Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Lo, More of This Random Crap

I took a stack of about 30 books to Half Price Books today. That comprises maybe 20 percent of the books I want to get rid of.

I've always hung on to books, rationalizing that books represent knowledge and wisdom. And frankly, you won't find a lot of junk books on my shelves. Among the things I took in today were Schlesinger's two-volume history of the New Deal and DeTocqueville's 'Democracy in America' — books that I had read once, then left unopened on my bookshelves for 20 years.

Maybe now someone else will read them.

Even after I've pared my library down to where I want it, I'll have dozens of books around the house.

I also gave away a bookshelf today.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

My kitchen

The Miracle Worker came over again today and brought a friend. Together, they restored my kitchen to sanity. In fact, it looks amazing. It looks like a normal person lives here.

There are some things missing. When I say missing, I mean I just don't know where they put them — they're here somewhere. The can of WD40 that was on top of the microwave, for example. And the laundry that was in the dish drying rack. And the package of auger bits that was on top of the laundry. I'm sure I'll track all that stuff down.

And now that the kitchen is finally clean, I plan to keep it that way by never setting foot in it again.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nag Champa

When you've had as many cats living in your house over the years as I have, Nag Champa is your friend. Maybe your best friend. I'm down to only two cats now, but I still have plenty of incense.

(Now that I've said it's my best friend, I'll find a status update on Facebook: "Nag Champa is in a relationship." And I'll have to switch to patchouli.)

Who would you see?

Another Facebook friend posted this as her status update: "Who would you see if you saw yourself walking your way?"

On the one hand, this is a question that directs your attention back toward yourself. From a Buddhist perspective, that's probably a pointless exercise. On the other hand, many of us wonder what kind of immediate impression we make on other people. This question prompts us to step outside ourselves and imagine how we appear to others.

In trying to answer this question, I decided I probably wouldn't even notice myself walking my way. I'm a pretty generic-looking guy; except for my height, I blend into a crowd pretty well. (My size is one reason my previously-documented Hawaiian shirt fixation is ill-advised. They make me look like a billboard for a florist. Neutral, solid colors are my friends.) I kind of shuffle when I walk, and I'm generally slow-moving.

"__________ is in a relationship."

One of my friends has updated her Facebook status to "in a relationship." While I'm happy for her, I assume this means she won't have as much free time to hang out with her regular friends.

When a friend gets into a relationship, it's sort of like they're moving away to another city.

Monday, June 21, 2010

More on the random crap

Why do we keep all this random crap? I'll open a drawer and see some dumbass thing that's been around here a million years: "Ah. There's the shoelace organizer I bought in 1987."

And then what? Well, it proves that event happened. I didn't just imagine I bought a shoelace organizer in 1987, because, well, look — here the thing is. I bought it, and this proves I existed in 1987, and I wasn't created by aliens just 15 minutes ago and implanted with a bunch of false memories.

But what if I didn't exist in 1987? What if I don't exist right now? What difference does it make? What fucking difference does it make?

Return of the Miracle Worker

Four years ago this month, I had the miracle worker come to my house and set things right. I called her the miracle worker then because it seemed to me to be miraculous that she could get done in a day what would have taken me months to accomplish.

Lo, this random crap:
the miracle worker
holds a telephone
made from a Batman-logoed
tennis shoe.

She came back for one day this week, and again did that which I simply could not have done. She simply has an ability to focus that I don't have.

There were a few changes this time, however. The most significant was that I had realized, as mentioned previously, that I could not get the house livable by simply throwing out trash and rearranging and organizing what was left. There was simply too much stuff. So even non-trash items had to go.

I made an agreement with her that I would let her throw away things, and I would not challenge her decisions or bring things back in after she had thrown them out.

The friendliest ghost I know.

So two big bags ended up on the curb, and I rescued only one thing – the glow-in-the-dark Casper the Friendly Ghost you see at right. I don't know why I felt compelled to save it; it wasn't a gift or a childhood toy – just a promotional doodad from that movie that came out about fifteen years ago. But I've had it all that time, and I got some pleasure from hanging on to it.

As for the rest of it, I have no idea what she threw out. The bags went in the trash can without me looking at them.

This represents a change in my view of my personal possessions. I finally realized there isn't a single thing in this house that I 'have' to have. It's all optional.

I realized that I had come to view many of my possessions as components of my identity. I have since learned that a lot of hoarders/clutterers view their identity and individuality through their possessions.

I finally decided that my 'identity' is as disposable as anything else in this house. It doesn't mean a thing to say, "I'm me," and therefore I don't need a bunch of stuff around here to daily prove to myself that it's true. "Me" is just another pointless possession – one that isn't even tangible, like Casper the Friendly Ghost is. 'Me' is just a concept – a thing floating around in what I still think of, for purposes of convenience, as 'my' mind. As is 'I'.

(I could awkwardly recast all these sentences to get rid of the personal pronouns, and they would be more accurate from a Buddhist perspective. But they'd be unreadable, so I'll do what ever other Buddhist does and continue the conceit for the sake of convenience.)

In addition to all the stuff that Kat the Miracle Worker got rid of, I have given away a goodly amount of other stuff. Last year, Ms. HRP helped me get rid of bag after bag of clothes. That included a plastic tub full of more than 200 pair of socks that I had boxed up back in 1999.

Having gotten rid of all those clothes, I was able in recent weeks to give away a chest of drawers that had been parked in the middle of the dining room for about a year. I gave away a coffee table I bought twelve years ago and had not used in ten years. I gave away a bunch of bed linens, never opened, and got rid of the cabinet I had bought to hold them. This weekend, Tall Ed came by and took about a dozen history and current events books that had been on my shelves.

And after all that, the house is still packed with stuff. A lot more needs to go.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

I bought a book

If you read the WaPo article to which I linked a few days ago, you may recall the mention of a book called Buried In Treasures by Tolin, Frost and Steketee. I bought it the other day and have been browsing through it. I started out reading it closely, but quickly discovered most of the information was stuff I had read in other books or had figured out on my own. After that, I just thumbed through it looking for interesting tidbits.

I come back to my basic decluttering rules:

  1. Stuff has to leave the house and not come back.
  2. Other new stuff cannot come in.

When you see something interesting in a store or online, you have to program yourself to see that object as something that is going to screw up your life. Possessions are the enemy. They hate you. They want to crush your spirit and snuff out your soul.

The most valuable possession of all is your own peace of mind.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Lo, This Random Crap

So, I'm doing my One Productive Task for the day, which is going through cardboard boxes in the dining room to see if there's anything in them I need to keep.

I found this copy of IBM's OS/2. I think this is the 1993 release. I never installed it.

The house is full of this kind of stuff.

The gulf blowout

I don't write much about current events, but the gulf oil blowout has been on my mind a lot. I wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it.

This will end up being a typical USA deal. By which I mean ten years from now, the gulf will be dead, along with the Caribbean and a large part of the Atlantic. Beaches along the gulf coast will be abandoned. Hurricanes will have carried oil inland, and coastal cities will slowly dwindle in size. Cities from Mobile to Tampa will look like Detroit and New Orleans. There will be occasional news dispatches promising progress soon, and we will have heard the promises so many times by then we won't have the emotional energy left to be outraged by the obvious lies.

It's the environmental equivalent of Afghanistan or Vietnam.

BP will get taxpayer bailouts, change its name, and walk away unscathed.

Part of what disgusts and depresses me about this is knowing that if some manmade disaster happens where I live, the result will be the same. Swarms of personnel will swoop in to make sure no pictures are taken of it. The government will send the perpetrators sternly-worded letters. Michael Bloomberg will urge us to protect our royal CEO class.

And the rest of us will just be fucked.

I'm not getting out of bed today.

I threw away a TV

Eight years ago, a friend gave me a 21-inch TV. It was broken when he gave it to me — I guess he thought I might figure out how to fix it. I didn't. So the thing sat around here for eight years, taking up space.

Today I finally just dropped the thing in a trash can. A tight fit, but I got it in there. This is the kind of crap that has filled my house. God knows why I didn't throw it away in 2002.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

One Productive Task

I don't think I've mentioned this before... my new cleanup strategy is what I call the One Productive Task method. I try to do One Productive Task, i.e., some bit of household cleanup, every day. I may do more, but at the minimum, I try to do one.

Today, for example, I threw out a couple of old pillows the dog had slept on, along with a few bits of other debris that had been in the living room and dining room.

It's not much, but it's something, and if I keep doing that every day, I'll have the house shipshape by 2018 or thereabouts.

Washington Post reporter Michael S. Rosenwald has written a story about his own struggle with clutter and hoarding.

The Mess He Made: A Life-long Slob Decides It's Time to Get Organized

I would dispute the use of the word 'slob' in the headline. I doubt that Rosenwald shows up at the Post for work every day in dirty clothes or a three-day growth of beard. But, like me, he has a hard time dealing with the accumulation of material possessions.

And it's not status symbols or rich people's toys that are the problem. I don't own a big screen TV or a home theater system, for example. What I have is a bunch of junk, much of which I have described previously. That includes my huge box of 'wall wart' transformers for various electronic doodads long ago burnt out or broken; dozens of CD-ROMs, many of them blank, that have gotten scratched or cracked from being left out of their cases; old books I'll never read again, and so on.

Rosenwald's story is accompanied by a slide show of photos – a few of them apparently staged – showing the clutter in his home and his car. His car is actually worse than mine, but there have been times when mine was worse than his.

But one picture especially caught my attention. It's a picture of his hands emerging from a pile of books, magazines, newspapers and whatnot. And in the upper left hand corner is a roll of toilet paper. What is a roll of toilet paper doing in his home office or den or wherever this is? The same thing they're doing in my den, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom, I suppose. I need to blow my nose, or wipe up a spill, and I grab a roll of TP out of the bathroom because it's the handiest thing. And then the roll just stays wherever I used it.

It dawned on me that I don't spend more than five minutes a day making this house a mess. And if I could spend, say, seven minutes a day cleaning it up, eventually I ought to get caught up. Hence the One Productive Task. It takes about seven minutes. And I have seen a little progress, but only a little. It's like spending seven minutes shoveling sand out of the Sahara Desert.

Back in 2006, I recruited someone to come in and declutter, and she got more done in a day than I would have gotten done in a couple of months.

I've asked her to come back in a few days, and I hope she'll help me get further ahead in this process.

Addendum: A couple of friends suggested I watch "Hoarders" on A&E. I don't have a TV, so I checked the A&E web site, where full episodes are available for viewing. I was so turned off by the 'dum dum DUMMMM!' music and the grainy "se7en"-style graphics that I didn't watch the show. It's a houseful of crap, not the Zodiac killer.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Freak me out, why don't you?

I have a few female friends and acquaintances with whom I often have lunch or dinner. These are not women I'm dating, but friends I enjoy sharing time with. Nevertheless, a friend suggested a few days ago that I ought to 'get together' with one of them.

I could feel the muscles in my chest and diaphragm tense up as soon as he said it. He might as well have suggested a recreational trip to the dentist, or getting a job.

It's not that I'm not attracted to women. But at this stage in my life, that attraction seems to exist somewhere outside of me, like a cloud of fog surrounding my head. It's not pleasant.

I have friends who enjoy their infatuations, even when the interest is not mutual. "Oh," they tell me, "it makes me feel alive."

I don't call that feeling alive. I call that feeling crazy.

I feel more alive sitting in the back yard, watching the birds and petting the dog. But beyond that, I'm kind of over the whole 'alive/not alive' thing.

I'm not that much different than the big rock out in my back yard. And after I die, I won't be any different at all. So I'm not going to get all cranked up about the 'alive' thing. That will resolve itself soon enough.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Transmission of Mind

I want to mention a book I read recently. It's called Transmission of Mind, and contains the teachings of Huang Po, a Chinese Chan master of the ninth century CE. It was written by one of his students shortly after his death in 857.

Transmission of Mind predates the 'one hand clapping' era of Zen, and proves Zen can be taught without riddles, brain teasers and intellectual snipe hunts. John Blofeld's translation of this work can be found on Amazon, and I assume elsewhere as well.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Another material possession

I bought an iPad today. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. I spend a lot of time away from the computer these days, but I frequently want to blog or surf or check Facebook or Twitter. I won't carry this around town with me; it's strictly for use around the house and the back yard.

The learning curve doesn't appear steep. It works more like an iPhone, of course, than a Mac. But there are differences, and it will take a while to get used to them.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Like a Brick Wall

I got a comment on Facebook a few weeks ago suggesting that talking to me was like 'talking to a brick wall.' And I guess that's true much of the time. Other people have commented that I don't participate well in group conversations.

I just don't have a lot to say. The dropoff in frequency of posts here reflects that.

I think that, if anything, I talk too much. Sometimes, at the end of the day, as I look back over what the day has been like, I find myself asking, 'Why did I say that? That was unnecessary.' Or snarky. Or unfair. Or demeaning.

I spent about seven hours Memorial Day hanging out with the former Flibbertigibbet. There were long stretches of time (or at least they seemed long) where neither of us said anything. That is as it should be. I like not feeling compelled to fill every second of airtime with noise, like I'm a Top 40 radio station or something.

Silence really is golden.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Networked Blogs

There's a new widget on the right side of the screen called Networked Blogs. This is the doodad that somehow interfaces this blog to Facebook. Or something. So if you click on the button that says "Follow This Blog," something happens. I'm not sure what.


Just some random stuff: First of all, I lost the artwork for the blog banner. It's got to be on my computer somewhere, but I can't find it. So, I've tossed up what may be a temporary replacement – or it may be permanent, depending on whether I get around to finding the old one or making a more elaborate new one.

I have tried to link this blog to my Facebook account through a FB app whose setup is a bit difficult for me to follow. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn't. I guess if you see this from Facebook, it's working.