“So this chick was interviewing me about you yesterday.” He hadn’t actually said “chick,” and he hadn’t actually said “interviewing.” He hadn’t actually said any of it. He’d said something else in German and my brain saved it directly to the English-language database for further study. If he had said it in English he might have said “chick.” There are very few English words between “girl” and “woman” that feel good between the teeth.
“What? What does that even mean?” I asked as I walked between trailer and table with accouterments for breakfast.
“I was bartending at this party, and when the girl I was working with realized we were in a band together, she started asking me about you.”
I snorted. “What did she want to know?”
“What you look like, if you’re good looking.”
“Uh-huh. That’s ridiculous.”
“And then she asked me what kind of style you have.”
“What kind of style? Are you serious? What did you say?”
“Well…none. I told her you find a lot of things in the trash, including your clothing, and that you didn’t really have a ‘style’.”
I laughed, an outlandish chortle straight from the gut. I am never quite sure how others perceive me, but hearing that I have no identifiable style released a feeling something like relief. My relationship to clothing is tenuous. I enjoy the identity play inherit in costume, but loath the fact that fashion advertisements and magazines have turned donning a costume into a daily necessity and identity play into a consumer product. I like to look “good,” but I almost always favor practicality. I own more than my fair share of clothing, but when it comes down to it, I usually don’t care enough to bother. Who exactly is it that I need to impress? Generally, no one. And so on many a day you’ll find me in sweatpants and rubber boots with messy hair and the same shirt I’ve worn (and probably slept in) for the last three days. On those days, I like to think of myself as a champion of the bag lady aesthetic.
I find clothing in the dumpster across the street all the time. Not icky hole-ridden clothing, but neatly folded items still smelling of detergent. And while some of them may have gotten the boot because they’ve become too small or too big, the majority are being tossed because they’ve gone out of style. (Did you know that charitable organizations like Goodwill played a huge role in conditioning people to find throwing out clothes socially acceptable? More on that if I ever finish the damn trash book.) I see people wearing the same couple of H&M outfits in every city in the country. I’ve watched friends do absurd things to their bodies and their wallets in order to look like the ladies in the fashion magazines. And I can’t say that I like what I see.
I am a firm believer in the idea that everyone should do just what they want, so long as what they want does not hurt or encroach on the freedom of others. So if you want to buy a new wardrobe every season, then by all means, please do (forgetting, for a moment, the dubious environmental and labor practices in the textile industry). I too have been plagued by the siren call of the new. I too have bought an expensive pair of shoes out of sudden and unexplainable desire. But I question whether these desires are our own and whether we would still feel them if we lived in a world devoid of magazines, advertisements, or the concept of seasonal fashion.
And so it was with great interest that I read about Kristy Powell’s One Dress Protest. Here was a woman so fed up with fashion that she was going to wear just one dress for an entire year. Why? “…to protest the ideas and motivations behind how and why I wear my clothes” she explains on her blog. “Over the year I aim to challenge the ways identity is constructed through clothing, what sustainability means for consumption, how our perception of others is so often based on external presentation, and what ‘fashion’ ultimately means for me going forward.”
While the concept of wearing the same item of clothing for extended periods of time is normal in my community (I have a friend who has had on the same pair of pants for the last two and a half years—interestingly enough it’s a pair I got out of the trash across the street, wore briefly, and tossed in our free box), in the wider world, the idea of wearing one outfit for an entire year is radical to the point of near insanity. And yet think of the benefits! No worries about what to wear tomorrow, no huge piles of laundry, no clothing expenses, and all that extra closet space. Unfortunately you’ll also be forced to notice (whether you wear just one or several outfits intensely and often) just how craptasticly made most modern clothing is.
“ODP is not about re-defining myself in the dress I’ve decided to wear for an extended period of time. It’s about learning to define myself outside of it, outside of my clothes,” explains Powell. In German the saying goes: Kleider machen Leute (clothes make people), a saying that tends to be true, but whose inherit truth is bullshit. Clothing doesn’t make people. Cultural mores valuing clothing the way our culture values clothing make large groups of people act as if clothing makes people. The difference may be subtle, but its implications are enormous. “You are not your fucking khakis.”
Do you have a love/hate relationship with fashion? Can you imagine wearing one dress (or pair of pants or shirt) for an entire year?
Ahh, dumpster diving. There’s no room it can’t fill, no item it can’t provide. (No thanks to the disturbing wastefulness of our here and now. But for now, we revel.) This picture comes from a home in southern England. “I have four kids and a proper house, so a completely different lifestyle,” Lady F explained when she sent this photo, “but in another life I’d have done what you’re doing, or maybe lived on a narrow boat or something.” See, says I. Dumpster diving isn’t just for crust punks and homeless people and bloggers who, all this considered, may or may not even exist. Dumpster diving is for everyone, even (especially) folks with not-so-tiny houses and small herds of children.
Here’s what Lady F had to say about finding this room full of booty:
“Bed: Yes, the lovely Victorian cast-iron bedstead had been put out with the rubbish. I was on my way past with a baby in a buggy, and took the head and foot-ends home on one journey, then doubled back for the base. I just about managed to heave it home, pushing the buggy with the other hand. The base is a bit saggy, but all fits together no problem and is fine for a child’s weight. I didn’t even have to paint it, it was already that lovely silver color.”
“Bedding: A friend gave us the duvet cover and pillow set, because she was updating her daughter’s bedroom and was going to replace them. They are completely perfect and lovely quality cotton.”
“Chair: The blue chair was put out for the rubbish by someone at the end of our road. It is missing a spindle, but is otherwise perfectly sturdy. It was already painted blue.”
“Beanbag: the red beanbag her brother is lying on in the bottom right-hand corner was put out by someone in a block of flats we walk past on the way to school. I just washed the cover and stitched it up in a couple of places.”
“Tin trunk: the tin trunk I found years ago when I was a student, and painted it shiny black. The kids keep dressing-up clothes in it.”
“Wicker basket: The wicker picnic hamper you can just see under the bed I rescued from a skip. It now holds the dolls’ clothes and sundry other tat.”
“Toy castle: The pink toy castle you can nearly see on top of the chest was made for my youngest daughter by her oldest sister out of tin cans, cardboard and paper mache. It is home to an eclectic mix of playmobil animals and people.”
“Clothes: The kids’ clothes in the picture mainly came off freecycle/freegle as well.”
And everything else (excluding the rug) Lady F found in a charity shop. I have long been of the opinion that things for kids are best bought second hand. Not because they don’t deserve the best, but because they deserve to be as wlid and ruckus as they so choose without having to ever hear a variation on the theme of “and this is why we can’t have nice things” from an angry parent whose pocketbook was significantly lightened by the purchase of now hard-played toys, clothing, and furniture.
After the mice grow so bold as to disappear into the wall with an entire package of toast, tear down the entire wall (it needed to go anyway) in a madcap hunt for their heads. Succeed in finding their (ex) nests. Curse their ability to consistently escape both slingshot and cat.
After spending one night on a “beach” (man-made, on a river) and one night in a two story tent during a ruckus, wall-shaking thunder storm, come home and set up a bed outside. Spend no more than ten minutes indoors at a time until the rain that you’ve been hoping will water the garden finally appears beneath black clouds.
Oh how I love this season. What are you up to summers?
Today’s post is brought to you by local food enthusiast Fish in the Water, about the changes she’s found herself undergoing as she spends more and more time outside.
I feel like I’ve wandered into Oz. Things look strange. Things sound strange. I feel like I’ve just discovered color- like I’ve been sleepwalking all this time and now I’ve woken up for the first time. Time is actually moving slower. Houses look alien and dandelions look like food. It’s starting to get pretty intense.
I noticed it again today while peeing in a public bathroom. Someone turned on one of those electric hand dryers that blow out air. It was so loud—apparently there was some kind of echo—that I was momentarily startled. What the hell? What is this noise? After a moment I registered that it must be the hand dryer—what else could it be— but still paused to think how strange that sound would be if I were say, a fox. It would be a terrifying noise. And how strange that we all accept that as a normal, day to day sort of thing.
I often find myself looking around at the “built” environment, wondering why it’s looked normal all this time. This is especially apparent after spending a day working in the garden. Over the weekend we took a trip to Lowe’s, and I found myself peering around the aisles with the sense that I had stepped into an alternate reality. I’ve been to Lowe’s before. I’ve been to a million hardware stores. But this time it just seemed strange. Why were there so many different lamps? What was up with the towering shelves of fencing? Why were they blasting what sounded alarmingly like a parrot from the loudspeakers (we later decided this was meant to be a hawk, to scare small birds away from the store, where they often nest in the rafters).
Have you ever looked around the built environment and just realized how weird it all is? And I don’t just mean giant box stores. Streets, historic buildings, light posts, cars, locked doors, glass windows—have you ever paused and tried to look at this from the perspective of someone who had never seen it before? If you can really get yourself into that mindset, you really start to wonder what it’s all for. Why is it there? I’ve always been a questioner—I’ve always liked to wonder what would have induced someone to make a particular product, because as a designer, I am well aware of the work that went into every object, even something so simple as a pen. Someone decided to make it that color. Someone decided that eight inches or whatever was the appropriate length, and that there would be a little swirl in a different color on the end. Why? What were their reasons for doing it?
Now I’m taking it a step further. Why do we have streetlights? Well, because it’s safer. Why isn’t it safe? Why is there so much crime? What happened to that whole concept of ambient light? Each question brings out a million more. Why are we doing all this? What’s the point?
I call this Derrick Jensen syndrome. It’s not just him—it’s the product of all this reading. When it starts to occur to you that there are other options, you start to wonder why we’re bothering. You start to look at strip malls and imagine what they’ll look like when they’re abandoned and ruined. What will be worth salvaging (not a lot).
It’s also the product of being outside. Now that all my intentions are focused on growing things, I follow the weather closer than I ever have before. Every morning, and sometimes several times throughout the day, I’m checking the temperature. Instead of being surprised by the rain, I’ve been tracking the signs, and checking the radar. I am intimately aware of how wet the ground is. And while the days used to speed past, they are now marked by how much longer it will be until seeds are up, by how much taller the tomatoes will be before I transplant, by the buds on my currant bushes.
All that waiting makes time go much slower. The workday flies by—I barely remember what I’ve done from day to day—but when I get home and get the rake out of the garage and start in on the grass clods in the new garden everything slows to a crawl, and all there is for me is the sound of the birds, my own grunts as I pull at a particularly stubborn clump of grass, the sun on my neck, and a vague awareness of where the dog is.
When I go back inside, I feel odd. Enclosed. It didn’t occur to me until I snapped at the handsome fella, for absolutely no reason, that it might be because I’m no longer used to being indoors and that my body simply doesn’t like it. I was fine when I was outside raking, but as soon as I came in I was agitated, fidgety, and uncomfortable. It fades after a while—especially if I turn the computer on—but there it is.
I might not have thought twice about it except for the passage in Into the Forest where the main character stays in a tree all night, waiting for a pig, and then shoots it (they need food). After she returns home, she can’t be in the house. She starts to wake in the night with the sense of being trapped. Her sister tells her that in a way she’s become the pig. Essentially she’s become wild, and wild things don’t belong in houses.
Am I becoming wild, I wonder? I don’t think I’ve gone to any extremes (she says as she types on a laptop), but I do wonder. I’ve always felt trapped, now I think I’m just starting to realize why.
When I was a kid I subscribed to the magazine Ranger Rick. Though I have no more than a general recollection of the magazine’s contents (nature and animals and “saving the environment”) I can only assume that reading it every month had some effect on my environmental consciousness because when I finished each issue I would feed the pages to the dog. This, I thought, was a way to recycle paper much more satisfyingly direct than sending it off to the recycling plant. Feed the dog a page, get a pile of poop in the garden. Our dog also liked to eat paperclips and thumbtacks, but they came out the other side intact, which, perhaps, provided an even more important lesson in environmental consciousness. I once fed the same dog an entire issue of National Geographic in one sitting.
Since then I’ve dabbled in magazine readership without making any lasting connections. I’ve read my share of Rolling Stone and CMJ standing beside the racks at Borders. I have a pile of Rolling Thunder issues on my shelf that I’ve never read. I have a squeaky new subscription to Yes! Magazine because I’d like to write for them. And tragically, but predictably, as a teenager I had a subscription to Seventeen, which I read religiously and then removed from my life with equal intensity after finding myself thoroughly over pubescent acceptance mongering.
And then I found The New Escapologist. The New Escapologist! I read their blog and I ordered an issue of their magazine. That issue came in the mail, and after I read it I wanted to scream their name from the rooftops. THE NEW ESCAPOLOGIST! It’s a magazine so good that I immediately went to their website, ordered every issue they’ve ever published AND subscribed. I may not agree with every article (this month’s issue is about Bohemians, with whom I have my qualms), but every article is brilliantly written. That’s right, BRILLIANTLY. Intelligent writing, humor, and articles covering everything from beards to Bohemian escapology? Please excuse me while I retire to the powder room for a cold shower.
What is Escapology?
It’s about deftly avoiding the potential traps of modern life: debt, stress, unrewarding work, bureaucracy, marketing, noise and over-government. It’s about embracing freedom, anarchy and absurdity. It’s about overcoming miserliness, passive-aggression, mauvaise foi and submission. Escapology asks you to consider the circumstances in which you would most like to live and encourages you to find a way of engineering them.
Which is to say, these folks are Gorillas. Sure, we have our differences, but I like that. Anarchy, absurdity, and freedom? Now those are three words I can live by. Tattoo them on your chest, put them in your pipe and smoke ‘em, and visit their website immediately and order a subscription of your own.
Yesterday I received an e-mail from a casting agent looking for people to be a part of a documentary-style television show about foragers, freegans, dumpster divers, scammers, and traders—pretty much anyone who gets food into their belly for free. I offered to post their casting call here, in case any of the clever eaters who stop by here daily are looking for some fame and glory.
Personally, I’m not sure I can even handle the thought of being featured on a “major cable network.” Having hundreds of people read my writing is one thing, but knowing that thousands are watching my face and listening to my voice on cable sounds downright creepy. I am much better with words when I don’t have to say them out loud. But for those of you who are eloquently vocal and are looking for a little television exposure, here’s the casting call they sent me:
“All-new docu-reality series seeking people who eat for FREE!
Do you get a thrill out of spending little to no money on food?
Do you dedicate your life to scoring meals in clever ways?
Have you perfected the art of dumpster diving, coupon clipping to an obsessive degree, or bartering your way to a full stomach?
Do you crash events, meetings and open houses just for the free feast?
This all-new series for a major cable network will explore the lives of people who have mastered the art of eating for free. We will follow individuals who dedicate their lives to acquiring food in crafty ways and revel in the thrill of their success.
If you are a resourceful renegade who has forged a way of living that enables you to eat practically for free, whatever your reason/strategy may be, we want to meet you!
To be considered, please send us your name and contact info, along with a brief bio explaining your specific situation and approach to eating for free. Make sure to include a recent photo of yourself and send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
And for anyone who isn’t really into eating for free, what do you think? Can you fathom being on a reality television show? Would you jump at the chance or find the thought mildly disturbing?
I’ve run out of dumpster find of the week posts. Sure, there are still plenty of odds and ends around the trailer that are from the trash that I have yet to share on dumpster find of the week, but really, I want to hear from you. Are you dumpster diving? Are you hauling home your neighbor’s curbside furniture discards? Did you just eat that slice of pizza somebody left untouched on that restaurant table?! If you did it I want to hear about it. Send me your pictures and your stories! Share the joy of your prize trash picks with the world! Help fight trash picking taboos and stereotypes everywhere! Revel in your own cleverness! My e-mail address is nicolettekyle [at] yahoo [dot] com, and I’ll be sitting at my desk drumming my fingers impatiently against the plastic laptop case until I hear from you.
This week, out of sheer desperation for a dumpster find of the week post, I though we could play “I spy.” But this time the game will go like this: “I spy with my little eye, something from the dumpster.” I will, of course, supply the answers just after the picture, so if you actually feel like taking a guess, then don’t scroll down too far.
So. Ehem. Items in this picture found in the trash from right to left:
1. The fold up stool leaning in front of the wood stove (as well as the one sitting in front of it).
2. The picture frames on the wall.
3. The metal sheet on which the stove is standing.
4. The basket behind the stove holding my kindling.
5. The string of lights hanging on the wall.
6. All the pillows, blankets, and duvet covers you can see.
7. The yellow curtain that the monster under the bed uses to maintain his privacy.
8. The ukulele.
9. A bunch of tiny stuff on all the shelves way too small to see, such as creepy old plastic toys, bottles, magazine holders, and an assortment of books.
10. The chest of drawers beneath the shelves.
11. The trash can.
12. The trailer itself.
Hip hip hooray. Now send me your pictures already.
And with the start of spring, doing the dishes is suddenly fun. Fun, because doing them means standing outside in the sun, fondling some of my favorite objects, and, on the days destined for an extra heap of sugar, being serenaded by the banjo being plucked in the wagon across the way. This may make me a geek of some sort. But already being a proud bearer of that title on a number of fronts I say fuck it, let’s wash us some dishes.
This is what it looks like when I wash the dishes (and when I run out of room on the drying rack and hang the remaining laundry on guard doll’s fence). Inside, I collect all the dirty dishes in a big metal tub. Once it’s full I fill up another big metal tub with soapy water, set the other tub on the ground next to the table, and leave all the dishes outside to dry in the sun when I’m finished. Then, depending on which dish washing soap I’ve used, I either dump the water in the gutter on the street or on the bushes growing outside of my front door. In the winter I do more or less the same thing, but inside, with a lot less elbow room and sunshine. Oh sweet, sweet springtime! If I could give the weather a kiss, it’d be a big wet one with lots of tongue.
My makeshift table was born out of neccesity (“Hmm, none of my free tables are high enough to do dishes on,” I thought) of a found board and the wooden insta-table fold out things (what the hell are they actually called?) that I picked out of the Frankfurt trash and have carried with me across the country and back.
The dishes themselves, as well as the tubs I store and clean them in, are about 3/4 trash finds and 1/4 flea market purchases. Now that I think of it, the only new item I’ve purchased for my kitchen in the last six years was a white ceramic measuring cup that I found so irresistibly gorgeous that I bought it on the spot. (I was drunk at the time. I’m not kidding. Wine with a light lunch is a dangerous thing.)
Have you ever washed your dishes outside? Despite the fact that it would make absolutely no logistical sense for, say, someone living in an apartment on the fifth floor, I highly recommend trying it sometime. See if you don’t find a few more grins in the water than usual.
You people are wonderful. You really are. You shower me with comments, ask me questions, send me nice e-mails about how much you like my writing, and you have been sending me PayPal donations to support the Gorilla cause to an extent that I did not imagine possible. (I have used the money to purchase the wheelbarrow in which I will be carting around my ego.) So thanks to every single one of you. I raise my forkful of fried sweet potatoes to the heavens in a toast to your honor.
While I’m taking care of all these over-due thank yous and curtsies, I should mention that I received a “Stylish Blogger Award” from Urania’s Inspiration, a blog mostly about re-purposing and thrifting. To which I blush and say “Awww, you shouldn’t have” as I shovel another few pounds into the wheelbarrow.
What all of this has also reminded me of is that 2010 is over, and I’m due for another round of Gorilla Awards. I don’t like maintaining a blog roll, so each year I hand out the Gorillas to my favorite internet folk for their work in living, documenting, and promoting the Gorilla life. Which leaves one important question, as I don’t always get out much when it comes to websites—do you read any particularly Gorilla-esque blogs you’d like to nominate for consideration?
Ahoy! Click Clack Gorilla! I’ve missed you but life, as it should, has come between me and my computer recently more often than not. To blame is the sun. It just keeps shining and shining, and it has lured me from my computer and the freckles from the pale winter skin on my cheeks.
Someday soon it will rain, and then I will spend the day writing the hundreds of posts that have been simmering on the low heat of a near-sun-stroked brain for the past few weeks. Until then, look at what this amazing woman did! I’m totally in love! Three cheers for tiny houses and the scavengers who build them!
She also keeps a blog called Forge Ahead. It makes me ecstatic to know that people in America are doing these things. Makes the thought of someday moving back there seem mildly less terrifying.