Commodity a la Shakespeare, Amazon, and Andrew Yang

As recently as November, I was writing about stuff. I have evolved. Thrifting has virtually ended, for example. Reading that earlier post, I realized I never wrote about how I ended up thrifting anyway. Perhaps it can be a cautionary tale.

When I was young, we didn’t have much money. Clothes were actually scarce, especially for me as the oldest. We shopped yearly at Sears Roebuck for school clothes, or sometimes Montgomery Ward. MW was colloquially Monkey Ward’s, and it is gone. I don’t know where the Roebuck went; Sears did file for bankruptcy and survived. Its name really is still the longer version. The first credit card most people acquired in those days was a Sears card. My grandmother—for reasons I’ve never understood—told me once that the Queen of England has a new dress for each day. She herself didn’t have lots of clothes, but they were good ones. Put all that into the mix of few clothes, and I think something happened to my young mind. That’s part one.

Part two involves my aunt, who thought nothing of spending $600 on a skirt set. She started giving me hand-me-downs; I was then ruined for shopping at Sears specifically and malls generally. When she was gone, I started at consignment stores and then ended up at thrifts. In my defense, I have several friends who do the same. I am not ashamed. But I don’t need any more stuff or a 12-step program. Says I about the latter. Some may disagree.

On to Shakespeare. In his play (rarely produced) King John, the most important character is not the titular one but Phillip the Bastard. Sorry. It’s just how he’s known. He has by far the most lines and the deepest commentary. One of his soliloquies is known as the commodity speech. You can read about this 17-line single sentence here, read it here, or watch it here. Or you can decide not to. The basic idea is this: The poor will complain about the rich and say being rich is the only sin until they are rich. Then the rich will say being a beggar is the only sin. The last line sounds so modern, so familiar: “Gain, be my lord, for I will worship thee.” Out of context even, and not worrying about the vicissitudes of the French and English thrones (oh, wait, were you watching Game of Thrones?), what does hold our hearts other than what our hearts hold dear?

Now on to Amazon. With Google, Apple, and FaceBook, it’s known as one of the Big Four. In the news lately, Amazon is often described as evil. One article describes Jeff Bezos’ goal: “To be everywhere, to be the platform for everything for every consumer.”  These impressive commentators can’t agree on the evil-nomer partly because, if it is, then most of the country is complicit. As usual, it’s where we put our discomfort. I know some people who don’t have Prime because of the fear of buying to justify the fee and others who wouldn’t dream of darkening WalMart’s doors but buy everything but groceries at Amazon.

Finally, Andrew Yang. If you’ve heard of this Democratic candidate for president, it’s likely because of the first prong of his platform: Universal Basic Income. Medicare for all and Human-Centered Capitalism complete the trident. This $1000 a month for every American 18 and over would “enable all Americans to pay their bills, educate themselves, start businesses, be more creative, stay healthy, relocate for work, spend time with their children, take care of loved ones, and have a real stake in the future.” Wow. With a little more, we could cure the common cold and go back to the moon. I think he doesn’t understand humanity very well.

Obviously, this issue is too long for a short blog. I’ve done my part in trying to buy less. As noted previously, inheritors are likely to throw stuff/junk out anyway. Other activities are more beneficial. What we are really spending is time, as much as money. And that doesn’t grow on trees. More to follow?

Selling Eternity for a Toy

One likes to think that one knows one’s field of expertise. So when I read the following bit from Shakespeare, I was perplexed:

“What win I, if I gain the thing I seek?
A dream, a breath, a froth of fleeting joy.
Who buys a minute’s mirth to wail a week?
Or sells eternity to get a toy?”

As you know, Will and I are cousins, and I like to think I know his works pretty well. Not only did I not recognize these lines, I couldn’t imagine where they came from. You can read “The Rape of Lucrece here. It’s a long poem that Shakespeare wrote in 1594 and dedicated to the Earl of Southhampton; the legendary story tells of a soldier’s wife renowned for her beauty and chastity. The soldier talks of her in such glowing terms that his commander wants her for himself.

The lines above, then, are the villain’s attempt to talk himself out of the deed. He fails. Lucrece entertains him for her husband’s sake, and he demands that she sleep with him. If she refuses, he threatens to kill her and a servant, then put them in each other’s arms. When she will not submit, he rapes her and leaves. She calls for her husband and her father, tells them what happened— not naming the rapist until they agree to avenge her—and then kills herself. News of the events inflame riots. The rapist and his family are forced from power and the Republic of Rome comes into being.

The odd thing is that we need to pay attention to the words the villain ignored. The context does not matter as much as the message: Don’t be stupid. Balancing wants and desires with needs is a sign of maturity. Does the desire for a thing or an experience outweigh the consequence of its acquisition? Does the ability to win an argument come at the expense of hurting the feelings of another? Because you can doesn’t mean you should. Guilt is likely to follow; that’s just how we are.

The motivation for this week’s observation should be obvious: For years a powerful man demanded sexual favors from women. Sometimes they acquiesced; sometimes he raped them. He did, predictably, enter sex addiction rehab but left after a week. He’s asked for “a second chance,” which he’s not likely to get. And he’s lost a lot: his wife and family, his company, his standing in the industry.

Of more interest will be what follows. Lucrece’s story led to the founding of a republic. Will Weinstein’s fall lead to anything? Social media lit up last week with plenty of #MeToo posts. Following were a few #IHave posts by men admitting they had sexually harassed someone. What better time for a sea change in the way we interact, at all levels? (That term—sea change—is from Shakespeare too. What a coincidence.)

My cousin, William Shakespeare

Yes, it’s true. First cousins no less. Perhaps you’ll see some resemblance in this old family pic. Removed by 13 generations, Will and I share the same set of grandparents in Robert and Mary Arden. Their daughters, Margaret and Mary Arden, were then our respective aunts. We see the generations unwind—daughter Margaret to son Robert to daughter Mary in a progression that looks like this: MFMMMFFFFFMMFMF. All the while there sits Will as my family winds down through the ages on my mother’s father’s mother’s side. That great-grandmother, Olive St. John, died the year I was born; she herself was born in 1871. Now the family line has a long history in this country, leaving Merry Olde England in 1627. No opportunities for family gatherings with the Shakespeares apparently.

Only three kinds of questions are possible: What are the facts? What do they mean? How do you feel about them? The facts you have, and probably too many of them. Implications of said facts? Harder to say. Although I didn’t know my great-grandmother, I knew her sister Maggie quite well. She tried to teach me piano but had a degree in piano herself from Baylor University, a fact I didn’t know until I googled her name looking for her first husband. Once she decided we must have cow brains and eggs for breakfast, so I spent a sleepless night waiting for the horror, which I could not eat. She was disappointed. I rather liked her turnip soup, which seemed old-fashioned even then. On the modern front, she kept Tang, a treat we liked to sneak. The meaning of all this has nothing to do with soup or brains: The past is not so far off as we imagine. If I knew someone born in 1879, she could well have known someone born in the 18th century. That 13 generations begins to look smaller. One of the grandparents whose people had come from England is buried in Lynchburg, Tennessee, about an hour from where we saw the eclipse. Time and space narrow. The great man and I are not so far apart after all.

How do I feel about this news? First, I’m not bragging. I can’t write like WS, or act. But I can enjoy his work, most recently The Tempest at (insert shameless plug) Shakespeare in the Bar.

Second, you almost surely have some cool cousins too. The website I’m using is called RelativeFinder.org. It connects to my genealogy via FamilySearch.org. Both are free. It’s not new, launched in 2011, but computer science people being what they are, the connections now match you up with famous people, with categories such as Authors and Poets (I’m guessing Bob Dylan would be here if we’re related, per the Nobel committee. Quoting John Donne, he said this:  “I don’t know what it means, either. But it sounds good. And you want your songs to sound good.” His Nobel lecture is here though I’m not sure he explains his win. But I digress.) Famous Americans, presidents, Declaration signers, and so on. While I am not totally convinced of the accuracy of all this, it does make for some fun.

Third, the interconnectedness of everything comes around again. My husband, with his profound brain injury, lost the ability to filter subtleties. After watching Cloverfield, he announced that the monster was obviously a baby and Manhattanites are most frightened of babies. Well, maybe so. In Sunday school, as we were starting the Old Testament begots, he announced several times that we were all cousins, right? Well, right. We are. As it happens, we are related to 37 of the 45 American presidents. Not the current one, but the last two. Amazing, when you think about it.

Nelson Rockefeller, 41st Vice-President, had a catchphrase that was so much used the press had an acronym for it: The brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God (BOMFOG). Regardless of your belief system, this is just a fact. Its implications and your feelings? Right.