I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet. ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7
The “value” of something these days is too often taken as monetary. There is such a thing as becoming too sentimental about something, but I see too much of the opposite. I hear kids whine about how “stupid” a learning activity is or how “lame” going to grandma’s is when they were just about to pass level 50 on their video game and were interrupted. (Won’t they see the value in those moments when they’re gone?) No one seems to enjoy “doing it by hand” anymore and, if they do, it’s because it’s trendy. They don’t see a gain in putting their time in. Time is money. Everything’s about money, about attaining that “easy life”. (Again, I think of Miranda Lambert’s song Automatic.) And because everything is made automatically by machines and with cheaper, lighter materials, we see more affordable items of lesser quality more readily available to, well, everyone.
There’s not as much value in something just because everyone needs to have it, and so a cheap solution is made up so that everyone can. Even iPhones and Instagram seem to make my photography less enjoyable when I feel like I could shoot a pretty good picture with just a phone, and everyone has an iPhone. It’s kind of like sugar, once a rare thing of high demand that suddenly was cheapened so it was available to everyone – and now we can’t get away from the damned stuff. I look back on the things stashed away in our barn that came from my grandparents’ house and I just see so many things that were actually authentic, metal, wood, not cheap plastic that just gets thrown out when it breaks.
Yesterday, I went to go look at a Starr upright piano that came with the house a lady bought and she doesn’t want it anymore. She’s had offers to scrap it, but she didn’t think that was the right thing to do – and I’m glad. The piano is absolutely beautiful, although it could use a little work – which I am definitely willing to do. It’s about 110 years old, completely original, and only one key doesn’t work well. I asked her why no one wants it. She just doesn’t play piano; everyone else, well it’s way too heavy and it’s not a Steinway. Starr only produced pianos between 1849 and 1949 out of Indianapolis. At it’s best times, 18,000 pianos were being made per year. Starr won some pretty prestigious awards in the 1890s which are displayed on painted decals across the piano. In my research, I’ve found that this piano has the potential of a $70,000 value – or at least it should. However, people struggle to get $10,000 for it considering how heavy it is. I see most sold for even less than that. This one? Free. But that’s because the cursed thing is made out of wood, wood, wood, metal, ropes, and wood. Lots of good quality wood. Much heavier than plastic and aluminum, and that’s why no one wants an old, not-Steinway, obsolete piano made of wood.
When I mentioned the piano to a friend, all he could see was the money value in it. Well, I see more value in giving it a life and letting it age further. It’s a piano, and I want it to be used as such – not scrapped for parts and fuel. This thing has some serious character. But so many people fail to appreciate character. They just see money, trendy, glamorous,… and they turn their noses up at the idea of having to put time in to move something like this piano, especially when it’s not already in mint condition. They don’t see the value and pride in time spent doing something with your hands. But what will they say in 100 years, when the Starr pianos have all been chopped up and burned away?? They’ll lament the “good ole days”, probably the same way they would have lamented a nice slab of buffalo meat had they actually pushed the buffaloes into extinction.
Ironically, I had these thoughts on the same day that I watched a movie with a similar theme. My friend had mentioned Creator, a 1985 film that I had never heard of but decided to check out anyway. It’s about this research professor who can’t get over the loss of his wife 30 years prior, so he’s hired a student to help him regrow her through a cloning process. During the course of the movie, the professor becomes transfixed with his project despite having a new woman around. The student, hoping to understand “The Big Picture”, falls in love with a girl who nearly dies. The professor sees this all play out and finally comes to term with the hard parts of life and how moments that are fleeting have value because they are fleeting, so sometimes you just have to let go of the ones that are gone. The juxtaposition of his dead love, possible future love, and the student’s fragile love really makes you see how you must identify and indulge in good things when they’re there because they won’t be for nearly as long as you’d hope.
And finally, it also occurred to me how frightening it would be if we really kept cheapening and devaluing everything in life. Machines are already replacing human labor. In some aspects, I want to see this as efficient and effective. In other aspects, it scares me. What is the need of a workforce at all if it can just be replaced? If, in the future, people are able to do what the professor tried to do and can grow whatever person they want…well then what is the value of a life anymore? Oh, sorry, I accidentally shot your friend…we’ll just grow a new one. ….It kind of reminds me of what I was saying before, when something breaks these days because it’s cheap and you can just replace it with another cheap thing. Maybe the “good ole” days are already gone, and now I’m just starting to see the value because it’s all just memories…
I feel like this has been a classic scatterbrain entry, so I will attempt to redeem myself with some photos from my Pinterest feed of little thoughts and little things that make up a happy life if you’re little enough to see them – so enjoy:
I have always had a problem accepting that a day is only 24 hours long, and that my body legitimate needs to sleep a fair portion of those hours away. I just don’t understand how one can seriously fit the utmost rewarding days in those many hours. I wake up early to get a workout in for my own health, but I’m also expected to work an 8 hour work day and find time for meals the middle. However, I hate being cooped up inside and I don’t like fast food, so I find myself craving to be outside as soon as I get home – and spending extra time getting adequate meals. I also have a number of activities I enjoy doing like dance and sports and even just going to the beach or trying out a new place in town. Well, how can I do all of these things and still find time to read books and write and draw and…play with my cats? I’m thinking about starting a petition to make the days longer.
All of those things fall under the definition of welfare. Welfare includes health, safety, happiness, and prosperity. I looked up the definition when I finally got a minute to continue reading Custer Died for Your Sins by Vine Deloria, Jr. He’s a humorous and rather crude writer who, in this particular chapter, takes time to blame Pilgrim society for our welfare problems and stereotypes. Welfare, as in the government program. And I got to thinking, wow – I can’t imagine what I would be doing with my time if I didn’t work…except, just kidding. First of all, I’d be constantly looking for work. Second, I never have nothing to do. There’s always something! Always a book to read, a movie to watch, or inspiration to draw or run or…yeah, you get the point.
But then Deloria makes a somewhat convicting point. I definitely do think of people on welfare as being sloths. I know I shouldn’t generalize, but when I think of welfare I just think of people trying to take advantage of the system and live reckless lives at others’ expenses. I’m just going to share a couple paragraphs by Vine:
There is basically nothing real about our economic system. It is neither good nor bad, but neutral. Only when we place connotations on it and use it to manipulate people does it become a thing in itself.
Our welfare system demonstrates better than anything else the means to which uncritical white economics can be used. We have all types of welfare programs: old age, disability, aid to dependent children, orphanages, and unemployment. There is continual controversy in the halls of Congress, state legislatures, and city halls over the welfare programs.
Conservatives insist that those receiving welfare are lazy and are getting a free ride at the expense of hard-working citizens. Liberals insist that all citizens have a basic right to life and that it is the government’s responsibility to provide for those unable to provide for themselves.
What are we really saying?
Welfare is based upon the norm set up by the Puritans long ago. A man is define as a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant, healthy, ambitious, earnest, and honest, a man whom the Lord smiles upon by increasing the fruits of his labor. Welfare is designed to compensate people insofar as they deviate from that norm. Insofar as a woman has an illegitimate child, she receives compensation. Insofar as a man is disabled, he receives compensation. Insofar as a person is too old to work, he receives compensation.
Welfare buys that portion of a person which does not match the stereotype of the real man. Welfare payments are never sufficient, never adequate. This is because each person bears some relation to the norm and in proportion to their resemblance, they receive less.
After reading this section, it struck me that old Christian ideals are really what we use to define “welfare”. Even the government is giving handouts based on those same ideals and expectations. Since these ideals and our democratic society define welfare and happiness, etc., as being able to afford a place to live, food to eat, clothes to wear,… We’re expected to fit into roles and family molds, so when a piece is broken and it doesn’t quite fit anymore, the government tries to patch it up. We’re not really given a choice on how to live. (Maybe the one exception to that is the guy that quit ordinary life to live in a cave in Moab, but I think even he has since been shut down by some loophole the government devised.) And it’s not surprise to me that Vine is particularly aggressive against this concept of welfare. I mean, he’s a Sioux writer and avidly denounces any and every remnant of American efforts for Indian assimilation and termination of the reservations. He wrote this book at the end of the Termination Era and during the Civil Rights movement for blacks, so I’d say his candidness is highly justifiable.
A famous quote by Vine Deloria, Jr.
That candidness is what causes me to love Deloria and what causes others (especially close-minded whites) to really hate him. He has a knack for conviction and also for pounding accusatory points home. When the points he make align with your beliefs or the ones you get from reading what he writes, then you can hardly refrain from putting your hands up and shouting
But he also has a tendency to totally call you out on things, like my outlook on welfare apparently aligning with a conservative mindset and his shedding light on my subconscious acceptance of the Christian perspective of welfare and success.
Ahh…and I’ve feel like I’ve done it yet again. I tend to do this to myself, to branch out and read convicting things that sort of knock me flat and question everything I’ve come to know. Then that leaves me trying to sort out what’s the right way to go. I’ve already had a sense that “ordinary” life is contrived, and I’m sure that contributes to my running around like a fool trying to live it to its best and fullest, but now…now I can question my efforts all over again, from a refreshed base. Which won’t be as hard to do if I can convince this Puritan government to accept my petition and tack on a few more hours to this ancient 24-hour-day concept.
Nature is made better by no mean / But Nature makes that mean; so over that art / Which you say adds to Nature, is an art / That Nature makes
The world has all kinds of rules for love;
I say you’ve gotta let it do what it does.
– Hunter Hayes, I Want Crazy