Tag Archives: greed

Being ascetic about asceticism

250px-Ignatius_of_Antioch_2Well, things have continued to be unpleasant in my work life. Actually, they’re getting worse. I have had to take consolation from the fact that what I’m going through is hugely easier than being an early martyr eaten by wild beasts– if slower. I shouldn’t whine. But, anyway, this blog continues to help me stay more alert to my relationship with objects.

It appears that the level of stress in my life is correlated with an increase in the size of my Amazon wish list. I hate to admit I was really surprised when I looked carefully. The number of objects on my wish list has gone up by 2.4% this month alone.

I already knew that under stress I tend to eat too much, but I wasn’t quite so clearly conscious that I also tend to WANT too much. Wow! I see now that it’s like an anxious kid reaching for her bear and blankie! Not good for a grownup!

So for today’s object, I’m going to pick something from this month’s additions to the wish list that I am choosing not to buy.

Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity is the first major study in English of the ‘heretic’ Jovinian and the Jovinianist controversy. David G. Hunter examines early Christian views on marriage and celibacy in the first three centuries and the development of an anti-heretical tradition…

JovinianistControversyThe early history of Christianity is really fascinating. A lot of people don’t realize that a huge amount of action took place in the first centuries after the writing of the New Testament. It is very true that those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it, because a lot of the most fiery disputes in Christianity in the most recent four or five centuries (such as between Protestants and Catholics) are simply rematches of similarly passionate disputes from the first centuries of Christianity. Any believer who has ever had a serious religious argument with a fellow believer knows: “Let Mortal Kombat Begin!”

The Jovinian Controversy was about what level of asceticism is most appropriate for Christians. Aha! You see why it caught my interest. The “Look Inside” selection on Amazon holds my attention, and rereading it makes me see why I put the book on my wish list a couple of weeks ago. The appropriate degree of involvement with the physical world is still a hot topic in Christianity (as the story of “the Bishop of Bling” illustrates), and probably always will be. The topic enthralls me.

ApostolicFathers1But thinking about it today, I know, deep down, that I don’t have the fortitude to wade through almost 300 pages of anything, much less a tome of early Christian studies. I also don’t feel I have enough background, which is why I’m leaving both volumes of the reasonably priced Loeb Classical Library’s Apostolic Fathers on my wish list, because Jovinian was quite a bit later than people like St. Ignatius of Antioch, who studied directly under St. John the Evangelist (best known as the beloved disciple at the Last Supper). And my work situation is keeping my span of attention low.

My experience in academic publishing whispers greedily, “You should get it before it goes out of print. You just know that probably there was a print run of 1000 and it will never be reprinted. Just buy it and keep it.” But my more ascetic self says it’s a waste of space and money I don’t even have, really, to spend $47 for a book (or $30 for a used copy) that I will probably never get around to reading. And this book, if I leave it in the freecycle area of my building, is going to end up in the trash.

So, with a great deal of regret, I’m going to delete it from my wish list. The mortal combats of Jovianian’s era will have to wait for another day, perhaps another lifespan.

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Off the wagon, shopping-wise

ticketsWell, now I’ve gone and done it. This is bad. I went on a shopaholic spending spree. You probably sense that I’ve been doing worse over the past month, and this afternoon, I realized how bad things have gotten. I’m embarrassed to confess this to you, but I simply went and spent a lot of money without thinking hard about it. I thought I was doing better with the shopaholism, but here I am off the wagon.

I’ve been very unhappy at work, and recently, things got even worse. But applying for jobs hasn’t been enough to fulfill my hunger for satisfying work. One advantage is that I avoided buying physical objects. The other is that I’m not going to be able to afford many physical objects for a while. I have now spent enough money that from now at least through this spring are going to be belt-tightening times. Avoiding physical objects is not enough of an improvement — I simply should have not spent as much.

Zummara_MedievalOver the past few weeks, I bought tickets to 4 early-music concerts in February and March, and I prepaid for Saturday to Sunday single nights at four-star hotels for 1) the weekend before New Year’s last month; 2) this weekend; 3) Presidents’ Day weekend; and 4) Memorial Day weekend. Oh, and I’m planning to visit the nuns for three days at the end of this month, which is $400 including the bus fare.

It isn’t enough to say the concerts are cheap and that I got really good deals on the rooms, that I could bring my own sandwiches to the hotels (room service doubles the cost of a hotel stay), and that the nuns almost certainly would accept less money than I intend to give them. No, I have to admit sadly that I simply spent too much.320px-Waiter_pouring_Zardetto_sparkling_Prosecco

And regardless of how grim my finances now look for the next few months, I am very happy to have all these experiences to mull over or look forward to. I’m still on the shopaholic high at the moment.

There’s a shrill little mosquito buzz of worry about how I am going to keep up with the payments as the bills come in, and some thumping sounds of embarrassment at trying to buy my way out of my unhappiness, both muffled by my shaky confidence that as much as I am a shopaholic, I have never gotten into financial straits I couldn’t get out of. Nevertheless, despite these alarms, I still feel happy to look forward to these experiences. They are anodynes that will (um, I hope) ease the pain of my work situation.

I went back to Wikipedia about “oniomania,” or shopaholism:

Compulsive buying seems to represent a search for self in people whose identity is neither firmly felt nor dependable, as indicated by the way purchases often provide social or personal identity-markers. Those with associated disorders such as anxiety, depression and poor impulse control are particularly likely to be attempting to treat symptoms of low self-esteem through compulsive shopping.

Well, that fits my situation to a tee. My once rock-stable work identity has been shaken by some nasty events at the office; I’m anxious about landing a new job and learning it; I’m depressed at the prospect that it may take years to find a job that I can do this well in, in terms of both competence and pay; and very strongly, I feel like asserting class markers, as pretentious and shameful as it is.

I want to tell my boss: “I stay in good hotels where they call me ‘madam’ and offer to summon the bellhop to pick up my matching luggage, and I eat good room service there, where the waiter lifts the lid off the entree with a flourish. I go to sophisticated early music concerts. I have a convent I like to visit and give money to, as if I were a medieval noblewoman. I want you to know, Boss, that I am still a smart, dignified, hard-working, professional helper, the way you used to treat me.”453px-Gheorghe_Tattarescu_-_Stareta_Manastirii_Ratesti_

So as happy as I feel that I have all these pleasant events coming up this spring, it’s all rooted in bitterness and resentment, and that is not a good thing. The only positive about this is that the purpose of the convent visit is to talk with the abbess about how to handle my work situation with less bitterness and more patience, while retaining my firm decision to leave this job. But she can’t do the heavy lifting. That’s up to me.

I’m ashamed at being so pretentious and resentful and shopaholic, because compared to millions of Americans in dire straits, I’m doing all right. But I know that I am no longer in the right job if my work situation brings out traits such as shopaholism that put me in a bad situation.

Nothing that drastic

Some years ago, I discovered that I love staycations, rather than traveling. My style is to call them “mental health breaks,” aspirationally staying in a local four-star hotel for a night a few times a year. (My latest conquest was the InterContinental, on which I used points to get an absurdly low rate on a top rate room. My next conquest is the Langham.)

These places provide numerous amenities I don’t have at my SRO: A bed, a bathtub, movies, a pool, fine restaurant food served to me on a ceramic plate at a table with a cloth instead of handed over a counter in a styrofoam box, and access to alcohol, the latter prohibition in my SRO probably to prevent fights or people drinking themselves into a stupor alone every night.

In a hotel, unlike the smallest real apartment I could rent at three times my SRO rent, I don’t have to clean the bathtub, tub, and sink, change and wash the linens, go out in the weather to watch movies, and lug home a bottle of wine that will half spoil because I cannot drink the whole thing in time. A hotel room for a night or two gives me true appreciation of amenities for a fraction of the cost of having them where they are merely burdens. (And, as I mentioned in my post on interior design, they have given me a taste for simpler design combined with finer, more durable materials.)

I have made these mental health breaks often enough over the years to sense how hotel clerks size up the customers. But, as I’ve told you before, I tend to look like a bag lady at the best of times.

Frame Traveler in Venetian PaisleyBringing one’s luggage in plastic grocery bags means bad treatment. Using black fabric bags means routine, mindless treatment. Bringing three or four largeish bags in a loud, matching Vera Bradley pattern means being treated like C’mell in Cordwainer Smith’s novel “Norstrilia.” A generous 20-oz. cold bottle of water appears from nowhere, the lightweight bags are gently lifted onto a giant brass luggage cart, and upon arrival at the room, the bellhop carefully explains how the thermostat works before bowing, accepting his tip, and literally backing out of the room.

The bear-man leapt from his stool with astonishing speed. “Cat-madame!” he cried, “A thousand pardons. You can have anything in the place. You come from the top of Earthport? You know the Lords of the Instrumentality personally? You would like a table roped off with curtains? Or should I just throw everybody else out of here and report to my Man that we have a famous, beautiful slave from the high places?”

“Nothing that drastic,” said C’mell. “Just food.”

So it is with embarrassment at my pretentiousness that I admit that for years, I have wanted a fine leather designer purse. Not the tacky fabric kind with an “LV” or “CC” logo; I mean the real real thing, leather. And classically styled, no fringes and useless buckles hanging off it. If humble Vera Bradley can get me this far, what will Longchamp or Coach Classic or Chanel get me? On the rare occasions I have had a chance to examine them, I am impressed by the scent and flexibility of the leather, the attention to rounding off the ends of the stitching, and so on. If you don’t have one of these real bags, and you can afford it, get the real thing and not a fake.

Coach classic duffle leatherBut I also know I have an almost magical, magnetic predisposition to walk clumsily into the tongues of doors hard enough to ruin shirts and, doubtless, ruin a fine leather bag. A good watch will keep running on time, A Vera Bradley bag is loud enough to hide the marks, a leather bag is scarred forever.

And, well, there isn’t much I want from the hotel, not worth spending that kind of money on something that has to be handled with such care to present a social clue that may or may not register. Nothing that drastic. Vera Bradley you can’t miss, it punches you in the eyeball at a fraction of the price.

So I must confine my admiration of fine leather products to the other side of the screen or the window. I’m all set now. Thanks for the free bottle of water!

The flesh pots of the Amazon

Hello again! I hope you had a fine Christmas and will have an excellent 2014.

Now we have finished the feast and afterfeast of the Nativity of God in the Flesh. You have read my mentions before of the eating guidelines in my religion. So for the forty days up to Christmas, I went pescetarian, mostly ovo-lacto vegetarian. But from Christmas on, I went whole hog, so to speak, eating red meat at least twice a day. This is not normal for me; for health reasons, I usually eat poultry or fish, not red meat.

320px-Tim_RussertAnd then I remembered Tim Russert. You remember him, too, the tough, hard-nosed, yet pleasant and likable political journalist on Meet the Press for so many years. In 2008, at the age of 58, he suddenly, shockingly collapsed and died of a heart attack at work, despite doing well on a cardiac stress test only a couple of months before.

It was shortly before Russert’s sad and unexpected death that I had read the following excerpt from his 2004 book “Big Russ and Me.” It’s a love poem to meat. I can do no better than to repeat his lyricism in a paragraph I find literally mouth-watering to read.

Tim Russert Big Russ and Me 92

I have not read the book, but having read that passage so shortly before Russert’s death made it spring to mind when the news came. Obviously, this man had a taste for meat, preferably fatty, processed meat, and it was none too good for his heart. But oh, that passage sure makes it sound tasty! The flavor and feel of salty fatty meat is incomparable.

But when that passage came to mind again a few days ago, I thought, “Why do I have cookbooks about meat on my Amazon wish list? I don’t even have a kitchen!”

Obviously, it’s food porn for me — pictures and ideas just on the item page, not even owning the book, stimulating the contemplation of meat, particularly in fancy varieties I can’t even get in my neighborhood.

As with the arroz con leche I wrote about earlier, I should avoid more than very occasional intake of processed or fatty meats, no matter how pleasurable they are. And I should drop the contemplation of it from my mind.

And so, today, I am removing from my Amazon wish list all cookbooks solely about meat. I do not need to have them stimulating my gluttony. Enough that I should eat red or processed meat once a week or less; no need to actually fantasize about it.

I have been like the Israelites in the desert.

And the children of Israel said unto them, Would to God we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the flesh pots, and when we did eat bread to the full; for ye have brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly with hunger.

God sent them manna to eat, which, although nutritionally complete, apparently was as appetizing as those round rice cakes with the texture of styrofoam, and they complained about that, too, and eventually God sent them pre-slaughtered meat and killed the ones who ate it, specifically because of their lust for it, and not because it was meat per se.

33 And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.

I choose to give up those books about luscious, delicious meat because there is no sense in fantasizing about it; I should simply enjoy it in the quantities I should have — say, going to a restaurant on Easter for a sirloin — instead of luxuriating in the daydream.

Charcuterie book Odd bits bookBones book

Progress report: One for one

VictoryI’m happy to report progress. This blog is helping me to relinquish my obsessions with wanting stuff. It provides repeated practice in renouncing things of many different sorts for many different reasons in many different ways. I’ve gone into a few of my older posts and said, “Oh, yeah, I used to really really want that for years… wow, I forgot.” This isn’t exactly conquest of my shopaholism, but it’s a little victory! I feel a bit freer on the inside, less bothered by spiderwebs of longing for objects. There are still tons of objects I want, but this blog is actually helping.

Now I’m trying something new. I’m going to balance buying something with getting rid of something. This feels uncomfortable. I’ve never been moderate in my management of belongings. I tend to either buy or get rid of stuff by the bag, by the box, or even more. Or I get rid of one single thing or buy one single thing, but not at the same time. Moderation and balance are a whole new ballgame. Or, to use the metaphor from early in this blog, this time I’m simultaneously letting out some hoarded water from the bathtub and letting some fresh new water in.

This plan is a little dicey, because I am buying a bible. I’ve written before about my fascination with bibles of various form factors, especially cute little bibles. (You can click here to see that post.) So I had hoped to be rid of the urge to buy more bibles. I don’t want to fall into a spell of enthusiasm and buy a boatload of various translations, or a parallel-text French-English bible, or that cute chunky edition…

However, as I told you, I read the Bible a lot online, on BibleGateway.com. Recently, the New International Reader’s Version caught my attention. (Click here to see a couple of verses in the NIRV compared to other translations.) And when I want to explore a translation, I want a physical book to flip through and page through.

NIrV with polka dotsI wrote half a blog post explaining how I chose not to buy this translation. I made fun of my wanting the jolly teal polka-dotted edition, and I tsk-tsked at the unscholarly simplified language in the NIRV (which is much easier than the translations I normally read, such as the NRSV). And I quoted myself: “God is not a genie to be captured in a bottle, and bibles are not toys.” That last is true, but I could not sincerely finish writing the post, because the more I wrote, the more I realized I do not want this bible out of shopaholism. I really do want to explore this translation.

Writing this blog is teaching me, slowly, how to distinguish the emotional sensations of shopaholism and hoarding. It is not easy, but it is becoming less difficult for me to tell when I actually want something for itself and when there are reasons not to get it.

I am beginning to sense that when I want to buy something in the right way, I feel a more level-headed, calmer, clear-cut set of interrogations compared to when I am longing for something. Do I really have the space? Do I really have the money? Will I have the time and commitment to respect this object and respect myself by using it, and using it well? Will I lay it aside because it turns into junk in my hands and I get bored with it? Is it worth devoting some of the minimal space in my tiny home to it? Will I have the willpower to give it away if it disappoints, even though I paid good money for it?

So this time I thought about it, and eureka! Why don’t I get rid of one of my least-read bibles? One for one at the same time! I know that those of you who don’t have hoarding and shopaholism problems are probably rolling your eyes at this big “discovery,” but it was a discovery for me!

My building has a tacitly agreed-upon freecycling space where we put small items we don’t want; anyone who wants can take them and after a couple of days, the building manager throws out anything left. This is the flat top of an unused radiator cover in the foyer — no clothes, very good for books, vases, bottles of perfume, and the like. It always looks neat, because if something is good quality, it gets picked up very quickly.

I put my telephone-book-sized six-pound Large Print NIV Archaeological Bible out there with a sticky saying “Great Christmas present!” I peeked a few hours later and it was gone. I felt relief. I should have gotten rid of that enormous bible long ago, because after I read a few pages I lost interest in it right away. (“But it was so expensive, and maybe I’ll make the time to study it, and I should learn what’s in it… and…”) It was even in its original box.

So, jubilantly, I ordered the (much smaller) NIRV, because even though my place is overstuffed with possessions, I was able to keep the situation from getting worse. Not exactly ascetic behavior, but self-disciplined.

One for one: A useful concept.

Too sweet to eat

This recipe probably should be called not “Arroz con Leche” but, rather, “Death to All Diabetics!” It is delightfully and lethally full of sugar, starch, and saturated fat.

Furthermore, not only is this bad for anyone with blood glucose control issues, it is one of those dishes, like lobster drenched with margarine and served with glasses of champagne, that meets the ascetic dietary rules of my religion for the pre-Christmas season while utterly violating their spirit (which is why those rules are only guidelines and not religious law). This dessert is really a feasting food, and only if you aren’t diabetic, hyperinsulinemic, glucose intolerant, or the like.

eagle-brand-sweetened-condensed-milkThoughts of this recipe have been bothering me for a solid month and a half. I can imagine its milky, coconutty, starchy, sweet, delicately spiced rice flavor and chewy grainy texture with such vividness that I have been constantly tempted to buy all the ingredients and beg my friends to let me use their kitchen to make it. I yearn for the taste of condensed milk, which is a canned cream-colored substance composed of whole milk cooked with so much sugar it is extremely viscous, and almost solid when chilled, and for the aroma of coconut milk, which is a thick product much richer (i.e., fattier) than coconut water.

I want to take a big bowl, fetch a pint of this rice dessert, and go to town, my eyelids drooping half-closed in pleasure as I chew slowly, lick my sticky lips, and suck on the spoon. No matter if I’m nauseated, sleepy, and headachy for a full day afterward while my blood sugar soars through the roof — the pleasure’s the thing.

Just like my other fantasies of acquiring particular objects, the desire to eat arroz con leche is another manifestation of a type of greed — gluttony — that I wish to turn away from. I share the recipe with you partly in case you are one of those people who can eat anything (at least a bit now and then) without ill effects or religious strictures, but mostly because this blog really has been helping me to let go of these pesky greedy obsessive thoughts about things I choose not to indulge in. Herewith:

Arroz con Leche

By Elizabeth Carrion
Published October 11, 2013
Fox News Latino

Ingredients

  • 3 cups water
  • 3-4 cinnamon sticks
  • 5-6 cloves
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger
  • 2 cups short or medium grain rice
  • 12 ounce can coconut milk
  • 12 ounce can evaporated milk
  • 14 ounce can condensed milk
  • ½ to ¾ cup raisins
  • Ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Add water, cinnamon sticks, cloves and ginger to a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  2. Strain to remove spices. Add same water back to pot.
  3.  Add rice and simmer on low for 30 minutes.
  4. Add coconut, evaporated and condensed milk and continue to cook on low until rice is tender to your preference. Mix frequently so that rice does not stick to the bottom of the pot.
  5. When ready, fold in raisins.
  6. Serve in bowls and sprinkle with ground cinnamon.

Tip: If rice is not tender enough or has dried out, add milk ½ cup at a time and sugar to taste.

Serves a crowd.

http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/lifestyle/2013/10/11/hispanic-heritage-month-arroz-con-leche/

Black Friday preview

This 1:44 video made me incredibly sad. As an ascetic shopper, I cannot imagine how anyone could possibly get any good, satisfying, enjoyable merchandise under such circumstances, much less find a gift suited to a particular person; and I hope it is obvious to the reader that the free expression of unrestrained greed cannot be of any interior benefit at all to the participants. Turn your sound WAY down if you choose to watch.

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