‘Not now… maybe later, but not now’
When our children were young we were all fans of the vintage Fleischer Studios Betty Boop cartoons. One favorite featured a wailing cat that disturbed Betty’s sleep. When she demanded silence, the cat sang, “Not now, not now; maybe later but not now [https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UG0ebiZDzIU].”
Often Peter and I sing that line to each other, and I hummed it recently on a plane when I pulled a copy of “Sky Mall” from the seat pocket in front of me.
Right there on the front cover was something I wanted. “The Dream Chair” seemed to defy gravity as it hung in its setting on an oceanside deck. “The pinnacle of outdoor style and comfort” was on sale – 25 percent off at $299.99 (plus $30 shipping). I felt the juices of desire rising, and that was just page one.
Sky Mall has something for everyone, including an 8-foot gorilla statue. I began to notice the descriptive language as I flipped through its pages and, yes, turned down a few corners on items I might consider. Sky Mall describes its content as “one-of-a-kind, innovative, award-winning and world’s-largest.” Most often it says “exclusive,” to suggest that a rise in status might accompany your purchase.
Catalogs are designed to lead us someplace beyond our current selves, and that impulse in us isn’t necessarily negative. Catalogs offer new levels in organization, fitness, comfort and style. Sometimes they can help us make a move along a continuum. Occasionally I have discovered something truly innovative, like the ideal dog-shedding tool (the Furminator), or the jar lid that now stirs our peanut butter.
Sometimes I eschew the practical and let catalogs drive my imagination to entirely new destinations. This can be fun, but the trip is fraught with the danger that I’ll make the crossover from “want” to perceived “need” and actually order something that promises so much but actually delivers so little. The failure often isn’t in the items themselves, but in the fact that their success depends on our ability to make lifestyle changes to fully employ them.
That “one-of-a-kind” organizing system won’t succeed unless I do the work of putting our papers into it. That “innovative” vacuum cleaner must be plugged in by this very ordinary human. This particular Sky Mall catalog doesn’t offer the $15,000 exercise machine that promises total fitness in 4 minutes a day (http://rommachine.net/ -- both innovative and exclusive). My guess that it is sitting idle in dozens of high-end homes across America, along with thousands of less-expensive workout pieces so many of us house.
When a favorite catalog comes into our home I’ll dog-ear the pages that hold temptations and later return and not know which product caught my fancy at the time. This always makes me chuckle because, at the time of the dog-earring, that item might have seemed essential. Despite my trips along the road of imagination, I am far more likely to succumb to advertising when it appeals to my practical nature and convinces me that I need it right now.
Which brings me back to our friend Betty Boop and the wailing cat. The practice of waiting is a muscle that can be strengthened. When we wait, desire often fades or dissipates entirely, as I discover when I un-fold the corners of pages that once enticed me. But when something commandeers the steering mechanism of my imagination, it helps to have a song to sing. “Not now, not now; maybe later but not now.”
A CHH columnist since 1998, Susan Gladin is a freelance writer, United Methodist minister, and has served as Executive Director of The Johnson Intern Program in Chapel Hill and previously of Orange Congregations in Mission in Hillsborough. Currently she manages a horse barn and a home business on the Orange County farm she shares with her husband. Their two grown daughters live nearby. You may e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org, or write c/o The Chapel Hill Herald, 2828 Pickett Road, Durham, NC 27705.