Black Friday

Once upon a time, store closings for Thanksgiving wouldn’t have been remarked upon. It is not only a Federal and Stock Exchange holiday, but a sacred, Norman Rockwell moment in American life and we need more, not less, of them. This year, it has become a thing that some stores are closed, like Costco, Staples, and TJ Maxx. In fact, a far larger number are not, starting their Black Friday sales a day earlier. (You know who you are.) I empathize with the staff who have no choice but work on this holiday, and with those who count on these sales to do their holiday gift buying. But I won’t be in those checkout lines on principle and for my mental health. I suspect I’m not alone in a desire to skip the whole fracas that has become the holiday season, and this year I’m getting off to a good start thanks to an unexpected gift: a serendipitous catch on the internet.

So here’s what we’re planning for Black Friday: the Ground Floor Farm’s Really Really Free Market, 2-8 pm, November 27, 100 SE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., in Stuart, Fl.  This is a ‘pop-up marketplace of diverse goods and services where absolutely everything is free. No money, no barter. Just come and take what you want, and ideally give something too!’ To make giving possible, on Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, they’ll be accepting donations of goods. On the day of the event, you can show up with your own sign (table and chair) and offer a free service, e.g. haircut, massage, yoga class, musical serenade, financial planning – you get the idea. I don’t need any more stuff, but I could probably fill a bag or two of items for donation.  And who could say no to a free massage or serenade?  http://www.groundfloorfarm.com/freemarket

Ground Floor Farm is the brainchild of three young farmers, Jacki, Micah and Mike, whose vision is to be part of a ‘hometown renaissance’ by modeling and educating others about small space urban farming, and becoming a hub of cultural and social events. In addition to a regular booth at the Sunday Stuart Farmers Market, they offer classes in homesteading arts like medicinal herbs, and the making of cheese, bread, sauerkraut and candles, plus a free yoga class every Sunday. There is also a young adult program and a three-day camp for grades 2-8 this December.

free veggiesThe Really Really Free Market is a local example of the gift economy I’ve touched on in previous posts, and I’m really really excited to experience it and possibly borrow the idea. Other current examples include the little free libraries of Lake Worth organized by local residents (it’s a national movement), and accessory and/or clothing swaps for frugal fun and charitable fund-raising turning up in women’s circles. Seed and/or cuttings swaps, tool libraries, time banks, and guerrilla gardening are familiar to the Transition Town culture, and a reliable source of community resilience. For free and excellent online learning, see Coursera for adult learners and Khan Academy for school children. Recently, I participated in the Mindfulness Summit, an Australian-based project providing 31 days of interviews and instruction with renowned meditation teachers, each segment available for 24 hours for free (the package for future viewing was $79). Even large-scale projects like our national parks system, the lending libraries, community-supported projects like Wikipedia, in fact, the internet itself, all fall into the category of gift: something freely given.  This is my idea of a free market.

Gifts have an old and complex history linked with matriarchal societies, beginning with the fact that mothers bestow the gift of life on their children, with no expectation of return (though the occasional phone call wouldn’t hurt). Gifts are based on the philosophy of abundance and generosity as opposed to exchange which is tied to scarcity and susceptible to hoarding and greed. The gift economy predated capitalism, so it is especially fascinating to see it re-emerge in mainstream culture today.  Charles Eisensteins’ Sacred Economics, a history of money (recommended reading) offers four useful principles for a successful gift economy that you may find helpful in the often fraught experience of giving and receiving on a smaller scale.

  1. Over time, giving and receiving must be in balance.
  2. The source of a gift is to be acknowledged.
  3. Gifts circulate rather than accumulate.
  4. Gifts flow towards the greatest need.

All make sense to me, especially #4.  I’m re-gifting these to my readers, paying (and playing) them forward, you could say. ‘Tis the season to be mindful about how and why and for whom we buy holiday gifts, and whether there is something more precious we can give.

More on this topic:

Reconomy: http://www.reconomy.org/economic-enablers/alternative-means-of-exchange/the-gift-economy-and-community-exchanges/

The Moneyless Manifesto: http://www.moneylessmanifesto.org/book/the-moneyless-menu/the-gift-economy/

The Gift Economy*

The world was made to be free in.

Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.

Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn

anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive

is too small for you.

~ Sweet Darkness, David Whyte

For those who make their livelihood in the financial markets or follow their own investments closely, this week will require seat belts, low and tight across your laps.  If you believe things are going to return to ‘normal’ for the dominant energy sector any time soon, read this from the Post Carbon Institute. It certainly calls into question whether Shell’s proposed Arctic drilling is anything but pure political theater. Although we divested from fossil fuels a while back, I have vowed not to look at our portfolio until the end of the day, but maybe end of the week is even better. I am not a fan of volatility in money matters or in human behavior (perhaps that’s redundant).

So, I’m turning my attention to what I can do When Things Fall Apart, to cite a favorite book from a favorite author.  I’m reading more poetry and attempting to write it better because, well, if not now, when?  I’m also making plans to put up a crock of sauerkraut in the hour formerly known as Sunday service because at least it will leave me with something that nourishes me for a few days.  I’m beginning to explore life in the gift economy*, the realm that exists apart from getting and spending, (although I will have to acquire about 5 lbs. of cabbage and some Kosher salt for my project) and I invite you to join me there.

Let me begin with a riff on these lines lifted from David Whyte’s poem for a few bars, and feel free to hum along (here is the complete poem from Whyte’s collection, The House of Belonging, ©1996 Many Rivers Press, and long a favorite of mine). First, I’m more than a little tickled that Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat. Pray. Love) chose this quote for her poem of the day. While I would argue against a purpose for something as impractical as a poem, David Whyte is well-known for his work with corporations and organizations to help employees break old habits of mind and ‘come alive’ on the job. Having done time myself in some stagnant workplaces, I cannot help but wonder how many people rose up from one of Whyte’s workshops and kept right on walking.

This poem, and others of his most loved verse, are an invitation, an enticement, to be more alive, moment to moment, to simply be. I read these lines as a call to free ourselves from all the boxes we put ourselves into, often unwittingly: our roles, relationships, titles, possessions, self-delusions, anything that makes us dead to the world ‘to which we belong.’ For this kind of breakthrough, Whyte suggests, we need our own ‘sweet darkness’ of meditation or reflection, so we may learn who we are, where we belong, and with whom. Discovering whatever brings us alive is the great uncompensated work of a lifetime. My short list: my long, ever-surprising marriage; poetry, especially read aloud; music, especially making it, however inexpertly; real conversations with friends and strangers; walking with no particular destination; slow food; slower everything. What’s on yours?

Of course, poetry is part of the gift economy, in the sense that it is available and of benefit to all. With very few exceptions, no one lives on poetry alone, or the making of art of any kind, for that matter. The U.S. Poet Laureate gets a stipend of $35,000, plus $5,000 travel expenses, paid by a private grant. And yet, “It is difficult,” said William Carlos Williams, “to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there.”

The library system is another such enduring gift (thank you, Andrew Carnegie). It’s anyone’s guess how many lives have been changed, lifted-up, by the simple act of reading. Some libraries have added tools and equipment.  Speaking of free access, you should be able to download an e-book version of Pema Chodron’s best-seller by clicking on When Things Fall Apart. You might consider this giveaway a smart marketing move to sell more of her books generally,  But I consider it another example of the gift economy, made possible by the Internet. In fact, one could argue that the entire Internet fits the description of gift, albeit one needs tools and access.  In one of my favorite visions of a future worth having, small farmers in the developing world generate local energy via solar panels and use technology like affordable cell phones and/or rollup computers to download necessary information, while their children logon to (free) Khan Academy.

freecycle-300x141Other gifts: the National Parks System, including the incomparable Florida Everglades, when last I checked. Public beaches, mandated by law. Public spaces, as long as you’re not breaking a local ordinance on size of group or activity.  Let’s also include, Free-cycling. Blogs, from the mighty HuffPo to this one (although you must tolerate some ads — sorry.) My favorite: foraged foods — berries, mushrooms, wild greens.  Then, the obvious freebies: trees, wild pollinators, along with clean air, water, soil, and sun, rain, wind — anything we consider held in common, available to be used and enjoyed by all. In other words, all that brings — and keeps us alive. For these gifts, may we be sufficiently grateful to pass them forward.

_______

*I am using ‘gift economy’ is a broader sense than this definition, and more akin to that suggested by Charles Eisenstein’s book: Sacred Economics: Money, Gift, and Society in the Age of Transition.