Impasse For Minimalists

“…Less stuff = less stress. The fewer possessions you have, the less you need to worry about maintaining, repairing, insuring, protecting, and paying for them…”

I understand that minimalism isn’t just about getting rid of stuff just to be getting rid of it. That’s just reduction.

Minimalism is the focus on removing unwanted or dumb distractions from our lives and constantly considering whether stuff is adding or detracting from our lives. Stuff is not harmless, as most people lull themselves into believing.

If you watch Hoarders, you know that almost all sufferers of hoarding believe that their stuff somehow insulates them from the world and captures the essence of their lives and/or the people who’ve been in it, and that this essence will survive forever. As we all intellectually know, this is just plain crazy talk. Even if our piles of stuff live with us 56 years, it will immediately lose relevance once we are gone. Most of it will go to the trash.

Or fire, floor and disaster will remove it and us from the face of the earth.

The tough part of the journey is when you have reduced across all levels of your life – and still need to go further. Much of the resistance is inside us, while some of it resides with our family sharing our lives.

The Roebke Rule (Real-Time Accountability)

Over the years, I’ve been adamant about requiring accountability as soon as expedient. Don’t try to discipline me for something that happened a month ago – or last week. If it bothers you as a friend, co-worker or family member, bring it up. Most organizations have systems to address wrong-doing; people are paid to enforce standards of performance and behavior. Failure to promptly address wrongs only serve to endorse the behavior. (Justice delayed isn’t justice.)

Just as you don’t hit your dog with a newspaper for peeing on the carpet last week, I can’t stand it when someone is being held accountable for things that should have been addressed in the past. One’s memory of details fades quickly, especially in regards to trivial matters. If an issue isn’t addresses as important, it gets filed under “trivial” without consideration. Historically, societies have reached a general consensus as to what time frames are acceptable for coming forward. People’s memories are untrustworthy under ideal circumstances; memories tainted by personal dislike, individual agendas and simple time lapses can cause avoidable harm to everyone involved. We must also come to terms with the fact that many people lie frequently, for a multitude of reasons.

The “Roebke Rule” is the official name I added to this sentiment. While I’ve quoted this rule for years, I first put it in a blog in 2011.

You must bring up the alleged deviation, crime or injustice as soon as convenient. If it is important, you will use the myriad methods of discussion at your disposal to bring it up. You cannot wait until you are on the hot seat to shift the blame to someone else. If you didn’t bring it up at the time it happened, it’s problematic at best to dredge it out later.

I can’t tell you how many times in my life I’ve wanted to shake someone’s eyeballs out of their head for violating the Roebke Rule. When someone gets called on the carpet to be held accountable, one of the tried-and-true responses is to point the finger at someone else as a distraction.

It is such a pleasure to repeat this frequently and then observe the next person on the hot seat as he/she realizes that he/she can’t get by with trying to dredge up the past.

Further, when an alleged miscreant claims that he can’t trust those to whom he might have reported another person’s misdeeds to, I always invoke a list of alternate people with which they could have spoken. If they insist that no one was trustworthy, I point out that perhaps either they have an unhealthy cynicism toward their superiors OR they might not be in the right place. If someone has mistreated you, find a means to hit the aggressor in the face. We can’t sustain a society in which no one can be trusted with reports of misbehavior. It’s an unsustainable complaint when taken to its logical conclusion.

The Roebke Rule name originates from a supervisor I knew. As you can guess, his downfall was due to total disregard for the rule named on his behalf. He was held accountable for things that should have been addressed before, by people who already knew it was going on. A witch hunt ensued after-the-fact. People who demonstrated no interest in the subject came out of the woodwork once it seemed as if the powers-that-be had a scapegoat to pin much of their issues on. Those who should have taken their duty to protect everyone seriously failed to do their jobs. Please note that I’m not even addressing whether all the allegations were true or not – just that people knew at the time of the transgressions and fell silent, even those who would not have suffered any ill effects for speaking up, talking or taking action. This is doubly true for the supervisor’s superiors, people with the power to address issues without fear or reprisal.

Sidenote: This is another reason why anonymous surveys or critiques can be such a huge waste and cause harm to people and organizations. We must provide outlets for commentary without reprisal. Serious allegations, however, need a different method for resolution. Each of us must find a way to come forward when we witness or experience undesirable behavior. We also need to support people’s ability to do so.

 

P.S. Please note that issues such as sexual harassment can be much more complex than meets the eye. As with all generalizations, please avoid stretching this rule to encompass all possible scenarios. We must create a better system to address wrong-doing in our society. I know that there is an cyclical emphasis on these issues, however. I’m not unilaterally judging people who are mistreated by those with power. Those are shoes I can’t fairly wear. Each person and situation is unique. I cringe when I hear of people who knew of a sociopath or predator 5, 10 or 20 years before the perpetrator is exposed.

 

 

*Originally posted Feb, 2011…

If You Die Today, Imagine For A Moment Where Every Single Thing Must Go

This idea makes minimalism all the more attractive, doesn’t it?

It’s one thing to imagine leaving your stuff to a specific friend or loved one, knowing in general where it might land once you’re gone.

It’s another to think so long about this and to conclude that almost all of it is going in the trash. Not donated, not relegated to someone who can make use of it – but in the landfill.

Granted, much of your stuff won’t immediately go to the trash because people feel mostly guilty about doing that. It will go in boxes or in a pile in someone’s garage, attic, or storage. After a respectable time being piled up, it will be noticeably in the way and discarded.

It’s useful to note that much of it won’t be used because it duplicates what your friends and loved ones already have. Everything else, though, most of what you think is important, is simply toast waiting to be burned.

06052012 Better Way to Give Gift Cards

Gift cards can be great presents for friends or family. They can be bought specifically to cater to the tastes of the recipient.

One aspect that everybody overlooks is how simple they are to wrap. Most people do the most boring option possible: they use the included little envelope or put the gift card in another simple envelope.

How about a more interesting and creative option?

One of my favorite ways to wrap a gift card involves pictures. Whether I use colored paper or black and white photos, I print off anywhere from 10 to 50 pictures, ranging in size from very small all the way through 5X7 and 8X10. Printing on colored paper but yet using black and white images is the easiest method. I place the gift card flat and create “layers” by wrapping the card with one of the smaller images. I carefully tape the first picture around the card and then flip it. I then put the second picture over the card. To add stability, sometimes I use increasingly larger envelopes. It makes unwrapping the gift card even more interesting. I continue to layer pictures one at a time, flipping the card/envelope stack as I go.

There have been times when I have layered 50+ images to the gift card! I’ve never had someone getting a gift wrapped like this not be totally excited by the process. Yes, they will often joke and laugh, but as each picture comes off the stack, they will look at the picture and talk about the memory of the image on it. Many times, my “ordinary” gift card becomes the one gift people will remember years later, even if they don’t remember any of the other gifts given, or the amount of the gift card.

Warning: this method I’m describing is VERY time consuming. But if it true that it’s the thought that counts, it shouldn’t be too difficult for you to spend some time wrapping a card like this, as it shows a commitment to the surprise. (Either that, or that you are crazy for spending so much time wrapping something.)

Above is an example of the resulting mess, about 10 minutes and 50 pictures later, she finally got to the center of the gift. 🙂

The left half of the picture above is someone holding one these “layered gift card” surprises before opening it. The right half is a picture of it after I finished it. The finished picture shows another detail that I sometimes do: I take little contact pictures and affix them to colored slivers of paper, which I attach to the main envelope with the gift card. Again, this takes a while, but it is fun watching a person get one of these gifts, especially a kid. Sometimes, they get frustrated at having to peel their present like an onion, but it always pays off for them at the end. (I’ve had kids almost refuse to tear into the gift cards wrapped this way because they are fascinated by how it looks when it’s not opened.)

A September Saturday in 1991 When A Plane Crashed On Me

Below is the basic accident information.  I spent quite a while figuring this out after being unable to locate the newspaper archives or links.

sdfsdfdfsdNTSB snippet

On a Saturday back in September,1991, I skipped work for the first time while working at Cargill. My supervisor at the time had decided that I couldn’t use any time off, even though miscreants all around me were getting days off without notice. I called in “sick,” as technically I was sick of my supervisor’s nonsense. After taking a long walk, drinking a river of coffee and reading for a few hours, I went to rent some movies. I don’t know what the other movie was but I’ll never forget renting “Predator 2.” My roommate, the owner of the trailer I lived in, had went on a rare short trip with his son out of town. (That day was  a rare confluence of unusual conditions.)

I had started the movie and put on my headphones. In those days, it was high technology to wire a direct connection from the horrible tvs of the time directly to the headphones and add an extra length of wire. “Predator 2” is a very sound effect-laden movie at the beginning. I might as well have been sitting inside a marching band practice. I hadn’t been watching very long when a sound very much like a diesel 18-wheeler thundered even through my headphones. The first thought that went through my mind was that someone had decided to drive a large truck literally through the trailer park. The trailer seemed to jump a little and vibrate. I pulled the headphones off and couldn’t make sense of the sounds I was actually hearing.

I jumped up and ran the length of the trailer, opening the back door which faced West. Looking up, all I could focus on was a grey-silver jacket, supported by a billowing parachute. I looked down and to the right of the small steps off the trailer and saw a human body. It was somewhat mangled and the head had suffered the worst trauma. The window ac unit above him had heat dissipation metalwork and those ridges were full of flesh and other body matter. I honestly can’t remember how long I stood there in shock. When it registered that a plane had crashed and the pilot lay dead at my feet I’m not sure. But it is the first or second most surreal moment of my life.

It turns out that most of the plane was slightly South of my trailer, a few feet away, mostly propped up by a massive growth of shrubs and short trees. (In an unrelated twist, the spot where the plane stopped is the same location where I endured my other horrific surprise in life, years later.)

I don’t know how I would feel if I were a family member of Joseph Frasca reading this, but in some immeasurable way we were connected by the pilot’s death. Knowing now that he was returning home to his family after being honored with being one of the nation’s premier stunt pilots makes it much worse for me. He was flying back from a U.S. National Aerobatic Contest. He was 34 years old and already considered to be one of the premier pilots of his day. When I researched the incident to write this, I was deeply saddened to know that he had been so young. I hadn’t remembered that fact in any way.

Joseph Frasca was also the son of Rudy Frasca, owner of Frasca International, which builds flight simulators for places all over the world. Joseph’s life would have been one full of adventure and opportunity. Many sources refer to the plane that crashed on Arkansas way back in September, 1991 as ‘experimental.’ Most agree that if Joseph would have simply had his chute connected for safety instead of for comfort, his life would not have needlessly ended. But then I wouldn’t have learned just how common it is for planes or pieces of them to fall from the sky.

The plane falling out of the sky had a profound effect upon me. Despite being raised by tough people and having already learned about the frailty of life, I learned anew the stupidity of thinking that any aspect of life could be “safe.” It had been forced upon me to remember that dangers were constantly at my fingertips, around hidden corners, waiting to pounce like an army of gleeful gremlins. It is difficult to explain to someone else who has never experienced something so bizarrely out of tune with normal life. I used to laugh about the coincidences of playing hooky from work for the first time and being home alone – it was difficult to not make connections between total accident and blind providence.

A couple of days after the plane crash I had eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich from the cafeteria vending machines at work. Coming back from break, it struck me that the color and consistency was very similar to the dead pilot as he laid next to the trailer. Without warning, I projectile vomited in the entryway to one of the huge food coolers. (I felt bad, because I didn’t clean it up.)

Someone associated with the pilot’s insurance sent me to talk to a psychiatrist. Of course, it was more for their peace of mind than mine, even though many who knew me joked “It’s about time” when they heard the news.  But after talking to the shrink for a few minutes, I got up to go to the bathroom. I spewed another geyser of vomit all across her very clean and organized waiting area, along the wall, and even up the wall. It was terrible. The secretary/office person could not have been more surprised. She was seated just a few feet away. Her eyes were incredibly wide. I believe they had to call a professional office cleaner to come deal with my mess. It was a little strange, as I wasn’t one to normally be squeamish or think things like a plane crash would upset me. I had no other symptoms whatsoever, and my mind wasn’t consumed by thoughts of the crash.

(In yet another coincidence, it turns out that the psychiatrist I went to for that single visit was the mother of my next door neighbor not too long after. He had heard of the infamous vomiting episode and laughed when I told him I was the person responsible. I think the volume of my sickness became an anecdotal legend.)

When an insurance adjuster came to visit with me and Ray, the trailer’s owner, he told me that the pilot had not fastened his leg harness or something along that line. He had been returning to Illinois from Texas from a stunt/flying show where he had just qualified to be on the US flight team. It turned out to be common for pilots to do this. A freak mechanical issue affected the plane. It was probably a very quick fall. His body cracked the middle of the trailer when he hit. I’m surmising that he hit the trailer at a very odd angle, turned and then hit the ac unit the rear window with a great deal of force. His terror was undoubtedly real, but also probably very quick and confusing.  I don’t remember him being so young, looking back.

During my research for this post, I was surprised to find group discussions from 1991 in Illinois. Many pilots wondered why he had abandoned the plane, knowing it was headed for a populated trailer park late in the morning on a Saturday. I had remembered him being thrown out of the plane, but perhaps my memory is weak on this point? It is a point to consider what must have went through his mind as he fell to the ground, knowing that his plane was directly above many unaware people.

It turns out that the insurance company paid for the hours of work I missed, the trailer, everything around it, and even offered to pay for ongoing psychological counseling – and also would have paid for up to a year of lost wages without question had I decided the crash had fried me mentally. The adjusters and insurance companies evidently had seen it all at some point and found it to be cheaper to be generous up front. I used to think that I should have taken a year off to read and relax.

Minutes after the plane crashed, people started appearing out of nowhere. A few FBI personnel were among the first to arrive. I don’t know where they had been working, but they had to have been close. In an hour, the scene was crowded with firemen, police, and reporters and dozens of spectators. Even my Aunt Ardith made an appearance at the edge of the NTSB tape. When I called the local news station, it was difficult to convince them that I lived in the trailer in question, mostly because of my crazy name.

For a while after the plane crash, much of our side of the trailer park didn’t have cable and we couldn’t figure out why. It turns out that the plane had penetrated the ground at one point in the exact location where the main trunk line for the cable service was buried, severing the line totally. I won’t write a novel trying to describe how chaotic it was for the rest of the day.

(In another twist, the ex-girlfriend of someone I had worked with knocked on the back door very late in the day. I couldn’t figure out why she was knocking on my door. I’m sure I had a stupid, incredulous look on my face when I saw her standing there, hand raised to knock on the door again. It turns out she was somehow involved with one of the news people taking  pictures. She, of course, verified to everyone that my name really was “X.”)

When my roommate Ray came home to his trailer later, he could not have been more surprised. My reputation for pulling pranks and being crazy might have made it hard for him to initially believe my story, but the look on his face was a strange evolution of disbelief, shock and then bewilderment. It turns out that he had heard of a plane crash in Johnson on the radio and had joked about the possibility of it being in the trailer park.

Reading the pilot’s biography and looking back into the past from 24 years ago, I see what happened from a much different perspective. A great pilot died that day, probably without necessity. Years of expertise were ignored and a strange series of unexpected surprises left him without any luck to fall back on. And it changed me in some way, forever.

I used to have a biography and a picture of Joseph Frasca. His exact appearance eludes me, but the idea of how young he was is really the only important thing to hold close. Sometimes, as I see little dots floating above me, I wonder about Joseph and our crossed path all those years ago. Now that I live closer to an airport, I think of him more often. I’m pleased to know that his family is doing exceedingly well and that Joseph has an aviation scholarship in his honor.

Meanwhile, too, I know that in distinct places all over the world, those dots are falling from the sky with great frequency, disturbing the lives of those below.

05292013 Live-And-Let-Live Is Usually Not Quite True When People Claim It (Update)

Since I read a lot of blogs, status updates and news feeds, I’ve discovered a trend that I haven’t cleverly given a name to. I’ll work on thinking up something undeniable cool to term this trend.

Since I’m committed to avoiding perfectionism (and it shows!), I’ll explain it as best I can, off the cuff.

Many people purport to live a “live and let live” philosophy wherein they don’t criticize other people, judge them, or talk about what they don’t like. They talk about being optimistic, not judging, and giving people the benefit of the doubt. For many of these folks a cursory examination proves their contention of non-criticism to be untrue. Much of their opinion tends to back-handedly criticize what others believe, what they do, and how they live their lives. They use other sources to be the ones criticizing, saying that they themselves aren’t being critical, just that they fervently agree with those doing the criticizing. The people who seem to fly below your radar and get by without being called out are usually people with a better sense of humor or a lot of personality. Their criticism is ofter over-looked or mistaken for something else.

Really good writers can also clearly spell out their disgust at something or someone without being obvious. And while their criticisms aren’t specifically apparent to everyone, if you are paying attention a trend shines through. It becomes quite clear what irritates them and how their opinions fall.

But – if you use someone else as a source and it is highly critical of another person or group, the sting of negativity extends to your hearty agreement, too. There is a strong mathematical theorem that describes this behavior but googling it would exhaust me to no end.

There’s nothing wrong with this tendency – it is how the world often works. But you shouldn’t be disingenuous about not criticizing other people. You shouldn’t try to insist that it isn’t your ‘thing’ to judge or question how other people or groups do things.

To clear the decks, I full well acknowledge that I am a hypocrite and am well aware of my guilt at judging others. There’s no question whatsoever in my mind.

“Pure Drivel” – Steve Martin

“Talking about music is like dancing about architecture.” – Steve Martin

“You’re on your way to becoming the next Shakespeare’s brother.”

On writing dialogue: “Simply lower your IQ by 50 and start typing.”

I had lofty ambitions about these 2 quotes but everything I wrote and tried seemed stupid.

I know what you are thinking – that nothing has stopped me from writing stupidity before! Which fits nicely with much of what Steve Martin was writing about in “Pure Drivel.”

I don’t mind writing just drivel, but what a joyous thing to write pure drivel. It might not be glamorous to write average prose, but as dumb and boring as it might be, it is no less wonderful that that feeling that you get when you are eating and burp, creating the illusion of yet more space for even more food to be eaten.

Boston Legal (TV)

I know, it’s not fashionable to talk about a TV show as if it’s art or fascinating.

As you know, though, I don’t care about perpetuating my “fantasy self” and pretending to believe that some TV is not absolutely terrific in every way.

Boston Legal is one of those shows. I was reluctant to give it a try, even though my wife had repeatedly tried to get me to go back and watch it from the beginning. In this Netflix/download culture, it’s so easy and enjoyable to go back and watch every episode of a show. It is something that TV execs never imagined even a decade ago. It’s revolutionized the way we watch television.

Boston Legal is one of those irreverent and funny shows that not only makes me think, but also laugh at the riduculousness of the universe it portrays. And it’s a universe I would enjoy being in.

James Spader as Alan Shore is sublime and preposterous. William Shatner and the rest are great, too, but James Spader is the best debauched liberal person I’ve seen on TV.

Spending so much time getting to know the idiosyncrasies of  the characters, only to have to bury them all intellectually.

(Before I digress, no other show captured the beauty and horror of this intellectual burial better than Six Feet Under. The last episode of that series was too epic to describe…)

02022013 Lucky Husband With Shopping

Most of you aren’t as lucky as I am. Why?

Because my wife doesn’t like shopping. While it might not be as enviable as having 19 cars in the garage, it is a daily gift.

If she needs something specific, we go look for it. But that seemingly undying need to meander from store to store looking for “deals” somehow missed her genetic makeup. This should almost be a Thanksgiving post. That’s how happy her lack of shopping lust makes me.

She doesn’t hoard shoes, nor is she interested in shoeware for appearances. She doesn’t amass 14 pairs of pants, nor a set of clothing for each occasion that she might attend.

While I still hear the tired clichĂ©, especially from comedians, that women shop relentlessly, it isn’t true in my case. It’s not genetically wired into every female. My sister-in-law, however shops constantly. She couches it in “thrift store” mythology and buys an astounding number of small things – death by incremental stuff.  : )

Many women don’t understand that it is not the money spent on shopping. It is just the IDEA of it being important and going from store to store.

01062013 Socks and Underwear – A Metaphor (From early 2013)

In my previous blog incarnation, I wrote a witty essay about the lunacy of folding either underwear or socks. It was lost in the folds of the internet during the changeover.

Last week, another blogger mentioned the futility of folding socks. See how much more dangerously I live? I would prefer to never fold either socks OR underwear. Since I’m not Miley Cyrus, the odds of my underwear being seen in public and not involving me in a horrific car crash are zero. But in what rational world does it really matter if my underwear is wrinkly?

Some of the time-saving tips online are either strange to me, or blindingly obvious. Someone might recommend a particularly quick way to iron and I will wonder to myself “What does the writer recommend for people like me who don’t even own an iron?” I’ve cut out the entire middleman. The person who wrote the article about efficient ironing doesn’t understand how it is possible to live without ironing, even though most of the world seems to do just fine without them.

(On the other hand, I often think one of the best time-saving tips is to simply stop reading or listening to time-saving tips)

A long time ago, someone once looked at me strangely when I had said something about not folding socks, as they wouldn’t match by color. It didn’t occur to the person that ALL my socks might match. I buy a couple of packages of socks and then wear them until I replace them all, simultaneously. I then put the “old” socks in a cabinet and wear then once and then throw them in the trash when I get particularly dirty outside. Having all the same style, color, and type of sock not only guarantees that they will match, but also that they feel the same on both feet. This is quite a luxury you should try for yourself.  As for the person questioning my lack of need to worry about sock color, it also didn’t occur to him that it might be possible to live without even caring if the socks were the same color. Wouldn’t it be a more simple world if you could put any color socks and go out in public?

Try living dangerously for a month. Don’t fold either your socks or your underwear. Call me if this results in famine or tragedy for you.