Friday, December 11, 2009

the minimalist grinch

double yellow

It's so cold outside that I could barely smell the clump of pine trees sitting outside of the market on the way home from the Q train. Back when I used to carry a wallet, I would stick a piece of christmas tree in one of the credit card slots so I could hold on to that tangy clean smell into the month of January. It lasts longer than you would expect.

My holiday smashup interlude: Deck the halls with boughs of credit cards. Tis the season to be whiney. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh what fun it is to ride in a bumpy crowded bus. Hey!

I don't recommend reading The Road right before or after any major American holiday (especially 2 in a row that have morphed into times of rampant consumption/consumerism). It's strychnine for holiday cheer, not that I'm generally brimming with cheer this time of year. I finished The Road on a marathon bus ride home from Thanksgiving in MD. 4 hours turned into 6.5 thanks to a very clogged jersey turnpike. It was just long enough to make it through the book and then be thoroughly exhausted from the stress of worrying over the two main characters. Within the first 5 pages, I wanted to skip to the end just so I could have some peace of mind about where things were headed. I held off for maybe 30 more pages, but then I skimmed willy nilly at the beginning of each new situation because I just couldn't take the suspense (not that the knowledge made it any less stressful).

I'm not sure I should have read this book, given my tendency toward nihilism, but 2 people within 4 hours of each other basically threw it at me. I went to a friend's for dinner the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and she mentioned how great the book was. Then when charrow and I got back to her parents house, her sister told me (with no knowledge of the friend's recommendation) that she had just bought The Road at the airport because she needed something to read and I had to borrow it when she finished. Coincidence and masochism made it impossible to resist.

Among the many residual feelings I've had about the book is a hyperawareness of waste. Just last night, we made a squash vindaloo from a reliable cookbook that turned out to be almost inedible. The amount of clove the recipe called for was the culprit. There is absolutely no way to cover up too much clove. Blech. After eating our small portions (neither of us could force ourselves to eat very much of it), we decided, with much regret, that we would have to throw out the remainder of the disaster. Short of leaving it outside for a desperate passerby to take, there was nothing to be done. I guess we could have thrown out half of it and added more of the ingredients to even out the clove, but the nausea induced from eating it the first time made this a very unappealing option. We will not be cooking with clove for a very long time. Anyway, the point wasn't to berate clove, it was to say that throwing out perfectly good (but oh so bad) food was horrifying.

Do you know what else is horrifying? Christmas stores. The ones that only sell christmas decorations and wrapping paraphernalia. The frenzied consumerism of Christmas in general is pretty appalling. Now, I'm not saying that I'm immune to materialism. If you put a striped object of any kind in front of me, I would probably salivate and rip it from your hands. But this reflexive consumerism is definitely something I'd like to temper. Knowing that there are people out there that don't even consider the concept of moderation is seriously depressing. So many of us are governed by an overriding sense of entitlement coupled with a definition of success that hinges on the act of having. I can't handle an environment as stark (or as terrifying) as The Road, but I would definitely like to move in the direction of minimalism. I know there are a couple of you that just shook your heads in dismay. That's right, I said minimalism. How this can be accomplished living in a city as overwhelming as New York, I'm just not sure.

I'm also not sure where I'm going with this gripe session. I intended to write about The Road* and now I'm off in ascetic grinch land. This time of year always puts me in a wonky mood for so many more reasons than consumerism. Write this one off to an extremist frame of mind and an overwhelming sense of guilt after having tossed out enough food for 4 people.

*I know The Road has nothing to do with the minimalist lifestyle, but the whole time I was reading it, I couldn't stop thinking about the simplicity of having everything you own and need with you in a bag or a shopping cart.


Steve said...

The Road is about the darkest book I've ever read...but I did enjoy it. I didn't have the same "minimalist" reaction as you, but I do generally try to live a very low-consumption lifestyle (especially now that I'm jobless!) so I'm kind of minimalist at heart. In fact this year I told my family that they're getting very little in terms of gifts, and with some people I suggested no gift exchange at all. I have a little more leeway to do this because of the aforementioned unemployement, but I hope it sticks in future years!

I have the same hangup about throwing out food, too -- within reason!

herding tapeworms said...

yet another way you're utilizing your unemployment! i hope things are going okay with that (i've been following along on your blog).

i would love to go gift free on christmas but there's so much tradition locked in place when it comes to extended family that i might be seen as the cheap (and therefore loveless) city slicker. i still might give it a shot and provide ample explanation.

ester said...

Oof. I read The Road last winter and had a similar reaction. Isn't it amazing how easy it is to skip past the somewhat-happy ending and focus on the bleakness of the story overall?

If you're not SO OVER post-apocalyptic bleakness, btw, there's also Year of the Flood.

Alexandra said...

Oh no! I am sorry I gave it to you.

I too found I was skipping ahead just to make sure everyone was still alive. (but I also have the terrible habit of renting movies I have seen before so I don't have to deal with the stress of new characters and plots). Excited to see you for Christmakkah.