I LOVE ANN PATCHETT
When I was living in Jamestown, RI in 1976 I had the good fortune of becoming friends with a group of young kids who I mostly still remain friends with. Growing up on a three by nine mile island even though it was connected with two bridges allowing easy exit created a cocoon and insular experience for our young posse. When we each got our drivers license it was a freedom that is hard to explain adding a layer in the ability to exit into larger communities that often felt like were leaving our country. I am not exaggerating here. There is a unique safety net growing up on an island the size of Jamestown and it created a wonderful closeness among us. When we went to high school, since there was no high school in Jamestown, some went to Rogers High School in Newport, but most of us went to North Kingstown and the perception of Jamestown kids to NK kids was amusing. I loved growing up there. It was a freedom of stomping around barefoot, barely any parental guidance, bike riding, beach going, backgammon games and driving around the island endlessly. A few of us had family off the island in cities so we were exposed to the reality of bigger spaces like New York City and Boston and we ultimately exposed each other on the trips we would take together to visit family.
One of my oldest and dearest friends, Melissa, friends since sixth grade, along with a couple others who we both lost touch with used to do these crazy Christmas exchanges and we have great memories of this. I think we started it in seventh grade and continued well into our thirties until marriage and babies and relocating to areas not easy to get to at holiday time stopped the tradition. We also found ourselves wanting to reduce the madness of shopping and gift giving and the tradition just kind of stopped. Melissa and I continued it for a bit, but even now we barely do any gift exchanging and instead just share great conversation in our almost daily phone chats.
One of my dearest and favorite gifts ever from Melissa was a book by Ann Patchett called Truth and Beauty. It is a memoir about a very special friendship she had with Lucy Grealy also an author of the book, Autobiography of a Face. They met in 1981 and had a friendship lasting for over twenty years. This book describes that bond and intimacy that happens between two women who share life together as deep friends. It is one of Melissa’s favorite books and she gave it to me hoping I would love it as much as she did. I did. And this was the book that got me started on my own love affair with Ann Patchett. I have read and enjoyed most of her books and every time I read anything she writes, I am a better writer because of her. I appreciate great vocabulary in writing that is natural and not contrived. When I read Ann Patchett, she has my attention wholly and I am never disappointed. It is so apropos that someone who I have been best friends with for forty years would introduce me to a writer about her own dear friendship. When I saw Ann Patchett’s name flash in the NY Times in the opinion section of the Sunday Review, of course I hungrily devoured it. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/15/opinion/sunday/shopping-consumerism.html.
It was called My Year of No Shopping and it reminded me of my yearlong quest to purge all of my junk and excessive stuff I have accumulated in the first half of my life. This mission of hers was to stop accumulating and like her many novels that have become my dear companions, this too gave me great pause.
I love to shop, not for clothes or shoes or purses, though I do love my Lululemon excursions (these are workout clothes so this doesn’t really count, right?). Actually my love is the thrill of spending money which is not a prudent choice in my life long term. I am sure I can tie this energy with my mother as she loves to shop likely still does but since she is not speaking to me I really don’t know this. When I reminisce about my mother, shopping is a kindred connection we share. I am guessing I learned the notion of consumerism = happiness and immediate gratification from her and when I am spending money I feel that kindred connection I otherwise long for from my mother. Sounds like it is time for another therapy appointment.
I have always been a great saver for retirement thanks to my grandfather’s influence, but the present day savings has never really been my strength. Art supplies, office supplies, gardening trinkets, kitchen gadgets, consignment furniture and my favorite, FOOD, all easy items to rationalize in my quest for the perfect notebook, pen or olive oil. The thought of deliberately not shopping for whatever parameters I set speaks to me. Ann’s comment on running out of lip balm and having a moment of panic when she realized buying more was off limits cracked me up as I stared at my 9 MAC lipsticks I just ordered so I would have the back up of the discontinued lipstick color I love. She decided to forage her cabinets and purses and lo and behold came up with four. She is probably a back up lip hoarder like myself.
I didn’t grow up in the Depression, but my grandparents did and my grandmother who tended to err on the side of frugality ironically spent a lot of money on backup. I get my need to have backup of things from her. Though she usually applied it to cans of soup on sale or toothpaste and coffee, I have found myself using it as a crutch to shop. Find a pair of sneakers I love? Buy two pairs in case they discontinue the style. Love those Lulu yoga pants? Buy four pairs because what if they stop making them? The list goes one and I am certifiably nuts when it comes to this. As a result, I have ten pairs of pants, sixteen tubes of my favorite lipstick and who knows what else lurking in the pockets of my coats and the closets of my home. As I contemplated the idea of giving up shopping for one full year with my own parameters, the one element that made me seriously consider this was Ann’s mention of how much time she realized she had on her hands. When I quit drinking for seven years, I found that I had exquisite amounts of time to create and consider. I wonder. Could I actually do this? The fact that I am even wobbling in the idea that I may not be able to should make jump on the bandwagon pronto. Ann made a list. She owns a bookstore in Nashville and immediately decided that buying books would not be a part of her list though now that I write this, I ask the question to her that you are all thinking, can’t she get her books for free? I mean I am not going put on my list to give up buying lotions and potions because I own a skin care business and I don’t have to pay for those so putting them on my list is kind of a scam. Sorry Ann you have been found out in that category, you are forgiven though because remember I love you.
I can feel the rationale overtaking my brain. How could I eliminate shopping? I mean I need soil for my garden in the spring. I need new sneakers for my workouts. What happens when I run out of my lipstick and my lips are on the path of dryness? I drop my phone like every other day and the screen needs to constantly be repaired. Am I supposed to give this up? Give up shopping for a year? How about a day? I still have 12 days left for 2017, maybe I could get it all in for the remainder. If any of you are considering joining this party with me, before 2017 ends, please buy some Ann Patchett books (except for Bel Canto, sorry Ann I tried three times). Or you could start right now and go to the library and borrow and return them ahead of schedule.
Ann Patchett again gets my brain turning and my heart thumping with her delicious prose. Once again she has my attention and watch out my fellow business owners, you may not be seeing me in 2018. Only time will tell.