Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cold (Ta se an-fhuar, or, Il fait très froid)

My mother and I went out to lunch yesterday. We talked about various things, and of course about other members of my family. My brother, who has had a recent hospitalization, was one subject. "He's so stubborn," she said. "He won't do what anyone tells him to do." This is absolutely true. My brother has an almost defective stubbornness, which drives him to make the worst possible choices at all times. However, to be completely fair, this is a family trait. All of us are stubborn, which is why my mother's continued chant of "I told him to do x and y but he didn't listen" sounds very naive. Of course he didn't. And I don't do what she says, she doesn't do what I say, and at least one of my sisters doesn't do what anyone else says, either. Come to think of it--my father's mother was also the same way, and so is my father.

Really, though, none of us should require anyone to tell us how to think or act. I am the youngest in the family, and I'm in my forties. All of us should be able to make our own good or bad decisions. Others may offer advice, but we are not obliged to take it.

I've considered our culture of stubbornness this morning as I wake up to it being 58 degrees in my house, with blankets piled high on the bed. I built a small fire in an iron cauldron to try to heat things up. Naturally you will ask why I don't turn the heat on. It is because it is Memorial Day weekend--the last weekend in May, and the notion that the heat should have to be on when it's the official start of beach season is ludicrous. The forecast already shows that it will be 90 degrees by Wednesday. Still, it would be a simple enough matter to turn it back on for a day or so, and then turn it off again. Instead, I am choosing to live like I did during the last 2 Octobers, when we had a damaging snowstorm and Hurricane Sandy in respective years. All because I'm stubborn.

Maybe I need to get over it, or maybe I'm just practicing for future weather disasters. After all, global warming is a reality, even if no one including myself wants to accept it. I recently finished reading Slavoj Žižek's "Looking Awry", which offers an interpretation of popular culture from the point of view of Jacques Lacan, the psychoanalyst. One thing Žižek mentions is the mind's inability to incorporate the notion of global disaster, especially when everything "looks fine" or goes back to looking fine after a catastrophe. It does not fit in with the expected image of reality. The only way the mind can incorporate such a notion is to be obsessive about it, turn it into a "fetish" of sorts. Not to go on a particularly Marxist bent, but I also think of Bruce Lerro's work on earth spirits and sky gods. He talks about societal behavior, and when faced with a disaster, the tendency is not to make a major change with long term impacts. Instead, humans will choose the quickest immediate fix, and let future generations worry about the disaster. Lerro tells us that this has been characteristic of human societies for as long as history has been recorded.

Now I'm on to my second cup of coffee, wondering how soon it will be before the caffeine makes me a crazy(ier) person. The day is gorgeous, the sky is a deep blue, a marked difference from a couple of days ago. It has an autumn feel, which I would love if it didn't make my house so cold.

My mother and I had been shopping yesterday. Every now and again she says, "Why don't we go out, and I'll buy you some new clothes?" I honestly don't know if this is the result of her happy, generous moods, or if it's a polite criticism of my existing clothing. She knows I am going away for a couple of weeks to travel and take my summer doctoral course, so maybe she just wants me to have some new clothes for the trip. But I would not be surprised if it is the latter. I wear things to death--I never throw anything out until it becomes mortally necessary. I have two shirts that I absolutely love, but are getting a bit "rough" looking. I still won't throw them out, because I can't find anything else like them. Same with shoes. I have a pair of brown shoes that my mother gave me several years ago as a gift, and when the sole came apart from the rest of the shoe during a rainstorm, I went inside and super-glued it back together. I won't even replace my smartphone, now that the charger is coming apart and looks like its been chewed by squirrels. I just risk electrocution by messing with the wire, until the "charge" light comes on. And I don't even like my smartphone that much. But I don't see the point in spending a lot of money on stuff, especially expensive stuff. I would rather spend my money taking classes, enjoying a meal out with friends (or with a good book), or traveling.

It's kind of interesting how our culture promotes having a lot of "stuff", having the latest of everything, but at the same time devalues the "material" world, the earth. Really, though, it is a devaluation--an exploitation, if you will. We don't learn to value the things we have, we get rid of them as soon as we're bored with them, or they become inconvenient. And we've managed to attach a warped spiritual significance to things--that somehow having money, or owning certain things, will make you happy. What you don't respect doesn't make you happy. It's like relationships--if you get together with someone on the basis of looks alone, you will get bored with that person once the looks fade or don't appeal to you anymore. I've heard of people doing this with pets, too--once the kitten has grown up and is no longer "cute", they dump it at a shelter and want a new kitten. (And don't get me started on this, because it makes me furious.) There's nothing wrong with having stuff, but if we have too much of it, we don't value it.

In my survey course this past semester, we read "The Cheese and the Worms" by Carlo Ginzburg. It's the study of the Inquisition trial of a miller called Menocchio. He had learned to read, and had about twenty books of his own--some borrowed, some bought. Books were hard to come by, and were cherished. He critically developed his own ideas and philosophy of the world, which was not acceptable to the Church at that time. But the point was that he cherished knowledge, even if he came to some dubious conclusions. We don't cherish knowledge anymore; information is everywhere, some good, some bad, and we take all of it for granted. It's why we have a world of knowledge at our fingertips and choose to look at cat pictures instead.

Okay, time for me to buck up and finish my chores. Maybe I will warm up then.

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