Register Sunday | October 25 | 2020
Final Sale Art by Alexi Hobbs.

Final Sale

When you’re sheltering in place, shopping doesn’t make much sense. So why is it so hard to stop doing it?

Shotgun. Roll It. Shatter. Dank.

Each word corresponds to an appropriately grungy shade of eyeshadow: neon green, tobacco brown, rich amber, deep khaki. There are more. Six more, to be precise—all inspired by weed and stamped with the same intricate design: marijuana leaves curling up towards heaven or the sun. Those shapes won’t last. The first time each eyeshadow is used the pattern will start to muddy, to blur. Eventually a fluffy brush will sweep away all evidence the designs ever existed. There’s something inexplicably beautiful to me about how temporary these details are, how someone knew they would be temporary, but took the time and care to make them lovely anyway. Maybe beauty was never meant to be permanent.

It’s 4 AM. If my husband, lightly snoring in bed next to me, were to turn and look at me, my face would be lit up by the blue-white light of my phone screen. It’s been this way every night since Covid-19 has come. I snatch pieces of sleep when I can, but mostly I scroll past terrifying headline after headline as maximum-strength melatonin fails me. When I can no longer stomach being so well informed, I turn off the blue-light filter that’s supposed to help me sleep better, then immerse myself in my guilty pleasure: makeup. 

I’ve been obsessing over this particular eyeshadow palette for over a month. I’ve watched every review and swatch video about it on YouTube. At first I simply wanted the palette, but at this point it seems more accurate to say I covet it. I’m so sure owning this palette will make my life immeasurably better that only Biblical language can truly encapsulate my desire for it. I don’t need it. I already have two plastic drawers full of eyeshadow palettes—so many, in fact, that last December I became disgusted with myself and vowed to not buy makeup for a year. 

Within a month of that decision my depression spiked and I decided I deserved something nice: a new eyeshadow palette and four lipsticks. I’ve used the palette twice. As for the lipsticks, I put each of them on once, as soon as I got them, admiring how they altered my face, made me look fun or scary or sexy, but I haven’t touched them since. My makeup drawers got heavier but my depression refused to lighten up. And yet I couldn’t stop buying. 

It wasn’t just makeup, either. There was an undeniable rush whenever I clicked “purchase” on anything: another beautiful champagne highlighter or a new custom pair of beaded earrings or some new A-line dresses. Then there was the eager anticipation of waiting for your order, checking and re-checking the order, then shipping confirmations. The biggest rush, of course, came when my order appeared on my doorstep, packed carefully in cardboard and plastic, shiny and clean and meant entirely for me. Usually within a day the euphoria would wear off. I’d open my nearly full makeup drawers and drop my new life-changing makeup on top of my old life-changing makeup. I still felt empty. 

So much of my mindless consumption has been based on these ideas: that buying something I don’t need is a form of self-care. That I deserve more resources than I need. That my life has been so scarred by capitalism and colonialism that my overindulgence is somehow justified. The food I eat, the clothes I wear, the books and earrings and makeup I happily hoard now that I’m no longer a poor kid—these purchases all comfort me. Or that’s what I’ve been telling myself. There is no ethical consumption under consumerism. This is something else I’ve been telling myself. When the world seems to be slowly collapsing and exploding all around you; when your community’s well-being depends on politicians who have no obligation to listen to you, and never have—have in fact spoken over you and gaslit you any time you’ve gotten in the way of their plans—you begin to believe you’re too unimportant to make a difference. 

The world as we know it is ending in front of us. We’re all stuck inside our houses. Why not fuck around and buy whatever makes you happy? If there’s no ethical consumption under capitalism, I’m no more unethical than any other person using consumerism—and therefore capitalism—to comfort me, to cope. 

There are so many ways to avoid looking at hard truths.

It’s 5 AM. My yorkie, nestled by my feet, stirs, then settles. In half an hour he’ll wake up, jump on me, confidently strut down the length of my body and lick my face until I groggily get up and take him on his morning walk. My husband, otherwise a sound sleeper, will wake when I get off the bed. He wakes every time, no matter how quietly or carefully I move. 

In an hour I’ll come back into the room, accidentally wake him, then slide back into bed and give him a kiss, after which he’ll immediately fall into a deep sleep again. I’ll take another melatonin and scroll through social media in the hopes that I might eventually sleep, too. 

In three and a half hours my son’s alarm will go off. Our dog will dart to his door and wait for me to open it so he can jump up and give my son kisses. My son might get up and grab a bowl of cereal as he sleepily recounts that night’s dreams to me, or he might pet our dog for a bit, then roll over and drift back to sleep. Either way I’ll give him a kiss, tell him I love him.

In seven hours this palette will go on sale. I look at pictures of it again. It’s still beautiful. I know that buying it, waiting for it, then having it delivered and opening it will give me the rush of feelings I’m craving. But is that rush of feelings actually happiness? It’s a version of happiness, I suppose, but a fleeting one, an unsatisfying one, as though a gust of wind blew out the candles on your birthday cake before you had time to make a wish. 

Of course, all happiness feels cut short or cut off by the circumstances of quarantine. Time feels liquid. Planning for the future feels idealistic, pointless. Insecurity and fear feel pervasive. We are all traumatized. In times like these, I’ve been telling myself, even the most fleeting moment of happiness is still a moment of happiness. 

And yet I know this rationale is not enough. I’ve read about the unsanitary, unsafe conditions of workers who are trying desperately to fulfill orders like mine. Workers at Amazon fulfillment centres in the US are trying to unionize to improve workplace safety—and are swiftly being fired for it, despite the forecasts that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos will soon become a trillionaire. Canada Post has been delivering as many parcels during quarantine as during the busiest days before Christmas. And fulfilling orders before Christmas doesn’t usually involve a deadly, contagious coronavirus. 

It takes conscious effort to divorce the relative safety of my online shopping from the almost certain danger those employees must face for the sake of my makeup. My tiny burst of supposed happiness. 

It’s hard to admit, but my ideas of happiness—like everyone’s, I’m increasingly realizing—ultimately come from living under capitalism and colonialism. As humans, we all need food, shelter, clothing, community, culture: basics. And yet, in this society, you usually need money to access those things. If you cyclically run out of money, with life becoming recurringly bleak, maybe you begin to rely on brief bursts of empty happiness. Maybe while you’re doing that, you ignore how you’re feeding into the same social and economic systems that created the problem in the first place. Or maybe you can’t ignore it, so just try to find ways to mitigate your shame. 

Or maybe you stare at your phone screen in the early hours of the morning, going over and over the details of an eyeshadow palette you know won’t make you happy but still want desperately, then ultimately put your phone down. Maybe you decide to imagine and invest in a different sort of happiness, a fuller, more stable and healthy happiness—one that revolves around small pleasures, such as watching your son smile in his sleep, or observing the slow bloom of crimson buds in the branches of maple trees in spring—anything that grounds you, reminds you that you’re not alone, that you’re one part of a whole miraculous planet that deserves to survive. 

And maybe it will occur to you that there are things better than your own individual happiness, more comforting than any unnecessary purchase, beautiful without being temporary.