June 6, 2011 an old north knoxville utopia, the consumption, and why i grow tomatoes
My brother gave me a 55 gallon drum last summer. He made an excellent compost bin with one, it hangs sideways between two posts and spins so you don’t have to stir, then dumps right into a wheel barrel. I’m making a rain barrel out of mine. To do that, it took me a year to break down and install gutters. That’s what I did this past weekend. Today I’m building an outdoor kitchen sink to run from the back side of the barrel. It’s similar to what some friends have in Mexico.
So far this spring, my house projects have mostly involved twisting the monkey off my back: the utility company. We’ve put up a laundry line, built window screens, hung screen doors, and now we’ve got this waterworks system. The utility meter reader guy came by Friday while I was on the ladder. I said, “Suck it, man.”
No, of course I didn’t.
We’ve spent $551 since June of last year on utilities. It’s depressing how many CDs one has to sell to come up with that number (I don’t think I ever have). Cutting wastewater will help the cost. It’s really the ugliest one, tucked in there on top of the water bill. They charge you to bring it, charge you to take it. No matter if you drank some or poured it on a flower.
Last winter we were very cold, and in the summer we lit the house with lightning bugs. We’re working on improvements. On Grace Acres Farm in Virginia, transitioning from Harlem, every morning we opened the chicken coup, fed the goats, watered the cows, and tended the large garden. My in-laws were on a motorcycle trip cross-country and knew Ashley and I could use a farmhouse in our life. After the inner city lollypop adventure.
I found Rebekah’s copy of Thoreau’s Walden and came to his illustration of the Indian basket maker. It resonated. Thoreau says, and I paraphrase:
“the Indian basket maker, who believed that crafting beautiful baskets was his greatest life ambition, decided that if he could not sell enough baskets to make a living, he would busy himself by creating a different style of living that did not require he sell as many of them.”
In the basement of the house at Grace Acres I recorded “New York City Spanks Levon Walker.” It was very fresh on my mind. Maybe I’ve sold 100. It was on iTunes for a year and actually lost money. I was very disappointed with that.
There is always the problem of sustenance when you busy yourself with making something, and less with the selling. Songwriting is my craft, and I get a little sad when I have a new one and think forward to the people in a bar who I’m going to scream it into their collars.
If it made any sense, I’d live on this little piece of land and work the ground. In the evenings, I’d sing to it. In the mornings I’d write my blogs, or maybe a novel. Ashley could paint what she wants. Our kid could run around the yard and I’d have a camera nearby for when he/she did something astonishing.
To complete this utopia, I’d likely go away to work as a longshoreman in the South or on journalistic assignment to the U.S. border of Mexico. Then we’d have the cash on hand to pay for government deficit spending, student debt, insurance, and other pretty little baskets like Netflix.
I was finished there for the day, but now I’m not. My trouble with sales needs working out.
Trade can be a genuine exchange like buying tomatoes and eggs at the farmers market. Or it is like buying a product in its devised cycle from a manufacturer who has already planned a replacement, and buying it with a credit card to get the bonus points, and maybe tacking on a few more large ticket items to jump into a higher rebate category. I get the sweats about discussing my AT&T contract. The bank wants to start a “relationship.” They used to call consumption the “con” and it would kill you.
At one time I listened to Zig Ziglar incessantly. I was in financial services sales then and I needed a motivational talk for every appointment. Ziglar says, in so many words, that the salesman is the catalyst for the american way. He said this a long time ago, way before credit crisis was the american way, and he also talked as much about integrity as he did sales. I’m a Zig Ziglar fan, but somewhere I became extremely bitter towards selling. Probably all the stood up appointments, cancelled contracts, and pressure during the banking crisis to sell our way out of ruin (due to previous overselling). I starved in my suit and tie, it didn’t seem so scary to hang it up. I have tomatoes now, too.
I sold less than 100 CDs in a year because I feel so dumb asking for money for them. People have to insist, and insist at least twice. Am I fast talking someone’s inheritance into my IRA plan? No. Those CDs carry lifeblood. To say that they go for 5 bucks feels a little ridiculous, it’s more than a money issue. I’ve given away well over 1000. They are the manifestation of my gift, and a gift is not for sale. Well maybe it has to be, but I’m very bashful about it. It’s my paradox, and I’m going to start writing pop songs. Those can be for sale, but not very good at sales and that’s why I grow tomatoes.
That was my explanation behind the 2010 EP “Not sure how I’ll eat but I’m not picking peaches.” My new one is underway, “Hope for the things seen and unseen.” It has my best songs ever written and I’ll slip you one soon.
Tags: 55 gallon drum, american way, banking crisis, compost bin, con, consumption, credit crisis, hope for the seen and unseen, indian basket maker, installing rain gutters, kub, longshoreman, netflix, new york city spanks levon walker, not sure how Ill eat but im not picking peaches, rain barrel, thoreau, us border of mexico, utility meter reader, zig ziglar