John Estes: Awrack and Awry

She had hidden or cut up her credit cards, but that didn’t in any way diminish the desire to acquire, what her old Uncle Ralph had called The Havies. Today it is an iPod shuffle, which she’s sure if only she had that it would help her get to the gym more often, as they play the nauseating Sky 93 across the entire place. Yesterday it was a new skirt, the day before a pair of Camper shoes. The other day she bought twelve pair of underwear—half of them thongs after her cousin Jane had pointed out how unsightly her panty lines always were—just to reach the threshold for free shipping. Underwear is a basic need, she consoled herself, and as a cardinal rule she did not pay for shipping. She and her friends jokingly referred to it as therapy, but at the same time she couldn’t get her head around a diagnosis. The activity itself, no doubt, served as a palliative; something chemical going on there. Just shuffling through racks, holding a blouse up to the light, wandering through and imagining herself in that, or with this, did suppress certain anxieties, in the moment at least. Maybe it’s loneliness, a lack of dearer intimacies, a deep self-loathing. She didn’t actively feel these things, though. She is a happy person. Shopping with her friend Ally, or in a pinch Becca, could make the experience all the better, because there was usually food involved at the end, a culminating feast.

She believed in a strict fast prior to and during shopping; the last thing you want in the moment of decision while evaluating the Prada and the Prada knock-off is a belly full of food. The blood is needed in the brain and she knew too well how attention fatigues, not to mention when full she became something of a bear. She preached this principle, what she called Lithe Browsing, and taught the art of walking away. But sometimes she did try and suss out just what in her nerves, presumably linked to some psychic need, drove her behavior. Perhaps it was an addiction as some say, but she had the same questions about the medical validity of shopaholism as she did that of sexaholism. Of course she could stop, if she tried, if she wanted. The dopamine rush, or whatever happened in her brain, is a preference, a predilection; life is short and pleasures are few. But at the same time she believed in her ability to control and contain her appetites, she sought to respect her compulsion as something primordial, irrational, intrinsically animalistic and dangerous. She had been out on Black Friday at four a.m. and was well-read enough to know what Baccae were, and to know them when she saw them. Could it be that simple, that some deep insecurity in her drove her to cling to material things? She had no time for such baby-talk. Her ministers and parents would have said that our desire should be for what’s eternal (your treasure is where your heart is, etc. etc.), that lack of self-control is the outward sign of the devil’s work. Discipline is godliness, and deprivation is holiness, these depression-era divines would say. But what passes away didn’t cause a lot of trouble for her.

If she were fabulously wealthy, if she weren’t in money trouble, no one would say peep. She knows despair, and knows the need for images that help one cling to life, the ethical models which rule the ends of becoming. When facing the black abyss, sometimes one truly can be saved by clinging to D&G designer frames. God too once loved the earth and all its fruits, evidence abounds, and even if we were living through a period of contraction as part of the grand tzimtzumic cycle, she could not believe in a total deific withdrawal from or abdication of a creation still capable of innovative and beautiful design (the fact that species went extinct every day didn’t phase her). Debt, irresponsibility, principled living beyond one’s means—these may be the root of worldly ruin, but she was wabi-sabi enough and took enough dialecticalism with her materialism to put her faith in what feels so good.

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