my occasional musings on life, love, art, perfume ... what else is there?

8.16.2006

Dialectic

I've been branching out in my blogreading lately.

Since entering blogdom, I've read the prominent perfume blogs, including the no-nonsense, extremely informative Now Smell This, the beautifully written Bois de Jasmin and the free-fall, byzantine aesthetic of cognoscented ... places where I know the language, and learn even more about the artform that is scent ...

For wordplay and wit, I read Waking Ambrose, the blog where Doug channels Ambrose Bierce and you'll like it or else ... and, for the most humorous woman in the world, there's Tan Lucy Pez.

Then I also have some foodblogs I always check: Simply Recipes, Veggie Venture and Lex Culinaria.

But suddenly I find myself in places like Pocket Farm and
10 Signs Like This ... places where terms like Voluntary Simplicity and Eat Local are thrown around.

It's a whole different world. These are people committed to "sustainability" and who know exactly where their meat came from, because they slaughtered that chicken themselves. They discuss the most efficient, frugal means of accomplishing existence, but aren't joyless about it.

I admire this tremendously.

Liz and Jamie (of the above named blogs, respectively) are putting their politics where their mouths are, literally. They grow their food, what they don't grow, they make every attempt to purchase close to source (eating local), they preserve that food, they prepare that food. And it looks delicious -- I've seen pictures.

(Admittedly, I couldn't get behind the roast duck, after I'd seen the fluffy white being sauntering around the yard. Hypocrite that I am, that would push me all the way into vegetarianism. It seems that I'm ok with the occasional meat meal, as long as I wasn't on a first name basis with it. That isn't only hypocritical, it's disrespectful of the animal's sacrifice and I'm still thinking my way through this.)

But what got me started down this road of thought was an interesting post Liz made about consumerism as it regards to knitting, a pastime of many of the "sustainability" bloggers. Buying, keeping, "stashing" quantities of yarn, some of it quite expensive. And whether this went against the Voluntary Simplicity ethos.

Now I start getting disoriented.

If we can jam my thoughts into dialectic: thesis would be "I want to smell every expensive perfume in the world, and own as many as is humanly possible."

Antithesis would be: "Humans, especially first world humans, consume much more than their share of the earth's resources. How can I exist in a moral manner, living as lightly as possible, in order that more may have a decent life?"

I don't know where to find the synthesis of this.

On Liz's blog, I posted something about there being a need to build aesthetics into the sustainable life.

By extension, I meant that art, artforms are a human need every bit as strong, as imperative, as the need for food. We need beauty, to create it, to appreciate it.

But art often implies heavy consumption. The perfumeurs are not going to create for free, any more than the farmer can sow seed, break his/her back in the field, harvest and provide food for free.

Can there be a moral ground for consumption of art, similar to that being forged by individuals who are implementing voluntary simplicity in their food and clothes?

Is it possible to live in voluntary simplicity, wafting Ormonde Jayne Ta'if behind me?

I'm asking a serious question.

9 Comments:

Blogger WinterWheat said...

I admire the simplicity movement too, but, as a famous person once said, true economy lies in selection, not abstention (or something like that).

In recent months I've looked at my perfume collection with something like disgust. How could I have been so promiscuous? And where did I get all the MONEY?

Money, that's the key here--money is a tool, nothing more. You use it to bring things into your life that you feel will enrich it. If that means a top-end computer and high-speech internet access so you can blog about how you grow your own herbs and kill your own chickens, fine. If it means art, fine. What I don't understand is, why is one choice more morally sound than the other?

(I realize I'm justifying my ridiculous perfume collection here, but by way of background: When my first dog fell ill with autoimmune hemolytic anemia, DH and I spent over $3000 on every treatment we could find to help her, but she ended up dying anyway. People were really put off that we'd spend that much on a dog. My reply, eyeing their new leather sofa and armchair, was that money is a tool to buy what you value. It's not for me to say what they should value, and vice versa.)

5:33 AM

 
Blogger Liz said...

Winterwheat, who said that one choice is "more morally sound" than the other? What I do on my land is what works for me. Others have expressed interest which is why I share. I don't think I'm any better than anyone else because I raise my own food. I do it because I enjoy it, the food I raise is delicious, and it saves money.

I also think it's unfair that you are categorizing those of us who espouse simplicity as having top-end computers and DSL. My computer, while hardly top-end, is my lifeline to the rest of the world... I live in a rural location where I'm lucky to connect (via a phone line) at the amazingly fast speed of 28.8k on a good day. I pay $14 a month to have both internet service and my own domain, which is much less than many people spend on lunch for a week.

I have never begrudged the things that others want to do with their money. If you want to spend thousands healing a precious family pet, or buying perfume you should. But each thousand you spend needs to come from somewhere. By living simply, I have chosen to reduce the amount I need to earn, and can spend more time persuing my own interests, rather than the interests of those who sign my paycheck each week.

A famous person once said (and this is my life creed):
There are two ways to have enough: One is to have more. The other is to need less.

Mireille, I like what you said about needing beauty in our lives, simple or not. I find much beauty in the natural world, and in my garden. The way the sun glints off the morning dew, or a garden spider artfully building a web. I can't capture these things to bring inside and cherish (except in a photograph), as they are transient, which is maybe part of the allure. Winter gives me new gifts of hoarfrost or animal tracks in the snow.

Voluntary simplicity is not about living like a pauper or denying yourself things that bring you joy. For me, it's about really enjoying the things you choose to have in your life. I have a thing for chocolate (which I may have mentioned to you previously). I never buy a Hershey bar, preferring instead Dagoba or Black & Greens organic bars. Do I eat one every day? Of course not. Chocolate, this thing I adore, has become a special treat... something to savor and enjoy and eat mindfully. A small piece goes a long way toward being immensely satisfying, and a bar can last a month.

It's not about sustainability. We humans have outstripped the capacity of the earth and can be sustainable no more. ("Sustainable" has just become the new buzzword of the time to sell more goods: "Buy these honey-sweetened ice pops made from organic, shade grown tea. It's sustainable!") For me, it's about keeping a small footprint. Not being a typical American who uses with no regard for tomorrow. Or tomorrow's children. We Americans are used to having whatever we want whenever we want it. Scaling back the wants gives us the opportunity to enjoy what we have *now*, instead of always reaching for what we don't have yet.

So, yes, I think you can live in voluntary simplicity while wearing expensive perfume, if that's what really brings you pleasure. You just apply the simplicity aspect to other parts of your life, and you maybe dial back the perfume a little. It's a fine balance, and only you know where the point between pleasure and denial is.

7:36 AM

 
Blogger Doug said...

You had me at "Dialectic"

I'm not convinced that the live simply that others may simply live perspective isn't more elegant than true. Consumption creates and builds as well as destroys and wastes. I agree that there's too much poverty in the world for thoughtlessness to be moral but living in this world isn't a zero-sum problem.

For a wild good time, look up "Pareto efficiency" on Google and look for articles that aren't too arcane.

12:58 PM

 
Blogger Bela said...

"There are two ways to have enough: One is to have more. The other is to need less." I really like that.

I'm quite frugal, I think: I don't spend a lot on anything. I find unbridled consumption rather obscene. I've always said that I wouldn't want to be survived by my shower gels. I try to only buy what I need and/or what brings me real pleasure. I don't always succeed, but the sums involved are small - usually, and I don't feel guilty about them. Earning very little is a great incentive to spending very little, I find, when 'debt' is a dirty word. LOL!

7:49 AM

 
Blogger goatman said...

Of course. I see art all around me. And esthetic beauty has to be a part of that. I can walk to the woods, pick up a pretty branch, take it home and make my own art. I am limited only by my imagination and not that of another. I find others' art interesting but not necessarily a part of me or my world.
Hope this helps.

11:33 AM

 
Blogger audible said...

M- your post really moved me. I am just now adjusting to my new state side life and a new focus on sustainability and deliberate living has been one of the outcomes.

I was living a very “thing” oriented life in Tokyo. It’s hard not to living in the epicenter of consumerism. Tokyo is a place where shopping is considered a viable hobby and not eating lunch in order to buy a LV bag is a smart spending strategy for the low wage office lady. Moving back to the US meant sacrificing some pretty big things, but I’m happier than I’ve ever been (after getting used to the SUV’s and giant boobs). I have no real job- one income pays all our bills. I have no car- I live close to everything I need and love my bike more than any car I’ve owned, even the BMW with leather and the sun roof. I have no TV- but do watch unholy amounts of movies via loving video clerks. I shop at our farmers' markets and the public market near my house. The food is local, organic and I eat a million times better than i did in Tokyo, despite the blaring lack of fine dining, fusion cuisine, or naked sushi lunches.

My pace has slowed to a snail’s crawl and I couldn’t be happier. I never have to turn down an invite to lay out by the lake or BBQ. I have time to volunteer at the local public bike garage and government ESL classes. I spend most of my time creating the art that I never had the time for in my previous life.

This is not to say that this change came easily. I initially was disgusted by the utter lack of consumer goods in my small town. No limited addition Vans or yellow shu uemura eye shadow. But I’ve started making the things I want to wear and don’t miss the daily strolls past glass fronted stores with 3,000 dollar chairs. I stopped buying fringe fashion magazines, mango lip gloss, tiny boxed plastic collectables and other crap at my numerous daily convenience store visits. Most of my stuff is still in boxes in our basement or parents’ home. I don’t miss it. Out of sight, out of mind.

Now on to the real question: the moral ground of consumption of art. As an artist I have to say yes... but what does that mean? Are we free to wildly consume every thing we desire in the name of art? Unlikely. There is a place for beauty in life. But by surrounding oneself by beauty the importance and impact is greatly diminished. As the child of a bone fide health food nut, refined sugar was one of the No’s of my childhood. The rare can of grape soda split with my sister was infinitely more delicious and wildly sweet than the disappointing sugar rush of the annual pillow case full or halloween candy. This isn’t to suggest that we should all limit ourselves to one pair of shoes, one hand bag, one custom made BMX bike. Collections can also be meaningful and enriching. But it should be soemthing with meaning, importance, and *function*.

So the real question is does your collection, your lust to obtain, more enrich your life or needlessly complicate your life?

5:21 PM

 
Blogger actonbell said...

That's an excellent question. I've been pondering materialism lately because I keep seeing all these storage companies crop up--miles of storage garages to house STUFF that people have accumulated, but must not really urgently need. Money spent for stuff, money spend to rent a room for stuff. It does keep feeding the economy, doesn't it? It also takes up space on earth.

Perfume doesn't take up much space. I like that. And it IS art, and I like that. It doesn't harm the environment, it keeps skilled people in work, and it makes people happy. I feel that way about wine, too. So, YES! perfume can be part of a simple life, within reason.

And anyway, artforms mark the success of a culture!

5:39 PM

 
Blogger Jamie said...

I'll also object to Winterwheat's characterization of sustainability bloggers spending wads of cash on high-end computers and high-speed connections to blog about our chickens. Yeah, I have DSL. Dial-up is also not an option because I need the phone line to stay open for work-related communications (I'm a freelance business writer in "real life," and my clients and interviewees need to be able to get through). And I have to have something high-speed because I am often required to upload massive high-res photographic files, etc.

My computer? An eMac. The absolute cheapest Mac on the market. The choice of elementary schools everywhere.

I hope I don't sound defensive, but I'm not crazy about people presuming to know more about me than they actually do. I am not trying to act morally superior by writing my blog...I'm just doin' my thang.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, Mireille, I'm really glad you're asking the hard questions. I don't think there's any one right answer; what's important is that you lead an examined life and make choices you can be comfortable with.

For the record, I was a vegetarian for 16 years. I know exactly how you feel about the duck. Now that I have decided to eat meat again, I know I have a great responsibility: No longer am I simply casting a vote "against." I can now cast a vote "for." For raising animals humanely. For eating locally. For farmers who care.

Thanks for writing about me and Liz. Not everybody goes about their lives the same way, nor should they, but what you see on our blogs is what works for us.

1:16 PM

 
Blogger Kyahgirl said...

This is a great post Mireille. And, I know your question about the perfume is serious. For some of us, to smell the fragrance we love is like a jolt of pure joy in the brain...how could I suggest going without that? However, the 'business of perfume' is a huge, rapacious beast. Its hard to feel good about one, knowing about the other.

This post is really thought provoking.

One thought that was provoked at the mention of knitting....is Bucky finished with my scarf yet? :-)

*runs away*

1:32 PM

 

Post a Comment

<< Home