“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Rather than viewing those objects as "mine," you may think of them as "me."
If there is one thing Americans know how to do, it's buy stuff.
According to the LA Times, the average American household contains over 300,000 items. But we also know how to hold onto all this stuff we buy. A 2013 article inPopular Science cites a statistic that seventy percent of Americas cannot park cars in their garages because it's packed with too much stuff. I guess that's why offsite storage facilities are one of the fastest growing segments of the commercial real estate market.
There are differing views on why people like to buy and keep so much stuff they don't need. According to an article in Inc., there is a direct link between the stuff you hold on to and how your feel about yourself. "The objects you struggle to get rid of are likely tied to your self-worth," according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology. Rather than viewing those objects as "mine," you may think of them as "me."
Just like most everyone else in America, I have too much stuff. So, this summer, I'm embracing a utilitarian approach to spring cleaning: If I didn't use it in the past two years, it's time to lose it. This means ridding my closets and drawers of all unworn clothing and shoes, no matter how much I think I love them. Looking through the growing pile of throw-away/give away items, it's clear to me how aspirational so many of my purchases were. And, the extent to which, as June Saruwatari, author of Behind the Clutter points out, I wanted to buy an emotion as much as an object. That size 2 Diane Von Furstenberg dress never fit me, but I pictured myself feeling brilliant when I wore it. Those glam Jimmy Choo silver strappy sandals never did work with anything I actually wore, but I pictured feeling glamorous and sexy in them. No place do I have more unused, aspirational stuff than in the kitchen. Peelers, corers, slicers, molds, bundt pans, quesadilla makers, outdoor dining sets, basket sets, napkin and placemat sets: enough for a solo garage sale.
Most of my useless items broke down into one of seven categories of beliefs:
"If I buy it, pain in the butt tasks will be so much easier"
The mushroom brush, kiwi peeler, avocado peeler, mango peeler, pineapple corer (I used each of these items once), mayonnaise jar spoon (I could never find when I needed it), vegetable scrubbing gloves (these worked, but felt totally disgusting on my hands).
"If I buy it, I will save a ton of money"
Sushi Bazooka (I never got past step three in the instructions), vegetable juicer (I used it like crazy for about two weeks and then got really tired of cleaning it).
"If I buy it, I will become Martha Stewart"
Candy thermometer (you need this in order to determine if your boiling sugar has reached the hard or soft ball stage for desserts that require caramel, like Tarte Tatin, crème caramel, caramel buttercream --- gazillion calorie desserts I never eat), 6 sets of place mats, napkins and napkin rings and three sets of outdoor dishes and wine glasses (I hate eating outside because of the bugs), baggies full of cookie cutters (letting the dough rest in the fridge for an hour and then having to roll it out was always a bridge too far), a set of 24 personal soufflé sized ramekins – I don't make large souffles so I'm certainly not making individual sized souffles. And 24? What was I thinking?
"If I buy it, my marriage will work"
Pasta roller (the family that makes pasta together, stays together, was my hope here), fondue pot and forks (same idea; just gather round the fondue pot and you'll both be smiling again).
"Homemade is so much better"
Yogurt maker (if you like runny, lumpy yogurt, this is the way to go), ice cream machine (given all the flavors and variety of delicious store-bought ice cream, nothing I made could justify the hours of preparation and waiting), bread maker (not sure what I was doing wrong, but every loaf that came out of this thing was as heavy as a doorstop).
"If I buy it, I will not eat carbs"
Spiralizer (great idea, spiralized vegetables --- I'll never eat pasta again! --- unfortunately this thing does NOT work).
"If I buy it, I will be super organized"
Multiple sets of plastic and glass storage containers and multiple wire racks on which to stack pantry items (some of these items are definitely useful, but when you have more storage stuff than space to store it, you have a problem). Multiple sets of "nesting bowls" (why did I think I needed eight different sized bowls in plastic and glass?)
"If I buy it, my daughter will have the best birthday party, ever = I'm the best mom ever"
Taco Proppers – That's right, u-shaped plastic holders that "prop" up your tacos so you can assemble them without spilling the contents, (they never made it out of their packaging). Cupcake tower (I used this once, about six years ago, and it was a success but it's sat in the back of a hard to reach cupboard ever since).
In addition to all the aspirational unused cooking-related items, there also quite a collection of general stuff that has somehow migrated into the kitchen --- stress balls, boxes of thumb tacks, half-used spools of twine, travel sewing kits, extra sets of supplies from old parties, boxes (and boxes!) of nails, ash trays, piles of take-out menus and trail maps, Mandala stress relief adult coloring books, and various earth-friendly cleaning products that don't actually work.
"Then there is the stuff that I've taken with me from place to place over the years"
Cookbooks I've never used, fancy serving dishes I've never served from, extra salad servers I never really liked, candle stick holders that have never seen a candle, my grandmother's crystal wine glasses that I never use because they don't actually go with any of my dishes, decorative paperweights (why do people still make these things? They serve absolutely no purpose).
It's liberating to say goodbye to things that took up space in my drawers and cabinets, and my imagination, as well as things that were tying me to the past. What are you ready to clear out?