The Produce Theory of Life

Sunday, November 18, 2012
Dean Wesley Smith often writes about what he calls the produce model of traditional publishing. He explains publishers work on the assumption that books, like produce, spoil after a certain period of time. This is due to the economics of print books. In traditional publishing, a "decision" (in quotes because it's mostly an educated guess) is made as to how many books the publisher expects a particular title to sell. It was cheaper to print them all at once than to go back multiple times for additional printings. However, it's also expensive to warehouse these books and, due to a legal decision, those books in the warehouse--the ones that aren't selling--are considered an asset and taxed accordingly. So it behooved a publisher to get those books out of the warehouse as quickly as possible. It was more economic to destroy unsold books than to leave them in the warehouse in case some reader wanted to buy one. Because of limited shelf space in book stores, a book has to prove itself in a matter of months or it will be replaced by a "fresher" book they hope will sell better.

The thing is, in the world of ebooks and Print On Demand (POD), the produce model is outdated. Ebooks take up very little space in a seller's inventory system and a POD book doesn't exist until a customer orders it. But traditional publishers still cling to the idea that a book only has three months to prove itself before it's tossed in the recycle bin.

As I eat my breakfast each morning, I read a devotional from The Word For You Today. This week was a series on setting boundaries. The devotionals in turn described rigid boundaries, permeable boundaries, and flexible boundaries. Knowing how to set boundaries is difficult for most people, some more than others. I've gone through periods in my life where my boundaries were much too permeable, where my desire to please others was so great that it left no room for me. I'm the kind of person who needs quiet time, personal space to offset the times when I have to be with people. Social occasions, even going to work every day where I need to interact with people, is exhausting to me. As a result, I learned to carve out time for me, to say no to those who would persist on not granting me that alone time. I set my boundaries and kept people out.

I've also been preoccupied with planning for retirement. An image that haunts me is me, pushing a shopping cart around the streets of Tucson, a bag lady, homeless, dirty, hungry, and alone. I've read financial pundits who seem to think you need a million dollars put aside to make sure you don't outlive your retirement money. Your house should be paid off, you should have no debt, but you should have lots of supplemental health insurance, long term care insurance, a burial plot or crypt for you ashes, and on and on and on. I don't have any of that and won't unless I buy a lottery ticket and win.

And then along came Hurricane Sandy and the devastation and misery left behind.

NJ after Hurricane Sandy
I thought of how I was worried about paying the mortgage on a house that's too big for me and then thought of the people whose homes had been destroyed in the storm. I thought of how I've been on a tight budget, procrastinating on buying a new pair of sneakers, not because I don't have the money now, but because I'm trying not to spend more than I earn. While people lived in the cold and dark without electricity for two weeks, ran out of food and gasoline, lost everything they owned.

I decided that I had to donate to the Red Cross to help. And I thought of how I'd been looking at life from the produce model. I keep thinking about the scarcity, rather than the abundance. Compared to so many who had lost so much, I am rich beyond measure. And I remembered how, when I made the big bucks back in Boston and New York, the more I gave away, the more I seemed to have.

I haven't felt that way recently. I also haven't been giving much away. It seems that, since I lost my job in Boston (and another one here in Arizona), I've been pulling back. Yes, my income has decreased each time and I'm worried about retirement, but, like I said, I have a lot more than many people in this country do. Have my boundaries become too rigid? Have I been living under the produce theory of life?

Border Between Nogales, AZ and Nogales, Mexico
Which started me thinking about illegal immigrants. It's a topic I've done a lot of thinking on since moving to Arizona. I've written before about the number of illegal border crossers who come through the Tucson Sector before. I've written about the drugs and the violence. It's all true. It is illegal for them to come here without the proper procedures. It's illegal for them to work on the farms and cleaning houses and all the other jobs they do. It isn't fair that they use our emergency rooms for medical care that we, the taxpayers, pay for.

But I don't think Jesus believed in the produce theory of life. After all, He fed 5,000 on a few loaves and fishes and there was plenty left over. So, as a Christian, shouldn't I try to do the same? What would happen if I started worrying less about obeying the letter of the law and more about welcoming those who have come here looking for a better life? What if I stopped being angry at the fact that they're sending money to relatives still in Mexico, taking it away from this country, and started rejoicing that they are helping other people, family, to feed and clothe themselves? Would a huge crime wave start if we stopped trying to keep people out and worked harder at letting them in?

I don't know. I'm still wrestling with this one. I just know that I've seen life in a different perspective this week and am trying it on for size.

Picture Credits: 
Vegetables: Image ID: 10042218 by  kratuanoiy via
Hurricane Sandy: U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen
Mexican-American Border at Nogales: Sgt. 1st Class Gordon Hyde

1 comment

Carla King said...

Hi Elise!

We know each from the Guppies email list. I really enjoyed reading this blog post and can relate in my own way. Thank you for writing something so eye opening and important.

Happy Thanksgiving,

Carla :o)

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