Unconsumption

So, as you know, I’ve been sick.

I’ve been coughing and coughing, and some days are better, and then the next days are worse, so I haven’t known where this whole thing is going. I suppose it’s silly of me to complain of a cold, or whatever this is, when it’s only lasted a week. After all, some people are really sick. It goes to show, I suppose, how used I am to being healthy. To being able to push myself to do things. This week, I haven’t been able to push myself at all.

Last night, I couldn’t sleep again except in fits and starts, then I finally got some sleep this morning and had the best dream (about meeting a friend I haven’t seen in a long time). When I woke up, I was better, not so much coughing, but very tired. I didn’t have the energy to do anything. Except – write.

On one of those nights when I hadn’t been able to sleep, I’d hand-written a chapter of the YA novel, and today I was able to type it up. Which is good, because at this point I’m terribly behind on my word count. But the best laid plans of mice and men do you know what, and today I was able to type 2000 words.

I don’t know if they’re good words, I don’t know anything at this point, I’m stuck in radical uncertainty. I may be learning how not to write a YA novel. But I’m holding on to one thing. Last summer, at the Sycamore Hill writing workshop, as a critique of the story I had brought, someone said, “I wanted to read a Theodora Goss story.” So I’ve been thinking, how does Theodora Goss write a YA novel? I don’t know yet, but I do know that I’m writing it in the way I write anything – it’s complex, layered, allusive. And it has Sherlock Holmes in it. (Don’t worry, he’s not going to play a leading role. But it’s late nineteenth-century England, so why not?) I’m just going to write it and then other people can tell me, later, whether it’s any good.

It’s useful that, when I can’t do anything else, I can still write, and that writing is such a relief for me.  It’s my greatest challenge and pleasure, both.

But my blog post for today is about an article I read in Craft Magazine that led me to a blog called Unconsumption. Consumption is about buying stuff. Unconsumption is about recycling and reusing stuff. It’s about what you do with stuff that has already been bought.

I’m writing about this concept partly because after I managed to actually get up today, I put on a navy-blue t-shirt from Land’s End Canvas and a tan linen skirt that I had bought at a thrift store. It’s a beautiful skirt, heavy linen with an embroidered hem, almost like early twentieth-century embroidered table linens. (You’ll know what I mean if you’ve ever seen them in antiques shops.) And partly because I had just been to Wiscon, and I had already written about the people there, about how they are constantly creating and altering. Those are both examples of unconsumption. Shopping at a thrift store is a sort of unconsumption because it deals with something that has already been taken out of the consumer economy, that has already been bought and used and discarded. I suppose we could think of it as the secondary thrift economy. And creating and altering are of course examples of unconsumption because they are either alternatives to consumption or ways of making what has already been consumed your own.

For me, the idea of unconsumption is interesting and important because it supports the creative life. It demands creativity, but also, living less expensively and more simply supports your life as an artist. It means you’re calmer, not so anxious. (At least, I know that complication and expense cause me anxiety.) It means you don’t need to do as much to support yourself outside of your art.  Don’t get me wrong, I love material things as much as anyone.  We are material things ourselves, we live in the world, and beauty calls to us.  But I find that the most beautiful things are, anyway, the things that are unconsumed.  The things that have been around for a while, that have the patina of age and use.  Old furniture, old linens.  When I spurge on something, it tends to be on art, which doesn’t feel like consumption but like participating in the cycle of creativity.

There should be a way to tie the two parts of this blog post together, my writing about progress on the YA novel (unless it’s regress? I just don’t know yet) and the idea of unconsumption, of taking a different attitude toward the consumer culture in which we live.  I feel as though they are related, two parts of a single effort, which is to live as an artist.  The life supporting the art, the art supporting the life.  That’s what I’m aiming for anyway, and if I ever write that book on writing, that’s what I’ll include, because no one seems to talk about it (except perhaps Terri Windling).  But I think it helps, if you’re an artist of any sort, to have a life that makes art possible, a life that supports you rather than one you’re constantly fighting against.  (I sometimes feel as though I’m fighting against my life, particularly when I’m commuting or paying bills.  Hence the impetus to change my life, about which more all over this blog, in case you haven’t noticed.)

This is a rambling post, because you know, the Hacking Cough Disease has affected my ability to think clearly.  So I will end in the best way I know, with two pictures of my thrift store skirt.

Yes, I know, it’s wrinkled. I don’t usually bother ironing linen. But isn’t that a nice embroidered hem?

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3 Responses to Unconsumption

  1. sarah says:

    When I saw your post title, I assumed it had something to do with your cough – ie, a doctor had confirmed you don’t have consumption. But the whole thrifting thing is good too. I love the skirt. I agree about creating a life that supports one’s creative work, and I’d be interested in reading about how you create an *inner* life that supports your writing. In other words, a focus or groove or way of seeing things that allows you to sit down whenever you have the chance and simply get on with writing.

  2. So sorry that you’ve been ill, but I have to say that I’m so excited that your latest project includes Sherlock Holmes! I’m a passionate Sherlockian, so when I read in a previous post that you were researching Sherlock’s apartment I thought “Aaah, this is something to look forward to.”
    The only thing that could possibly excite me more is if you were writing something that involved the Pre-Raphaelites. Although I have a feeling that somehow, some Pre-Raph element will make its way into a future tale.

  3. Maery Rose says:

    “I sometimes feel as though I’m fighting against my life, particularly when I’m commuting or paying bills. Hence the impetus to change my life, about which more all over this blog, in case you haven’t noticed.”
    Those two sentences grabbed me. I keep searching for a way to downscale so I’m not so dependent on the amount of income I have now. I feel like there’s something else I need to do and I’m on a journey to find what that is.

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