In the US, particularly in high end retail environments, smiles are hard, eyes are fierce or averted, parking lots are war zones, and people dart around one another with a veneer of politeness that frequently tips into competition or flight. Why are people shopping or driving around? Do they chase identity, importance and meaning? Is this why they are frantic? The US drivers sort of remind me of the dog story by Dr. Seuss where all the dogs are driving and you don’t know until the end they’re going to this tree-top dog party.
In the past years I have had disastrous experiences with large American corporations (Bookings.com and Lenovo). Stockholders, and I am one of those, are more important to the corporate entity than are the employees and customers, but in the end the super predators are the teensy tiny fraction of folks who run those corporations. Unlike flesh covered super predators, these corporations are unkillable, increasingly so. It’s tough to get to talk to a person in some US corporations, but if you do, they are often reading from a script, which prohibits any human connection. (It’s also true that in other corporations you get lovely personal service with people who care [like USAA].)
However, many are subject to, and enslaved by, legal entities whose sole purpose for lifeless existence is to trawl the globe ruthlessly and amorally harvesting money. In the third world where I live, most of the time when you spend money you’re exchanging money with the business owner. If I have an issue, I can usually have a heart-to-heart conversation with the decision maker. I’m Aimee, one of 100 customers, and I’m dealing with Miriam, who owns the fruit stand. Miriam goes to market every morning to buy exactly the most delicious avocadoes (parachichi in Kiswahili) and mangoes, papayas, and bananas. She’s doing what she loves and I’m buying what I love. But US customers are faceless minions being handled by faceless minions of low-level “customer service” employees.
The US is a retail, corporate environment rather than an organic, humane place. You don’t see trees and hear animals or talk to human beings. You see signs, hear advertising, and converse with machines. It’s no surprise that human beings trapped in such a place would be utterly lost. On the mainland in the US, if I stay for longer than a week, I get really confused. I cannot do it. I have no quarrel with anyone in the US, but my heart knows that the environment is utter poison for me.
I was tempted to photograph one place I saw in northern Maine: an old manufactured home in late stages of decay with discarded objects strewn throughout its lawn. The owner of that place had recently attached a large advertising banner running the entire length and height of their house to make sure all passersby were aware that this home is extremely attached to a specific luxury brand. That place is one of the saddest places I’ve ever seen. There squat that person or persons rejoicing in the chains they wear even as they serve their evil master by giving it everything they have, and, moreover, what they don’t have, racking up consumer debt.
In the slums of Tanzania, women sleep outside in the mud; filthy children stand hungry and schooless, and men’s glazed eyes tell you that they believe God has forgotten them. At least those people are not enslaving themselves willingly. At least they know they’re in hell.
Empty-heartedness is not a fiscal or physical condition. People who work and live exclusively under the umbrella of corporations are empty-hearted. Such problems cannot be addressed by consumption or acquisition. If life has little meaning it’s because that life is attached to someone who doesn’t do anything that matters to them. If God made you to love green beans, then your life’s meaning will be hidden inside green beans. Every person treasures specific bits of the world, from language to government to metal to seashells to perfume to I-don’t-know-what-all. Identity and purpose are not decoration; these things are founded and nourished by feeding meaningful activities to your own heart. If your heart is starving, feed it meaning.
What makes your heart sing? What stirs a secret knowing smile for you? Chase whatever that is for the rest of your life to discover exactly who you are and no matter how poorly external events might treat you, you’ll have unshakeable joy because you’ll be attached to what is true and real – your purpose and identity. In this scenario you may never have money, but you’ll be free. You’ll know peace. God guarantees us everything true and real.
Corporations feast on crowds. Like demons, they are ravenous and require many souls to feed their insatiable greed. God is not in the crowd. God is at the edge, in the forest or in the alley. God isn’t interested in millions of subscribers, God is specifically interested in you, just you. Unlike the godless corporate entity, God is invested in you to the point of bankruptcy, interested in endowing you with beauty and power and strength and courage. Crowds may not appreciate your beauty, but you are not made for crowds. You are made for yourself and for God, to the deep delight and mutual satisfaction of the two of you.
My husband’s best friend who shall go unnamed, comes to mind as I write this. He keeps bees, plays the banjo, dances contra dances with his wife, has serious tao-like convos with his cat, bakes bread, brought up a really, really interesting daughter, has a fabulous engineering degree which he uses to, I think, make motorcycle radios for Harley Davison. He created some kind of a group once to get all duded up on New Year’s Day and walk across this bridge in Kentucky. Because…. He and his wife drive many hours each way, monthly, and hike into this public forest, and take out their equipment to remove the graffiti and spray painting on this public worship space in that forest. They tell no one what they do. He often sends me really gorgeous clips of choir singing. Talking to him is always an adventure. I’ll say something about my son making a drinking purse from a goat scrotum and he will rejoin with, “I was just looking up how to tan squirrel hide; we eat them but I want to tan them.” Bloody hell. That guy is fucking beautiful. I mean like, dazzling. No one sees him. Most people walk right past him. He’s one of God’s motherfucking celebrities. The last time we saw him we met him in his mother’s very corporate house. After we endured a very long tour, as this man is a respectful and dutiful son, we finally escaped to the back yard overlooking a lake. My son at this point was bored to tears. Our friend looked at him and said, “You want to start a fire? I hear you are a big camper in Tanzania.” My son was like, “Huh? A fire here?” He said, “Yeah, lemme just get some stuff, we’ll do it here on the dock and see what happens.” Bad ass.