Archives for posts with tag: shopping

My aspiration to high-mindedness and my love of nice things have co-existed in constant tension for as long as I can remember.

I trace these early twin drivers to the following sources:

1) The life and work of Louisa May Alcott (Little Women! all those Transcendentalists she grew up with!)

2) My mother (glamorous black and white photos of her life in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the ’40s and ’50s! drawers full of cashmere sweaters! caviar and smoked oysters!)

The influences are entwined; my mom shared her stories of growing up during the Great Depression. She had two sweaters and one skirt to wear for school. Period. I can easily understand why she drifted to over-shopping later in her life- she could.

I over-shopped too, in my young adulthood. I was unrealistic and undisciplined for a while, and I suffered for it.

As I dug out from under debt (with the help of my mother, it is only fair to say) I developed a  new strategy: I would buy less, but I would buy the best I could afford when I had the money, so that I would not feel poor when I did not.

This strategy is best applied to things that last. I am still happily using the pots and pans I  purchased 25 years or so ago. I fretted  about the expense at the time, but that cobalt enamel looks as good to me now as it did in nineteen-eighty-whenever.

The amount of time spent anguishing over a prospective purchase tends to be balanced by my resulting satisfaction. In the last year and a half, I have anguished over a new sofa, a side table and an area rug for the family room, a dresser for The Kid, and a bed and bedside table for the master bedroom. That sounds like a lot, and it is,  but not so much when one considers that the sofa and bedside table are replacements for Craigslist stand ins, the wooden bed and headboard replace a basic metal frame, and the other pieces should have been there long ago. ( I also took considerable advantage of sale prices and/or my employee discount.)

And now I am ready to put on the brakes, thanks to some sort of inner equilibrium that shifts my attitude about spending from exhilaration to queasiness at just the right time. After a certain amount of consumption, I am driven to get back to work, and produce something.

I feel contented and supported when I see and use the things I’ve bought. They serve my family and me, and will for a long time,  leaving me mental space to worry about bigger things.

As you know, I work in a store. That store is part of the largest mall in my area.

As a consumer, I was thrilled to hear of the mall’s development in the late 1990’s, shortly before we were to return to California. At the same time, I bemoaned the loss of undeveloped forest. I dreaded watching my new home developing into something that closely resembled my old home.

Just over a decade later, the area around the mall is still growing: other businesses, new neighborhoods, and who knows what else are springing up. Still, large tracts of undeveloped wilderness remain, including a water fowl impoundment around the nearby creeks. (“Free the water fowl!” I love to cry in my mind, raising a mental fist, whenever I drive by one of the signs.)

My point is, the wild world and the world of commerce co-exist in close quarters, although we often forget that as we go about our business.

My store is part of a long one story building directly to the west of the main mall.  We face an identical  building, with a wide walkway and tables between us.

I happened to be near our entrance a few days ago. The door was open. Over the sounds of  Muzak, shoppers’ conversations , and other ambient noise, I heard a vaguely familiar, but muffled sound. I glanced toward the door, and saw the beating of bird wings on the ground outside.

At first, I assumed  I had caught two pigeons en flagrante delicto. Within a few seconds, I realized that one of the “pigeons” was in fact a hawk. The beating of  wings continued. My coworker was a few feet away, working on a seasonal display of discounted  throws. I discreetly directed her attention to the scene outside. We watched in slightly appalled silence as the hawk finally got full control of the pigeon and flew away with it.

The sight was remarkable, but went unnoticed by the other half-dozen or so people in the store, and by at least as many passers-by outside. I am glad I alerted my coworker, or I would doubt that I had seen it myself.

Are we really so absorbed in our own immediate concerns that we can miss a life or death struggle as it plays out a few feet away from us? The answer appears to be yes.

George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (cnms.berkeley.edu).

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