This one is mostly about minimalism, both for your mental health and for your life…
Before reading this post, you should read the original post from 2014, at least on this website.:
My favorite cousin and a friend conspired to make me this etch-a-sketch rendition of my grandparent’s porch. It was a beautiful and creative piece of work, one which I loved. Such personalized gifts are rare indeed in this life.
It was destroyed in a fit of anger. Not by me, of course. That I would dare to write about it might trigger a couple of people. It’s my tarnished truth to share.
The strange thing is this: I’m different than most people. A memory of a thing is just as precious as the ‘thing’ itself. The destruction of this beautiful gift only amplified the memory. That someone let anger gain so much control of them is unfortunate; they were possessed by the demon of a lesser god. I didn’t feel anger when I saw that someone had destroyed it. I felt only disappointment. It’s a reminder that anger is relative and that its justification is a sign of a larger problem. No matter what someone has done, it is very hard for me to imagine letting myself destroy something so personal and precious to spite another person. Or let someone else do so. Even if I deserved it or – or even if they do. Anger is the worst filter for reason. It justifies everything in its wake. It is one of the slippery slopes of life. I watched as my parents and a few other family members allowed that to consume them.
Regardless, the loss of this reminded me that everything is transitory. We don’t really own anything, no matter how many decades we clutch them close. It will also be lost, destroyed, or left behind when we depart this world.
All of it.
No eternal monuments can or ever will be erected because the Earth itself is limited by the laws of physics.
I still have the picture of the shadow box and etch-a-sketch.
Until recently, after a couple of near losses, I still had the rusty nail. It grew to become my most prized keepsake and possession.
Now, I have a picture of it.
I have passed it along to someone who might appreciate the depth of my giving it away. I placed it inside a collectible silver cigarette case, one which was salvaged and saved from the wreckage and the remains of another life. A cigarette case in itself has meaning to the person who is receiving the nail.
I did the same with my hand-transcribed copy of Ecclesiastes and a couple of other of my remaining treasures.
I don’t plan on departing soon. That itself is part of the lesson. I will one day, perhaps tomorrow. All the things that I find to be precious will be treasured no more. None of my precious things were valuable per se. Their worth only exists because I see it and experience it.
I’m passing along the rusty nail to my sister Marsha. She’s had a rough life. Even if she doesn’t treasure the nail and its anchor into my memory the same way that I did and do, I will release it into the world for it to find new appreciation or not.
I have this picture of the nail, one I will treasure. It’s not the nail. But the nail itself wasn’t the experience I shared when grandpa and my uncles put the porch swing up.
I hope she understands that it truly represents everything in myself that I find to be worthy.
Grandpa was an incredibly hard man when he was younger. I didn’t know him when he was full of piss and vinegar. And alcohol and violence.
It’s just a nail.
It will soon be in the hands of my sister Marsha.
I’m just a man.
But everything is so much more than the simple sum of us.
I don’t want to preach the idea of minimalism and appreciation for moments and people and fail to live it.
It’s all an illusion. Things are not us.
We need each other more than we will ever need a house filled with gadgets and keepsakes.
P.S. My wife who died, Deanne, years ago while I was working one Saturday, she decided to clean. Though the nail was in a special box, she threw it away. I had to empty the dumpster for an entire apartment complex to find it. That too became part of the long story of “the nail.”
With a couple of exceptions, I now only own 3 books. I recently passed on my favorite to someone who might discover something new, even though the words, though translated, are ancient. I don’t know how many books I’ve obtained, only to pass them on to someone else. If I do that, you should know that I found it to be meaningful and want someone to have that same feeling.
Books are worlds. Anyone who disagrees isn’t a bibliophile. I am. You wouldn’t know it by the number of books I own. Having beloved books is certainly a comfort. “I’ll grab one and re-read it,” so many say. For the most part, we don’t follow through. Life is too fast, there are too many distractions, and who has that kind of time? We all do. We just rarely make it. Also, there are so many great books being written, especially by first-time authors. If I miss a book and want to drown in it again, I will find a copy at the library or in one of the new or used bookstores here in NWA.
I love the sight of a mass of books, especially if they are haphazardly placed. This usually means the owner’s fingers often pluck them from their respective perches and read them. The same is true for worn pages, coffee stains, or signs of wear. Books are like us, wrinkles and aged experience. Their contents don’t change, but how we behold them when we take the time to read them certainly does. It’s amazing how many times I’ve reread something only to find that I have changed even though the letters I’m reading have not.
Books aren’t possessions, though we treat them as such. They are like cats, beholden to no one. They are also like cherished photos, ones that sit in closets or under beds, sealed away for safekeeping; they’d rather be seen and touched and remembered for what they are. Time will desiccate the living hands who neglect them.
They are old friends. Though unvisited, they wait for us, timeless and frozen in amber.
This post isn’t for you. You know who are, favorite DNA person. 🙂
Most of us live in our private nests.
Pretty much everyone feels like they need to clean more, reduce more, and spend more time in the bureaucracy of keeping their nest aligned with an arbitrary level of cleanliness. That’s okay, too. Each minute spent to do so should not be at the expense of your moments, your friends, your family – but more so, at the cost of your mental well-being. Time spent concerned about how your nest looks is time not spent being creative or enjoying even simple pleasures. You become too focused on the “ought to and obligation” of keeping your nest perfect.
Stacks of mail in the kitchen, dust everywhere it can be. Clothes to be washed, clothes to be put away, clothes that don’t fit inside the closet, dressers, and on the floor. Books to be read, magazines you will never read. You don’t have a crazy drawer, you have an entire crazy room, garage, or storage space filled with miscellaneous everything. Most of us do. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there! People keep their nests largely unhidden, so we wrongly assume they don’t have the same problem as we do.
You can’t triage the physical space. Look around. For the most part, whatever condition your house is in right now, it’s probably the default. That might bother you to accept. It shouldn’t. You can fight an agonizing fight to spend a lot of time and energy temporarily fixing your space, or you can yield and do the best you can and let it go at that. Homes and nests are meant to be lived in, and you will always have to make choices to keep it pristine or lived in. You can’t have both without wasting a lot of your now moments.
The same is true about your job, your diet, your vices, and your mind.
Each person’s best is variable, fluid, and often contradictory. And that is okay.
If you have precious things, keep those that are tied to defining moments and memories in your life. The rest? Sell what you can to have the things that add value to your life.
Donate, discard, disown.
We hoard and clutter partly because it makes us feel like our place is a home, a nest, and our place to be. But we also do it because we don’t see the arc of time getting shorter and shorter.
For a later day, I might need it, it’s valuable; these are all valid reasons to keep things. But it is not things that matter. Not if you don’t use them regularly, not if they don’t light you up, or if they fail to make your life fuller and more satisfying.
“Treasures that aren’t treasured, admired, or used aren’t treasures at all. They are anchors, ones that keep up from enjoying the here and now and the people in our orbit.” – X
Out of sound, out of mind, trinkets, and treasures stored for no witness or participant.
Things are to be used or admired. Everything else? It not only clutters your nest, it clutters your mind.
Simplicity is the toughest goal. It requires herculean effort to overcome the urge to keep, to store, to accumulate.
As someone smart once told me, “Ain’t nothing you got that can’t be taken except for your peace of mind. This world honors nothing with permanence.”
“When you close your eyes to sleep it doesn’t matter how big your bedroom is.”
Wisdom from the internet.
It really doesn’t matter how big your house is, either, if you are not happy. Having all the things you need should result in all of us being content and satisfied, but not necessarily happy. If your life is flooded with things but not satisfaction, no amount of clutter or creature comforts will fill your heart with gladness. But we try. Me too.
I try to not imagine how happy the people are, the ones around me. But I do. We’re supposed to make such judgments based on how people act rather than what they say. Words are often glib, camouflaged, or misdirected. It’s not in most people’s nature to honestly communicate. Some of that is from social politeness. If we’re not baring ourselves to those who matter, though, a big chunk of our potential is drained away. People make assumptions, right or wrong about themselves based on how well they think their cohort is doing. Being honest gives them a benchmark to compare. Lords knows that social media isn’t an accurate reflection for most people. Thank you to everyone who has shared something about themselves with me. It is a comfort, even as I sit in my living bedroom, looking out the front windows, watching the world drive by.
“When consequences come knocking, intentions ring hollow.” – X
Each of us has a personal narrative in our heads, one in which events seem linear and inevitable. We impose meaning and logic on the process of our lives. The truth is often that we are fooling ourselves. Examining our decisions and what we’ve done, it is obvious that we must conclude that we’re likely clueless about what pulls our levers.
I’m 54 and found myself shocked and surprised by some of the things I didn’t know about myself. I’m fortunate, even though I broke things getting to some of the conclusions. A lot of people around me didn’t survive the discovery process of seeing just how badly (or well) they could do things. Even as I grimace in recognition of some of the consequences I’ve caused, I try to remind myself that at least I’m alive long enough to do them. Getting older usually brings that pang of “What was I thinking?” while also shouting “You can’t change the past.” I think that’s why most of us go deaf when we get older. We’ve heard it all before and often at high volume.
An example of a harsh reminder? These fourteen $1 bills, each signifying a year that I was around for Xmas after my wife Deanne died – and when my ex-wife found me again. Talk about the long game! The first year, I saved a dollar bill and told my ex-wife, “Each year, we’ll sign another one, along with the year.” The first yuletide, it was a lonely dollar hanging like a wreath. By last year, it was fourteen. Honestly, even though it was my creative idea, I think it was sublimely fabulous.
That’s how you build a life – one little increment at a time, errors and right choices mixed unequally.
And then, consequences.
I took the dollar wreath with me when I jettisoned into another life. It’s a poignant reminder to find ways to celebrate life, in small ways and large. The last year proved to me that it is possible to be successful and a failure simultaneously. My intentions to find a better way to finish my life also led me to stumble into an alternate timeline, one I hadn’t anticipated. Against the backdrop of what could have been, it is a jab. But it is also an admission that I’m sometimes stupid and incapable.
It’s a little ironic that money, dollar bills, were what I chose to mark the passage of shared time. Money is the illusion that powers so much of what we do, even though we all know that everything that lights us up is intangible and invisible.
Though I’m not sure why I wrote this post, I know someone will find value in the idea. Odds are that someone reading this has a surprising year ahead of them, one they couldn’t predict. They’ll think that they have a handle on their choices.
Life will of course notice them and roll a boulder down the hill for them to remind them that most of this isn’t predictable. If you’re lucky, you will find value in the breaking. That’s your only choice, anyway. Things ARE going to break in a long arc of surprises. Most of us are lucky enough to not have it all break consecutively; we have time between to consider and reassess.
Though I claim not to believe in karma, I also tip each time I buy lottery tickets. It’s brought me a lot of stories and surprises, so in that sense, it has already paid off. It’s a pain to hoard this wreath and it’s also a pain to let it go. But I am a minimalist and know that all these things will soon enough be left behind by me. In an optimistic nod to the universe, I’m going to put these dollars back into circulation by buying lottery tickets. If I win, my promise still stands: I will use almost all the money to surprise other people. And if I don’t win, I am left with the optimism that I could have. It tickles me to think that these dollars will be in circulation, traveling in potentially infinite directions.
Intentions do matter, but we live with consequences.
Don’t read this post and forget that, at its heart, it is optimistic. I don’t understand people who can’t hold the disparate ideas of joy and wistful loss in their hearts, entwined like twin siblings.
I’m writing this after a blissful night of sleep, something that wasn’t always easy for me. And, in theory, I could be a millionaire. 🙂
It’s about 4 a.m. so I have to answer the call of the wanderer. Maybe you’ll see me out on the streets, in the unlikely event you’re wandering, too?
I couldn’t bring myself to occupy either of the two bedrooms in my apartment. Being both weird and practical, I put the bedroom furniture in the living room. It says “living” right in the name of the room, right? “I might regret this later,” I thought, but simultaneously realized that such a thought might well be universally applied to anyone’s entire life. For anyone who doesn’t know, I sleep with a comforter – no sheet. And even though it causes consternation in the heads of my uptight ( 🙂 ) friends, I will not be ‘making’ my bed daily. Part of the reason for that is that my comforter is for a long twin bed rather than for my pillow-top queen, so even if I wanted to ‘make’ the bed, the comforter won’t cover more than 50% of it anyway. Note: another advantage of using smaller or narrower comforters is that they are much easier to keep clean and don’t overload the washing machine.
You can see my new backward clock in the upper right of the picture, marking its time contrarily and much too quickly. The two young movers who helped me yesterday were tickled by the backward clock, as well as some of my crazy art – and especially my hybrid Jesus/Zach Galifianakis picture.
My apartment has a great view of the busy street about fifty yards away. Beyond that, the traffic light and the railroad tracks. The building I’m in is a large “L,” and I’m in the inside upper corner of the nexus. I put my desk right in front of the large window. It’s too much sun but the view connects me to the world – and I need that right now.
Gregg is a busy street. Though I love the sound of a train, I will have to give the railroad a grace period, one in which I grow accustomed to the blare of the horn as it traverses this side of Fayetteville. The excursion trains run through on their assigned schedule. If I’m outside or walking, I can’t resist waving to the passengers. Truth be told, I’m gregarious with the neighbors, too, and for many of them, they are not accustomed to someone being so friendly.
I already put a hanging crystal outside, as well as a solar lantern I had painted. But no matter how I decorate this new place, I promised myself that I would stop thinking about my environment so critically. I’ve always lived inside my head in a way that others don’t seem to. Minimalists are supposed to appreciate the opportunity to acknowledge how transient all ‘this’ is and live accordingly. This is an older apartment building and it shows. The same can be said for me, even though I managed to rejuvenate my life and health a bit over the last year.
Starting over with very little has once again put my head into that space where I’d like to be aware of everything I add back into my life. Every single thing occupies space, requires care and cleaning, and makes our lives less portable.
I’m sitting in the office chair now, looking out the windows, listening to both birds and traffic. I am humbled that I made it to this point.
I don’t use shampoo or conditioner.
On my hair, I mean.
I’ve kept my hair very short for almost all of my adult life. That helps. I don’t have bad hair days as a result. “Bad face” days, perhaps.
I don’t use body wash, either, before you ask.
I despise lotion on my skin, though I will relent and use it a bit in exceptional circumstances. Not “Silence of The Lambs” scenarios, though. I’m eccentric but not crazy. Okay, I’m crazy but not a lunatic. Yet.
I even shave with regular bar soap and use no additional aftershaves, colognes, or other similar things.
I use cheap disposable razors. And not because they are cheap, but because now that I’m accustomed to them, the alleged ‘nicer’ ones cut me like Sarah Silverman at a roast. I keep some sort of beard mostly because I’m lazy. I shave my neck between 1-2 times a week.
Some of the above serve as a reminder that I’m a minimalist at heart.
I use antiperspirant and deodorant, of course, because I’d like to delay excessive body odor as much as possible. If I become more antisocial, I can always stop. That last part is supposed to be funny.
Having said that, I’ve discovered that a particular brand of fiber gummies gives me an INCREDIBLE amount of gas. I consumed a bottle of it a few months ago and attributed it to my healthier diet. This second round confirms my old suspicions: it’s definitely the fiber pills. My physical job helps disguise the aromatic and sonic symptoms. Mostly. My apologies to anyone paying the price of my gastrointestinal choices. Also, yes, I am aware that there are differences between types of fiber, as well as soluble and insoluble. It’s just this particular brand packs a wallop! I’m not mentioning it by name because I don’t want the trolls to pounce on me more than usual.
Sidenote: I’m amazed at how many people don’t eat enough fiber. It seems like something that only old people are concerned about, but probably should be on everyone’s radar. The joke is that it is largely to prevent constipation, but dietary fiber does so many other healthy things for your body.
For people interested in such things, you should search for “glucomannan” on the internet. I don’t have an opinion about it. I’m not supposed to say that, but I don’t. Several people have written to me to insist that I try it. I haven’t simply because I didn’t need anything other than healthy fiber – and I wanted to avoid supplements that I couldn’t sustain for the rest of my life.
It’s fun watching and reading people’s commentary and arguments for or against supplements, trends, diets, and health.
A few days ago, a TikToker commented on a health and fitness video, calling him an idiot. “Blah, blah, blah. Diets don’t work,” the commenter said, among other things. The poster replied, “Diets don’t work – and judging by your appearance, you don’t either.” Oof, that was harsh. Another commenter replied, “Diets don’t work. But neither doesn’t being unhappy or unhealthy. At least it is an effort, even if only 1 in 20 succeed.” I generally avoid perusing the comments. I’d rather have people post their own opinions and put themselves up for criticism and scrutiny. (Most won’t of course, in the same way that people won’t write anything themselves but will hold other’s feet to the fire when they choose to.)
Stay simple and stay healthy out there, whatever that means to each of you.
That includes your mental health, too, even if the circumstances you find yourself in are your fault.
“Tomorrow is promised to no one.”
― Clint Eastwood
My 24″ X 30″ custom Clint Eastwood painting found a new home today. Into the hands of a new father, his second child having arrived in the last couple of days.
Previously, he commented on it. I don’t remember whether he loved it, or thought that his dad might. I get my stories mixed up because I worked as an intermediary to get another version of this done for the dad of a friend of mine.
“They say all marriages are made in heaven, but so are thunder and lightning.”
― Clint Eastwood
It is a thing I do. I give away my favorite paintings. Sometimes I replace them. Sometimes, I take a stab at reinterpreting it with a replacement I make myself. The latter is the course I chose after gifting my sixth or seventh Doc Holliday painting. The version I created gave a new wrinkle to my story about the painting. The orange-toned one in the picture of this post is no longer mine, either.
Here’s one of my favorite Eastwood lines, one which probably should be emblazoned across people’s arms:
“Let’s not go and ruin it by thinking too much.”
― Clint Eastwood
Also, other times, I give them away without regard to how much I love the item. Everything is impermanent. Finding a new appreciative eye to enjoy something, even something I’ve not tired of, is a sublime pleasure. I have my memory of it, my story. And that story, once remembered, grows lengthier by my ability to relinquish it to someone else.
So often, I find myself wanting the story more than the thing itself. Stories can be repeated, shared, and recalled without risk of loss. Those items? Fire, flood, famine, theft, and dust can render them useless. My biography, especially the portion regarding my youth, is particularly suited to remind people that calamity is always on speed dial.
The didactic takeaway is that all of us are impermanent, too.
“If you want a guarantee, buy a toaster.”
― Clint Eastwood
With horror, life made me remember this fundamental lesson anew. It was one I swore I would never again forget. (Which proves our minds are hard-wired toward the easier path of pushing such relentless truths to the background.)
“Sometimes if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.” – Clint Eastwood
“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.
“Truth is written in the dirt.” – X