Dec 29, 2007

Holiday Round Up + Compact '08?

Ok, if you got a pressure gift that you didn't want, try to let it go. Today I'll be trying to let them go at the Really Really Free Market (110 Capp St, 5th floor).

I don't want to dwell on the places where the holiday went weird, so I'm looking to 2008. I see more Compacting in my future, but again, not as stringently as in 2006. For instance, I bought a new pair of cycling gloves last week without over analyzing it as I did in late 2006. (Talk to the tendon[-itis] if you have a problem w/ it).

The Compact is less of a game to me now, I'm not as into the challenge of it. I guess one can only maintain that level of enthusiasm for so long. I'm more interested in developing my understanding of how these simplicity movements intersect and complement each other.

The Compact itself doesn't provide many solutions or alternatives, it's more a personal challenge to those who wish to change their over-consumptive habits. I'd have given up on it by now if it weren't for the other networks that I've learned of in my pursuit of the Compact. When people write to me, that's usually what they ask: Do you know anyone in cityX or stateY? Or, how do I get folks to do this with me. Most of those answers are very place specific. I'm lucky to be in the Bay Area with loads of like-minded folks, though I often think we lack the creativity of some other areas.

I'm also returning to my promise to work less in 2008. I tried that in 2007 and did well through about July, when I took on work in habitat restoration. I love working in my field, but the pay means I can't completely leave dog walking behind at the moment. Ugh, I'm working on solutions. Regardless, those contracts are up in July and I'll be off to London by the Fall. It's difficult to work less when you see certain debt in your future.

Help me work less: Send me relevant scholarship info! I'm going for a Masters of Science in Conservation and (currently) hope to do my research on the effects of border walls on desert plant communities.
Or just fund me yourself, hee hee! Holiday wishes, oh my! (My daddy always says it doesn't hurt to ask.)

And let's all keep spreading our own knowledge freely, unlike our university establishments. Share your wealth, be it in money, goods, compassion, skills, talent, strength, or knowledge.

Dec 22, 2007

Christmas in Consumption Country

A few years ago I tried to find a way to pull out of the over-consumptive clusterfuck that has become the holiday season. I was tired of mindless consumption, of long lines, anxiety, a deadline for gift giving, and a feeling of financial inadequacy. I was tired of trucking home those feelings and plastic crap on a bike in the rain.

I wanted to hold on to the things that make Christmas special, like showing my love to my friends and family. I like sharing meals and conversation, thinking about the new year with the people that I love. If Christmas is truly an opportunity for that, then so be it.

But this year I feel like I'm on a different planet from some of the folks around me, family included to a small extent. I usually provide a small list of needed items if family folks really want to buy me something. The list usually sounds something like: bungee cords, laptop battery, ipod battery, you get the point. My parents are supportive of my detachment from gifting because they despise the transition of Christmas from religious holiday to excuse for shopping.

I'd love to say that my sister's entirely supportive, but when I attempted to confirm with her that there would be no gifts exchanged, she said "Everyone's getting something from Mexico". She's touring Oaxaca next month so she wants to bring me a trinket. I asked her not to do that since I'm moving to London next year and I don't need anymore "treasures" in my life, noting that I still have many of the trinkets from her time in Ireland, like a bookmark displayed in its plastic packaging . She said that I can "leave it at Mom and Dad's". Not the fuckin' point. It does mean something if the ornamental thing comes from her: it means I can't throw it away without feeling guilty. Or even that I won't want to throw it away, giving me yet another possession that actually owns me.

So what's the force that pressures us into thinking we have to buy something to express our affections for one another? The market, the advertisers, the corporations, credit card companies, some crazy notion that we could/should all be cash rich?

Listen to the radio, if you dare. The ads offer a way to "take the stress out of the holidays". Or "don't go broke this holiday season, shop at...". DJ's urge workers to play hookey to go shopping as a way to avoid the "madness". Pre-recorded hooks count down the "shopping days until Christmas". One DJ remarked that he had "3 no 7 people left on his list". His caller said, "I'm giving watches". Ok, Mr. DJ, what section of people made your list jump from 3 to 7? Co-workers who you're pressured into shopping for? And Mr. Caller, what's up with choosing a single item and dispersing it among your friends? Weird, formulaic, wasteful. Not thoughtful or genuine.

So if we're all realistic about the financial problems associated with Christmas, why do we run up credit card bills? If we all know that the holidays are tooooooo stressful, why do we race around buying shit? If it's common knowledge that the gifts aren't the important part of the holiday, why do we compete with each other in gifting?

We have this desperate desire to relate to each other. We want to express the gratitude, love, and affection that we feel for one another, but we're wrapped up in this consumer society. A nation of producers, no more. We watch TV. TV tells us to shop. We shop to tell each other that we love each other. Can we just turn off the TV, turn to each other and actually say, "I love you"?

I'm ready to give the holiday back. I don't want it anymore. It's a buy nothing Christmas. It's been so degraded and defiled that I'm ready to pretend that Christmas doesn't exist.

On a lighter note, we did a printmaking workshop at Dirty Dove this Wednesday. We made some cards to send to political prisoners. My friend, Matt, made a rad print of Jesus Claus. It really captured the dissociative identity of the holiday for me.

Dec 11, 2007

Gifts of Time: Volunteerism and Dates with Friends

I love gifts of time for holidays and birthdays. My sister gave me a hike and picnic date for my birthday. I get to pick the hike and she'll bring most of the food. I like these ideas because it means that we're gonna spend some time together! Erica knows what I like, so she made the gift about me, but also something she can enjoy too.

If you have a good idea of the sort of entertainment that your friend likes, you might support the arts with your gift of time. Tickets to dance performances, gallery openings, plays, music shows can all be fun. It can also be a bit restricting if there's a date attached so keep that in mind. My sister gave me a "night of art and culture" last year. I got to choose the event so we went to see an one man play called "Tings De Happen". It was amazing and it was also the only play I saw all year, which means that I might not have seen any if not for Erica's gift.

Along the same lines, you could make a date with friends or family to volunteer together. Maybe choose something that allows you to converse and enjoy each others' company. Of course, I recommend volunteering in habitat restoration, which is a good way to get some exercise, fresh air, and knowledge of a park near you. But food banks can be fun, serving meals, beach clean ups, or just picking up the trash on your block. Most of these are opportunities that individuals can plug into without prior experience for one time commitments. Post a comment if you have other volunteer ideas along those lines. Sometimes I think folks aren't involved because they don't know how to get involved.

Similar to Cap'n'Trade Christmas, if your gift recipient is far away, volunteer for a cause dear to him/her in your own town. Demonstrate that you know the person to whom you're trying to show your love. Send a card for the holiday explaining what you're doing. And send one as follow up when you've done the work. The time you've taken to think about the gift, write the card, take the action, and write again will be much more enjoyable to you than driving or even biking to a store, fighting crowds, standing in line, and paying your credit card bill a month later.

Like a hike date, volunteer gifts won't cost either you or the recipient a dime. Instead of producing an ecological impact or a financial impact, you create a positive impact on a community or ecosystem as well as on your friend. Who needs a mall?

Dinners are also good, of course. People gotta eat. If you want to continue thinking ecologically w/ a dinner gift, make it vegan/vegetarian, a small, local business, and a place that buys most of its food from local farmers. Gift certificates for dinners are nice too, if you live too far away to give a gift of time. Maybe the last time you visited your brother, he took you to a place you remembered. Show him that you remember that experience by sending him there again.

These sort of gifts require thought, as do many environmentally conscious acts. But thoughtless gifts are worse than no gift at all.

Dec 9, 2007

stupid broken cell phone (i want an iphone)

Geeze, my cellphone broke again! I got a (new) used phone off craigslist in June, and last week it stopped ringing. Today it kept shutting off randomly. So I'm gonna be needin' a new phone, again.

Can I live without one? No. I house sit over 100 days a year at 6-10 different spots. It's impossible to keep up with my clients, friends, and family without my phone.

As my ipod needs a new battery (after 4 years), I'm totally into the thought of getting a both a new phone and a new ipod... in one. Aaauuugggghhhhh!!!!! I've got it bad! I was hanging out with my awesome clients, Miles and Tam, and they both have iphones. They let me play with them and gave me a tantalizing demo of the gadget's capabilities.

Yesterday was my birthday and while talking to my mom, I mentioned that I want a new phone, specifically one that costs way tooooooo much money. She offered to pay for most of it, making this even more tough to turn down.

Even after watching The Story of Stuff, I'm tempted! Really, the number one thing keeping me from buying the darn thing is the fact that I could break a $400 phone, turning it into a $400 piece of toxic trash very quickly.

Nonetheless, I have to replace this phone. I'm at a loss as to what route to take with that as my last few choices have backfired. Oh what to do? Always learning, always learning.

Dec 6, 2007

The Story of Stuff

Wow you gotta watch this. It's long, but worthwhile. My favorite section is the Distribution section. You can jump to it. The Consumption part is great too.

Dec 5, 2007

Gifts Again, Donations

Thanks for all of the great ideas about gift giving. Be sure to check out the comments that folks are posting! It's so wonderful to hear about creative, non-mall ways of expressing our affections for each other. I'm going to write about donations, volunteering, crafting, and the gift of time.

Many people mention having family far away, and I'm in the same boat. I'm so fortunate to have my sister, brother-in-law, and many family-tight-friends (not related by blood but bound by love) in San Francisco. But my folks are in Georgia and the rest of our extended family lives in Missouri.

It's tough to send your love across thousands of miles. I usually want to send something that I've touched. Something that my mom can hold. Something that my dad might look at during the day, causing him to think of me and the special bond between us. But geeze, they have enough stuff. I do often find a piece of jewelery for Mom, but if I can't find something small to send, I make sure to send a handwritten letter for them to read.

My dad actually introduced me to donating in the name of a loved one. He donates to the Arbor Day Foundation and Heifer International. I like the Arbor Day Foundation. I've done Heifer, but find that they really send me toooooooo much paper mail for me to ever use them again. In her comment, Kamala pointed out I've never used that one, but it looks pretty cool. Heath, my brother-in-law, donated to for me. That was really cool. Kiva provides micro-loans to small businesses in the developing world. I think that's awesome.

In the past I've also donated to local organizations like PAWS, (Pets Are Wonderful Support helps people with low incomes and disabling diseases to care for their animals) which is still my favorite animal related organization. You could also donate to a local park. In San Francisco I guess one would donate to the Parks Trust.

Donations can be a great route for families. Just sitting around talking about how you'd like to donate can teach you about each other's values and provide a reason to get together or talk on the phone. My family is very large and there's a bit of an argument every year about Christmas. Seriously, the family is huge, so we don't try to exchange with everyone. There's a name exchange instead. Many of us do not participate in that anymore. Because I live so far away, and have never lived in Missouri, there's a good chance that some poor cousin will get my name and have zero idea what $15, easy-to-ship mall item would suit me (the answer is none, of course). And many of us would love to see the Christmas exchange turn into the Christmas donation. But the forces of consumerism hold us back. Parents and grandparents with young children have thus refused to allow this change in holiday dynamic. I don't even think the argument took place this year because the fall-out was so bad in the past 2 years that we're too afraid to battle the gift.

I don't think this obsession with gifts has much to do with greed. And I know that there is thought and care put into the selection of some of the gifts. For example, my aunt made me 3 pillows one year as my gift. They were all different shapes to help me take care of my ever-injured knees and elbows. I think the gift obsession might have something to do with marketing. I don't know. I do know that my family is devoutly Christian, and really worried about Jesus being taken out of Christmas. I guess I find it contradictory that we haven't been able to establish either a donation or service oriented Christmas because gifts have become such an expectation with Christmas. I saw "What Would Jesus Buy" last week, and I thought about my family a lot while watching it. I mentioned to some folks that I was going to see it, and it seems like it would be a good impetus for talking about gifts at Christmas. But I don't think I'm going to go there. For those of us who don't like a "thing" based Christmas, we're allowed to opt out, just not to express our discontent.

Dec 3, 2007

Holiday Ideas

Like everybody else, I'm pondering how to share my love with my friends and family this month. Every year I try something different, because none of us wants to be the person who gives the same scented candle every year. I've given used objects, donated in the name of someone, given gratis dog walks or house sitting. I gave my dad a national parks pass once. Mom loves antique trinkets. Blake lets me pay some random bill or something. Thinking that my sister and her husband would adopt a dog in 2007, I gave them a care package for the new addition that still hasn't come. So now what!? It's 2007 and I'm thinking.
I became involved with the Compact in late 2005, just before the challenge initiated, when I gave John and Rob a day of veganism as part of my Cap'n'Trade Christmas project. I gave friends, family, and clients a note about this project, and donated some environmental service. Basically I was asking for folks to give me a gift of sustainability by shrinking their footprints in easy ways. My dad took all of the weight out of the trunk of his car. In doing this, I could borrow a car once in a while without a net gain in emissions. Blake reduced his shower time by 2 minutes per day. So when I feel like taking a longer dip, I know that there's no excess water consumption. I gave folks a list of ideas to choose from. For a lot of clients, from whom I didn't expect a trade, I just agreed to pick up 5 extra piles of poop in their local park. As unwieldy as this project was, it offered a fun way to talk to people about sustainability and the over-consumption associated with Christmas.

Over the next couple of weeks I'm going to write about a few new ideas that I have and some that other folks have sent along. Feel free to share your creative gift solutions too.