May 30, 2013

Stop the Noise

If you will allow me to point you over to Marc Johns' lovely site where today's art & note say all the right things.

Sometimes, I spend so much time listening to everyone else's thoughts that I realize it's been a week or more since I've had a thought of my own. I hope to make some choices this summer that will shift this reality, so that I am listening to others, but also ensuring plenty of space to listen to my own self.

May 28, 2013

Summer Spending, Summer Giving: Help, Please! (Also: Uganda.)

I am currently unemployed. I have a couple little freelance gigs, some editing here and a photoshoot there, but nothing that is covering the cost of my rent.

This is okay by me. Quitting my job in April rather than August was a deliberate decision. I'm looking for part-time work or a summer contract, but I refuse to ruin the glorious joy of summertime stressing over things beyond my control.*

There are two related changes I'm struggling to sort through, and thought I'd ask for your thoughts/help.

1. Adjusting my socializing.

I'm not a big spender of money. I don't buy a lot of stuff, and as recently mentioned, my clothing options have taken a bit of a limit for the indefinite future. But one thing I do shell out money for is food. Specifically, food with friends. Drinks with friends. Coffee with friends. Gelato with friends. I like getting together with people, and let's be honest, it usually involves food. And in a city where we're so spread out, it usually means meeting halfway at a for-profit food-serving locale.

I feel I should be cutting back on this type of spending (it's one of the few ways I could cut back), but I don't know how to do it in a way that still allows me to connect with people and maintain my friendships in a non-burdensome way.

2.  Considering my giving. 

I know many people who are far more generous than I am with their money, but there are definitely occasions when I am eager to give and causes I want to support. As I head into a period of time where I am knowingly (and carefully) embracing debt, I am not sure how to balance wisdom with generosity. It seems foolish to me to intentionally add to what I owe in unnecessary ways, but it also seems foolish to say I can never give because I am a student or I'm unemployed. I'm still among the wealthiest and most privileged people in the world.

This month, I've particularly wanted to support Ally Vesterfelt as she raises $30,000 to build a classroom in Uganda for her 30th birthday. I met Ally and her husband Darrell when I was visiting Minneapolis; I'd come across them via their site Prodigal Magazine at the start of this year, then discovered they started attending the same church as my delightful Minneapolis host, Wendy. So I messaged her on Twitter, we went for coffee, and it turns out (no surprise here) they are fantastically genuine, risk-taking, smile-inducing folks. "Regular" people who've decided to do big things. Like raise $30,000 for a community of kids in Uganda, a country close to my heart since my visit last year.

So here are my questions for you:

1. What ideas/suggestions/tried & true methods do you have for capping social spending without becoming a hermit or high-maintenance friend?

2. How do you approach giving when your income is lean? Do you give anyway? Do you limit yourself to your current commitments? Do you cut back?

3. If you're able to pay your rent this month without going into debt, would you consider supporting Ally's campaign in my stead? I would be honoured if even three of my friends did what I can't currently. 

May 21, 2013

Onlyness & Loneliness: Email Excerpts

A friend and I are discussing my "active social life" and she writes to me:

my question:
in the middle of all this, do you feel lonely? i.e. do you feel like your relational needs are met?
(five minutes later)
it's kind of strange. i realized as i was typing that last email that I feel afraid that you are lonely. ha! strange reaction. i believe in my mind that loneliness is not somehting to be feared, but apparently that is not how i feel in my heart of hearts.
(my response)

You ask such good questions. You know, I thought a lot about loneliness on the Camino, and I have come to this realization/belief: there is a difference between loneliness and what I call "only-ness." Onlyness is the reality that only I experience my life, and that there will always be a level of my personhood that is inaccessible/viewed differently/misunderstood by others. No one else sees me or the world around me precisely like I do at all times. No one else can feel things on my behalf or fix the insides of my brain. This is the reality of being human. This is onlyness. (I used to think that a soulmate would fill this, but I no longer believe so).

Loneliness, to me, is the feeling that no one is with me, no one is present & cheering me on despite the inevitable space - or that they believe there is no space where I clearly see it.

So. To answer your question: I often feel my onlyness, and occasionally feel lonely. I am incredibly grateful for my inner circle friends. You are a fabulous lot who remind me that I am loved.

Are my relational needs met? I think mostly. As I thought about this earlier, I wondered at my motivation for all the socializing I do. I asked myself whether I believe most often that I need THEM, or they need ME. This question is still taking me places, and has answered in part your earlier question about being busy as a protective general, it provides me with enough people that different pieces of me are understood by different groups, and together I feel validated.

I am trying to make my other thoughts coherent, but it is late and this is long. So goodnight, friend.

What do you think? Does this distinction between loneliness and "only-ness" make sense to you? Is loneliness (or only-ness) to be feared? Is it inevitable?

May 17, 2013

Underwear, Entitlement, and the Value of Bangladeshi People

The comment that caught me was this: "We are basically saying, I deserve to buy a shirt for $10."

It was February, and I sat in Amelia & Varun's living room. We were drinking chai, of course, and laughing and talking about many things. Somehow, it came 'round to clothing and ethics. We discussed the desire to do right by the faceless masses involved in producing my (oh-so-fashionable) wardrobe, and the cost of living in southern Ontario. Is it possible to purchase ethical goods on my budget? I wondered.

And then she said it.

"By shopping at these stores, we are basically saying, I deserve to buy a shirt for $10. Instead of saying, I can't afford so I'll go without, we say, I deserve a shirt that is affordable, so I'm going to buy this one."

Deserve. What do I deserve?

I deserve a closet full of clothes.
I deserve to purchase 6 new shirts every season.
I deserve to look good and pay less.
I deserve to have enough clothes to do laundry every other week.

And what do the workers deserve? What about the humans who happened to be born in a developing country? Do they deserve fair wages? Safe working conditions? Does my entitlement to cheap clothing trump their entitlement to a reasonable life?

This struck me. I slept on it. And in the morning, I felt the same. I decided it was time to stop saying, "I can't do this," and to start saying, "I can't change the world, but I can change my own habits."

I told Amelia that I was contemplating a challenge to myself. It was too far into the year to call it a resolution, but it was, in fact, exactly that. I resolved that for the rest of the year, I would only purchase clothing or shoes that I could guarantee were ethically made or second-hand* (exceptions: pieces required for the weddings I was in, possibly soccer cleats). And she decided she was also in.

So now it is May, and I have purchased 3 items of clothing, all used. One skirt and two sweaters. I have some other new-to-me clothes from our third clothing swap. I bought one pair of non-ethical shoes for a wedding, and I bought two necklaces that were definitely not ethical, because I forgot. I regret those necklaces, not just for their cheap price, but also their cheap quality.

I'm relieved that I have plenty of underwear (thanks, Amelia for sourcing where I can get it next time I'm in need). I'm nervous about how the summer will go; I own precisely two pair of shorts, and find them the most difficult wardrobe piece to find.

But you know what? I'm doing just fine. I'm buying less. I'm curbing the urge to buy emotionally, I'm challenging myself to redefine what I "need," and when the factory complex in Bangladesh collapsed, I felt the conviction of someone who has shopped at Joe Fresh, who is implicit and responsible for the lives that were lost. And the relief that I had already chosen to change my habits.

My friend Michelle wrote more about personal responsibility and how we can make a difference. I encourage you to check it out! 

What are your thoughts? Do you think about the ethics/source of your clothing purchases? What are ways we can demonstrate that we value the humans involved in the process of clothes manufacturing? Want to join me in my resolution for the rest of the year?

*Buying second-hand isn't a perfect solution. There are actually quite a lot of ethical issues within the used clothing industry. For me, this is a starting point - I am hoping this small change leads to further small changes that eventually add up to significant and influential change.

May 15, 2013

Holidays are for Breathing Space

The best part of a vacation is that I don't spend 8 hours a day sitting in front of a computer. Of course, I make up for it mostly in phone-browsing, but it also means I contribute less to the Internet. Probably for the best, although I always feel I should apologize.  Because, you know, SO MANY PEOPLE depend on me for their Internet joy.

The past few weeks have been delightful. A wedding. A DIY project (my first, and possibly last. I hope to post on this as soon as I finish it...). Relaxing in the garage with a beloved friend. Reading on the deck with a beloved friend. Lying on a bed talking late at night with the same beloved friend.

Do you have friends around whom you find yourself breathing deeper, thinking less, and laughing more? I do. And it was a delight to host one, then go to the airport with her, say our goodbyes, and hop on a plane to visit a second.

We spoke of many things; school and books, boys and families. Moms and gift-giving and Jesus and much much more. We teared up. Sometimes we didn't talk - because with good friends, there is freedom for space. And we laughed. Nothing is better than shared laughter. e

I often lament the way my community is spread across countries and continents, but truly, I'm grateful just to have these ladies in my life.

And then home again for a couple of days before heading back to the second home (or possibly first?). Yesterday I cuddled with all the kidlets. This morning I take a 3 year-old out to tea. Tonight, a 94 year-old is taking me to the theatre.

There is much gratitude and joy, and not just for the return of this warm weather.
(No photos though...because I assume y'all have seen them on instagram. And my uploader isn't cooperating. Sigh.)

May 7, 2013

Reading in 2013: The Winter Vault

I finished reading The Winter Vault over a month ago. Then I wrote this post. But I didn't publish it because it is inadequate in its attempts to hint at how beautiful and poignant I found the book.

I loved The Winter Vault, by Anne Michaels.

A gentle, eloquent unfolding that centers around love and loss (as all stories do) and the travels of one particular couple, Avery and Jean. Toronto, Montreal, Holland Marsh - I love reading books set in places I can picture.

There is so much woven all around their propelling drama. The dislocation and relocation of entire cities. Architecture and engineering, creation & destruction, the temporality of art… grief that cannot be shared.

Did you know that in 1960, over 100,000 Nubians from Sudan and Egypt were relocated for the construction of the Aswan Dam?

Or that a few years earlier, 6,500 small-town inhabitants along the St. Lawrence River were moved for the construction of a power dam?

Neither did I.

I still think about these people, the unsettling and destabilization of families, the end of a way of living, the inevitable consequences on subsequent generations. I wonder whether the story of Sudan today could have been different.

And I still think about Avery and Jean, their parents, their losses, and their love.