Sunday, December 31, 2006

It's a Compact life

In July 2006 I joined The Compact , a group of people who commit to buy nothing new for one year. Originally, The Compact was comprised of a few friends from the SF Bay Area who resolved to buy nothing new, except food and a few necessities like health and safety items, for the year 2006. For these original members, the journey is coming to a close. As the year ends, however, The Compact is getting so much media attention (see examples here , and here ) that membership of the Yahoo! email list has approximately tripled in the last few weeks. I now get five or more new digest emails each day, whereas I once received one or two. Many of the new members plan to make The Compact for 2007. Some are people who already live a relatively 'compact' life, while others seem overwhelmed and nervous as the new year approaches. Questions pour in asking whether it is OK to buy this or that item. People wonder whether they will make it through the year.

For me, the last six or so months have been a wonderful experiment. I jumped in without thinking first about the consequences--just thought it was a commitment worth making and I'd deal with whatever issues came up. Although I didn't need to buy anything new for the first few weeks I was frequently confronted with things I wanted or might normally buy without thought, or with just the itch to go shopping for some stuff or the habit of using retail locations as outings with my son (something that many smart retailers have encouraged in recent years). I dealt with the itch by heading to thrift and salvage shops, but the itch has gradually subsided. I have stopped going to stores just to go, and have replaced that activity (which I engaged in not a lot, but more than necessary) with other activities, such as hiking and staying home. I have had more time for reflection, projects, reading, and especially cooking.

When I made the commitment to step away from rampant consumerism, its excesses revealed themselves ever more clearly. The world feels both smaller and larger. Smaller, as so much of what is out there has been rendered irrelevant to me. The walls of Target, for example, close in, as 95% of the store is off limits to me. This feels, most of the time, like anything but deprivation. I don't walk by the clothes or the DVDs longing to stop and check out the selection. I just walk by the clothes and DVDs. They hold no interest for me, because they are in some sense not part of my world anymore. And larger, as the virtual absence of retail opens up new possibilities to my imagination. As less stuff is coming into my home, and less time is spent bringing stuff into my home, I think more about what I can do with the objects and time that I have. I can make an egg carton into an afternoon spent sorting and counting small objects with my son, read the many as-yet-unread books on my shelf, explore my local parks.

I haven't been a 'perfect' compacter. I joined only for myself, not for my husband or son, so there are a two joint purchases we made new, and I allowed for some new purchases for my son by beginning to give him an allowance. I also encouraged him to search used toy and thrift stores. For Christmas, I made some gifts (a new experience for me) and limited new purchases to books and art supplies. I did buy supplies for my gifts new (mainly yarn), and some other art and craft supplies new. But with the new year comes a chance for me to recommit myself, this time with eyes wide open. I know what my weaknesses are, and how I have justified certain purchases in the past few months. I am also increasingly aware of the alternatives to buying new things. I feel I can trust that my 'needs' will be taken care of. I am now in a position to consider in advance what types of purchases I will allow, what I will avoid, what my goals and purposes are for remaining in the compact. I'll work on putting together my compact resolutions in the next few days.

This blog isn't meant to be solely about compacting, but I share this experience here because compacting is having a profound impact on the issues I consider most important to write about, and on how I live. Happy New Year!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ringing out the old: The 2006 list of 2006 lists

There is something about year-end lists. For me, it isn't the end of the year until the end of the year lists begin. It is then that I am reminded I will soon have to write a new number on my checks and in my journal and in the one or two other scenarios in which a computer doesn't date my life for me. I am reminded to make plans to avoid the approaching mayhem surrounding the worst excuse to drink yourself into a stupor, light things on fire, and go for a drive since July 4th.

That's right, I'm a bit of a New Year's Humbug. But this time of year is a natural time of reflection as well as a reason to go out of the house in costume. What have we learned this year? What are the most significant events, cultural, political, and otherwise? And, most importantly, who are the hottest people doing (in)significant things today?

These are some 2006 round-ups that have captured my interest in one way or another so far, ranging from the reflective to the funny to the disgusting.

1. Topping my list is this gem from gizmodo. It was not the first list I'd seen this year, but it was the one that inspired me to move my fingers from the mouse to the keyboard and create this collection. Reactions to this post seem split between those expressing outrage at the inclusion of several not-quite-hot-enough-for-even-a-geek-to-fuck bloggers to those expressing disgust at the sexism underlying the existence of the list itself. I'd tend to fall into the latter camp. What is the relevance of these bloggers' cleavage, anyway? And just how creepy is it that some of these photos appear to have been snapped surreptitiously by some geek-stalker's cell phone? And how can I get a shot at next year's list? Focus my energy on good blogging or on finding a good plastic surgeon and photographer?

2. Perhaps the guys at gizmodo are emulating some of the men profiled in the next list. The Top 10 Sex Stories of 2006, posted on SFGate, has it all: law, order, scandal, sex toys, cross-dressing, sex-with-scientists. Best sex story of 2006 in my book? Joe 'Girls-Gone-Wild' Francis gets his comeuppance.

3. Now I'll restore the feminist balance with this intelligent synopsis of some significant national and global events in women's issues this year from Salon's Broadsheet. [Note to Broadsheet's bloggers: how about throwing some photos up there for the fine gentlemen at gizmodo?]

4. Next, check out Science News' Environmental/Ecological stories of the year (and scroll around for other science news of the year.

5. Finally, another Salon list that is also a gift of sorts: Thomas Bartlett's top 20 free Salon downloads of the year.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

These little piggies

A last minute entry into the contest for weirdest parenting story of the year: Mary and Christopher Hansche woke up one recent morning to find a few of their four-month-old daughter's toes chewed off. Subsequently, the main quibble between the parents seems to have been a disagreement over which of their pets might have been responsible. While the father blamed the pit bull, the mother was sure the ferret was the culprit.

There are few things I understand about this story. I don't understand what would lead either a dog or a ferret to snack on an infant's toes. Unless the daughter is one of those scary children who feel no pain, I don't understand how her parents could have slept through snacktime, particularly given that the family slept together on a mattress on the floor.

And I particularly don't understand how the blame has been meted out. Apparently, the animals will both be removed from the house but allowed to live elsewhere. So they have been judged innocent. But the parents have pleaded guilty to improper child supervision. Parents who were asleep two feet from their infant when something completely unforeseeable occurred were improperly supervising their child. The parents will spend at least some time in jail, and the story suggests that they might not get custody of their child back.

I hope something is missing from the story. I can only assume there is real evidence of parental misconduct beyond owning pets and going to sleep. I mean, as a parent of a young child, I would not necessarily choose to have a ferret or a pit bull in my home, but there are no laws against this, nor should there be. And if I were to keep pets in my home making sure they didn't chew off my baby's body parts while we slept would not even be on my radar. Unless the parents rubbed the child down with lamb chops after bathtime, how can they be held responsible for an inconceivable act that they did not themselves commit?

Parents cannot keep an eye open and a hand within reach at all moments to protect their children. The fact that we cannot is one of the most difficult facts to come to terms with as a loving parent. Of course we want to shield our children from all potential hurt at all times. When parents fail to protect their child from life the law does not need to punish them; the child's pain is punishment enough for all.

And so I hope, in some sense, that the Hansches are truly negligent to such an extent that they should reasonably be held responsible for this horror. And if they are not I extend my sympathy to them.