Welcome to Archive 405, Vol. 4: The Materialism Issue

Letter from the Editor: Talking Out of My Pie Hole by Lisa Montagne


 Anne Frank wrote in her diary during World War II, “I don’t think of all the misery, but of the beauty that still remains.” I have to agree. There is a lot of misery in this world, no matter who you are or where you live. Yes, we all have to deal with the crap that life sends us, and we should make it a mission to help others deal with theirs, but who are we not to enjoy the beauty in the physical world that remains around us? From glorious sunsets on the horizon, a daily gift from nature, to a beautifully wrought piece of furniture, gloriously rendered painting, or carefully composed bite of food, the work of loving human hands, the material world is ours to enjoy. It seems ungrateful not to.

If you asked me, say 10 years go, if I were a materialistic person, I’d have said absolutely, categorically not. No way. Happiness comes from within, from relationships with others, and from doing good for others. I still firmly believe this with no doubts, despite many set backs. But, I now have a slightly modified point of view, which goes something like this: Life is short, and it should be savored—morsel-by-morsel.

The Japanese may have it right with Feng Shui, which is the careful arrangement of physical surroundings in order to enhance nature and to integrate human beings gently into the physical world. Unfortunately, human beings often seem hell bent on destroying the physical world, instead of integrating gently into it. Sadly, we do not always behave as if we belong in nature; we treat nature like an ugly boyfriend that we like to screw, but won’t take out in public. If you ask me, with this in mind, we should all be proud materialists. We need to take care of and nurture this world.

If I’m honest, I have always been the kind of person, regardless of the size of my budget, who cared about esthetics. There are just too many interesting and amazing things in this world to look at, to own, to make, to value; I have always cared about stylish clothes, soulful paintings, brut Champagne, lovingly wrought poetry, tasty and pretty food, visually stunning movies, pretty men, and how my surroundings look, no matter the scope and scale of the space under my control. I have always thought that if a person has good taste, he or she can shop anywhere. Goodwill can cough up some amazing treasures, some of which are in my house as I write this. Think about it: Thrift store shopping is the ultimate in recycling.

When I was a little girl, I rigorously cleaned and organized my 80-square-foot bedroom, using various themes for its decor. I might accentuate my stuffed animal collection on shelves, or build an “office” façade out of large swathes of cardboard when I was going through a Harriet the Spy phase. My dad would throw up his hands in frustration when he’d come home from work to discover me spray painting a family heirloom bright blue—to match my new décor, of course. I would bat my eyelashes at him with a wide-eyed innocence—at least that’s how I like to remember how it went. He would then storm off to watch football and leave me to rummage around the garage. A complete makeover of my room could occur overnight with just the things on hand. I realize now that carefully coordinating and curating my room when I was ten years old was not only a creative expression, but it also accomplished other things, like making me feel safe and giving me a sense of belonging and peace in the world—even when my parents were battling it out in the very room next to mine. At least, I had a room of my own.

Have you seen those photos on the Internet of children and their bedrooms from around the world? The range is from very wealthy American children with many high-end items to very poor children who have a palette bed in a hut with a few sticks and half a doll head as their prized possessions. The one thing all of these children have in common is a sense of pride in their place and in their possessions. Each child in these photos has an aura of dignity about him or her. Establishing a place may be an innate trait in human beings, an aspect of the survival instinct.

Today, I live in a 3,000-square foot condo with a decent-sized yard for Orange County. It may be a work in progress, but it is always tidy and clean (I admit to getting help with that—okay, a lot of help with that), and it is filled with things that I treasure and enjoy. Some of it may have come from Ethan Allen, and some of it may have come from a Long Beach flea market; they are all equally beautiful to me. I have decorated and organized my home with the same loving care as I did my bedroom when I was ten, albeit sans bright blue furniture. It all makes me feel protected and at home. I do not believe in storing things in boxes; I have everything out to look at or to use right now, today. If a thing does not have a place, I pass it on to the Goodwill to find another home. Sometimes, perhaps prompted by images of tornados on the Weather Channel, I imagine a time when I might be forced to leave my home: They would have to drag me out feet first, as I was kicking and screaming and clawing at the front porch.

I have a friend who lost almost all his possessions in a house fire a few years ago. (Miraculously, a photo of the two of us at our college graduation survived tucked in a book). I often ask myself how I might feel if I lost my home and my things to some natural disaster, which could happen. I live in earthquake land, after all. And, as I write this, half of San Diego County has gone up in flames. The answer to this question is that I would be devastated, flattened, destroyed. But, somehow, I would go on—like people do. Hopefully, my photographs and printouts of my writing would survive, which is what my life will be reduced to eventually anyway—a box of photographs marked “Mom” or “Aunt Lisa,” and files of manuscripts—not withstanding my digital footprints in the Cloud.

Yes, we all know that materialism for its own sake, otherwise known as the sin of greed, that is used to control, to impress, to oppress, or to bolster self-esteem falsely is not good. But, that’s not what I am talking about here.

In this issue, you will see a short story and an article that address the consequences of over-consumerism, while you will also see poetry that celebrates the complexities and joys of the physical world, and an essay by me in which I mourn the loss of my beloved Thunderbird.

Oh, and did I mention that I own over 100 pairs of shoes? Does that affect my credibility in any way?

Lisa Montagne, Ed.D.                                                                                                       Publisher | Editor | Archive 405.com                                                                            Blogger, Talking Out of My Pie Hole @ lisamontagne.com

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