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