This week I found myself fired up by a post from Sarah Wilson.
I’ve followed Sarah for a while, drawn to a fellow liver-with-anxiety, a questioner of the rules we live by. At first glance, it’s true, she seems like an unlikely anti-consumerist campaigner. My own judgments float to the surface in that statement. Bronzed, skinny, gorgeous, a TV presenter and founder of the “I Quit Sugar” empire, she looks on the surface to have been blessed with every bounty our current culture values.
And yet for years now she’s espoused a way of live in direct opposition to that usually sold us by blonde bombshells.
Re-using carrier bags, eating every scrap of food, wearing the same clothes for decades.
She’s using her cultural capital to yell about the things that really matter, and for that I respect her.
She’s open about her physical & mental health challenges, and doesn’t let them stop her doing what she wants. I respect that too.
And this week she addressed the contradiction of her existence directly, reflecting on the strangeness of being an anti-consumerism campaigner featured dolled up in designer clothes on the cover of a magazine.
It’s hard to resist that stuff, though. In Sarah’s words
“Not everyone is on to the how and why of making such choices [that question consumerism]. Most people I come across don’t mind – and even sign up for – the diatribe. They talk it. And “like” my posts about plastic waste and the tragedy of takeaway cup use.
But the reality of it, the practical living out of less… well, right now it’s not how life works.
The system – what we desire, what we value, how we spend our weekends – is bound up in the consumption cycle.
To break from its loop is to be cast out quite far. We don’t have a picture – sitcoms, heroines, magazine shoots – yet of how this field beyond the loop can work, what it will look like and feel like and how it can make us happy.”
Meanwhile, I was also chewing over a phrase from my weekend’s reading; specifically from the introduction to a collection of essays by Wendell Berry.
Paul Kingsnorth writes that Berry’s philosophy on life is that we should “settle for less, and enjoy it more”.
When an old white dude tells me to “settle for less, and enjoy it more”… I bristle.
There’s an awful lot of baggage attached to those words. Settling for less and staying in our place has the ring of oppression to it.
Of telling us to keep quiet, maintain the status quo, behave ourselves – unruly subjects of man’s rule.
(And I write that knowing that as a (relatively) wealthy, white, educated women I enjoy a hell of a lot more time in the oppressor’s chair than my black, queer, disabled, etc, etc sisters.)
But I happen to love Wendell Berry’s work (even though I argue with him in my head a lot).
Because I think the point he’s making applies to us as a species, not that the social nuances should be ignored, but that there is something there for all of us to listen to.
Given that we are in the business of making this world a much better place – not levelling us all out to a similar level of selfishness and exploitation.
Where settling comes into it
The whole idea of “settling” is a very interesting one to me. There are such negative connotations called to mind.
From a colonial viewpoint, settling has been used as a euphemism for some of our most immoral and distasteful behaviour – genocide, war, that kind of thing. As “settlers” we invaded other countries, crushed indigenous culture, replaced it with our own violent ignorance of the land and our impact on it.
And on a personal level, “settling” is what we do when we’ve given up on our desires. We hit a rough patch, quit, and settle for whatever’s right in front of us.
But in the past few days I’ve also started thinking about other kinds of settling.
We talk about snow settling. There’s an incredible softness to that image, of the flakes nestling onto the ground, ever so gently, layering upon each other until they form powerful drifts, enough to stop armies.
The way the cherry blossom settles, as it’s already beginning to, the blossom making way for hard green fruit.
Settling is what happens to the silt or sediment at the bottom of a glass, when it gets still. Gradually the fragments sink down, and what’s left is clarity.
So I am wondering if a way to connect to the seasons is through this sense of settling. I am wondering if “settling for less, enjoying it more” might be a place of surprising richness and reward.
Just as meditation helps our minds settle and clear, perhaps we can let go of the striving and the not-enoughness and find ourselves looking at the landscape we are in differently.
I don’t want to stop shouting about the changes I want to make in the world. I am most definitely not settling for the way things are right now.
For the skyrocketing rates of anxiety and depression; the wanton plundering of the earth’s resources; the lie that the only good way to spend one’s time is by generating money for the war machine.
And. I also want to recognise that settling into the landscape in which I live is a radical act. Situating myself within the environment, an animal who is a part of the whole, not someone separate, who exploits the land, but someone who is an active participant in it.
Connecting to the humans around me; forging links across oceans with like minded leaders; doing my bit to build the world I want to see.
This is how settling becomes a form of protest.
Like snow, we can be soft. We melt to the touch. And yet, banked together, we are formidable.