04 December 2011

Tempest From a Teapot

I think it was Jake Barnes in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises who said, “The world is a good place to buy in.” I have thought that this sentiment represented the height of Jake’s cynicism: for Jake there was no sense of the spiritual or the transcendent on this earth. Rather, everything has measurable, even pecuniary value and can be obtained only here on earth. Jake’s closing line in the novel, “It’s pretty to think so,” explodes what ever little hope value in this life that is not material and commercially available. Frederic Henry, in A Farewell to Arms, would articulate this position pointedly when he says that he places no meaning in all of those big words like honor and patriotism. The sum of these positions is that all that exists is quantifiable and can be physically acquired and enjoyed.
I bought a teapot. I have been enjoying brewed tea from tea leaves purchased at the tea store. As it happens, the tea brewing device I had previously purchased from the same tea store brewed more tea than would fit in the tea glass I had purchased from the tea store. I had liked the way my tea looked in the glass, which is how it was served in the tea store, and I especially appreciated how enjoyable it was to sip my tea from the glass when I sat quietly at home sipping tea. So now I needed to coordinate the 16-ounce tea-brewing device with the 12-ounce glass. I know I could have poured only 12 ounces of water onto the tea leaves in the tea brewing device, but what if I wanted 16 ounces of tea? They did not sell a 16-ounce clear tea glass! I now reasoned: so that the brewed tea that remained in the brewing device after filling my glass would not get too dark and bitter, I needed a container to hold the tea. Thus, I bought a teapot to hold the surplus tea. And the coordination works very well, actually. But, I soon discovered, after a while the tea in the pot grows cold. I have been considering procuring a tea blanket for the new teapot.
It seems all so silly and frankly, quite awkward. On a very small scale the situation in which I find myself represents an embarrassment of riches. With so much suffering and hardship out there in the world, is it true that all I can worry about is the temperature of my tea and how to maintain it properly so that I might better enjoy it? Doesn’t it seem the height of vanity and frippery to engage in such conspicuous consumption that borders, I’m afraid, on the absurd? Can I really be that shallow? Have I become everything I condemn in the royal opposition?
I consider: When have I purchased too much? When do I have too many shirts or slacks or sweaters? When is the tea skirt too extravagant a purchase? Do I really need a second wastebasket for the office? What should I do with the money I earn after all of the bills are paid? And what services that attend to those bills can I learn to do without? What should I be doing when I shouldn’t be spending money? I remember John Lennon once complaining that it wasn’t his fault that he had made so much money and could well-afford his luxuries. It was us that had bought his records, after all! How much guilt must I suffer to earn me expiation for my good fortunes? When do I stop cashing in on my good fortune and suffer more? How much more should I suffer? It’s a masochist’s game, I think, and I am playing it too well.
I don’t really know the answer to any of these questions. Nor I think does anyone else. But this dilemma regarding my materialist sense intrudes upon my daily life. I am not wealthy enough to buy anything, but right now I have everything I want with only a mortgage for debt. I feel quite privileged. But the question remains: how much of everything I own is necessary to my contentment in the world and how much was purchased for some other yet unexamined need. There are good reasons for not examining the source and motives of these needs, and so, bound not at all in a nut shell, I am condemned to have bad dreams.   


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sixteen ounce tea glass at:


05 December, 2011 10:33  

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