than-life Cheesecake Factory and a postprandial wander through Barnes and Noble, where I just had to buy a nonfiction writers’ workbook chock full of exercises that will make me a stellar wordsmith. (I’ve got to plug the book, Now Write Nonfiction; it really is put together well).

Nothing wrong, on the surface, with any of this. Each individual purchase was pretty modest. I got a couple of small plates and some wine at Cheesecake Factory and the book I bought is in lieu of a writing class that I can’t afford right now—I really do need some structured exercises. Little damage done at Whole Foods—a couple of chocolate truffles and a coffee for the road. But what bothered me was my need to rationalize all this because our finances are dipping low and we should have delayed some of this gratification. [HEY, that’s month 2 in the Year I Said No—credit card debt (stay tuned for our first credit counseling appointment).] Actually, we didn’t charge this experience, but the point is it leaves us with less to pay the credit card bill, which is already considerable.

A couple of years ago I responded to a call for essays on the theme of life satisfaction. Since then the “Get Satisfied” movement has widened into postconsumerism, an effort to help people get past addictive consumerism. On the TV front, I found a quote at that captures what I am striving for with my (mostly) TV-less month:

"Becoming a postconsumer means to me that I am going to attempt to be less wasteful in all aspects of my life. Just buying less is only the beginning, the challenge is to 'spend' my time more wisely. That will be the real savings to me and my family." -Karen Aubry

Next blog: how people with less time often spend more!!

Friday, January 14, 2011

A Confession, and Going Deeper with No

I’ve got to say it. This month has not been 100% TV free. The exception I have made is reruns of Monk on Netflix with Gavin, basically limiting myself to one 45-minute spot but sometimes dozing through the start of a second episode. In my blog for writing moms I revealed it may be the pleasure of watching someone more neurotic than myself, plus the strange magnetism of Captain Stottlemeyer that keeps me coming back.

Here’s the thing: Gavin and I enjoy this moment. Cuddling, commenting on the murder mystery at hand, having a snack. And, yes, we could be doing something more enlightening. But we are tired and the snuggle under the TV blanket feels good.

One of the things I have been saying no to since October is overeating, thanks to Weight Watchers online , and I’ve learned a few things along the way, things that I’ve read and knew instinctively but for which I’ve needed some reinforcement. I even wrote about one of these concepts as the theme of my piece in the Get Satisfied anthology (How Twenty People Like You Found the Satisfaction of Enough)---extremism doesn’t work, at least not for me. I need to allow myself to be human, to crave the occasional chocolate, hold myself to a lower standard for productivity once in a while.

On the other hand, my sister and I have both noticed that making exceptions is a slippery slope. Take Thanksgiving. It should have been one day of gastronomic indulgences, but that one feast led to 3 days of extremely poor accounting in the calorie department, for sure. So I guess the rule for me is to pre-set a time limit for the whims I cannot deny—yes, I can have my 45 minutes of TV, yes I can eat with relative abandon for a day and a half. Then it’s back to my higher standard. (And I do think, by the way, that ultimately TV's got to go away completely for me).

This Year of Saying No isn’t only about habits that are less than ideal. It’s about granting myself the quality of life that I want, the relationships I want. It’s about recognizing the self sabotage of not “sticking to my guns”, of failing to make room for deeper gratification by clearing out the BS that I sometimes let encroach upon my life. Oh, yes, there’s TV, and debt, and other common American overindulgences. But there’s also the need to avoid choices based on fear and to stop acting out of guilt or obligation, more deeply rooted and perhaps more spiritually damaging practices.

If you’d like a list of my “nos” for 2011 (and these include the world of yeses that they will make room for), please drop me a comment and I’ll send them along. 

I’d love to see your list!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Wee-Hour Energy: New Habits for a Very Old Case of Insomnia

It runs in the family, and I’ve got it. Usually the “early morning awakening” variety, not the “can’t fall asleep” type of insomnia. This time I can blame it specifically on the cat. She got into some noisy mischief and after that I just lay awake.

Laying there rubbing my face (cat dander) became intolerable, so I landed on the couch. And I eschewed the habit I normally turn to—a good crime drama (there is always one on), or, and I hate to admit this, some rerun of Real Housewives or that Millionaire matchmaking show or TMZ. For a while I kept finding Sandra Bullock movies on at 2:30 AM, then I’d get into them, feel I had to finish them, and end up crying with sympathy for Bullock into the couch pillow instead of being lulled to sleep.

It’s hard to be very motivated when your mind and body haven’t completely refueled, but I’ve always wished I could harvest that wee-hour energy, however misplaced, and apply it to my writing life. How refreshing it feels to sit in the quiet, hearing only the purr of the furnace and my fingers on the keyboard. I've been wanting to work on a poetry chapbook. Working a poem against the hushed backdrop of a sleepy house sounds like an ideal pastime that will far surpass TMZ.  

Have you heard about David Katzmaier’s Diary of a Cable Cord Cutter blog? Maybe not, because he lasted a month, according to his recent interview with NPR. While he recognized economic benefits to abstaining from cable, the Mrs. wasn’t thrilled, and David missed his ready access to sports TV.

My sister’s household on a rural road in Vermont became cable and satellite TV-less by default. No cable access, and no technician, despite several house calls, was ever able to fix the problems with (expensive!) satellite transmission. The Smiths now download shows through the Internet, and Linda says it was a happy accident that the quality of what they watch has gone way up.They're much more selective than if they were just channel surfing. Lots of fascinating lectures and forums, for example the ones on PBS, and of course now so many shows and movies can be downloaded to the laptop. So no TV doesn’t have to mean no entertainment. Of course, is watching Internet shows any better than watching TV, in terms of my month of saying no to TV? Well, no, because I'm trying to find time for nobler pursuits. Perhaps in the future online PBS will be one of my lower-tier nobler pursuits, but for now what I chase is primarily a richer creative life in which I choose not to be sedated.

A good compromise I’ve read about more than once: move your TV so it isn’t at the center of your living room. For example, it could be housed in a guest bedroom. That way, if there’s something you find really compelling, maybe the presidential inauguration or a family member adding their 2 cents on a local news channel, you still have access. But it's not the main event, not the focus of our living space.

Hey, check out these 18 reasons to keep the TV out of the bedroom! Better sleep and sex? Great incentives for my month of saying no to TV.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Less TV, More Reading and Sleeping

Last night was an easy one. It was my free night. Tom and I have an arrangement where we each get 2 free nights during the work week; this has been a life saver for me. Gavin had borrowed a Godzilla movie from the library. So it was very easy to decide to take a bath and then do some reading.

I can't get anyone in this house to play Scrabble with me more than 3 times a year, but I still love it. So I starting reading Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players. The cutthroat Scrabble world is quite a subculture, but it sounds too exhausting for me to ever contemplate competing.

It occurred to me that perhaps I should be writing, but actually my body and mind were screaming for some R and R. I conked out before 9. And, of course, I am writing now. Outside of the many "nos" I want to work on, I have also decided to get up by 4:30 every day and reclaim an hour for myself. This is not hard for me; I am an extreme morning person. What IS hard is reminding my fellow early riser, Gavin, that if he comes down before 5:30 he is on his own until Mommy lifts the "cone of silence." This is a way-outdated cultural reference, so Gavin had never heard this and thought is was hysterical. Score for me; keeping him laughing works wonders.

It occurred to me that's it's lucky our household only has 1 TV. When we do watch, there's more sense of community. And there's less temptation overall. Did you know the average American household has 2.93 TVs? Only 1.1% has no TV--I am shooting for that eventually, but I fear I may be vetoed in my efforts.

I read up on 20 ways to say no. Handy, but it occurred to me that the hardest people to say no to are often your own family members, who are so on to you.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

So it Begins: No Leads to Yes

I've been thinking a lot lately about the real and pressing need I have to say no to several factors in my life. As with so many insights, once you start to awaken to them, you stumble on related experiences and words of wisdom everywhere. 

For me, it was only a matter of sorting my bookcase, a New Year's Eve ritual I highly recommend. There I rediscovered Vinita Hampton Wright's book, The Soul Tells a Story. And on page 16, barely into the first chapter, sat the compelling words I share with you here:
"One of the most important powers we have as human beings is the ability to say yes or no. Many of life's pivotal events happen because someone answers a summons, accepts an opportunity or follows a hunch...
I...know that in order to say yes to one thing I must nearly always
say no to something else."

So this is what I mean by no leading to yes. I've often avoided saying no, but this avoidance has led to a lack of room for the things I most want to embrace, things that, put together, will add to a rich, full life that's not shadowed by a plethora of obligatory gestures. 

Ever heard of method journalism? This genre, which I first heard named in The Happiness Project, is one in which the author lives an experiment and reports to the reader on the process. It's a pretty big genre if you define it fairly loosely. Anyway, I love those books. I walked with Bill Bryson along the Appalachian Traillived according to Judaic law with A. J. Jacobs, and, yes, explored the many potential roads to more everyday happiness (aka Happiness Project) with Gretchen Rubin. And what American managed to miss Julie & Julia, on the adventures and misadventures of cooking Julia Child's grand recipe book page by page, if not the book then the movie where Meryl Streep towered fabulously over everyone else? (actually, she always does this, except it's usually figurative).  

According to who you are and the nature of your personal goals, these armchair personal growth books can either provide a vicarious experience or inspire the reader to embark on their own version of said experience.

In this blog I offer myself as a guinea pig, and hope that you'll come along to read, comment, and try your own "year of saying no" adventure.  I've come up with a list of stuff to which I want to say no, along with the potential "yeses" these  decisions may yield. The "no" for January is Television--I figure it's a pretty elementary start before getting to some more emotion-fraught challenges. I envision the resulting "yes" as a yes to thoughtful evenings and creative interludes.  Let's see what happens!