I am a practitioner of the can-I-have-its, a collector of things. I am the sort who walks through antique shops touching everything, wondering what place these objects could hold in my life. I flip through the ikea catalog and salivate, just a little. I am, indeed, firmly ensconced in the material culture. As a result, I have a lot of stuff, a LOT of stuff. And as an artist, it's worse, because there is always some potential use somewhere down the road for that quirky rusty, something-or-other. In the last months I have been exploring the place of the gift in our culture, and the relationship between faith and fear and abundance and scarcity. I believe that the structure of artificial scarcity is not only self-perpetuating, but in fact, self-catalyzing. What happens when we believe that there is enough? What happens when we act on that belief? So in the spirit of the gift, I am embarking upon a mission to give away the things that I do not need. It is a practice of faith, and an act of rebellion against dominant capitalist culture. Is it a little crazy? Probably. Is it going to be hard? Absolutely. But here I go.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Concert Seats, Collective Capital, and Sharing
It's made me think a lot about the spirit of this project, about what it means to give something away, on a variety of levels. Personal, political, social, energetic. There is the actual act of giving--the kindness of it, the desire to give something, make the world better for someone else, but there is also the implied ownership of it--that this thing, this object, this feeling, this moment, this whatever... is mine to give. There is a lot of power inherent in that, a lot of privilege. I've been thinking too, about how capital in this culture is individual, collective capital is hard, even, to conceptualize. We don't know how to value what's collectively ours. We are in a system of perpetual increase in the desire for personal gain, at what seems to me to be the expense of common good.
The other day I almost got assaulted by a motorist, a motorist in (sorry to make the story cliche, but the facts are the facts) an SUV. The 'almost' is questionable. I was walking to work, and a woman pulled in front of me just as I was crossing the street. I had to stop short and then walk around behind her. Not a big deal, but I was running late and pre-coffee, so I was a little grumbly about it. I bumped into the spare tire on the back of her vehicle. It wasn't on purpose, but I can't say I tried to avoid it, either. It was a poor choice. I let my irritation about my 'right of way' get the best of me. So when she rolled down her window and yelled 'Did you just f***ing hit my car?' I was taken aback, but not shocked. What came next though, totally caught me off guard. She careened around the corner, parked her car, and ran at me. I kept walking hoping that futile hope maybe if I ignore it, it will just go away. She was a lot bigger than me, and was spitting mad. She was screaming strings of expletives that I won't repeat here, the basic gist of which were the repetition of the previous question and that I had NO RIGHT!! (What is it with right? What is our tenuous and tenacious relationship with entitlement?) I couldn't think straight. My heart was pounding; I held my hands up in the air, and kept trying to just walk around her. She wouldn't let me pass, and kept pushing closer and closer. She was only a couple of inches taller than me, but had easily 60 pounds on me. Her face was inches from mine, her eyes were dark with fury, and she started doing that puffed up chest thing that I've seen secondhand, but never experienced. She was dancing from foot to foot and started shoving herself aggressively at me, shoulder and chest. I stepped back, and she came right with me. All I could muster was to raise my voice and tell her to back off, tell her not to touch me. She started shoving with her hands, and hard, and that's when I realized she intended to fight me--that she not only wanted to (which was glaringly obvious), but would actually carry out doing me physical harm. I glanced behind me and saw a man watching us tentatively, clearly unsure of whether or not to intervene. I called out for his help, and he walked quickly in our direction. He asked what was happening while she continued to scream. Then he asked if he needed to call the police to settle it. Somehow in my panic, making it to work on time mixed with the desire to flee and took urgent and immediate precedence. I took his entrance as a chance to get away, and walked quickly up the street, calling back to thank him for his help. I only made it a block or so before I started shaking like a leaf and burst into tears.
I thought that I could put it out of my head pretty easily. I was fine, no harm done. All day though, the experience played and replayed in my head. I kept thinking about the selflessness of the man's gift of his attention, his rescue. He saw someone in need and reacted. He saw something that needed doing and he did it. No premeditation, no lofty theory, just one human to another. My gratitude is immense. Who knows what might have happened had he not been there?
The other thing I kept thinking about (and here's where it ties back in to what I was talking about earlier) is how she clearly felt so deeply wronged. Sure maybe she was having a terrible day, sure she may have been already about to blow, sure there must have been other factors at play, but still... she felt wronged. Me touching her car made her feel somehow violated; something that was hers had been threatened. I started thinking about collective capital and individual capital, that pervasive idea of ownership, of right. I was a pedestrian, and I was in the crosswalk, that gave me the 'right-of-way' it also gave me very little personal space to claim. The space of my own body. Period. She was in an SUV, a giant hunk of metal. Her body was surrounded by something like 100 cubic feet of space that she could lay claim to. We were on a public street, something we all own, all share, a space we have (if begrudgingly at times) collectively agreed to maintain, share, co-own. She had her 100 cubic feet of car, and I had my, roughly 2 (thank you, google) cubic feet of self. Driving a car offers that, does it not, as opposed to, say, riding a bike, or a bus, or traveling on one's own two feet? Isn't that one of the luxuries of a car--the imposition of one's own personal space into the public sphere? Isn't that part of why we keep commuting to work singly in our cars when we know what it's costing us? We have this bubble of personal space amidst a sea of other anonymous people, and we have seemingly complete control over that 100 cubic feet of personal space. We can make it sound how we'd like it to, smell how we'd like it to, look how we'd like it to. No-one's elbow is digging into our backs as we stand amongst a sea of sweaty people swaying in the bus, no-one else's cellphone conversation interrupts our thoughts. The ultimate in control, yes? But in service of what? To what end?