September 22, 2012

Material Apathy

I was recently having a conversation with a couple of women I know. One of the women was soon going to be going on a vacation to a tropical destination - something I have never done. While I was making a polite comment about her upcoming trip she suddenly turned to me:

"Does everyone in your family embrace the whole 'Kootenay lifestyle'?"

I must have answered her question with a puzzled expression because she quickly added,

"You know, the 'not caring about material possessions' thing."

I was caught off guard. My instinct was to be insulted, because it seemed like an impertinent question at the time. But I, being me, quickly suppressed any response which might lead to conflict, and I replied, smiling, "Oh, you want to know if they are sort of hippy-ish like me.' I said that yes, we all had a little of the Kootenay way about us, laughing it off like what she said had not bothered me. We all parted soon after that and I rode my bike home across the sun-baked high school field, trying hard to make sense of what had just occurred.

I wondered what would make her ask me that question out of the blue. We had not been talking about anything to do with me and what I do not own; Had she been discussing the subject with other people who know me better than she does? The Kootenays, a beautiful region in the interior of British Columbia chock full of mountains, lakes and rivers, and the place where I had the very good fortune to grow up, do have a reputation for being a haven for alternative lifestyle types. Did I look to her like someone who didn't care about how I appeared? I thought about my outfit that day: cargo shorts, sky blue t-shirt, sandals, glasses, no make-up - which is not unusual for me, hair in need of a cut. As I looked down at my outfit I was reminded of the time when I was twelve and I asked my mother if she thought I looked like a boy, and she answered that I might help my case more if I dressed more like a girl. The fact is I had been riding my bike, doing chores at home and work on the computer. Did I need to wear something fancy for that? No, but I have been know to 'clean up nice.'

I wondered what the woman in question would think if she knew, despite appearances, how I love fine art, rich cashmere sweaters, old style Jaguars, Georgian architecture, Edwardian houses, micro-brewery ales, artisan breads and cheeses, Spode porcelain, Waterford Crystal, VQA wines, and the beautiful idea of going on a Viking River Cruise through Eastern Europe. To say I don't care about material things is an absolute fallacy. Besides owning only one cashmere sweater with an expertly patched elbow, and being able to indulge in the food and drink portion of my list from time to time, I don't actually own or intend to purchase many of those items on my list. However, it doesn't mean I can't admire them. Come to think of it, my husband and I are on the lookout for a china cabinet for the china and crystal we recently inherited, and highly value, from my grandparents.

In this part of the world, a lot of people own large recreational vehicles, power boats and big shiny trucks for hauling their trailers. I'm not interested in 'keeping up with the Joneses' in this regard. Apparently, 'a boat is a hole in the water you throw money into', as are gas-guzzling trucks and recreational vehicles, and we lack the necessary funds for that game. We are busy investing in our children. I was joking with an artist friend that maybe he could make us some life-size cutouts of a boat, trailer and a large truck, and we could trim them with lights and put them in the driveway so we could 'dress up' our house for Halloween.

To be honest, sometimes I wonder what is wrong with me. Why am I not willing to do what it takes to have the bigger material things I might desire? Am I just lazy? Do I lack the necessary 'get up and go'? It's a fair question, because I know some of the other women in my life wonder what it is I do all day. I've come a long way from that teenage girl who tacked up a large collage of high fashion photos from magazines on her wall and once considered a glamorous career in advertising or fashion design - I most definitely had material aspirations back then. How do other women who are also wives and mothers do it, because in this part of the world you need two incomes to support that kind of lifestyle. All I know is, whatever these other women have in the way of ambition, I lack. Maybe I'm just not willing to do what it takes to have all that stuff. I'm not willing to join in the vicious cycle of  'buy this car to drive to work, drive to work to pay for this car.' * What I really want to do is to be free to write, to think, to read, to cook, to walk and run, to sing, to work at things that interest me and make a difference, whether they pay or not, and to provide a calm and happy home life for my kids and my husband who works too much. Is that so wrong?

Here are The Police playing their song 'Spirits in a Material World.' While I was writing the draft for this post in the car while waiting for my son's violin lesson to be over, it came on the radio. Timely.

* lyrics from Canadian band Metric


  1. I'd say you are taking the wrong tack on this one.
    What she sees of your life is your kids & you playing music well. Where you will devote cash in that direction.
    It's a question of outlook where you see the potential of your kids on a stage making a good living. She sees hers in the civil service. I think that's what she means by the Kootenay lifestyle.

    1. While I cannot deny you have a point there, I'm not prepared to agree with you wholeheartedly that I am taking the wrong tack, as you say. I really don't know what she was getting at, and may never know, but I used the question she posed as a basis to expand upon...which is how I ended up here with this post. Cheers!

  2. Rebecca, sometimes people just smack you upside the head and they don't even know it. I have been in your shoes where a seemingly innocent comment has sent me into a whirlwind of self-analysis:)

    Do you lack ambition? I hardly think so. Your ambitions, I beieve, are so much more noble than those who have materialistic ones. I sometimes wish I had come to the place you're at sooner in my life. I do not look back with regret, but I certainly do question why I didn't indulge myself in my passions sooner. You only get one go-round in life so it's important to live it your own way.

    The most interesting part of this blog for me is the part where someone else makes you delve deep inside of yourself to answer questions that may not even have been asked.

    You have a lovely family. They know you love them to the ends of the earth and back. You have passions and time to pursue them. We all have to make choices in life. Seems to me you've made all the right ones!

    1. Roxanne, I think we all come to realizations when we are meant to. Life is such a mystery that way. As a good friend said to me, "we can only take the opportunities that present themselves." And I'll add to that by saying "when we have the capacity to take them." Thanks for all your thoughts!

  3. Who knows how she meant it - probably only her and the time to ask is gone for now. Perhaps she never meant to hurt or niggle you. Perhaps there was envy in her heart. Perhaps it was unkind, perhaps it was silly but it made you think and made you realise that you're not a simple country girl by any derogatory means.

    You have made choices and by the sound of it, choices that give you more satisfaction and comfort than any amount of material things. Maybe you're a lot more complex than she would appear to be giving you credit for on the surface but perhaps she sees in you something that no amount of tropical holidays will give her. Maybe she doesn't get it but just maybe she does.

    Yes we live in a material world but what we are is much more than the sum of what we have.

    You hit that nail bang on the head Rebecca.

    Nice one!


    1. Wow...lots of good thoughts there, Al. Thanks so much. I really appreciate your comment and it rings true. Cheers back at you!

  4. On the contrary, my dear, that is so RIGHT.

    Those of us who chose this life may not be able to invest time and money into things that are shiny and fleeting, but we instead invest in something that will last a lifetime and beyond.

    1. Thanks, E.P. It's just that it can be hard to realize it when the world presses down so hard trying to convince us of the opposite. I have to keep reminding myself why I do it this way :)

  5. AHA! Do you realize that your premise for this post is the premise for my whole blog? It's where the "AbbyNormal" comes from because I guess I'm just outside the bell curve when it comes to striving for material things (among other stuff).

    You are NOT alone.

  6. You might check out "How to be Free"
    I had a housemate call me a "70s feminist" (about 12 years ago). still puzzling over that one
    You kootenay types are a threat to conventional norms of happiness.
    great blog! Jen W

  7. I suppose we are...:) I don't mind...generally.
    Thanks, Jen. I'll check out the book, too!

  8. Rebecca,
    I'm reading a book right now called, You Can Buy Happiness (And It's Cheap) by Tammy Strobel. She refers to a study done by Samuel Alexander and Simon Ussher, researchers at a think tank called the Simplicity Institude. They analyzed data from 1748 respondents who were asked why the chose to live with less and what reasons were behind their decision. Their goal was to see if this group was measurably happier with their own lives. As you can imagine, they were. But the line that reminded me so much of you blog was this one; "The group was motivated to simplify their lives because they wanted more time for family and friends, to pursue creative endeavors, and to volunteer in their community." Sound familiar? :)

  9. Who has time to be all and do all!?!

    I would have wondered what she meant, too. I think I would have gone further and asked her? Because, of course, my mind would have immediately gone to, "Hmmm... I think I have a blog post here." Obviously, yours did, too.

    I dress up when I need to, but I'm a baseball cap wearin' kinda girl, too.

    And whoever thinks you're lacking, should read your blog!

    I would tell "you" to re-read it, but that would take precious time away from all your new posts upon the horizon and from ALL the GIVING you do.

    That was a confusing encounter, but probably a good one. We all need a little poke here and there so that we can think about it and conclude with how wonderful we are. lol


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!