Mary Beth Writes

A friend (Thanks, Carol) tweeted this.  

“The term “must-haves” is profoundly unsettling to me.”

For those of us trying to live both frugally and thoughtfully – Yup!

I looked into the website she was responding to; it was coupons for:

  • A white noise machine,
  • Therapy Dough – Honest to God, you can buy ½ cup pots of playdough in really lovely colors – usually $25 a pot but on sale for $12.50. Oh yeah.
  • Essential oil personal diffusers
  • A bunch of make-up
  • Weirdly shiny yoga pants reminiscent of Naugahyde. Did that girl want pants made out of a rumpus room davenport? (Remember when sofas and couches were davenports?)

As a teenager I read those teen magazine articles about the “must-haves” we were supposed to obtain. This kind of skirt, that kind of mascara, this kind of hair-fixing device, etc. As we got older this turned into “a little black dress”, and “black pumps” and I can’t think of what else.  Everything was clothing and make-up-related; i.e. the “equipment” we needed to get boyfriends and husbands.  It was as sexist as hell and part of our indoctrination into thinking “feminine” was defined by how attractive we were to the white males who were the editors of those magazines. Damn them.

Len was attracted to me because I had a figure one could see from the outside of my home-made dress (it had a white Peter Pan collar - sexiest look ever, right?), longish hair, and four minutes later we were talking about books and he liked my mind and I liked his.  No “must-haves” involved.  Just young humans being nervous, chatty young humans.

It was one of the adventures and privileges of my life to be on the board of  MayaWorks.   http://www.mayaworks.org/   

Sometimes board meetings were held in Guatemala. Twice I made arrangements to stay with a weaving family for a long weekend; this was as close as I would ever get to living in the serious poverty most people on earth live in most of the time. 

At the end of the second weekend Vicenta asked if I like tamales. 

Who doesn’t love tamales???

The next morning, 7AM, she was already kneeling on the cement floor of the main room of the family’s tiny compound - hand-patting masa into corn husks. All the corn in this process had grown on their milpa (a cornfield about the size of a basketball court). Vicenta snugly tucked the tamales into a very old, seriously dinged-up tin pot. She sprinkled water over the tamales from the plastic water filtration jugs at the other side of the room, covered the pot with a lid that didn’t fit the pot, put a weight on that. She set the pot on the brick stove that the family fueled with corn cobs and sticks.

The tamales steamed six hours.

They were extraordinary; I’ve never tasted anything like them since. Simple cornmeal mush inside corn husks – yet it was biting into the very essence of mild, rich, redolent, creamy earth. 

Vicenta had no working surface; she kneeled on her floor and worked from plates. She had no sharp knives, if she needed one she had to borrow a machete from her husband. The plates we ate on were unmatched, generally chipped or plastic or chipped plastic.

What am I trying to say? That the earth is jam-packed with humans who have no “must-haves”, yet they create families, food, drinks, and lives that are rich with flavor, oomph, and love.  Seriously, the kids in that family were radiant; they moved with grace on tiny bare feet; the teenage son worked hours every day on the farm, then put on his school uniform and rode hours to and from a technical high school in a town far away. Hollywood would fall over to see that kid’s dark bangs falling across his dark eyes lit with life, hope, and the high jinx of a confident teenager. 

No little black dress ever got close to the gorgeousness of a Maya woman’s huipils (kinda pronounced wee-peals). These beautiful women lived their rich, difficult, hard lives in clothes more beautiful than we get married in.

It’s too easy to compare clueless materialism against motivated women and men in deep poverty. The poor people, if they have any sense of hope at all, will always capture our respect – and then we go back to our own lives not knowing what to do about economic injustice and third world deprivation and our own sad lethargy of spirit. Yadda, yadda.

So when I read and hear the phrase “must-have” I think I want to say this.

What we “must-have” is a deep respect for others – and also for our own mission here in our lives.

We need to know what we can do, and then do it. Some people create art so amazing it makes us weep. Others can organize an event; feed a family on enough or not enough money. Paint a chair, sing a song, invent a story, code a website, tell a joke, cuddle a puppy or cat or child. Feed the birds; listen so well the teller can’t stop talking. Fill out a 3-page form without having a panic attack. Teach, build, critique truly and gently. Bake cookies. Cook a gorgeous vegan soup (my roasted squash and carrot soup tastes like salted melted vitamins). Clarify, embellish, embroider, lead, or follow.

Each of us need our own “must-haves” – tools and ingredients we need to do whatever it is we are here to do. It is our job to know what those things are, get them as we can, and then use them.

We are not paper weights. We are not here to collect or impress or to cover our sadness with layers of stuff.

We are here to give, share, accomplish, and create. Everything else is background.

Comments

Leonard's picture

"What is your 'Must Have'?" "Shoes" "Bless You"

My "Must Have" is Love with a generous side of music to go with it along with a song for dessert. I loved this writing. It puts "stuff" in perspective
Mary Beth's picture

Thanks. And I guess to be honest, I'd need to have coffee, the illusion that I'm only going to eat healthy stuff, a warm-enough house, and stories. Stories to read, stories to remember of people who made my life fun and better - such as yourself, stories to make-up and write down, and the stories that motivate me.

Those 12 pairs of shoes above certainly are not my must haves! Love hearing about ur adventures. Must haves —— hmmmmm, need to think about that. Although, lately I have been thinking I must have an instapot.

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