This is an issue in my life that is deeply embedded into how I think and interact with the world. So, I am going to devote a few posts to the subject.
I am interested in permanence. I acknowledge that the culture, society, and the generation that I exist within are not as interested in permanence as I am, as previous generations have been. What I am referencing, when I reference permanence is nearly everything I can think of. I want to start by examining material permanence.
Common knowledge testifies that the physical products available in America define us as a disposable society: fast food, bottled water, single use cameras (not as popular anymore), text messages, one-night-stands, Keurig, Facebook, TMZ, diapers, batteries, sanitary wipes, cereal boxes, cell phones… Many products even start with the word “disposable.”
I guess I’m different. I’ve always known it–and I have never been interested in trash. That’s what you throw away, trash–things that don’t last. I don’t like jeans that feel thin. I won’t buy boots that aren’t both glued and sewn to the sole. I won’t write with a pencil, if I write in pencil I use the oversized mechanical pencil my dad gave me when I was eighteen. I buy hard cover books and remove the dust jacket when I read them. I love leather.
As a kid, I was very fortunate in that my great grandmother bought me and my three brothers school clothes twice a year all the way through ninth grade–until I got a job. As a growing boy, it’s easy to get swallowed up in constant consumerism. Even in college, I echoed the behaviors of my childhood and purchased clothes–which I didn’t need, at the time–at the beginning of each school year.
I didn’t critically assess my buying habits until a graduate professor of mine, Dr. Desmond Harding, was lecturing about a new idea that came about in the early twentieth century: replacing items you own before they wear out. When I really thought about it, if it weren’t for vanity, in my college years, I wouldn’t have purchased new school clothes every fall. I didn’t actually need them.
I felt I needed them because mine were out of style. So, I began to imagine purchasing a wardrobe that would be immune to style. If I could buy a wardrobe that was always in style, then I could wear my clothes until they wore out–and never replace them prematurely. Popular fashion fads became clear to me very quickly after this. I developed a bitter distaste for every fashion commercial I saw. After all, 99% of what is being crammed down consumers’ throats is simply recycled from years gone by.
I wanted a classic style. It had to be timeless, yet also me. I quickly realized that such a thing is not built in a day–as a popular wardrobe can be. A long-lasting wardrobe takes time–one piece at a time. Let me tell you about one piece of my wardrobe that should make a statement about the rest.
When I was teaching 6 courses of composition between the University of Cincinnati and Xavier University, I found the limits of the leather messenger bag my mother had bought me before I went off to Knox College for undergrad, over 400 miles from my hometown. All of the books I had to carry were becoming too much and I worried that the strap would suddenly snap and the bag would fall and my laptop would smash to pieces when it hit the sidewalk. Fortunately, this never happened.
But, I preemptively bought a new satchel–or rather a briefcase with a strap. I spent a few months looking for the right bag. I finally found it–listed on Amazon as “the bag they will fight over when you are dead.” I ended up going to the seller’s website: Saddleback Leather. It was a bag that spoke to my soul.
It was thick leather–so thick that it had to be broken in. It was stiff when it arrived in the mail, so stiff I had to wrestle with it. It also came with a no-nonsense 100 year guarantee. My descendants are allowed to send the bag to the owner’s descendants if anything goes wrong with it. I’m set. I never have to buy another bag again. I can use the bag my mom gave me to carry light books and not worry I am going to wear it out with heavy loads.
This is the type of permanence in material things that I am looking for in my life. Once upon a time, things like clocks and watches came with guarantees to entice people to trust the maker and purchase them. We simply don’t see as many guarantees as we used to. There is a growing sub-culture in our society that really does hunger for long-lasting material possessions. Guarantees would be a great way to not only attract customers and help the environment, but to initiate the change of the culture from think-little-disposable to well-reasoned-long-lasting.