What’s in a lifestyle?
It’s how you live your life. It’s not the ends of that life, which is fleetingly short when considered in geologic time — or even in the span of modern human history. You may ask yourself, on occasion, when thinking on your own mortality, what your life is for and whether and for what reason you might be remembered when you’re gone. The answer, perhaps sadly, is: probably nothing. Your life is for no reason at all. Live a great life, get an obit in the New York Times if you are exceedingly “important” and lucky, and then get forgotten in the relentless march of human history. This kind of thinking has driven folks to great ends, or to madness, or to suicide, or its various slow-motion cousins like addiction.
We recently adopted a kitten who, I am pretty sure, believes that she will live forever, or at least doesn’t seem to sweat the question of her eventual death. Maybe some day she will see the Death of Cats. But we humans know that the clock is ticking, and we organize our lives around ways to ignore, postpone, rationalize, or bargain with the eventual end of life. At some point, we’ll enter (with foresight or unexpectedly) a sleep without waking. Your heart, whose beating noise was probably once a source of abject elation to your expecting mother, will stop. Maybe this will be abrupt. Maybe it will be slow. But someday you’ll be cold to the touch, and all of your hopes will be dissolved like so much dust in the air, and your grandest aspirations will be remembered, if at all, in a memorial that may end in cake, or whiskey, or lemonade and people in surprising hats. And the world will go about living an assortment of similarly short lives plagued with the usual thoughts of parking tickets, skin abrasions, sporting events, and the perennial longing to belong.
Which brings us back to lifestyle. Life ends. But a lifestyle is, on purpose, not about teleology. To paraphrase Coach Saban, it’s about the process — not what you live for, but how you proceed toward the end. It’s who you know, what you do, and (most importantly for the modern lifestyle industry) it’s what you buy. The style of life is something that you can embrace while you plug your ears to mortality’s persistent whisper. A well-cut dress shows off your curves to the glances of potential suitors at the bar. Tasteful paint on a wall tells house guests that you are attuned to the latest thinking on generating peaceful moods. Bright throw pillows make any space more welcoming.
And all of these things will decay and find their resting place in the ash heap of history. Nevertheless we pursue the endlessly accelerated carrot that is lifestyle, which has become conflated somewhat recently with the Instagram idea of our “best life.”
Before this inevitable passage into the infinite beyond, you may happen to read the new free magazine titled AL Metro 360. When you do this, you could be passing time at a doctor’s office bracing to hear the news about your new and mysterious mole. Or you might be at the salon burning your follicles with a chemical color to cover your grey. Or standing awkwardly at the bar hoping for a table at your favorite restaurant. The key here is that you are waiting. You are ticking away the moments before you draw that last breath, before you see the moon one more time, before you can’t even summon the strength to say goodbye to those you love.
But there is good news. With AL Metro 360, there is a kind of hospice care for the living. The magazine advertises itself as “The Premier Lifestyle Magazine for the Heart of Alabama,” and as you flip through its glossy pages, you may feel enervated by the way that lifestyle can fill the void of purposelessness. Gwyneth Paltrow has made an unseemly amount of money selling the style of life, and here we Metro Region residents have a chance to aspire to a lifestyle ourselves. And, better yet, you can consume this while waiting for your oil to be changed as you listen to the malnourished ghouls of Good Morning America yammer along. Bonus points if you are drinking a paper cup full of coffee that tastes like regret seasoned with pesticide-flavored creamer.
You don’t need to think obsessively on your own mortality. There are ways to put such thoughts off until your last moments with a breathing tube and a humiliating hospital gown. AL Metro 360’s advertorials offer the following strategies:
- Drink “Gem-Water.” Harness the power of gemstones to transform your everyday water. The purveyor is humble: “While the metaphysical scope of their power may be open to interpretation, the fact is that tasting is believing.” As I know from sitting through classes on the Greeks, the fact is that the long tradition of speculation about metaphysics does not offer specific guidance on the usage of semi-precious rocks to purify water. So that claim holds up. Pay money to Bella, in the Peppertree Shopping Center, to hold off death’s cold grip with the healing power of water infused by shiny stones.
- Eat cake. AL Metro 360 acknowledges its precarious hold with an article titled: “Life is Short – Eat the Cake,” wherein a confection-selling bakery in Union Springs is lovingly profiled. Hopefully author Traci V. Davis, who also took the photographs, availed herself of enough bakery treats to make herself feel better about a career spent writing puff pieces about local businesses that, while probably tasty, contribute to Alabama’s obesity epidemic. The high that sugar provides can help us make it to an evening’s rest. As you lay down afterwards, consider that half of your life is spent in unconsciousness, and its end is an unending dreamlessness.
- Stay fit. As you seek advice, AL Metro 360 offers a guide to staying fit at “any stage in life.” This guide terminates at the 70s, so if you live beyond that you are, evidently, out of luck. Why not eat some cake?
- Plan your own funeral. All of that cake is going to have consequences. Fortunately, Ross-Clayton Funeral Home is there for you. AL Metro 360 profiles the family-owned business, which is turning 100. They seem like they are probably very good at a difficult job. There is no accompanying discussion of the incredible disrepair that the city allowed the Lincoln Cemetery to reach before intervention was finally leveraged. Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned here from ten years reviewing free magazines, there’s no room for bad news.
Why do we spend our precious time on this earth writing about the glossy-papered trash that infests our shops and salons? At base, it’s because nobody talks about this stuff. These miserable bindings of ink and pulp are taken for granted as part of the background noise of our lives, like coupons, billboards or online advertising. They are “magazines” in the same sense that Krystal is “food.” Reading them is mastication in the service of rank consumerism. They are vehicles for persuasion — for plastic surgery, white flight custom homes, clever handbags stitched by tiny fingers, discerning private schools, local events designed to make you feel cultured, and ways to feel “Fabulous for Fall” (hint: booties and “statement pieces”). Somewhere someone is making an actual living purveying all this. Maybe it’s editor Jodi Hatley, who we’re pretty sure used to be the “editor” of River Region Living, which was once known as Montgomery Living.
Rebranding is a powerful thing. Altria used to be noted death merchant Phillip Morris. But you can still get a nice case of lung cancer from them for around $6 a pack if you live in a low tax state like Alabama. KFC used to be Kentucky Fried Chicken before they decided that nobody wanted to be reminded of the “fried” part of their unhealthy Confederate nostalgia machine. Pabst Blue Ribbon, once the cheapest beer imaginable, became the hipster drink of choice and now costs $44 per bottle in China because, well, globalization and its discontents.
So we can’t blame AL Metro 360 for its move to stay relevant. They’ve expanded their scope – no longer about the River Region, they’ve got the whole state in their name now. The “Metro” part is meant to make us feel like we’re part of a forward thinking urban community. Nobody’s publishing a magazine called AL Rural 360. Most of Alabama is too busy preventing those people from voting or getting health care to entertain them with fall fashion projections. The 360 part is a little bit of panoramic mystery. We do live in a time when entertainment vehicles try to wrap around our lives more than ever before. There’s a booth in the mall that offers a “5D” experience, which we assume involves having the smell of progress blasted in your face along with water vapor.
Life’s ultimate terminus in sight, we have a full wraparound view courtesy of this humble publication. Those who feel unrepresented by AL Metro 360 might want to read again the various profiles of aging white community fixtures and meditate on the ways that their identity is in fact subsumed therein. Before the unity of the grave, don’t you want to be a team player?
The editor kicks commences this issue of AL Metro 360 with an editor’s note saying that, “Aging is a fact of life and it affects all families.” She’s so right. You grow older each minute. Your lifespan is but a microsecond compared to those of our mountains’ great glaciers, which we all are helping to destroy. But maybe the pablum here gives you hope for another day. In which case, all we can offer is that timeless classic from occasions both happy and horrifying: Bless your heart.