My tongue is in my hand…

The immaterial of the material

Posted on: February 23, 2008

I’ve never grasped materialism. All I can think of is how much more could be done with money than to spend it excessively on possessions; things that can be lost, stolen, outgrown, destroyed. Things you can get of decent quality for a decent price that people spend a ridiculous amount for (examples may be found in multitude on MTV). I think people are brainwashed into thinking that because something costs a ridiculous amount that it is better or necessary for a lifestyle they want to have, or appear to have.

I appreciate nice things, well made, authentic, unique. I appreciate when someone works and saves for something special. I appreciate the indulgence. But I can not do something like pay 48$ for a Victoria Secret bra from this season when there is basically the same bra on clearance from the previous season for $12.99. I mean, I really physically can’t, it would probably put my body into some kind of anxiety attack, shock me into paralysis, at the very least make me sick on my stomach and give me headache.

I look at girls sometimes, girls who keep their hair styled and colored, hands manicured, feet pedicured, their clothes new with each season, each year; shoes, purse, jacket, jewelry, all perfectly accessorized and I feel jealous, not up to par. I know I could do this too…but I can’t. I care to an extent; I like to look nice, sometimes making more of an effort than others. I like clothes and shoes, makeup and accessories. But I just can’t care that much about it all. And I don’t care about it for anyone else either. I am actually a bit turned off by people that care too much about it, probably partially due to jealousy/intimidation and partially because I have a feeling we won’t get far conversationally. Which is unfair. But that is the prejudice I have. (I’m working on it). And should someone have a prejudice towards my lack of caring materially, well, chances are you are the exact kind of person that I am not at all interested in engaging with even for the briefest of moments, and you are not helping me deal with my prejudice!

I thought of all this when I realized today while I was driving to work that I was adorned by gifts from my father. A scarf he bought me when he was in London, and a bracelet he bought on his lunch break when he worked downtown; both authentic, expensive items. My dad always made a point to make a point about things he gave us like this, and I understood I should appreciate it, and I do, always did. But it never mattered, the material worth.

I only realized recently in full why it meant so much to him. I realized by overhearing him in conversation say how hard it was being poor growing up, specifically the way he had to dress going to school. I thought everyone he went to school with was poor too, but apparently not, and that was something that bothered Daddy, I could tell, just from his tone, still bearing the weight of it. I wish he had told me that a long time ago, the way he felt about it, and not just the facts of it. Things would have made a lot more sense to me.

See, my parents did a great job raising me to not be materialistic. We only got clothes and shoes when necessary, rarely ate out, and had no satellite tv (and were too far out for cable) or internet until I was almost out of high school. My mom saved money by budgeting and couponing her way to savings at the grocery store and then saving the cash in a leather pouch under her bed so we could go to the movies and Carowinds in the summer. They drove their cars the way we wore our clothes, till you couldn’t anymore. I borrowed my first prom dress and did my own hair, nails, and makeup every time I went. When I wanted clothes and shoes of a certain brand, they gave me an amount I was allowed to spend and I realized quickly that I could get a lot more if I chose things that were less expensive. I got compliments on Payless shoes I had for years at a time and tops I found on clearance racks. I realized the whole “it’s all what you do with what you’ve got” lesson and found it worthwhile, successful, actually fun and creatively inspiring. It probably also helped that I quickly decided I did not care about looking the same as everyone else and preferred, in fact not to. (Damn that lack of cable and neighborhood kids to seduce me to conformity!) None of the financial limitations on the material aspects of my life ever bothered me (at least not enough to make a lasting impression). I am without a doubt much better off for it all, and never really thought otherwise, which really probably attributed very much to my inability to grasp the material (all that time reading and playing outside instead of tv probably didn’t hurt either).

What my dad usually spent money on instead of those daily material indulgences was experiences. We went on week vacations to the beach and stayed ocean front. We went to Yellowstone and Disney World, a Caribbean cruise, to New York. I went on 3 TIP weekends at Duke that cost 300$ each. Camp, girl scouts, field trips, sports, piano, college. I valued these experiences instantly, recognizing how fortunate I was, soaking in every last drop. But when he did indulge materially, he would make a big deal. And I was never really able to get anything from it in the same way. My feelings about these gifts never went beyond gracious appreciation. These things were never really cherished the same way, the worth never really registering, beyond it being a gift from my father that he was proud of. I would kind of have to remind myself sometimes that this was something really nice, materially, and that that was supposed to mean something.

But now, finally realizing what it meant to him to be able to give gifts like this, I can get it. It gains a new worth, it gains that intangible worth that I can soak in. I am thinking of those gifts with more warmth now than I ever did before. Now I know not only the worth of the experiences and opportunities, but also of the material gifts. I know what it means to him when he can buy expensive gifts; see them worn, used, admired, appreciated. It means he succeeded; he did as every parent hopes to do – somehow improve upon whatever situation in their childhood was the hardest for them. Thank you Dad.

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