That Which We Own Owns Us

I have a complicated relationship with my stuff. By "stuff" I don't mean "issues". I have a complicated relationship with my issues, too, but that's why they're my issues, so it hardly merits a mention. No, I mean material goods. My relationship with them (to them? since they're inanimate, right?) is complicated which, I guess, makes "stuff" one of my "issues".

See? Complicated.

We got knocked up young. By "young" I don't mean "pregnant teen", I mean "hardly employed, living in group house, no savings, no plans except to make music and art and friends and, apparently, a baby." We were, to put it mildly, fiscally unprepared. It took a great deal of tears and terror and sweat to make us fiscally prepared to parent. We are now fiscally prepared to parent. Our kid is nearly thirteen. For the first half of their life we relied heavily on others for every type of support you can imagine. It took the proverbial village to raise not only our child, but us as well.

There was a time in my life when I was kind of a hardcore consumer. I was a somewhat sedentary suburban kid, so there wasn't much more to do than purchase and consume. If I sit for a moment and quiet my mind, I can still summon that purchase! consume! rush that was all too familiar in my youth. I was ravenous for the things that would shape my life, would define me, would make me interesting. I became a discerning shopper with a keen eye for the precise external elements I would to employ to tell the rest of the world that I was intriguing! and worthy of their attention!

I was also, incongruently, pretty into Jesus. I was raised in a big, supportive Presbyterian community. Camps and ice cream socials and canoe trips and cantatas and lock-ins and mission trips. The Jesus that appealed to me was more the one who was totally into love and peace and sharing and not judging. I felt like a total weirdo back then, as an adolescent, and this Jesus offered hope that maybe people might accept me anyway. I was way less into the Jesus who said he was the only way into heaven. I was pretty into Gandhi, too, and couldn't reconcile that Jesus thought Gandhi should go to hell. This seemed to not jibe so much with the love and peace and sharing and not-judging Jesus, but try as I might, I couldn't find the Provisional Gandhi Dispensation in any of the church's teachings.

Then came punk, specifically DC punk. The Church of Dischord, I like to call it, because it called to me in much the same way I imagine people feel called to a religious order. I will say unequivocally that I don't condone the violence and misogyny often associated with punk. Like christianity, I think punk is too often characterized by the ideas and behaviors of a rowdy minority. Though it's safe to say that by the time punk reached me I was on the road to apostasy, I felt some resonance between the teachings of Jesus and the ideas of some of my punk heroes. This was particularly true of punk's approach to materialism.

The idea that we are not defined by the things we own was earth shattering for that younger me. Liberating, too, as I felt caught in a cycle of buying the exact things my schoolmates and the television prescribed for acceptance and still feeling pretty insufficient. Though I noticed clear "conformist" trends early on in my experience with punk, it was soon clear that a t-shirt-and-jeans (void of any discernible branding) combination was punk's great equalizer. This was of great comfort to me. Before punk, I hadn't noticed Jesus' eschewing of material goods all that much, because there weren't malls and cars and Swatch watches in Nazareth. What was there to eschew, really?

My late teens and twenties became a process of throwing off the materialism of my youth, a process with which I continue to struggle. Our many years of living below the poverty line were a blessing in that regard. My adoration for thrift stores, for the gleaner lifestyle, is both a help and a hindrance at times. We buy new when we must, but most often we're a salvage, reuse, repurpose kind of family. We're often the last people to own something before it's obsolete. There are all sorts of romantic ideas mixed up in there for me regarding wabi-sabi and minimalism and my responsibility as an inhabitant of this earth but I don't really need to go into those here.

How does this relate to our travels? We bought a new (to us) car that is the fanciest thing I've ever owned. It is a very practical purchase. Considering that we live through Michigan winters and want to drive thousands upon thousands of miles and carry camping equipment, this is the best car for us. Great gas mileage, enough room for gear, handles decent in snow. These are the things I need to remind myself in order to gain comfort with what feels to me to be an extravagant purchase. It's not extravagant, by most definitions, unless you've been drinking Punk & Jesus kool-aid with religious fervor for twenty-five years.

It's the good kind of kool-aid, though, the kind that you buy at the co-op, made with all-natural ingredients, so that's OK, right?