Funny stuff

An oldie but a goodie:

Enjoy your new stuff - Merry Christmas!

Posted on Friday, December 21, 2007 at 01:37AM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf in | CommentsPost a Comment

More on gifts!

I need a little help with this one:

"These are all fine and good ideas, and I've actually done some of them in the past for friends (including your sister), but the question is...
WHAT DO I DO FOR FOUR-YEAR OLDS?! Especially four-year olds obsessed with Disney Princesses (don't research that one, it will make you nauseous), AND who live in the middle of nowhere?"

My experience with four-year-olds is very limited -- and I understand that they are very special creatures who definitely appreciate stuff.  My best no-stuff gift idea would be dance classes, in which aforementioned four-year-old could be a princess.  Price and geography might prove prohibitive in this case, though.  The problem isn't just the princess, it's also the Disney.  Maybe you could introduce her to some other, non-Disney princesses?  Like Pippi Longstocking?  (You'd have to read that to her or get her the videos, and she might be a little young - Random House says 9-12 but my boss reads the books to his 5 or 6 year-old daughter.)  Or maybe a book of bedtime-story fairy/folk tales?  I tried looking up "princess dolls + organic" but most of the organic/earth-friendly toys out there are pretty dorky; this site had some cute stuff.  The problem is, she lives in a Disney-saturated world, and she wants Disney stuff -- and there's nothing worse than asking for exactly what you want and getting a stupid homemade thing that you didn't want. 

Are there any parents out there that can help this dude find something good for his niece?


"Some good suggestions but how about donations to causes as gifts? WWF have some nifty symbolic adoptions of animals and Greenpeace Australia have symbolic gifts this year too - from activist handcuffs to armchair activism...   

And there are so many more organizations like Oxfam with this idea in place for all your social and environmental justice needs :)."

Thanks so much for the ideas, Kat - I hope these will trigger some gift donations from my readers. 

My no-stuff gift guide is largely designed to give to people who have dryly referred to Fix as "Megan's activist project" or "that thing you're doing this year where you don't buy anything" and who are sick of what they perceive as smugness every time something remotely related to Fix comes up.  I've got a few people in my world who think shopping is unequivocally great and who feel like they're being preached to all the time by crazy New York liberals; I'm sure you've got a few, too.  I thought I might submerge the politics a little and just try to keep plastic and imported junk out of people's lives. 

I did, however, consider writing about giving service or donations as gifts.  One of the best gifts I ever received was a donation in my name to a small organization that had dance classes for disabled kids.  The givers understood that dancing is something I am incredibly grateful for; that they made dancing available to people who conventionally don't have access was a gift greater than anything I could have thought of.  Charity is a personal thing, though, and, despite what I said below about giving a piece of myself, I feel uncomfortable intimating that I know exactly which cause the recipient of my gift would like to donate to.  If you know precisely what will work, I'm all for it - the gift will still be a gift for him/her as well as the charity.  (Local/community causes might be more personal than giving to giant organizations that zillions of people donate to regularly.)  I recently found out about another alternative: charity gift cards.  Companies like TisBest, CharityChoice, and JustGive partner with charities/non-profits/NGO's to create a list that your dollars will go to, once your recipient chooses which he/she likes best.  I don't know a whole lot about these - if you have any info, feel free to comment.  (I learned about them from a segment on NPR.)

Posted on Sunday, December 16, 2007 at 08:51PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf in | Comments3 Comments

Megan's mostly no-stuff gift guide, part 2

So.  Gift cards don't count as no-stuff.  That's just delayed stuff.  (Unless you're sure that the recipient will never use it, and then it will be no-stuff.  But that's a weird non-gift.)  Some of these ideas involve stuff but I will explain below.  In reverse expensive order:

1.  Buy your lonely bachelor friend cooking classes.  I'm sure lots of girls take them, and he'll learn skills that will actually impress the ladies.  My sister took some with a friend at Camaje in SoHo and had a great experience.  They're pricey - $95 - $350 for 1-3 lessons, but all include a very tasty meal at the end.  Local restaurants and community colleges may offer the same in other communities.

2.  Buy art.  OK, so this is stuff.  But it is not mass-produced, commonly-available stuff made in Cambodia.  This is a little iffy as far as someone keeping the art for a long time: you definitely run the risk of getting something that will just sit around unappreciated, but if you know someone's taste well, you can buy something that your friend or family member will enjoy forever.  At its best, when you buy art, you can chat with the artist and find out what she was thinking about when she made it; why she likes the particular imagery; how she works with the materials...and on and on.  You could buy a painting or a sculpture in a gallery, or you could go to a local craft fair and see what they have there.  For example, chashama, an organization that has supported my work, is having a holiday art sale:

"CHASHAMA & LA SUPERETTE join forces this season to provide an alternative to the traditional commercial shopping with CHA HOLIDAY -- an affordable holiday art sale at chashama's Times Square gallery. Showcasing original, homemade gifts (ranging from $1 - $100; most are between $20-$40), artwork will include recycled accessories, homemade clothes, wall art, stocking stuffers & much more. Throughout the month of December, we will also be hosting live performances, video screenings & craft workshops by some of New York's finest artists at our 44th St. gallery. 

chashama's Times Square gallery will be open to the public Thursday through Sunday, 2 – 8 pm, for the salon-style art sale. Come find a truly original gift & support the arts in New York!

chashama Times Square, 112 West 44th Street Gallery"

Even if you want to buy someone jewelry, see if you can find a one-of-a-kind piece by a local artist.  The tables in SoHo and Williamsburg are good places to start here in NYC.  If you want to buy functional stuff, like dishes, buy them from a place like Bodanna, which teaches high school dropouts how to make ceramics and work in retail.

3.  Both my mom and my sister like to solve jigsaw puzzles.  I cannot think of a worse way to spend time, but I understand a lot of people like them.  Who needs to own them, though?  Sign your mom and sis up for Elms Hand-Cut Puzzle Rental Club: for $75 they will become lifelong members and get the first 299-piece puzzle free.  Additional puzzles cost $40 and up; you get to keep them for three months before you have to mail them back.

4.  My dad likes music.  I buy him tickets to a random concert taking place in his small city while I'm visiting so we can go together.  The music is fun, of course, but it's more fun to go out with my dad and just hang out together.  So we don't really care if it's a lame band - all the more to talk about.  You can find upcoming shows on Pollstar, which features concerts happening around the US; lots of cities have websites and culture papers with more detailed info.   This works for lots of things: basketball games, dance performances, horse races, soccer matches, even movies - but I've found that it works better with events that require live presence (you go into less of a stupor).  And the prices range from free to very expensive, whatever fits your budget.  Keep your expectations low and you'll have a great time.

5.  Do you have something your friend really loves?  A mug, a sweater, a framed print? Give it to them.  It costs you nothing.  It will make him/her very happy.

"...After all, when you give someone a present, you want to do so out of love, you want to give your friend a piece of yourself, a piece of your heart!" 

--M. Kundera 

Posted on Thursday, December 13, 2007 at 07:04PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf in | Comments1 Comment

Megan's no-stuff gift guide, part 1

Of course the gift of your time is the best of all: take your friend, mom, brother to lunch, a movie, a play, for a walk.  Or better yet, make him/her dinner, muffins, cake, whatever, and take it to his/her apartment to share.  But just in case this person is sick of you, in a distant city, or you simply want to do something a little out of the ordinary, I've put together a short list of stuff-free gifts that will make your beloveds smile.  This (non)stuff is quality - no eco-craziness here.

1.  Send all of your friends TajTunes.  For $5, a person in India will call your friend and sing a song on the themes of "What's Up," and "Thank You," among others.  They'll record the song and your friend's reaction and email it to you.  I got one a few weeks ago and it made my day.  There's even an NPR segment on the idea - the enterprise's origins are a cute story.

2.  For the video game lover in your life, there's Erik Dewey's e-book Flawless Victory: The Ultimate Guide to Arcade Fighting Game Moves.  $6.25 on 

3.  Can't afford to give your mom a massage?  Give her a yoga class.  Here in NYC they run about $15-20.  Some of my favorite places include Kula Yoga, Exhale, and the Greenhouse.  For $75, the American Health and Fitness Alliance offers passbooks to yoga, dance, and pilates classes in Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York.  Dozens of studios all over town put free passes in the book in hopes that you'll get hooked and become a regular customer.  Might be good for someone who doesn't have the tried-and-true place they go every time.    

4.  I promise you, despite how professional your local public radio station sounds, it is run on chewing gum and string.  I worked for a while at WNYC and I can attest that pretty much every dime went into their programming.  So give someone a membership and help the station out: $60 will make your friend a member of WNYC and get her the ubiquitous tote; $25-50 will make her a member of KCRW, The Best Radio Station in the World (listen online).  Most stations have ticket giveaways and discounts that guarantee the membership will pay for itself over the course of a year.

5.  Give the man in your life lessons in a dying art: that of the straight razor.  Apparently Freemans Sporting Club downtown offers them for $60 but I couldn't find them listed on the website.

6.  I'm sure your guitar-playing granddad would love a weekend with Jorma Kaukonen (of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna fame).  Join up with your cousins - and aunts and uncles - to send him to Fur Peace Ranch, Kaukonen's guitar camp outside of Columbus.  Workshops run from Friday to Monday and cost in the neighborhood of $1200. 

(Forgive the NYC-centric nature of this list; I'm hoping you can find equivalents in your city.)

Posted on Sunday, December 9, 2007 at 07:22PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf | Comments2 Comments

Awesome new meta-blog!

The Bird & The Sea collects all of the eco-watchers and living-light people and gets them on to one page.  You can scan the titles and pick out the articles that interest you - awesome!  (And not just because it features Fix...)

Posted on Saturday, December 8, 2007 at 12:29PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf | Comments1 Comment


'Tis the season, right?  My mom (very considerately) asked me if I wanted to participate in our family's gift swap this year, and I said I would, provided that all of the participants understood I wouldn't be giving stuff this year and I wouldn't want any stuff this year.  I hate getting crap that I don't need and I hate giving something to someone because I feel like I have to.  She asked me for suggestions: I told her that movie passes are a big treat, or someone can underwrite my dance classes for a week, or contribute a little to my latest art project, or buy me a massage if they're feeling really generous...lots of not-things make me happy!  And, in truth, I don't really need anything.

So what to buy?  Luckily my list isn't too long.  Looking back at the gifts I gave so far this year, I'm proud of some of the things I managed to come up with that wouldn't sit around in someone's house and then get thrown in the landfill.  I gave a lot of food - chocolates, brownies, artisanal honey - and experiences - I sent my boss to BAM and my dad to fiddle camp.  When faced with buying a wedding present, I chose a book, figuring that good cookbooks are something you hang on to for a while.  The baby gifts were the trickiest: I chose to participate in a group gift for one of them, assuming that a larger amount might go toward something more durable than the onesie I could afford; I actually bought a onesie (organic) for a gorgeous new baby in our crowd because it was so cute I couldn't resist!  Baby stuff is addictive.  The gift I'm most ashamed of is the going-away present I bought for another co-worker: we had an inside joke about squirrels, and I just had to get her a tote with a squirrel on it.  I can only hope she'll use it for groceries and it will have saved many plastic bags.  (I kind of doubt it.)  

Posted on Tuesday, December 4, 2007 at 10:10PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf in | CommentsPost a Comment

Three cheers for No Impact Man!

Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man finished his year of living light a couple of weeks ago.  His project, far more extreme than mine, had strict rules about local eating, energy use, and waste generation, in an attempt to have no net impact on the planet for one year.  Like me, he figured that the hardest place in the world to do this would be New York's urban environment, where he ended up finding a whole network of resources and friendly people trying to live in similar ways.  He generated a lot of media attention, and, lucky for me, sends a lot of readers my way -- thanks Colin!

He's calling the new phase of his project "living in the gray," in which he's relaxing the black-and-white rules (which are never really black-and-white, are they?) to come up with some new long-term guidelines for living his life in a more environmentally-friendly way.  Upon reading this, I was first relieved that his blog wouldn't be going away yet, and then a little validated that I've been taking this route all along.  Of course I felt twinges last February when I first found out about his project: I began to doubt my experiment, questioning whether I should have set up stricter rules for myself, getting hard on myself when I couldn't write every day, etc. etc.   Over the year, though, I've been able to reaffirm Fix for myself here and there: all along I wanted to test how an ambitious, single youngish brokeish person with no book deal (see also Judith Levine, another hero) could eliminate convenience buying and eating, as well as incorporate environmental thinking into her daily routine.  I was thinking that living this way might help me understand social change better and become a little more creative when thinking about policy on any kind of scale.

I have found that it's difficult to change just one habit when I feel stressed, sick, poor, busy - which is the general state of affairs for a lot of people in NYC and elsewhere.  Trying to change any habits, be they spending habits, eating habits, exercise habits, thinking habits etc., makes me think of people transitioning from welfare to work, losing weight because they risk diabetes, trying to feed their children more healthfully -- and then I'm thankful that my experiment is a choice.  I'm still not certain I've permanently altered even one thing to be a little more environmentally friendly.

In some ways, it seems that "living in the gray" is harder than living with strict rules - one doesn't have an automatic answer to apply to every situation, and the variables seem increasingly complicated.   I'm facing that myself when I reach Dec 31: which things do I buy?  how much research do I do before I buy something?  should I take on more narrowly-focused challenges (local eating, sewing, cooking) for shorter periods of time?  I don't think I'll stop exactly at the New Year - there are many, many things I wanted to look into and think about within this context that I haven't gotten to yet.  I also don't feel right about running out and buying a bunch of stuff just because it's January and I can.  Like Colin, I won't switch off the blog as the actions continue in 2008.   So congratulations Colin, and good luck with the new phase!

Posted on Sunday, December 2, 2007 at 11:38PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf | CommentsPost a Comment

America is not at war



Image courtesy of Adbusters, Nov/Dec 2007 print edition.

Posted on Thursday, November 29, 2007 at 09:33PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf | CommentsPost a Comment

What Would Jesus Buy?

Just in time for the holidays, Reverend Billy has a new movie out, What Would Jesus Buy? He and his Church of Stop Shopping travel the country exorcising cash registers and spreading the anti-consumer gospel. Other antics ensue. The AP describes how offensive Reverend Billy seems to Christians but nonetheless manages to connect with them over the idea that the buying and gift-giving parts of Christmas have totally overwhelmed the spiritual/religious/family/community experience. Gotta love those things that appeal to both the far right and the far left.

It's playing at Cinema Village in New York, and you can click here for additional theaters around the country. It's up on Netflix, so if all else fails, put it in the "saved" section of your queue. Report back, I haven't seen it yet. (Previews available on YouTube, and, ironically, the Apple website.)

Posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2007 at 11:19PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf | CommentsPost a Comment

Follow-up on BND

The Buy Nothing Day was almost Do Nothing Day. My sister and I slept absurdly late, made pumpkin pancakes, and ventured out into the cold to see what movies the library had. The close library was closed; we followed their suggestion and took the train to a library a little farther away that I had never been to before. After our walk back, we sat around and talked, cooked some dinner, and talked some more. My neighbor came over late to join us for pumpkin muffins; we never watched the dvds.

I've heard rumors of other people celebrating via Wal-Mart conga lines with empty shopping carts, performing as mall zombies, and playing anti-consumerist songs over the radio -- but nothing's been confirmed yet.

Posted on Tuesday, November 27, 2007 at 11:25PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf | CommentsPost a Comment