“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’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.”
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.
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 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.