Friday, November 28, 2008

Consuming thanks

One day post-Thanksgiving and I'm thinking about what a weird (and sometimes lovely) world we live in. One day post-Thanksgiving and I'm not shopping.

Black Friday, indeed - a clerk at a Wal-Mart in Long Island was trampled to death and a shopper had a order that the families of these mad shoppers could have the latest techy toys and High School Musical pajamas? What is this sick thing within us humans that pushes us to externalize our wealth and make it a symbol or replacement for love? This drive to consume, is it evolutionary? Has it gotten mis-translated and warped by modern times as many other evolutionary safeguards have? (Update: thank god the pregnant woman and her baby are both okay, the reports of a miscarriage were false.)

In another post on ecopsychology I pondered the implications of a brain that evolved in concert with nature now feeling the brunt of a technological divorce from that shaping force. For instance, we have an incredibly effective internal alarm system called the fight-or-flight response which triggers a whole host of bodily responses in case we need to get the hell out of dodge. Breathing increases, heart rate increases, the blood rushes to the core to support increased heart-rate and organ activity to facilitate fleeing or standing to fight. Highly adaptive over millions of years, no doubt. And still adaptive in times of true need. Yet highly inconvenient if triggered by a rude motorist who cuts you off in traffic, or if set into effect before an exam in the form of test anxiety, or if made more susceptible to triggering as is the case in panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder.

Is our drive to consume similar?

It was at one time highly adaptive, certainly. We needed protections against the future - food, warmth, fuel in the form of firewood. Consuming could be seen as a hedging of bets and a protection against terror, simply put. Bringing things under one's dominion, leading to a prosperous life full of the illusion of control, probably helped people sleep easier at night and did help get them through lean times. Even gaining weight - at which we are spectacularly adept now - was an evolutionary advantage against hunger. People from the colder Northern climes gained easier and those of us who are their descendants still do!

There is a similar drive to amass within the peak oil movement, although it's metaphor is the squirrel storing winter nuts, rather than useless gadgets and new plastic crap from China. But nonetheless - we have within us a need to gather things for our protection. It affords us a greater illusion of control in an uncontrollable life. It helps us to feel okay in a world on the verge of considerable change. And there are many unscrupulous folks out there who would take advantage of this potential weakness - indeed there are a lot of people making money off the threat of peak oil, hocking expensive wares through manipulative fear.

I'm certainly not saying we shouldn't be thoughtful about potential shortages and therefore take time to save useful items, or even to consider purchasing a few new things (preferably used!). It would be imprudent to suggest that we shouldn't prepare. It would be impossible - an nonsensical - to suggest that we stop consuming.

But I think it's hugely important to be honest with ourselves. Is our consumption coming out of fear? Has an evolutionary advantage been kicked into hyperdrive by the availability of 32 kinds of ketchup and 18 types of maxipads and an infinite variety of clothing and toys? Are we being wise when we purchase out of misplaced anxiety? How much are we controlled by our instincts to hedge our bets? Is uncontrolled, mindless consumption of clearance junk from Target or Black Friday "deals" from Macy's a sickness? When does it become one? At what point have we lost our balance?

At what point can we feel okay without lists and lists of things we can turn to to protect us? At what point do we realize that our true wealth, security, and comfort is internal and interpersonal?

At what point do we have enough?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fall wrap-up

Well, witness what an academic semester looks like by reviewing this blog...One post in November, one post in October, two in September...Ouch! It's like a tsunami came and sat on my head! (Which is what it felt like, incidentally...)

So what have I been up to over the past several months?

One, riding the wave of course prep and lecture development for a class I hadn't yet taught (2 more weeks of that post-Thanksgiving, hallelujah!).

Two, riding the rising tide of mental health use. We've been so busy this semester! I don't know if it's the economy and all the bad news in the media that's made us busier or if it's just a fluke. I do know we've been smacked hard.

Three, checking in on my garden from time to time...I have loads of over-wintering broccoli, turnips, carrots, leeks, tons of garlic, chard, spinach, and kale all sitting in their maturing adolescence out back. I've had to cover everything with frost blankets 3 times so far and expect to 3 more times this coming weekend (I'll probably just throw on the covers and leave them for that stretch). But they look great all in all, provided the early spring isn't too brutal, we'll have crops all the way through here. I tried to transplant the broccoli thinnings this year and I think it's worked pretty well. About 3/4 of them survived the transplant, so that might become a new practice. Nothing lost if they don't survive beyond a few minutes of my time.

Four, the end of the food prep! The peppers went absolutely gonzo until a killing freeze knocked them back last week. I have so many different pepper products that I may not have to grow to peppers next year (not that I won't!). I have about half a pound of pepper flakes in the mild, medium, and hot varieties; habanero pepper sauce; tabasco pepper sauce; aji dulce pepper sauce; aji limon pepper sauce; green chili relish; pickled habaneros; pickled Hungarian wax peppers; frozen dried peppers of all varieties; and frozen hot chili sauce. And there's probably more stuff I'm not thinking of right at this moment.

I do think I'll scale back my pepper production next year. I got tired of having to come up with new ways to save them! I must have gotten several hundred tabasco peppers (they're small, don't forget) and close to a hundred habaneros off one plant each! It was sick! Next year I think I'll do a jalapeno (mine wasn't prolific this year and I love the large dried flakes/pieces that jalapenoes make when you dry them. Delicious in mashed potatoes!), a mole pepper, the aji dulce I can no longer live without, and a smaller bell (I'd rather have more smaller than fewer large bells).

Also in the food prep category, I canned up 10 qts of beef stock made from the lovely, silky knuckle bones from my local food co-op. Bought a 20 pound bag of potatoes to save in our cool garage, stored the 12 leftover butternut squash from this summer's bumper crop, and bought several small pie pumpkins for the makeshift garage-root-cellar. Dried 10 bell peppers I found on sale. Inventoried all the food storage to date. I've had to watch the mounting anxiety I feel whenever I see anything to do with the economy. It seems like most of the peak-oil bellwethers have moved from advocating a 3-month food supply to at least a 6-month supply. What do you guys think?

I've been struggling to find time to breath and I found that time away from the computer was the way to go for me. I was still (and am still!) reading/scanning other people's blogs - in brief, stolen moments - but writing on top of the lecture development was too much. I guess when I get busy I prefer to power down and away whenever I can. Hopefully I'll have some time to write over the next few weeks until the semester picks up in the spring.

Hope you are well and enjoying the winter gardening and/or planning for spring. My Pinetree catalog came last week! First of the season... anyone else starting to get seed catalogs?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

At the doorstep of history

Last night I was so happy I cried. We weren't prepared for the sudden announcement - I still thought it too soon and didn't want to get my hopes up. Then there was jumping, dancing, obscene phone calls left on friends' voicemails, a congratulatory call (reaching across the aisle) from my sister and mother, more tears of joy, glasses of champagne.

And awe. I was in awe. I am in awe.

It kind of feels like waking up after a bad dream and having that soothing, grounding feeling in your stomach when you know things are going to be okay.

Thank you to everyone who organized, activated, shook, rattled, rolled, and voted for change! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you, Mr. Obama, for your inspiration.

This is history.