One of my earliest memories as a little girl, probably just three- or four-years-old, was finding a small patch of grass and clover growing through a crack in the sidewalk.
I was immediately drawn down in to that plucky green and sassy red-tipped clover. It spoke to me and, the world being a steady wordless teacher, I didn’t need to know about ideas like resilience or grit or that book A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to understand that beauty and truth and hope can’t be caged. They’re always going to bust through one way or another.
Many small moments followed when, while the adults around me gabbed and smoked and practiced semi-benign neglect, I sussed out tiny mounds of moss at the bottom corner of a city market or delighted in fingering the feathery stalks of a flowering plant growing out of a rock wall. Often I absentmindedly stroked a sunny dandelion, prattling a story of make-believe people small enough to fit under its curbside petaled umbrella.
The world always had these inviting layers to me —the seen and the unseen, possibility bracing against long odds. I saw everywhere a dance of soft and hard, the mute insistence of the importance of the world beyond people — of rivers and rocks and meadows and mountains and forests.
I remember first hearing, “And the meek shall inherit the earth..” and being sure that God meant that those blades of grass and that clover would take down a world of cement like that, snap, just another day busting through the bullshit.
But that’s a lot to bust through!
Why Not Take All of Me?
What this stroll down memory lane has to do with selling vintage items and antique goods might not seem immediately apparent. But sometimes I get a glimpse of my life in such a way that, for a moment at least, the arc of my life seems to make total sense as some kind of whole. And here’s how.
As long as I can remember there’s been one set of constants to my attractions, aversions, and pronounced tendencies. They were and are:
- A fascination with stuff — what fancy people call “material culture,” or the things that make up human life and how we manage it all. For good and for ill.
- A love for color, design, and assemblages.
- Awe and reverence for Mother Nature and an ear for her spirit like she was the Holy Ghost pulling up a chair for conversation.
- A vital sense of God as present right here, right now, all the time.
- An attraction to history and a keen sense of the past as if just a thin veil separates us, thin enough, really, that it doesn’t.
- The desire and the expectation that my work will have heart and purpose, that it will have space for all these passions or it’s not worth doing.
- An appetite for good reasons and a taste for criticism, rebellion, and a little bit of thrash when other people’s reasons don’t add up.
Like any sense of knowing who you are, this set makes sense to me, including the apparent outlier of criticism, rebellion, and thrash. I mean, I don’t want to be bored, pious, all goody-goody about beauty, or Pollyanna about how “it’s all good” or something when we live in a world where greedy faceless companies so flagrantly pitch coal sludge down the gullies to poor people’s mountain hollers. Nor blind to other terrible stuff.
And tension is a driver. God is a thrasher. And God is a lover. So is Mother Nature. Why wouldn’t I be?
Weaving it Together
Born in 1966, I’m now over a half century old. Vintage (over 20-years-old), but not yet an antique (over 100-years-old). And in that time I’ve become like that snappy Farmer’s Insurance ad slogan, “We know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two.” I keep looking to the cracks for the little green shoots. Hope springs eternal.
One of those hopes is that America ups and gets a clue. I hope the world and people and future kids have a fighting chance to be inspired by the Earth’s beauty, generosity, and voice.
I hope that all the things I’ve written about for the last thirty years on energy, on climate, and on the world economy, and on the way modern, global people live (you know, consuming at a frantic pace and not REALLY< ACTUALLY< PRACTICALLY< PALPABLY caring a fig about trashing the oceans, killing off the tigers, filling our bodies and our landfills with plastics), are at last coming together in one room, my own little unified theory of everything.
Though most, if not all, of my writing has been obscure and clearly un-viral, and quite often derided as finger wagging and out of place in a relative world where “who can say what’s right or wrong,” it’s at least been consistent in my repeated determination to ask us to belly-button gaze and put our big kid pants on and start to deal, start to use the old brain pan to solve problems and get stuff done on the way people live in relation to the rest of the Earth-plant-animal-history-spirit matrix.
And oddly, this brings me to my vintage and antique sales. A girl’s gotta make a living.
But it’s not easy being green.
Flat on My Backstory
Once, about fifteen years ago, I had a shop in Ivy, Virginia, just outside of Charlottesville, that sold natural and organic baby and kid stuff, from room decor to toys to clothing. It was all twee and charming and I did love it. Other people loved it too. They gave me such compliments on how cute it was, and how there were no plastics, and no electronic toys, and very little packaging, and the images and colors were nourishing for kids instead of cynical adult-pushed ideas. It was all very lovely.
…that while it was all a very charming, seemingly green notion, in actually doing it I found that even sourcing stock that was fair trade, certified for good labor practices and sustainably harvested wood, I was still horror struck at just how much stuff I was shipping over from the other side of the world on container ships. I was helping create demand for freshly mined and minted stuff from people I had no relationship with and in an abundance that overwhelmed me as it flowed through my tiny shop.
In spite of low packaging, there was still tons of packaging in the outer cardboard boxes and plenty of the inner boxes, and even mostly cardboard packages often had little plastic peek-a-boo windows and lots of twist ties to hold the item in picture-perfect place.
Selling green(er) products than the average wares that were still shipped and packaged in such a wasteful way didn’t make me feel very green at all.
Yet when it ended, corresponding with the global downturn in 2008, I missed working with stuff, learning about it, marveling over how things were made, what people will come up with, telling the stories of what I found and who made it, and setting it all up in engaging displays to surprise and delight my customers.
People like stuff. People have always liked stuff. I like stuff! I like the history of things, the inventiveness of things, the story of things, the people who made and make things. And I want to play with stuff!
Marie Kondo may want us to give everything up and fold it real nice but in the end most of us feel we can balance having stuff, and having fun with stuff, without forgetting that all our stuff is part of a bigger whole and that we need to keep it all in balance for our sake…and maybe for the bigger picture, too.
The climate crisis is real. And chronic. As the smart folks say, “You can’t have endless growth on a finite planet.” When it comes right down to it we can’t make the oceans a giant acidified toilet for what people can’t be bothered with. Pristine Himalayan peaks can’t become the jaunty globetrotters’ junk drawer for a disposable lifestyle.
There’s got to be a better way.
Everything Old is New Again
For me, and for others in the vintage and antique trades, it’s clear that mining the past rather than borrowing from the future is critical to bringing the world into balance.
Vintage, antiques, and to a lesser but still viable degree, newer previously-owned goods are the way of the future. They’re the single greenest consumer solution we have for the vast majority of all our typical hard goods (save exceptions like medical devices and some other specialized products).
Take one stroll through an antique store and you can see jewelry, fashionable clothing, lighting, tools, housewares, furnishings, architectural features like windows and doors and columns, toys, books, textiles, art, records, gadgets, games, gifts, and whatever else you can think of in dizzying abundance. It’s easy to conclude that the world economy could likely go 25 years without manufacturing anything new and American consumers would still have fabulous choices, amazing design and styles, sturdy goods, and plenty of novelty.
Science and engineering type folks define existing goods as having “embodied energy,” and things with embodied energy basically ask close to nothing new out of forests and waterways and the energy stream. They ask a little bit, but it’s infinitesimal compared to manufacturing new.
That’s why vintage and antiques are on the unmistakable rise.
Add the salvage economy to other solutions on the rise these days, from zero-waste grocery stores, local food, local entertainment and staycations, to white roofs, clean energy, and smart growth, and you have a powerful package of solutions. We could then make some real progress in short order on air and water pollution, climate heating, and the health of people and the planet.
We have to find a way to make economy work in multiple ways while just plain taking a breather from the entitled notion that we can keep raping the world forever with no consequences for us, for our kids, for our grandkids, and for the people of the future who have a right to it, too. Green is as green does and in part that’s a moral proposition where we darn well have to walk our talk.
We can do that while still enjoying beauty and fun. That’s why antiques and vintage are my perfect storm.
We don’t have to give up buying and selling and getting and giving and finding and playing. In fact there’s a world of all that good stuff that goes unnoticed at vintage, antique, and thrift shops while Pottery Barn and Ikea and fast fashion and Black Friday and quarterly earnings crack the lash over how to be and drive us to go back to Amazon yet again.
Are you really ready to be woke? ‘Cause this is Mother Earth’s voiceless #METOO and I’m her PR machine, saying it one cool, funky, unique, charming vintage find at a time.
— Lady Virginia