Wednesday, February 06, 2008

What if. . . none were enough?

A woman sets her ladder against an enormous block of hay and begins to climb. Her ladder comes no where near the top of the pile but the thought of what she will do when she gets to the highest rung has not yet occurred to her. The climb itself is everything. To her right and left, men and women raise their arms above their heads and caress the hay, stretching to embrace their body-width portions of the mountainous pile. Some pluck what they can with long hooks and forks. Others fight over fistfuls of the hay, willing to beat each other senseless or slit a throat or two if necessary.

And all the while, the pile of hay is on the move. Pulled by a team of monstrous creatures, the hay wagon is rolling along, taking with it an entourage of peasants and princes. The front wheel will soon crush the man who clutches at a tuft of hay instead of saving himself. The back wheel is about to snap the boney leg of an old man who has found himself entangled in the spokes. There is a disastrous kind of momentum, a willingness to follow the hay wherever it is headed—a compulsion to see its value, accept without question its desirability. Those who parade behind it see nothing but a wall of yellow. Those lucky few who sit on top of it feel nothing but the comfortable ride it provides. Those who brawl and grasp to the side of it want nothing but to have more and more of it.

And who stops to ask if it is worth all this? If it is worth anything at all? What exactly is the stuff they fight over, the stuff they collect, worship and climb? It is nothing more than a bunch of hay.

I was thinking of The Haywain by Bosch today while I walked a circuit through the mall. It has been snowing too much lately to take my usual walk around the neighborhood, so my friend Staci and I go to the mall in the morning, just about the time all the stores are opening. We are not shopping. We are exercising, dressed in sweats, pushing Nora in the stroller and walking at a furious pace past windows filled with jewelry and prom dresses and the soft porn of Victoria Secret lingerie modeled by sultry manikins. And every time we turn the corner in front of the Nordstrom’s Department Store, we come face to face with this:


Setting aside the grammatical issue (What if…the subjunctive tense were not optional?) the window drives me crazy (and crazier and crazier as we pass it repeatedly). Staci says, “This is why our country is in a recession” and I totally agree with her. The greed, the sense of entitlement, the imperative to buy something (more than once if possible), and the artificial need created by advertising campaigns and by trends and by followers of the hay wagon: these attitudes have driven people to spend beyond their means and lose track of what really matters.

And the hay wagon is always on the move. Today it is a Maxx New York bag (yes, I called Nordstrom’s to ask. “They’re really inexpensive,” the handbag associate told me, “Only $48.” I’m not sure which disturbs me more, the cost of the ugly handbags or the fact that there’s a dedicated associate who sells nothing but the ugly handbags). Tomorrow it will be something new. Maybe not a skittle-colored, patent leather, appealingly-impractical-at-any-price accessory, but something equally worth chasing after.

It’s for this very reason that I normally steer far clear of the mall. Just a few days of walking past the shops and already I find myself thinking about fashion far more than I normally do, wondering if I should be dressing Nora like the lucky kids whose mothers shop exclusively at The Children’s Place. It’s an insidious toxin, this materialism. It fills the air in drifts and breezes, influencing all who pass the imagery and product displays in the same way that the scents of body lotions and baking pretzels and colognes reach their tendrils out into the mall corridor like cartoon smells rising from freshly baked pies on a windowsill.

“Avert your eyes,” I tell Nora in the stroller as we pass the insipid handbags. “Pay no attention to the stuff behind the glass.” We don’t need one of those. We don’t need any of this. It’s all just hay.

29 comments:

bubandpie said...

I have read a lot of posts on this subject lately, but this - this is just lyrical.

TARA said...

Bravo!

Kelly @ Love Well said...

This essay is a piece of art, Julie, framed in truth.

Beautiful. It will stay with me for a long time.

Dedee said...

Amen.

allysha said...

so true.

Terri B. said...

Beautiful post.

I avoid the mall for this very reason.

The Lazy Organizer said...

Now instead of calling it Stuff I can just call it Hay. What are you saving this Hay for? Do we really need all this Hay cluttering up the place?

Laura said...

Thanks for the reminder that I'm not the only one in the world who looks at a bag as just a place to put things. Yep, the one I already own IS enough. Thanks.

Pale Bear said...

This is now one of my favorites of yours. At first I thought the mountainous pile that you never get to the end of was laundry until I saw that the pile represented something you actually wanted to have.

The scary thing is that associate probably actually thought $48 was a bargain.

abrightfuture said...

Absolutely amazingly perfect post! Thank you!

mindyluwho said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mindyluwho said...

Sorry, I just realized how rude the last part of my comment sounded so I had to delete it.

I echo an above comment...this essay is a piece of art. Funny, I have just been thinking along the same lines. I just posted about the things we worship (although not as eloquently). I'm tired of all the hay cluttering up my home.

tjhirst said...

When the pile of hay is moving down the road and mobbed with attention is the hardest time--but the most critical--for a passer-by to discern that it is only hay. Usually we do not recognize it as such until we have wasted our resources in the procession alongside and the climb to the top.

Sandra Tayler said...

I hope this one is going to end up in Still Life with Penguins. It is so well written and such a useful realization for us all. Now I find myself examining my life to make sure that I'm not expending resources in pursuit of hay.

edj said...

Oh I LOVE this post! I wholeheartedly concur. I actually avoid the mall as much as possible--it breeds discontent in me, creates desires for stuff I didn't even know existed.

Peg said...

I usually lurk but I have to tell you -- this post is beautifully written. So true too.

Aubrey said...

I found this from another blog I frequent. I LOVE your thoughts here. They are beautifully penned. You put into words so much of my feelings about the overabundance of STUFF in this world. And the clamor to attain it. From now on I'm going to call it HAY!

Jeni said...

What a well-worded commentary on the state of our culture! I completely agree, it's all hay.

Jeni said...

I thought I'd let you know - I'm so impressed by your writing, from this post and others, that I wrote about you on my blog! I recommended that my readers come visit.

Rachel said...

Beautifully written post. I couldn't agree more. My husband and I have taken a "buy nothing new" pact for this year in order to purge ourselves of the hay grabbing obsession.

Lisa writes... said...

Here from Kelly @ Love Well...

You have beautifully expressed what I have attempted to express, but not nearly-so-beautifully. The things of this world that we chase after with such fervency are, in the end, wood, hay and stubble.

Well said.

Thank you.

Blessings,
Lisa

Beck said...

Guess what our daughters have in common?
Beautifully, beautifully written.

Jenni said...

Wow. I really have missed visiting this blog. I stopped coming by when you took a bit of a break a while back and it just wasn't habit any more. I discovered it again today in my favorites. Time to work it back into my daily blog run. Your posts are always so beautiful and insightful. I love the way you introduce art and give it real meaning for life.

My Ice Cream Diary said...

What a lovely post. I think I'm going to use your line, "It's all just hay."

Nicole said...

I am loving your blog! So intelligent, I'm glad I found you.

Luisa Perkins said...

This is one of your best, JQ: really well done.

I laughed out loud at "What if the subjunctive tense were optional?"

Because we lived in Manhattan at the time, Hope was three before she ever saw the inside of a mall. We stopped in one to do a quick errand once not long after we moved to the country. We walked in, she saw all of the merchandise behind glass, she stretched out her arms, and cried, "Is this all for ME?"

This reinforced my determination never to return there if at all possible. I love the idea of mall as exercise circuit, though. It's a practical, silver lining to the dark cloud of materialism.

Jenna Consolo said...

I was just going to write 'amen', but I see someone beat me to it. The older I get, the more the mall makes me crazy. And let's not even talk about the moms who drop their tweens and teens off to hang out there! Like they need encouragement!

Richie said...

Please see my comment to "wanting things". Only donkeys covet hay.

Another brilliant post, by the way.

Rebecca J. Carlson said...

Lovely. Thanks for putting this into words.