A guy a few blocks from my house posted a window blind for sale on Craigslist. He had priced it at $30 but when I arrived, he said $10 would do—although to buy it new would have cost close to $200. The guy didn’t care about the money—it was just that he could not bear to throw a perfectly good window blind away. A kindred spirit. The blind was dusty but intact and fully functional. I hosed off the dust and trimmed the valance and, voila! It fit my window exactly, and the rosy faux-wood finish perfectly complemented my pale yellow painted kitchen.
I proudly displayed the photo to my friend Helen, boasting about my latest score. Never one to mince words, Helen declared ‘this cheap-stuff thing – it’s an ideology for you.’ She’s right about that, it is an ideology. A belief system. Maybe I place too much emphasis on the bargain price, but it’s not about the money. If I just wanted cheap stuff I’d shop at Walmart. What delights me is that I took this plastic being home and gave it some love. I saved it from the ignominy of the landfill. The blind is so happy in the window, looking out at the passing cars, and in at me cooking dinner. At night I hear it quietly humming although there is no breeze to ruffle its slats.
I hear the voices of things. Reading Ruth Ozeki’s Book of Form and Emptiness hasn’t worsened my condition, but it supports it. I truly do hear the things scream. The least I can do is to listen.
I gathered together the beautiful felt scraps, hand pressed by Amy from the wool of sheep and the silk of worms. I fashioned them into balls and stuffed the little spheres with shreds of old bed sheets. The pin cushions are for zen sewers, to keep precious pins from escaping and precious fingers from bleeding. They are practical as well as beautiful. They emit a squish of satisfaction.
Craigslist is magic. Ebay is magic. The hyper-local Buy Nothing facebook group is magic. I don’t go browsing for stuff in these markets, but when there is something I need — or something I need to let go of — they are my go-to. I gave away some fancy cardboard boxes, a brand new shower curtain with owls on it, a rolling pin, an almost-full bottle of coconut shampoo. I scored a coffee grinder, some plant pots, a binder for my sheet music, a waterproof case for my outdated iPhone, a vintage Swiss sewing machine. Items crafted from precious resources, at great cost of human labour and misery. Most had been forged, packaged, and shipped across the ocean, accumulating vast suffering along the way. Redeemed. All together they sing, in barely audible harmony.
I really do hear the voices of things. What they are pleading for—all those processed animals, all those pulped trees, all those rare earth minerals and plasticized molecules—is respect. If I can’t save them, then at least when they have truly served their time and need to return to the earth, I can thank them.
A great New York Times interview by Ezra Klein with Ruth Ozeki: What we gain by enchanting the objects in our lives