Labor Day has passed and September is in full swing — when the world overflows with pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin spice Facebook memes mocking the pumpkin spice craze, and Pumpkin Everything in home decor, candle scents, even fashion accessories.
Not that I dislike punkin!!! — but this time of year does make me reflect a lot on trends, and why trends exist, and how our brains are wired to fixate on things such as status, group identity, cohesiveness, and common goals.
As Steven Quartz, co-author of the nonfiction book Cool: How the Brain’s Hidden Quest for Cool Drives Our Economy and Shapes Our World, wrote in a recent essay for the PBS NewsHour —
“Feeling esteemed and respected by others is a basic and universal human need that makes possible the human bonds that underlie cooperative human social life. It’s no surprise that it taps into the brain’s most powerful reward systems.
Viewed in this light, I think a good way of thinking about consumerism is as a way of converting income into the lifestyles that allow us to create and engage in diverse social groups that satisfy our need to belong and to feel respected, esteemed and valued by others.”
The essay is titled “Why Buying Things Makes You Happy” — and it’s a short, interesting read.
In my twenties, when I lived in Ouray, my husband and I would drive to Montrose each weekend to purchase our groceries, and one of my biggest pleasures in those days was having enough money to buy a latte at Starbucks. Ouray does not have a Starbucks, so splurging in Montrose felt like a big deal. Even so, rare was the weekend when I could afford a latte.
I knew buying that latte meant a lot more than sipping an uber-sweet, trendy drink. Purchasing elaborate coffee in a white paper cup meant I bought a piece of identity — a group identity. By clutching that Starbucks logo, I joined, for those moments, the group of people who can afford to spend more than four or five dollars on a cup of sugared caffeine.
And that felt important to me. To be part of that group.
I no longer feel a desire to belong to the Starbucks latte group, though lattes still seem way more fun to me than flip nights at the bar, smokers lounges, or joining the NFL.
I’m still human though, still feeding my brain’s primitive reward system, and I have a new status now, as a climate fiction writer. A few days ago, my friend April shared this book with me, so I now know that climate fiction — or cli-fi, as it’s called for short — is an actual thing —
The book is titled Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction. It’s a collection of short stories about climate change written by a group of very talented authors. The book’s release date is September 15.
In the past month, I’ve completed two short stories about climate change. One was written for Glimmer Train, and one will be submitted to the Writers of the Future contest, a writing contest one of my critique partners shared with me last month. This contest is free to enter, and I encourage everyone who writes science fiction, fantasy, and/or dark fantasy, to check out this contest and make a submission!
And for those of you who want to take action on climate change, consider signing up for the newsletters of 350.org. The organization hosted a big event this past week, part of their lead-up to the international climate change summit in Paris this December. The event was live-streamed, and can be watched here. I love watching this video, love the connection of knowing there are so many people in the world promoting social justice as well as clean energy, which is exactly what 350.org stands for.
And if any of you want to check out the piece of flash fiction I submitted to Writer Unboxed, based on the contest image prompt of a covered wagon, you can find that piece here. All of the short stories are submitted as comments in the link, and many of them featured time travel and historical switcheroos. If you visit the site, please click “Like” for any story you enjoy — thank you!!
I hope to be able to share the first chapter of my next novel with you all soon! It will still be a YA (Young Adult) fantasy novel, but it will also be climate fiction, and that makes me feel anxious and despairing, but also hopeful and strong.
More of my friends have expressed interest in joining me on Sunday mornings at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango, and if you live in the area, I’d love to attend with you! At today’s service, fellowship members brought vials of water gathered from all over the world, and we poured the water together into a ceremonial river of unity beside the altar. A lovely ritual, embodied by a community of open and loving people. I’m so glad this Fellowship exists in Durango.
So here’s to another beautiful week in September! May the Pumpkin Everything be with you!