So many demands are made on our time today that we often reminisce about the “good ol’ days” when there were no cell phones, computers, or even cars or televisions. Unfortunately, upon closer examination you’ll probably find that that idyllic existence is an illusion; even without such technology, life—or maybe society—demands that one must have a purpose at all times.
“‘Really I must—really I must’—that is it. Without investigating the demand, the mind cringes to the accustomed tyrant. One must, one always must, do something or other; it is not allowed one simply to enjoy oneself. Was it not for this reason that, some time ago, we fabricated the excuse, and invented the necessity of buying something? But what was it? Ah, we remember, it was a pencil.”
-“Street Haunting: A London Adventure”
With that, over seven decades ago, Woolf berates the musty old ‘must’ that never tires of plaguing our lives. A pencil seems innocent enough. One might write a long letter, or a postcard, or a novel; or one might write a list of things to do which require our attention. Regardless of purpose, the pencil is needed to propel us outside so we can shirk our other duties for a while.
This is the sad reality, folks. I was in the historic district of Seymour, CT for an appointment at the dentist’s over this past winter break. I was set to meet a friend afterward at the mall, but she was running late due to her mother’s concerns over the icy roads (Read: the roads weren’t making her late; her mother was). At any rate, I had some time to spare and thought it would be lovely to peruse an antique shop or two before heading up to the mall. It was cold and rainy out, so it was doubly lovely to be inside and with all kinds of great vintage jewelry, glassware, and books and such. Since I was killing time, I was poring over various objects for a longer than absolutely necessary. I had a conversation with the shop owner, the only other person in the store, and walked through every aisle. After fifteen minutes, she called out to me, “Found anything?” to which I replied, “Oh! You have so many great things!” Apparently, this would not suffice: “That’s not what I asked,” she said, “What are you buying?” With that, I was suddenly obligated. I couldn’t just take in all the pretty things and go on my way aesthetically satisfied before driving in the winter dreariness for eleven miles to get up to the mall.
So I bought a necklace…..and it was worth it. Not that I had a choice.