Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Paul Krugman and The Paradox of Thrift

For a long time I resisted reading any economists for this very reason. Why do I want to read books by guys who tell me I am ruining the economy. Well, since I started writing The Nifty Thrifty, I began to wonder what all the things I was saying meant, and if I didn’t have a better intuitive grasp intuitively on the economy that I thought. Turns out, Paul Krugman addresses my very question in his 1997 essay Vulgar Keynesians. Krugman addresses, among other things, the "paradox of thrift"; an element of econo-god John Maynard Keynes' teachings which states in simple terms that if everyone saves we all lose. Krugman points out though, that this virtue turned vice relationship is not such a straightforward one, especially since we now have a Federal Reserve bank that can raise and lower interest rates to offset the vicious cycle of recession.

But Krugman wrote Vulgar Keynesians in 1997. Who was in recession then? Not us, yet. So now, here we are in 2008, nearly 2009, and we get to see what happens. Krugman's most recent op-ed on the topic, he states that major policy changes and a stimulus package that doesn't put the onus on the already over-committed consumer is what we need. I think the truth is, no one knows what we need, but I think Krugman is moving in the right direction. That was just a little Freshman Economics for you so that you don't have to feel bad if you can't spend money. In fact you will feel bad if you can't spend money and you do.

More on the topic:

Consumers Don't Cause Recessions by Robert P. Murphy. I have commented on this blog post for clarification, as Prof. Murphy seems to state that Krugman erroneously perpetuates the Paradox of Thrift. We await his response.

xoxo

Christine

Bee Thrifty: Bartering and Handmade...

Well, folks, it looks like thrift is in fashion these days and I am happy to bring you more news about cheap stuff. I heard a story on NPR last weekend about bartering.

It features a company called Barter Business Unlimited, which exchanges goods and services for credit. I think it’s interesting to see our economy start to move toward basics. I know that for years folks like me and my sprawling Irish Catholic family have been in the minority in their spending habits, and for years I have heard economists tell me that if I spend money I am good for the economy, if I encourage others to be cheap like me, to buy second hand, to save their funds, well then I am free market enemy #1 (*see more on the paradox of thrift here).

Well, folks, this is a very creative time for our economy and I think us thrifties should lead the way. Here are a couple of suggestion as to how....

Looking for a New Year's Resolution?

Suggestion #1:
I Took The Handmade Pledge! BuyHandmade.org

Why don't you buy handmade as often as you can? And if you want you can even sign the nifty pledge. I wish I had gotten this on to you before the holiday shopping rush, but alas, I did not. Nevertheless, anytime is a good time to buy handmade.

Buy Handmade Video from Etsy on Vimeo.




Also check out their resources for handmade products, and much information on why it is good for the world!

Suggestion #2:

Why not pledge not just to BUY handmade, but to MAKE handmade? My mother sewed all my dresses for every formal I went to in high school (except one, which was a polyester forest green number that I got at the Salvo), and she stands at the ready to make my wedding dress. So, I am lucky, I grew up with a crafty woman, and this helps take the fear out of crafting things. I have to tell you though, crafts are always easier than you think!

Check out ReadyMade.com, and while you're at it get yourself a subscription to the mag. It comes out six times a year, and it is the perfect addition to the craft room I know you are going to build in 2009!

Also good for instructions on almost anything is Instructables. Want to make a Flintstone car, or a mini light saber? They've got it.

Finally, I am sure you are all thinking what the heck should I do for New Year's Eve? I'll leave the big parties to our nightlife specialist Nick McGlynn , and I will tell you to chill out. It's just another day. Do take the time and think about what you did, what you didn't, and how you want another year to go by. But, don't stress yourselves much. 2009 promises to be a good year. But every year promises that on New Year's Eve. Can you tell me this though? Will they be there in the morning? That's up to you. Treat your life right and it will get you back.
REPOST FROM NEIGHBORBEEBLOG.COM

Next time, I promise to get back into the cheap events, for now enjoy the cozy family time, and don't spend too much on your cousin, she won't wear that sweater anyway.

Cousin Maggie and the Ugly Sweater

xoxo

Christine

Monday, December 22, 2008

Shameless Self...

Promotion here. I read some of my fiction at Freddy's backroom last week. Paul Handler, famous assistant to Brooklyn-based artist Mara Sprafkin, came with Mara, and the event made his blog. Awesomeness.

I'll let you know when the next reading is, in the meantime, if you need to spend money for Christmas, might I recommend buying books, because the publishing industry needs you.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The New Rules of Marketing, the Air Force, and Dropout/Postgrad gets an A+

My most recent subway read is The New Rules of Marketing by David Meerman Scott.

Being that I have been so critical of the media lately, I thought I would read some behind the scenes stuff and see what tactic marketing will take next. I think Mr Scott has a lot of good points and of course he tells the story from the point of view of the consumer as well as the marketing exec.

(Important note: this book was recommended to me by Dropout/Postgrad, who is a genius, and just dropped an A+ in his marketing class at Columbia University. 'Sup Dropout /Postgrad!)

What he is talking about is how the internet and in particular, the blogosphere, is changing the marketing game. I am so glad to hear this, as I think that the normal tactic of marketing is getting so lame. It's too lame even for words. I could write a post a day about the stupid commercials I see. The old ways just aren't working anymore. I am happy to say that while sometimes it seems like we are getting stupider, I think we may actually be getting smarter. The consumer review system is where it's at. The educated consumer has always subscribed to Consumer Reports, but lately these reviews are more accessible than ever. Interested in that new device that lets you forgo the phone bill and make calls through your internet connection (it's called the Ooma, and I am looking at buying one, stay tuned for a review....). Well, just do a google search and find out what other customers think. Obsessables seems like a pretty good place for this, but as always, Consumer Reports is your go to gal.

What's the catch? Marketing has picked up on this trend, as they often do with trends, and frankly should if they want to sell stuff to their new customers. What the consumer would hope this would achieve is a focus on quality, so that a product stands up to the consumer review system, and largely this is the case. However, if you check back with my last post, I mentioned Wyeth and the load of trouble they are in by hiring ghostwriters to write journal articles that paint their products in a favorable light, you'll get an idea of the direction this can lead consumers. My fear is that we will have fake bloggers all over the internet. In fact, I think we already do. In my search for part time work to make money while I work on my MFA, I have come across unlimited opportunities to write for a blog that highlights a particular product. That's right. You can get paid to fake the consumer review. Not to mention that some blog sites are hiring bloggers to write about widely searched material in order to increase their searchability (their googleability if you will), thus increasing their hits, thus increasing their advertising income, or their sales. What this means for the internet surfer is you have to wade your way through a bunch of crap articles to get to the good ones. I actually read a post on how to get freelance writing gigs that takes you through a step by step guide to searching on craigslist (step 1. go to craigslist.org, step 2. pick your city, step 3. click on jobs, step 3...). Now certainly, this post might be helpful to someone who has never used the internet before, but are they likely to be on the internet at all if this is the case, and if they do get on will they even know how to go to google to get this post? And further if they do learn how to use craigslist, isn't it likely to be from their grandchildren?

Now, I have resisted these opportunities, because I am morally opposed to such fakery, and I get more and more annoyed by the tripe you have to wade through to get to the good stuff, but be on the look out for this. Tim Berry, founder of Palo Alto Software and a member of the blogosphere, posted this piece on recognizing the not-so-authentic consumer review.

David Meerman Scott also has some interesting posts on his blog, largely directed towards businesses who are learning the new ropes of marketing, but interesting nonetheless, especially if you want to know how the internet is being used. Particularly disturbing to me is his post on the Air Force using the internet for recruiting and PR.

Now, I want to be clear: I highly respect the Armed Forces and the risks they take for the protection of our country, and there is no doubt that marketing and PR have always been part of the game for the military, but I think the public should be aware of how corporations and institutions are using the internet. Knowing is half the battle.





Meantime, Check out their flowchart.


I guess, in the end, in the spirit of the rest of this blog, I want you to know what marketing is all about. There are companies out there who use the internet for good, and some who use it for bad. You have a say in this market and you should use it. Keep it real, keep it informed, and stay strong.

Next on my reading list. Paul Krugman. He's a baller.

Peace,

Christine

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Who knew?

Did you know there was an Office of Thrift Supervision in our United States government? Did you know that they are behind the new rule to end unfair credit practices? That's great news, but what I want to know is...

Where the f*&^k have these guys been?

Maybe I should send them my resume.

Also, why the heck is it going to take a year to implement a regulation that should have happened 10 years ago?

In other news, have you heard about Wyeth getting busted for Ghostwriting their medical journal entries. As my lawyer roommate states, this seriously violates the "peer review system." Just further proof that we have very little unbiased information available, and that even when we think we are reading "news" or "journalism" we are often reading an advert.

For more about the pharmaceutical industries and how they perpetuate this, check out The Truth About the Drug Companies.

Also, check out Selling Sickness which details how the pharma industry doesn't really sell drugs to its audience; it sells disease.

Disturbing stuff.

A little bit of old news, but a still un-debunked myth in the majority of the world, if you ask me.

Off for now.

xoxo

Christine

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Bee Thrifty: It's getting serious

REPOST FROM Neighborbeeblog.com

Hi Folks,

I have a few things to tell you about this week. First off, let me just say for all my snarkiness about Black Friday, I was absolutely horrified to see the news that day and find out about Jdimytai Damour being trampled to death at the pre-dawn opening of a Long Island Walmart. I am not going to vilify Walmart, or the people who did the trampling. That is not my job, but I do want to clarify that being thrifty is an attitude, a lifestyle that values the beautiful and not the expensive. One of the basic tenets of being thrifty is tossing away the idea of keeping up with the Joneses. You live with what you need and if you can get some pretty things and enjoy nourishing food while being good to the world, well that is the best deal in town. Being thrifty is the absolute opposite of stampeding at Walmart.

I love a good deal, but I have been horrified for some time by the society we have created. Don't let anyone tell you that we simply ARE monsters and that we act out of instinct in some sort of survival of the fittest nightmare. We are smart enough to understand what it is we are doing, and we were smart enough to intentionally create the system that is currently breaking our backs, and we should be smart enough to stop our own creation.

I am ALL about the free market, lest anyone mistake me for a commie, but I do want to point you in the direction of a post I wrote almost a year ago which points to a few other smartie pants who inspired me to say hey, what's going on? Why do I want that cashmere sweater so baaaad. And why doesn't that cashmere sweater make me happy once I have it?

Well, I won't rehash all the details here, but suffice to say that marketing was created by Sigmund Freud's nephew Edward Bernays, and Edward knew that the libidinal drives that Freud pointed out in all those books he wrote were, for all intensive purposes, unfulfillable, and could drive people to buy, buy buy. Bernays not only used Freud's theories, but also crowd psychology and Pavlovian theories. So, I won't stay on the soapbox long, but are we surprised when we act like animals for things? No. Should we be shocked and ashamed? Yes. But now you know why you want things so bad, and knowing is half the battle.

Two more things before I get off my soapbox.

Verizon Wireless aired a commercial the weekend after Black Friday in which two women discussed going to get a Verizon phone. One woman says to the other "So, if there is only one phone left, which one of us gets it?" The other woman says, "Me," to which the first woman replies, "Wrong answer," and shoots her in the neck with a poison dart. So, we are surprised that even when we are bombarded with this kind advertising we can't respect life more than products. Are we surprised? Not exactly. Are we shocked and ashamed? We should be.

Next, is this beautiful speech given by Louis CK on Conan:



So, folks, let's get it together

Or we could get it together,

Or if you prefer we could get it together. One, Two Oh My God.

OK, off the soapbox, here's the thrifty news for the week.


Give a coat, get some gloves!


NY Cares Coat Drive: Giving coats to coat drives can be a lucrative ordeal. I mean, you should give your coat just because you are not wearing it and someone is cold, but New York Cares is giving back to its donors. Check it out here. The best of the bunch? Paragon sports will give you a free Marmot hat and gloves. Nice. There are lots of other deals too, but only until SUNDAY!!!! Check it out



A beer and a shot (in the ear), please


Also, I'd like to call your attention to Earshot's Holiday Fiesta which is taking place THIS FRIDAY in Williamsburg. Now, this reading series is not free, which, I know, makes you think, why are you recommending this one? Well, A) it's good, and B) your $5 admission fee gets you a free drink! Voila! Thrifty!!!


EARSHOT READING SERIES at Rose Live Music

December 12 // 8 PM
$5 + one free drink
345 Grand Street (b/w Havemeyer & Marcy)
Brooklyn, NY 11211
(718) 599-0069

Nearby Train Stops: L (Lorimer/Bedford), G (Metropolitan/Grand), J/M/Z (Marcy Ave)

Featuring:

The One O'clock Poets (This Full Green Hour)
Guillermo Castro, Amy Lemmon, Katrinka Moore, Joan Lauri Poole, Elizabeth Poreba, and Sarah Stern
Tennessee Jones (Hunter College)
Michelle Brule (Brooklyn College)
Marina Kaganova (Columbia University)

You Feelin' Lucky?

Finally, I have a brainchild I'd like to share with you. When I was uptown at a deli near Columbia University, a casting director approached me and asked me if I would like to appear in Lucky Magazine's "My Foolproof Outfit." I, of course, was really flattered. Wearing my $5 skirt, my $10 sweater and my $25 boots, I thought, yeah, a magazine that wants to feature a girl with style and the smarts not to pay big bucks for it. Boy was I wrong. The people at Lucky were fantastic and fun and helped me find all kinds of pretty clothes from their rack to wear in the mag, they put makeup on me, they cut my bangs for free, and they fed me all day. Fun fun fun. However, it wasn't until the magazine printed that I knew how much every thing cost. AWWWOOOGA! I couldn't afford any of the stuff that they had me wearing! Apparently, I am not alone in this experience. Good news is, Glossed Over says Lucky Mag is lowering its standards.

I loved the look that Lucky Mag gave me though, and I am pretty sure I could create it for less. So as part of my dedication to thrift, I am accepting challenges from my audience for (Nearly)FreeStylin'. What does that mean? It means you send me an outfit you like, say from Vogue or Elle, or some other magazine and I will try and recreate it for you at bargain basement prices. If you'd like to participate, send me an email at NearlyFreeStylin@gmail.com with a picture of the outfit. I reserve the right to refuse outfits on the basis of taste.

In the meantime, please try and ignore the message from the media that you are not good enough until you have their stuff. I'm not saying don't buy the stuff, I'm saying don't buy the hype. But, Christine, you ask, how do I know whether I am buying the stuff or the hype? I ask myself a question every time I buy: How is this going to affect the direction of the life I am leading? Is this a direction I want my life to take?

It's a very personal question. Next week, I will touch on the worthy things I like to spend my money on (food, wine, art, clothes, gifts, etc.) and why it's important to think before you buy.

Abundance is possible. Excess should be avoided. Know the difference.

Your friend in thrift,

Christine

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Stampedes and shoot outs

Hi Everyone,

You will have noticed that I have just posted a bunch of entries that I have been doing for a little blog called Neighbor Bee. Being brought up in an Irish Catholic family, I have always been passionate about thrift. It was a principle my parents taught me that was originally about simply saving a dollar. Recently for me it has been a kind of lifestyle, a throw back to the aesthetics, Christ even. Throwing off the temptations of the material world has
always been a stylish counter culture, and recently, it has become a necessity, and since I have been living under the radar for very little, and constantly scoffing at TV commercials and the brainwashing that we call life here in America. I will be doing some more posting on the history of commerce (as it relates to human psychology, as I started here

I will also let you in on the secrets of my thrifty life. Well, they aren't secrets, really. As anyone who knows me will attest, if you compliment me on an outfit, I will quickly tell you how cheap it was, and where I got it.

So, on the heals of a very black Black Friday, I have decided to stop keeping my opinions (or my shopping secrets) to myself.

I should make it clear that I like to live ethically and inexpensively, I have a fine taste. I like rich wine, the best food, good style, and fine entertainment. This will not actually be a poor man's life. It will be made of the finest luxuries, with a higher consciousness.

So, as I said, this Black Friday was black indeed. I made cheeky jokes about consumerism in the US in my last post, but I didn't think there would be actual deaths involved. I didn't think that a part-time security guard would get trampled in a stampede in a Long Island Walmart, or that there would be an actual shoot out in Toys R Us in Palm Desert, CA.

I can't even begin to tell you how disturbing and yet how utterly unsurprising these events were. I don't even really feel like I can write about it and draw comparisons about low prices with high costs or something of that nature. In fact, the L A Times treatment of it is somewhat ridiculous. The mention of the man pulling his gun from his baggy pants, the interview with the three-year-old child, and the graphic are all such caricatures of news that I found myself thinking of The Wire's Scott Templeton.


From The Wire website:
The self-promoting Templeton is hungry and willing to go to great lengths for a plum assignment. His prose reflects his ambition: overwrought with a tendency towards exaggeration.

Templeton goes to great lengths to break the great story. First inventing handicap children, then fabricating details of a Vet's story, and finally entangling himself in a fake murder investigation, by faking a phone call from a nonexistent serial killer. If you haven't seen The Wire, please go out now and buy it or rent it. Every season is fantastic, and a fine critique of police, schools, government, journalism, and society in general.

Now, being a writer, my beef is not with the writer of the article in the LA Times. Who can blame her, him, excuse me THEM for this. I'm sure that they didn't choose to make the media this way, but this insistence on sensationalism forces a narrative that is just not necessary. The story itself is the narrative, and I don't think it needs any embellishments. I just can't help but think that a writer on a story like this is pressured in to getting an angle that someone else doesn't have. Thus the poor three-year-old is thrown in there:
Outside Pizza Hut, where witnesses were being interviewed, 3-year-old Landon Stitt sat on the grass munching on his pizza. He spoke matter-of-factly, almost as if he was describing a video game.

"I saw it," he said. "They were fighting. They were shooting." He shaped his fingers into a gun, then fired into the air.
How is the phrase "almost as if describing a video game" relevant? What is that supposed to mean? I get it that we are dealing with the potential desensitization of an entire generation, but doesn't the shoot out itself give us this information? Isn't the witnessing Jingle All the Way meets Grand Theft Auto enough?

I can just hear the response. It's important to "find the the human angle" in every story. But why bother when the story sadly enough is so utterly human?

And don't even get me started on this map.


Oh, thanks, LA Times. If you hadn't drawn that nifty graphic, I would not have know that the shooting took place in Toys R Us, on a highway, next to some roads. That's a very informative map.

Finally, the article couldn't end without throwing in that Toys R Us would not like it if we associated this with Black Friday:

"Our understanding is that this act seems to have been the result of a personal dispute between the individuals involved. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to associate the events of today with Black Friday," the statement said.
Wow, yeah, sure, maybe it didn't have anything to do with Black Friday, but come on really? Must we be so sanctimonious about Black Friday? It is a stupid day that makes people do stupid things. I don't blame Black Friday either, but I also don't feel the need to refute the symbolism inherent in the events of Friday November 28th.

I haven't even touched the more tragic of the two stories. That of the man who was stampeded in the Walmart. Toys R Us may be right about their shoot out, maybe it didn't have anything to do with Black Friday. Walmart's stampede however, had so much to do with Black Friday and the insanity it can breed. Although blame is being thrown left and right, this is a larger problem then some lawyers and a trial can sort out. It's us, everyone. It's us unless we resist.

I will just end by telling you that after the man who died and the pregnant woman who was injured were carted away...people continued to SHOP.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Impending National...Holiday!

Hello friends. It is a rainy Tuesday before Thanksgiving and we are probably all thinking about how many outfits we need to bring to our parents, and whether it is better to wear the red sweater to dinner or the blue one. Well, at least that is what I am thinking about.

So, is everyone getting ready for Capitalism's biggest holiday? Black Friday?

All the newscasters can talk about is what will happen on Black Friday? Will the fate of the American economy be determined Friday? Will the shopper see his shadow or will we have six more months of recession? Wait, oh, that's a different holiday.

I propose we change our national flag to the following:

\

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Even when the rest of the world seems to suck with $$


My new favorite radio show is the The Takeaway. I love the snappy back and forth between John Hockenberry and Adaora Udoji (best name ever!). Sometimes it is the beginning of this show that wakes me up. Sometimes the news sounds like a dream (President-elect Obama). Sometimes it sounds like a nightmare (economy, economy, economy).

So this morning, when I heard John say that the U.S. Treasury Department and The Fed bailed out AIG, I thought I had traveled through time.

And then I heard the word hanging on to the end of that statement. “Again.”

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The (Staying) Home Issue

This morning I woke up and in what I thought was a dream state, heard Soterios Johnson say that the winds could be up to 40 miles per hour today. Whatever it is you do, no matter how much money you make, may you stay inside today. Forty miles an hour. That is some WTF news.


So, in light of that news, I don’t plan on going out today, except perhaps for my daily walk. In fact I haven’t been going out much lately, which makes Episode Two of Bee Thrifty less exciting.


Less exciting, it’s true, though abundantly more thrifty.


I think we can all learn from it. So, let us begin.




[L-R: Untitled Painting #11, Blake Rayne, Miguel Abreu Gallery at Art Basel; Untitled, Kerstin Br├Ątsch, Salon 94; Doctor Atomic at the Metropolitan Opera]

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Nifty Thrifty Begins

Hello everyone! My name is Christine Rath and I am new to the Neighborbee hood. My mission: To find you the good life on the cheap. I am a grad student and I pride myself on thrift. In these tough times, who couldn’t use a little cheap fun? Sans risk of VD, of course. I said cheap, not seedy!

This past Friday I wandered into Chelsea for the opening of 'Monitor' an exhibition by artist Noah Fischer at Claire Oliver. Fischer’s lo-tech sculptures made of oh-so-familiar machines may have you scratching your head, but hopefully it's because you're receiving his transmission regarding “calling into question the ultimate function of our entertainment- based culture” as the press release for 'Monitor' suggests. This is a good event for the poor in the wallet and for those who have joined the revolution against consumerism for moral reasons, as Fischer’s refashioning of the icons of our new gods, can help us feel like being poor isn’t a curse, but a virtue. I almost threw my iPhone in the Hudson on my way home.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Do It Yourself: Life

My friends, it has been a while since I have posted here and a lot has happened to me. I lost my job. Well, sort of. I was fired.

Sort of.


I got laid off from Columbia University, the details of which are so boring that I don't feel like going into them here. The big news is that I have entered the MFA program at Brooklyn College, and I am a bona fide writing student. I quit smoking, and I haven't quite figured out how to spend a day. For example--today.

It is 4:00 p.m. and I have been sitting in the same chair for 7 hours. I have written four pages of a story that is totally unrelated to the one I have due on Sunday, and I have only written 2 pages of the story that is actually due. I have had 3 cups of coffee, some chili, 2 glasses of water, and a ricola. I have surfed around through facebook and found some people I know from high school. I have spent at least an hour perusing subliminal advertisement examples. I got to those because I had to google "coke cock"(research for the story that is not due on Sunday). And coke cock, not only lead me to the urban dictionary definition of a flaccid penis due to cocaine consumption, it also lead me to the image of a woman giving head that is hidden in the ice cubes on a coke poster -- coke cock.

Now, this is all endlessly diverting, and didn't I leave that job behind so that I could follow my creative whimsy wherever it lead me? But, coke cock? Really? It's only a step away from youporn. And yes, I know what youporn is.

The endless array of things I could do to fill my day are completely overwhelming and I am sure that according to one quiz or another I have ADD or ADHD, or something that keeps me from committing to doing the laundry, or going to Target, or ordering postcards for my pet portrait business, or watching Oprah, or WHATEVER, and instead has me making various lists that get lost in piles, that I will one day recover only to chide myself for not having done that! AAAAAHHH!!!! How in the hell did I organize an entire program of writers before this?

So, my friends, forget the how to's on designing your own stencils, or installing wall sconces--both terrifying projects in their own right especially to one who doesn't even know which Trader Joe's trail mix to buy--chocolate chunks, or dried mango, chocolate chunks or dried mango. Once again, AAAAHHHHHH! Forget these DIY manuals, I would like to write the DIY manual on how to pay your bills, maintain your friendships, go grocery shopping, and spend your day.

Would anyone buy that? Do you have anything to say to this? I welcome your comments.

On a lighter note, I did not watch the show "A Haunting" today, so I am less fearful that my house is haunted.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Car is a Man: On the Gender of Automobiles

This is actually a comment I did some months back (with some edits), on this post http://thisisby.us/index.php/content/man__love, but I think it is an interesting question. Do we instinctively apply gender to the industry around us, and what does that gender application mean to us, especially women? Is it a man's world? How long can one survive in machine city? And how important have our machines become that they have taken on the life of a human, or at least an animal ("my car died" "she's having trouble with her engine" "Gotta get her oil changed") and why are we always calling cars shes?

I have a drawing of mine on my wall of a red car. Next to the red car, in childish script, are the words "the car is a man." My parents came to visit my NY apartment some months ago, and my father looked at it and said, "the car is a man?" in way of looking for an explanation. I looked at my father and shrugged.

The truth is the thought came to me as if a message from god on a walk home to my apartment in Manhattan one summer night. I was crossing at a red light, thinking about how much faith I had in the driver who was stopped there, how one could choose to step on the gas and I would be at their mercy. True, if I survived I could sue them and make a pretty penny, but I was overwhelmed in that moment by the trust I was placing in this driver--HE wasn't going to do that to me. I couldn't see him as I passed in front of his car and it wasn't until I was stepping safely onto the other curb that I glanced back to look at him. HE was a SHE, and at that moment I thought, yeah, sure, the driver is a woman, but the car is a man. I have never figured out whether that statement--the car is a man--was global, or specific to this incident, but I think about it a lot. There are a lot of cars here in Manhattan, and some trucks too, and I don't know the gender of most of them. It takes an intimacy (placing your life in a car's hands by driving it, riding in it, walking in front of it) to know a car like that.

In New York, the car is a stranger; an ever-present, loud stranger, of indiscriminate gender. The people here a much the same.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Stuff, can't live with it, can't throw it out

Two years ago at a dinner party, some friends and I were having an impassioned conversation on what we could do to improve conditions in our country. I stated at that dinner party, to the great dismay of my friends, that the most patriotic thing one could do at this moment in time, is to buy second hand. I have made a life of, and often considered making a career of, thrift. My friend Amy and I toyed with the idea of a TV show on how you can create the latest looks, not at Macy's or Bloomingdale's, or Nordstroms, and not even at Filene's, but at your local thrift stores. Imagine my shock, when I was chosen to pose for a piece in Lucky magazine. That day I was wearing many of my thrift store finds, so I thought they liked my look. I went to the shoot, though, only to find that they wanted nothing to do with my thriftiness, and instead dressed me to the nines in clothes I could never afford--wait, I thought they wanted me for my innovative style? Nope, turns out I was just a dummy, a placeholder for REALLY expensive things.

And I knew that other gals like me, who get paid decently, but not well enough to afford all the things they put me in, will read that magazine, and maybe even feel a little behind because, hey, that girl can afford those clothes, why can't I? Trust me gals, better to be wanting than to be a dress up doll for overrated advertising (a.k.a., fashion magazines).

But, I digress, verily. Let's forget for a moment the feeling of inadequacy that modern advertising, and now ALL the media rely on, and get back to buying second hand. Two years after my statement, a friend of mine directed me to this video called The Story of Stuff.

It is a shocking tour through the journey of the stuff we buy. The little cartoon images of people working around the clock to buy the things they are working around the clock to make, gives you a keen insight into the hamster wheel we are all on. But who is going to stop this hamster wheel? What, pray tell, can we do about it? Because, if we join the Reverend Billy, and The Church of Stop Shopping, won't we take bread from the hands of our fellow down-and-outers? People will be quick to blame you for taking the jobs of the little man, because we all know that when profits are down, the CEO's salary is not.

Well, I don't have an answer yet, but I can tell you this much. We need to stop living in denial of the slavery of stuff. Which leads me to my utter annoyance with the media and the mind control game that has been played on us for many years now. If you think this is just the way human kind is, think again. This mentality, though easy to create, has nevertheless, been created. Let me give you two examples of people who have directed our economy this way:

1. Victor Lebow: He was a retail analyst in the 1950s. I am not sure, but I imagine that Victor Lebow was one of the first retail analysts, because there was a time when marketing a product meant marketing the product. Our current marketing aim, is to market the need, not the product. Let's take for example, an advertisement for an antidepressant. I don't know about you, but every time I see one of these, I think, "Oh, maybe I DO need that. Life is hard, and I can't always seem to keep upbeat. Perhaps that little blob of a guy with the cloud over his head is right. I am depressed." Well, our friend Victor Lebow said it pretty succinctly, when he put it like this:

"Our enormously productive economy ... demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption.... we need things consumed, burned up, replaced, and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate."

In other other words, we need to make sure that the consumers can keep up with the manufacturing. We must keep this hamster wheel spinning. It is very important that we, the people, believe we need all the things these guys have us spinning our wheels to make, in order to make more money, in order to buy more stuff. Hamster wheel. Need I say more?

No, but I will.

2. Interesting marketing guy #2, the invention of mind control. If you haven't seen this, make sure you watch it. This is the tale of Edward Bernays, the American nephew of Sigmund Freud, who is considered the father of marketing as we know it. Check this video out. Suffice it to say that almost all the work Freud was doing to CURE human misery, was later used by his nephew to CONTROL human misery, and direct the consumer to the store, or the ballet, or the whatever it was they called Edward Bernays to sell.

Watch this BBC documentary The Century of the Self for a quick lesson on Freud's id, uh, I mean nephew.


Point is, we need to wake up a bit. Perhaps not shopping seems harsh or drastic. Perhaps it may seem to some like these uppity folks are trying to take away their one joy in life. But, I am telling you that you were made to believe that consuming things was your only shot at joy. This was and is the intention of marketers. Stop watching T.V. for one week (episodes of The Wire excluded, as it is art not T.V.), stop reading newspapers and magazines (listen to NPR and read trusted blogs for the news, watch YouTube for presidential debates), and just experiment, just see how you feel about yourself when one week is through. I hope that after the anxiety about what to do with your time passes, you will feel like you are enough, like you are complete without these shoes or that purse, without this gadget or that. Like you are okay as you are, and the medicine, vacation, gym equipment, or subscription will not fix everything. Like some of it is nice, and some of it is important, but not all of it.

Try it, see what happens...

Friday, January 4, 2008

Peaches

So, I don't just write blogs, I write stories, too. Most of them are in process, or waiting to be published elsewhere, so they remain, unsharable. Here, though, is a bit for you to bite into.

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When I watched him eat a peach I felt disgusted. He ate the peach as if it did not want to be eaten, as if he ate it against its will. As if he were raping it. And the juices of the fruit reflected off his broad chin as they dripped onto the white linen button down that he would now expect me to wash for him. I don't know when I became his housewife. I don't know when he became this peach rapist. I don't know when we became this couple.

We had met five years ago. We were young artist types. I say artist types because neither of us is an artist. I would be if I could, but, well, I ain't so talented in that arena. When we were married we were that couple, you know the progressive arty couple. I didn't really care if he cheated on me. I just wanted that image, the image of us as a unit, of him on my arm. I wanted to have a baby.

Now staring at him I know my mother was right. I was too young. He was too irresponsible. In fact I couldn't even stand to look at him. Especially not while he ate that peach.

"I want a divorce"

The statement just exited my mouth. It wasn't even as if I had moved my lips and tongue to create the pieces of the sound. It was as if the statement, with a volition of its own, merely pushed the door of my mouth open and walked into the fresh air. My hand rose to my mouth as if I had burped. It was an expulsion of air.

"Really?" he looked kind of excited, ducked his head and put his hand under it as he lost a piece of peach. He slurped to try and catch it.

As the juice dripped down his beard, I knew I had made the right decision. I think I was smiling. I was smiling at never having to kiss that mouth again, never having to smell that musty beard, never having to wash those clothes, never having to watch him eat fruit again.