I am always doing that which I cannot do in order that I may learn how to do it...Picasso

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inside Out

I used to shop.  Alot.  Too much.  I told myself it was okay because I was such a thrifty shopper.  Sale read free to me.  If it was on sale, I needed it.  Particulary if it was a good sale.  Why then there was no question that I needed it.  Shopping made me feel...successful.  Yes, I had conquered the art of fine living through good sales.

We had a bit of a financial disaster not too long ago.  It was bad.  Really, really bad.  Life changingly bad.  Shopping came to a screaching halt.  Credit cards were gone, money was scarce and I was permantly grounded from all stores except the grocery store and the pet store for dog food.  Suddenly, I was stuck with the feelings that drove me to the stores with no way to make them go away.  I had to ask myself why I shopped in the first place.

I don't need to reiterate everything we have learned from Oprah about the drug affect of shopping.  We all know how compulsive activities are a sign that something isn't right.  We eat, we shop, we drink, we exercise excessively, we do lots of things that help us to drive away discomfort.  Take that vice away and we are stuck with lots of 'splainin' to do.

The trend of America over the last 25 years or so (dare I say since the Reagan days?)  has been to live from the outside in.  To grab stuff, people, toys, kids, cars, you name it and try to gather it all up in our greedy little arms pull it close and hope we feel fulfilled.  "Whoever has the most toys wins!" is what the t-shirt read, I believe.  Acquisition = Happiness.  How's that workin' for ya'?

So there I was -  broke and broken looking my discontent with my life square in the bloodshot eyes and asking myself some very confrontational questions.  What's up with the shopping?  What are you looking for?  Soul searching has become a cliche for figuring out yet another way to game the system and yet when you really sit down, take some deep breaths and ask yourself, "What the hell am I looking for?" it is surprising sometimes what you hear as answers.

So for me, the equation was if there is nothing on the outside to quell my emptiness what is on the inside to pick up the slack?  Now, understand, this was not the first time I had done some soul searching.  Oh, no!  I was a card carrying member of the New Age/Self help movement for twenty-some-odd years.  I had been to the mountain top with Werner Erhardt and I had floated in a tank of lukewarm saltwater clutching crystals to my chest.  I had read the Course In Miricles and dutifully shown up to sit at Maryanne Williamson's feet everytime she spoke at Town Hall.  I covered more ground in navel gazing than most people could believe possible.  (I mean no disrespect.  I have taken valuable nuggets from every experience I had during that time and have cobbled together a very comprehensive totem for myself that I believe serves me in very good stead.)  And yet, there was a real disconnect between what I knew was good for me and what I was doing that was good.  With no money in hand and a whithering spirit, there was nothing on the outside to bring me comfort and yet a return to my New Age practices left me cold at the thought of it.  And then, I got it:  even these soulful practices could not help me because they were just another version of the shopping.  Either way it was looking on the outside to pull something in.

The best thing I could find in myself was the urge to create.  It was a complete about face in approach because I was going within to pull something out.  Not the other way around.  When I looked into myself for treasures, out came my artwork.  When I asked myself for comfort out came toys and jewelry and house numbers and backsplashes and bags and scarves.  It turned out, I was my very own TJ Maxx.  I didn't need to go shopping to have.  I needed to go crafting to have something to do. 

For me, the best part of the story was that with no money, substituting long afternoons cruising the aisles at Michael's was not an option either.  I ended up picking up junk from the side of the road, ripping up old clothes, breaking no longer cherished ceramics and tearing apart old jewlery to arrive at an expression of myself that was unmatched in my life for self satisfaction.  I had flipped the paradigm from outside in to inside out.  I was pulling ideas from inside myself and crafting things of meaning and beauty and living out loud in a way that was envigorating and exciting and really, downright satisfying.  I had something to do that filled up the bottomless pit that was stuffed full of stuff from the mall.

When it occurred to me to begin to sell my wares and make a go of a business I was clobbered with my next existential crisis:  Is it good enough?  Will other people like it?

...to be continued.


  1. Lama Marut's non-profit organization sells a T-shirt that has the mantra, "OM, I have enough, OM." Unfortunately one has to buy it but it's worth it as a reminder. He says consumer capitalism is the enemy and if you want to really be a radical STOP SHOPPING. Sounds like you two had a conference!

  2. Brilliant, Neely! You should be so proud of yourself. And, to answer your question, a huge YES! It's most definitely good enough. Hugs, A.

  3. Wow, Neely this is just a fantastic story, and so beautifully written. I can see it all happening as you roll out the tale. Not to throw you into another existential crisis -- but I think you should try to have this post published as a free standing piece. (The only editing it would need involve adjusting the context -- and even that would be minimal.) What makes this story even more remarkable is the beauty of the things you have created. Thanks for letting us know about your incredible journey.