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A World of Amazon Basics
Reclaiming our relationship with things
“We are used to representing things as objects on the field of sensation or the field of reason, thus keeping them at a distance from ourselves. This distance means that we are drawn to things, and that we in turn draw things to ourselves. In this sense, “will,” or desire and attachment, can be posited at the ground of “representation.” As long as we stand in such a relationship to things, we can go on thinking of ourselves as incapable of coming within hand of things, and of things in themselves as forever unknowable and out of reach.” - Keiji Nishitani
A few years ago my grandmother offered me some of her cherished china. I politely declined, thinking it would be too much trouble to drive down to Virginia to pick them up.
I opened my cupboard yesterday and was greeted by AmazonBasics…
Sighhh. The cold commodified plates stood in stark contrast to my warm and cozy memories of Nan.
I could be holding a piece of her every time I served one of the many dishes she taught me to cook. Instead, I hold these uninspired plates.
When I was in ninth grade I read a book called “The Giver,” where if I recall correctly, everything was grey, boring, and uniform; a world full of AmazonBasics. “The life where nothing was ever unexpected. Or inconvenient. Or unusual. Life without color, pain, or the past.”
It’s a miracle that I am able to get this plate delivered to my house for $1.64, and in two fucking days no less, and yet disrespectful to the humanity of things that I am not holding Nan every time I pull a dish from the cupboard.
I’ll admit, I still use Amazon all the time. And I wish all my goods were locally crafted, carried deep meaning, were infused with love, and made to last. Amazon makes it harder to cherish these kinds of things. They’re a drug dealer delivering highs of Prime convenience. And I am an addict, walking around with their drugs always-on in my pocket.
I’m angry at all the Basic things in my life, all of these damn “utilities,” Amazon-branded or not. I’m angry at the commodification, touristification, and reductionism rampant in our society. I’m angry because I’m still so often buying into it all.
And fuck, I miss my grandmother.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we are in relationship to all things. Candle? Relationship. Bed? Relationship. Backpack? Relationship. Stories are embedded in all that surrounds us.
A chair isn’t really a “chair,” but rather a bunch of wood made into a shape that we’ve decided to call a chair and to sit on in alignment with that definition. The wood isn’t really wood. It’s all just atoms until we call and relate to them as something more than that.
Nothing exists by itself, all things exist in a web of relationships.
I find myself falling easily into a pattern of using things, instead of being with them. I use my AmazonBasics to hold my spaghetti squash alfredo carbonara. I mindlessly gobble my food and for a moment, quench my never-ending hunger.
I don’t always consciously recognize what’s lurking just below the surface of an otherwise innocuous plate. Tasteless commodification at the expense of beauty and tradition. In every bite, I feed myself with carbonara and on some level, feed myself with regret too.
Last Saturday I was having tea with a Native American who grew up on a reservation in North Dakota and now studies indigenous languages. He was telling me that in one of these languages they refer to inanimate objects as having memories. “Even coffee tables carry with them the memory of all that has happened – of all of their past relationships.” It’s said one can touch the table and absorb some of its past if adequately attuned to the way of things.
“If you were to be lost in the river, Jonas, your memories would not be lost with you. Memories are forever.” — The Giver
Perhaps inanimate objects have some kind of consciousness and indeed hold memories. I don’t think it’s outside the realm of possibility. At the very least, each item we touch, touches us back. Each collection of atoms whispers something in our ears. We might pause and listen. We might stop to hear what our things have to tell us.
A few days ago I found myself in a Tibetan shop in Brooklyn. Along the back left wall were several dozen bracelets of various shapes, sizes, comprising different stones. Each had its own story as to what it might whisper to us if we choose to enter into relationship with it.
Quartz enhances spiritual growth, spirituality, awareness, and wisdom. It increases inspiration and creativity. It can also help with concentration, studying, and retaining what one learns. Quartz is a stone of harmony and is helpful in romantic relationships.
If you had placed me in this shop a few years ago, I would have told you that it’s ridiculous to believe that Quartz can enhance anything. “It’s a stone, goddamnit.” It doesn’t do anything.
Now, I see things differently. A plate isn’t just a plate. Crystals aren’t just crystals. There’s real Magic in bringing physicality to our memories and beliefs. Ineffable magic.
On my left pinky sits a snake ring. It’s gorgeous and perhaps the most important item I own. It wasn’t very expensive. I bought it for myself. I discovered it serendipitously, after a harrowing night. It reminds me of what I experienced: death, rebirth, and the shedding of many skins.
The ring whispers to me. It reminds me to surrender. It winks at me gently and affirms that it’s okay to die. That I will be reborn. It holds in its silence a tremendous truth that beyond the pain of shedding this skin, I’ll find a fresh layer. Always another layer, each truer than the last.
I wonder what my day-to-day might be like if every item I interacted with held such memories and meaning. I wonder what might happen if I took the time to listen and acknowledge the energy my items already hold, but which I so often ignore.
How might a constant stream of whispers and reminders, embodiments of memories and beliefs, change the way I show up in the world?
I threw out the plate today and with it all the resentment and regret I was carrying about not visiting my grandmother more often. I booked a trip to see her next week.
I hold compassion for myself and others as we navigate our world’s mysterious web of relationships.
I daydream about a life without AmazonBasics.