Sunday, March 25, 2012


Oh wow. I might be truly losing it. I have been to the Cabazon Outlets, off the I-10 W, outside Palm Springs, or maybe the thing is called the Desert Hills Premium Outlets, or maybe they're connected and there's even another complex, or all three. Suffice it to say the compound or whatever it's called is the size of several football fields and I fulfilled my daily exercise obligation simply by walking the length of it and back.

I won't bore you with my money neuroses (though if you're a regular, it may be too late for that), but suffice it to say I've been giving marching orders by someone in the know: "You have to set aside a certain amount of money," he told me, "and go buy some stuff, specifically clothing, that's new."

"New!" I exploded. "I don't even need anything! I have a bunch of perfectly good stuff  I found in the alley. I buy my stuff at Goodwill. People are always telling me how great I look. People are always complimenting me on my sense of style!"

But Robert, my new spiritual guide, stood firm. "They call it currency for a reason. Same root word as 'current,' as in flow. what you're doing now you'll be doing ten years from now. You want to be open to a new experience."

This might sound New-Agey and weird but Robert is having a new experience himself and I have been following along with interest. Here's how I know it's authentic. He's saying stuff like, "I've started to ask myself, 'Who wants me here?' Like when I'm hurtling around the streets, stressed, hungry and pissed cause I'm doing a job for less than I should have asked for and driving five miles out of my way to save 29 cents, who wants that for me? God doesn't want that for me. My friends don't want that for me. The other drivers don't want that for me. I don't want that for me." He's saying, "I'm actually starting to feel like I belong for the first time in my life." The other day he said, "You know, I've never wanted to be anything other than a marginalized, starving, loner artist. And you know what I'm seeing? I'm seeing that what I really want is to get married and have kids. Not that I don't want the art, too. But deep down, I've never allowed myself to see it, I want to get married and raise a family."

Thus I found myself last week cruising the Oakley, Adidas, Puma, Le Creuset, Levis, Fossil, Converse and I don't know what all else stores. I always thought people who shopped were robot-like and shallow, with the same grim, desperate look you see on the faces of people playing the slots in Vegas, but to my astonishment these folks--Japanese couples, families, throngs of teenage girls--seemed to be having a blast. I bought myself a very cool pair of True Religion (liked the name) jeans and FOUR OTHER pairs of pants at Vince (who knew?), which, amortized over the last 15 years when I have visited no "mall," and bought no new pants, still tops out at one new pair only every three years so can I still not call myself a "consumer?" I also spotted a great pair of black walking shoes with a cute little zipper at Merrell which (progress not perfection) I later found and bought on e-bay for a third of the price.
This might seem to have nothing to do with Lent--or really nothing to do with anything--except that I view Lent the same way any alkie worth his or her salt views New Year's Eve: amateur night. Lent for me, if by Lent you mean scarcity, making do without, and deprivation, is business as usual.

Of course deprivation is not what Lent is really about, and that's why for me to go to a mall and spend some money is in a way a far greater "dying to myself" than, say, fasting from sugar. Major ceding of control! Why am I so desperately attached to the idea that I'm not a consumer (especially as I am at least as vain, if not more, as the next person), that I don't "waste," that I come from salt-of-the-earth blue collar folk as if in and of itself that makes you decent or kind or good. Well, maybe it does, but I am not blue collar myself so I'm going to have to find some other way to be decent and kind and good. And call me shallow and robot-like but my sense is that new pants are definitely going to help.

Next up: the report on the Religious Ed. Congress in Anaheim which I have obviously survived, if barely. No, really, it was fun. I hobnobbed madly.

Check out my essay on The Annunciation in today's Magnificat!



  1. "...These marginal distinctions to one side, Ala Moana, The Esplanade, and Edgewater Plaza are the same place, which is precisely their role not only as equalizers but in the sedation of anxiety."

    Joan Didion

  2. I want to shop at a Fossil store! I don't even know what a Fossil store is, but I want to shop there! (My mom often calls herself a fossil. She's in her mid-to-late 60s, hardly Pleistocene!)

    And I did read your essay in Magnificat -- although in cyberspatial wanderings I was dismayed to discover that neither English nor Italian Wikipedia has a page about the sculptor Virginio Ciminaghi! (Your essay, by the by, was excellent.)

    It's just after 4 o'clock Eastern time. The first cup of morning joe beckons!

  3. This weekend I've finished your "Shirt of flame". I read maybe 150-200 books a year, but this one I certainly won't forget.
    So beautiful. So tender. So bloody. As life.
    So dear sister, keep on writing. You are doing it just great.

  4. The URL for Magnificat is incorrect. It should be Peace!

  5. hah, loved this completely unique take on the shopping experience. Growing up with a mother who loves to shop, though only for bargains mind you, I have not been able to shake the pleasure of it myself, mainly in job lot and discount stores. Loehmann's! the store of my childhood.

  6. Oh, by the by, if you ever want to see a really big shopping complex, come back to Massachusetts and go down to Wrentham Village. It's about the size of Belgium.

  7. You remind me of the story about Dorothy Day, who at Easter, respectful towards the tradition of having something new to wear (I mean really, actually new), acquiesced and bought herself a pair of new shoelaces.

    Stubborn thing she was, but they were new nonetheless.

    NY Mom

  8. Oh yes, currency.

    As in my seven year old laptop died on Saturday.

    Typing on a new one.

    How can I afford? God? I am asking you.

    Buy yourself something new Heather.
    You deserve it.

  9. Heather---I had started my day with your beautiful piece in Magnificat, and now---CABAZON! Maybe its because I live in Spain much of the year (thank you for remembering dear, sad Machado yesterday...) but your photo of the outlets somehow evoked El Greco's "View of Toledo". I know that's really going from the ridiculous to the sublime, but there you have it! I, too, was raised super-frugal, but Robert is right and I'm so glad you splurged (sort of). Looking forward to your "report from the front"---i.e., "Congress".

    Ave Regina caelorum!


  10. Ooooh, I totally get you because I totally LOVE new clothes. Its very soothing shopping for clothes, and its especially soothing when you are in the cheap places hunting for bargains. I don't know what it is about clothes, I always hoped and intended that by the time I got to my age, I wouldn't like them quite so much, but I do!Anyway I hope you enjoy yours.
    I have a whole theory about malls - that is, a theory about how they could be better designed to promote the spirit of community, since they already are community centres, in their dreadful way. If they just had more places to stop and sit, some trees, converging spaces where people could gather if only to sit and watch ... they could be so much more. Architecture totally shapes our behaviour, brings out different aspects of us, and mall architecture doesn't take this into account enough.

  11. Thanks so much, all! That was just the thing about this mall, Jane--it was actually beautifully laid out, open to the sun and sky, spacious, many benches, shady corners, and little restaurants and cafes where you could sit, rest, and commune. To a store, as soon as you walked in someone greeted you, not pushily, but just said Welcome, let me know if you need any help. And the stores themselves were well laid out, again plenty of room, helpful but not imposing staff...

    Not that I'm wanting to go shopping every day, but I am so getting in touch with my terrible spiritual pride! I alone am pure, I alone am with St. Francis of Assisi, etc. etc. For better or worse, this is the marketplace! People need stuff! And we've had markets for thousands and thousands of years...

    Anyway, enjoying my new jeans!...

  12. Years ago I was in Boston for a national conference. The conference center was enormous, with a mall attached consisting of food courts, high-end stores, and some other ubiquitous shopping experiences. But also, tucked in near one of the entrances, was a chapel with attached bookstore run by the Franciscans. They had Mass once or twice a day at the time, and I think confessions available fairly frequently. Since this was a very large event, with thousands of attendees and pages and pages of workshop choices, my head was splitting with the busyness of it all. To sit in that little chapel - I think maybe I hit the time they were saying the rosary- was heaven. What an opportunity to bring the gospel to the marketplace! (I just realized that my last comment to you here was about the Pauline bookstore-with-chapel in NYC.) I think that it is the unexpectedness of finding a place for the Divine quietly there amidst the busy bustle of going and doing and buying and just stop and BE before God.
    But hey! I love a good bargain as well, and also have similar buying habits- the thrift store at the end of the month - 50% off sale, and the thrill of the hunt is on.
    Great reflections, Heather. You prove a good point: all of our daily activities and work and decisions can be jumping off points for prayer and reflection. I especially love your posts where you talk about "the DRAMA" of your day- and it's all the little things that are the stuff of living life and taking care of all that is in your domain. All part of our call to living a holy life.

  13. I read your essay in Magnificat this morning, which compelled me to check out your books. Just placed an order for Shirt of Flame. Very excited. Can't wait to pick it up!

  14. Thanks again, all. Mary Beth, that chapel was in the Prudential Center I bet. I went to a 5 or 5:30 Mass there several years ago on my way to speaking at St. Clement's shrine farther up Boylston. Unlikely spot, but so welcome! I say let's have a chapel on all public places: banks, malls, libraries...


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