Category Archives: Minimalism

Truth Is Written In The Dirt

“The bitterness of knowing the truth is that it is impossible to unknow.” The same idea has been expressed in many ways. I see “the truth hurts, but lies are worse” frequently on social media. Like all universal knowledge, it becomes fuzzy and self-referential the more you try to grasp it.

Knowledge changes us, even if we turn the recognition of it away from prying eyes or panic that it will change us. Whatever we are is already essentially invisible, leading us to hold close the changes we can’t share. In part, it explains why people suddenly seem to change; they trapped their truth until it couldn’t be contained. While the catalyst might have exploded in a single moment, the ability to reveal ourselves is frightening.

We learn something, we figure another thing out, or knowledge breaches our defenses. When we compare it to what we knew before, it’s inescapable that we’ve changed too. Whatever malleable ideas make us a person, a new insight either dents us or expands us.

For those of you who don’t know the agony of insight, it often results in paralysis. Whether you understand that something fundamental to you cannot be right or that you’ve spent time furthering people or a life that you didn’t seek, it is at once liberating and confining. If I were a betting man, I would predict that the postcovid world will shatter us as we wonder if our attention wasn’t in the wrong direction. I do hope it continues to break us of our obsession for things.

Some of my insights include the idea that if God exists, he cannot be an interventionist. Unseen dangers fly above and around us and narrowly miss us with ridiculous frequency regardless of who we are or our accomplishments. That youth and health are no more a guarantee of a long life than any other factor. That certainty of the world or myself is the surest sign I am about to reminded that I am ignorant of both. That love is the glue that both expands and contracts.

Of all my insights, I think the one that traps us most might be that we are indoctrinated into the false promise of security by the right choices. It’s possible to make only the right choices and still fail – or be unhappy. It’s a bitter truth. With the finite number of breaths I was given, how could I possibly know what would lead me to a satisfied life? Not one without agony, because such lives are absent.

I find myself inside the pinball machine, bouncing from one reaction to the next – even as the tally of my remaining steps allotted to me fades. Because we’re human, I suspect you also often look out into the world and deeply feel the disparity between who you are and your place in it.

I have no answers. As I’ve aged, I’ve been glad to see that so many people have admitted that they are struggling for meaning and unsure of themselves. Those who seemed to have surety and confidence often are better at distraction or demeanor. A few years ago, I told a graduate that “the secret to life is most of us are winging it.” His dad, though a brilliant man, told me, “He is not ready for that certainty.”

With love comes turmoil. With life, hardness.

As late as yesterday, someone told me to “choose your hard.”

Yet, I dance with paralysis and truth.

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“Truth is written in the dirt.” – X

A Trashy Post

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Early last year, I wrote about our waste management company.  Previous post…

I discovered that many people didn’t know the precise rules about their curbside pickup. For example, they didn’t know the trash company must pick up all the extra bags you pile on the bin – or around it if necessary. My ignorance was compounded by observing neighbors furtively sneak around and put their overflow into other people’s bins.

The people at Waste Management were among those people who weren’t sure how it worked.

After writing to the City of Springdale and following up, the trash company realized that they offer an additional bin for residential use for just $7.50 a month.

They revised their CSR scripts and information to include the new details I had inquired about.

While you might be proud to own a shiny new luxury car, I can think of no greater luxury than having an additional trash bin at the house. Some weeks, there’s not much. Other weeks, you’d swear thirteen people live at the house, people dedicated to depleting all the earth’s resources.

We already get a large bin for weekly trash and a recycle for pickup every two weeks. I’d call it ‘bi-weekly,’ but a lot of people don’t understand if that means twice a week or every other week. I don’t blame them; English is a tortuous language absent much continuity.

To my credit, one recycle bin for us is not enough. It annoys me to need to put recycling in the regular trash bin. It annoys me worse than needing to repeat myself, especially when I’m the idiot that made it necessary.

Just to find out if the reality of having two trash bins matches my fantasy, I called and requested a second bin a couple of weeks ago.

Yes, jealous friends – you read correctly. I now have two trash bins to use.

I’ll be the envy of the neighborhood. Some of my neighbors already act like they don’t understand that the trash goes i-n-s-i-d-e the bin. They’ll pass out in shock when they see me displaying two trash bins and a recycle bin by the curb. No doubt the people working to pick up the bins weekly will not be as happy. My house will not be double the fun.

Now that I’ve done it, I’m wondering what it would be like to have two recycling bins.

It’s Just a Cup

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Starting with an admission of a bit of my own hypocrisy, I admit I own a very delicate set of teacups and saucers. My friend Jackie, who passed away recently, was the troublemaker who gave them to me. Since getting the surprise gifts of specialized china, I started using one cup as a coffee cup almost immediately. It alternates with my green Grandpa cup as my cup of choice. It looks alien in my hand.
 
 
On a very recent afternoon, I made a dish that reminded me to use a packet of special lemon and spice seasoning, a flavor bend I tried the first time thanks to Jackie. She was a talented cook. We shared a lot of ideas regarding things culinary. While my ideas were almost exclusively adventurous or weird, Jackie’s were rooted in decades of trial and error. Because I felt a bit of Jackie’s inspiration in me that afternoon, I used two of the saucers to serve pieces of baked chicken on. I think Dawn thought I was a little crazy, even though she knows I loathe the idea of china and of owning things that don’t provide beauty and utility. Hoarding allegedly expensive dishes that are seldom used doesn’t strike me as appealing logic.
 
I’m constantly joking that we should take such dishes outside and use them for skeet shooting. Honestly – I’m not joking. “All dishes are disposable if you’re so inclined.”
 
 
Jackie bought me the teacup set because of our discussions about tea, coffee, and a few other drinks. It didn’t hurt that I had a huge set of custom cups made especially for her and her husband, using pictures of them. She snorted when I told her the best flavor of tea I’d tried in a long time was called “Gunpowder.” That part isn’t a joke, either. Dawn surprised me with it for Christmas one year.  It was as bitter as a mouthful of salty dirt. It was delicious.
 
 
On another front, I have a family member who hasn’t got the memo about china being almost irrelevant. Her hoarding makes a logical discussion very difficult. As a society, we’ve moved away from the idea of preserving china or of storing such dishes in a huge cabinet anywhere in the house. Yet, so many people continue to guard the idea that china is valuable or worth wanting once someone has passed on. Dishes are only valuable to us if there is a memory, moment, or feeling attached to it. Dishes we never use do not find themselves embedded in our nostalgia. Few people want the burden of dishes that shouldn’t be used. As for the family member, most of her dishes had to be discarded a few years after her house became unlivable due to her hoarding. She has a set that she feels to be very valuable. They’re just dishes to those who never used them around a table of friends and family.
 
 
Which brings me back to my hypocrisy.
 
A couple of years ago, I researched to discover what kind of coffee cup was part of my earliest (and most loved) memories with my Grandpa Cook. He served me coffee as if it were no special thing. Even though the cup I bought is not the same cup my Grandpa handed me when I was four years old, it serves as a placeholder. It’s precious to me, like the blue one my cousin sent me, the one holding the razor my Grandpa himself used.
 
The same is true for the teacup I use from Jackie.
 
The teacup is a reminder of friendship, interest, and even of the loss that inevitably befalls us. I’ll accidentally break each of these cups. I have no doubt. My fingers will become more infirm, and my grip more loose. They’ll perish in individual piles of broken china. I won’t mourn them, though. They will have brought back Jackie to me, in small doses, on quiet, somber fall evenings, and during sunlit summer mornings. I don’t resist the recognition of entropy as it works its necessary magic on me and the world.
 
 
Everything that falls between, all the finite minutes, are the real treasure.

“I Might Need It One Day”

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I recently purged a mass of digital craziness from my life. Much of it was a collection of things which reached across the span of years, some of it revolving around angry emails, voicemails, and snippets of unresolved anger. I deleted over three dozen family trees I’d done for people. (I still retain a few dozen others, though.) I have a new computer and a newly-discovered commitment to use a dumping system that allows me to toss it in a virtual closet if I don’t delete it outright.

Gone were mountains of mp3 audio and snippets from my mom and a couple of other family members. I’ve learned not to accumulate many emails either, but even so, I cleaned the drains in this respect too. It’s strange to read “I’ll slit your throat” in an email, knowing that the person was so angry that he or she didn’t stop to consider consequences. That kind of anger is buried so deeply inside a person that almost nothing can reach it. Being forged in a household requiring blood sacrifice, I can understand it. Echoes of its payment still echo in me at rare moments. It’s impossible for me to explain to some of those whose lives overlapped with my younger years that I look at that sort of behavior with a much different perspective than they do. In every case in which the person is still simmering in hate, he or she has only flourished when those around them allow it, excuse it, or fail to recognize it. I see the stain spreading around them; that sort of hate is a seeping poison which pays dividends for at least two generations.  Keeping a distance from its contamination is sometimes the only means to remain uninfected.

Having a digital history of anger somehow ensures that the infection isn’t entirely gone.

Note: it is likely that someone who was poisoned with the venom of anger when younger never left it behind. Instead, he or she learned the social trappings of concealment. Beware that you don’t wander into the invisible net.

Indeed, you might not know when you’d need such reminders from your past at some unknown future date. ‘Need’ might not the exact word, but it serves its purpose here. Why I might not need an email chain detailing a family member threatening to kill me and my rational response to it is for anyone to guess. It was, nevertheless, difficult to discard. Part of me wanted to keep it just in case similar circumstances flared up again. I could point to it and say, “See? I’m not making this stuff up.” The truth, though, is that having it won’t pull the wool off anyone’s eyes in the future, either, no more than it did having it the first time. Just as facts so often fail to matter, neither does evidence for your apparently unjustified beliefs about other people.

Part of being a minimalist is the attitude of less. If it doesn’t add to your life, subtract it and move on. Over the years I accumulated a folder of work-related detritus, too. Some of it was quite important – and probably still is. But it’s gone now as if a hurricane rolled in from the coastline and ripped it free.

Update: the draft of this post existed since at least three years ago. I didn’t publish it because I didn’t want to sanitize it. I’m publishing it now because some of the things I deleted would be useful now. It’s the excuse of every hoarder: “I might need it.” I did sanitize it, though. Very few of us are free enough to say what we want without regard to content.

Feng Shui, Tableclothcovercloths, and Kondo-Kookiness

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One of the hacks I often see is a fitted sheet over a table to replace a tablecloth.

Note: a ‘hack’ is an ill-advised method to self-delude oneself into believing that you’ve saved yourself time. We’re all going to live to be 117, stuffed inside houses brimming with goofy and astounding assortments of knick-knacks and paddywhacks. First, though, we’ll need to watch 76 shows dedicated to the pursuit of efficient households, followed by 256 hours of Etsy and internet browsing.

Can I point out that a tablecloth itself is a waste? As are placemats – and the herpes of household annoyances, the drink coaster. If we build things to be used ‘as is’ and make them interesting to begin with, we wouldn’t need additional nonsense. I know what you’re thinking; not having them would dramatically reduce our available choices for holiday gifts. Aunt Bernice needs more redundant layers of protection in order to live a normal, mundane existence.

“I wish I had some more tablecloths and coasters” is not something a rational person ever needs to say, along the same lines as, “These wooden slippers are perfect,” or, if you live in Arkansas, “I think I’ll vote for a Democrat.”

I’m still considering inventing the tableclothcovercloth, which of course is a clothcover for the tablecloth, in order to prevent the first tablecloth from being soiled. Look for it soon at Target and Hoarder’s Paradise.

Instead of putting a fitted sheet over a table, use it to capture and bag the ‘lifestyle hacker’ who wants to put it on a perfectly good table. Drive to the nearest peak and toss him/her from the precipice.

Yell, “Use the tablecloth as a parachute!” as they plummet.

It’s important to be helpful.

Happiness And the Flimsy Bath Towel

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Oddly, one of my biggest Christmas surprises this year was a gift that arrived a few days late. My wife Dawn managed to find the most horribly perfect set of bath towels, ones so flimsy that they can be used as Confederate flags of surrender. Naturally, I love them. Unlike normal people, I prefer smaller, non-plush towels. Some people use hand towels bigger than these bath towels. The towels are white with a single blue stripe on them, similar to what you might find at a really bad massage place or in a bathhouse frequented by savages. The towels probably shipped with a little white slip of paper marked, “Failed by Inspector 456.”

Years ago, I used a similar set until they were so threadbare that you could play tic-tac-toe in the threads. I had visited Tulsa, staying at a Ramada Inn near downtown. After showering, I was amazed at how small and flimsy the towels were. Naturally, I wanted a bunch of them, no matter what the cost. The housekeeper had left her cart down the hall and I took a stack of them. I left an outrageous amount of money on her cart, to let her know that they were in payment for the towels I had no intention of returning – or a tip for her. Later that afternoon, as we passed in the hallway, she smiled a huge and knowing smile at me. I just nodded, a happy co-conspirator. I’ve forgotten almost everything about that trip to Tulsa except for the handsome set of hotel towels. I’ll also bet that the housekeeper in question remembers the crazy hotel guest who paid her $50 over cost for the worst towels ever made.

Once those towels turned into loose threads, I’d catch myself asking at places like Target, “Do you have anything THINNER?” The clerks invariably looked at me like my cheese had slid from my cracker. “Uh…no,” they would utter. I’d reply, “These are too plush and comfortably large. Anything smaller?” These conversations tended to go badly, as the average person thinks towels are supposed to be as plush as bed comforters and fit four per dryer load. Over the years, I gave up hope of ever finding a suitable set of replacements. I forced myself to use good towels, even as I cursed the universe for my first world problem.

I threw in the towel, in other words.

I won’t bore you with arguments regarding ease of use, storage, cleaning, or laundry bulk. The truth is I don’t care about any of the utilitarian arguments in favor of using smaller, thinner towels. I just like them, like burned toast or popcorn, or dry fruitcake.

My wife Dawn solved my problem, though. This new set of towels is so perfectly thin and small that I shall delight in their use. As you foolishly use the equivalent of your grandmother’s quilt after your shower, I’ll be laughing and enjoying the worst towels in human history.

The picture is of all 6 of them, stacked no higher than a plate of Waffle House pancakes. It’s a thing of beauty, isn’t it?

Most of you will look back and remember your new television or instapot. Not me. I’ll be nostalgic for this beautiful stack of horrid towels, the ones which made me instantly happy.

I think I need another dozen of them, though, just to be safe.

Proper Table Arrangement Is Just Grilled Octopus

 

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A friend wrote me, asking if I’d write an outline of a column for him. As I always do, I asked him if there was a word limit. I never get writer’s block, no matter how often my friends and family pray that I might experience a prolonged bout of it.

“Wouldn’t you rather know the topic?” he asked, evidently forgetting that decorum is a just a fancy Latin word denoting “silly things bored people do.”

I emailed back, saying, “No, I just want to be able to say a lot of extraneous things, and preferably with a smirk while I do.” Being this sort of Rainman with words is what makes me so competent when commenting on politics, even if I must interrupt the pastor’s sermon in order to do so.

My friend replied to let me know the topic: “How to Properly Set a Table.”

I took a day to consider my opinion. As you probably know, that’s not true. My fingers were typing before I even realized it.


The first thing you need to consider when properly setting a table is whether human beings will be dining there. Second, are said potential diners from states where terms such as ‘uncle-brother’ can be used without explanation? Fourth, it’s important to enumerate things correctly, as evidenced by this sentence.

It’s important that you read the correct etiquette books, or watch videos on one of the popular websites dedicated to the nuances of snobbery. Take notes regarding placemat orientation, utensil quantity and alignment, and spacing. Consult several sources and note the areas wherein they disagree.

Next, rip up the notes you took and snort derisively to yourself. Throw away your placemats, which are diabolically related to their evil cousin, the coaster. Your table isn’t constructed of compressed silk. The best expert is experience and usage, not someone blathering on even more than I do.

The best way to set a table properly is to do it in whatever arrangement you wish to, especially one geared to your individual table, chairs, dishes, and personal whim. If you prefer everything off-center, mismatched and placed, don’t look to someone who finds this sort of thing to be important. Simply give yourself permission to ignore all baseless social rules as you see fit.

All etiquette is imagined. It’s also geared toward the insistence of mastery and expertise. The type of person who cringes when the cutlery is misplaced needs to be forced to dig a ditch in Alaska. They’re the same people who erroneously think that grammar is ordained by direct order from the heavens to them. In short, they are joy vacuums. If a family member criticizes your table, take time to make their next visit cause them to have a seizure as they clutch their pearls.

“But a properly set table is so beautiful!” some will insist. It’s true, it might be a beautiful table. But it’s equally true being free of people who insist on this sort of correctness will make your life beautiful. Everyone should learn how to set a table more or less to general expectations. Like everything else, though, perfectionism in this realm is a symptom of a disease that’s difficult to diagnose but easy to recognize when it starts.

Social dining should always be geared toward the gathering of people sharing in food, presence, and conversation. All else is vanity and immaterial to enjoying life.

All of us are distinct spirits. Aesthetics is an arbitrary and subjective concept. If you want to place a pile of silverware in the middle of the table, surrounded by 13 different sets of dishes, revel in your choice.

You should take a moment and wonder how many times in my life I have deliberately rearranged a ‘properly’ placed table. It never fails to amuse, even if the Vatican frowned upon my efforts. I’ve been known to ADD utensils from my own collection, hoping that someone loses his or her mind over it once they notice. The cheap utensils from Dollar General yield the best screams. (Note: Dollar General isn’t paying me to mention them, although I will accept any reward they offer.)

I used a picture of grilled octopus as a counterpunch to my words. That we live in a world where deranged people think that serving grilled octopus is acceptable yet throw their silverware across the room when placed a millimeter out of reach is an argument in my favor.

In response to my friend’s request to answer the question, “How To Properly Set a Table”: It’s a trick question. Only your answer counts. You just didn’t know it. Until now. You’re welcome, friends.

YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”