Small Conceits

Musings. Stories. Poems. From where I stand.


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At my parents’ dinner table one night, my brother updates us on his health:

John: “They don’t think it’s rheumatory arthritis anymore.”
Mom: “What do they think it is?”
John: “Possibly psoriatic.”
Mom: “What kind?”
John: “Psoriatic.”
Mom: “No, what came before that?”
Me: “He said possibly psoriatic, Mom.”
Mom: “Oh…I thought he said something about a ‘possum.”
Dad: “Me, too.” <adjusts hearing aid>
Mom: “I’m sorry, honey. So, you were saying that now they think it’s psoriatic…”
John: <brilliant deadpan> “Possumly.”


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Two things:

  1. Sheep are fire-retardant.
  2. My preferred yurt-maker just sent me a COUPON.

I love my life. 

(More later. Frantically cleaning & clearing.)


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Help Desk: Conspiracy

HD: “Help Desk.”

Caller: “Hey, I just got this error message that says ‘Something went wrong.'”

HD: “Can you be more specific than that?”

Caller: “Uh, no. That’s exactly what the error message says: ‘Something went wrong.”

HD: “Can you replicate the error?”

Caller: “How can I replicate the error if I don’t know what it was?”

HD: “Look, don’t get testy with ME! I didn’t make the error.”

Caller: “I’m not sure I did either.”

HD: “Well, you’re the one with the error message.”

Caller: “Ha! But it doesn’t say I made the error. It Just said that something went wrong. Passive voice. I might not have made the error at all.”

HD: “What are you talking about? Of course you made the error!”

Caller: “No, no. See: People use passive voice when they’re trying to shift blame or hide something. So I think SharePoint made an error and is trying to blame ME!”

HD: “That’s insane. Passive voice is used all over every Microsoft error message.”

Caller: <pause> “I rest my case.”

HD: “Oh, so now you’re saying that Microsoft blames you for everything, even though it’s actually at fault itself?”

Caller: “No, that’s NOT–…Well, maybe. I mean, think about it…”

HD: “Oh, wait! That’s my other line. Gotta go!”

Caller: “Hey! HEY!” <dial tone> “He hung up on me.”


HD: <answering second line> “Help Desk.”

Caller: “Yeah, hi. I just got this error message that says ‘Something went wrong.'”

HD: “Oh, no…”

Caller: “I know, right? I think it’s a conspiracy.”

HD: “There’s two of you.”

Caller: “I mean, people only use passive voice if they’re involved in a conspiracy, right?”


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The Long Road to Minimalism – Grand Finale

As I’ve been doing my purging, I’ve been fussing about the difficulty of the exercise on Facebook. At some point a little while back, I realized that in addition to my emotional attachments to books, I also seemed to be struggling with paring down my sock collection. Well, ok, “collection” is a strong word, implying a kind of intentional acquisition, when in actuality my sock drawers (yes, plural) filled more organically than intentionally. Still, when faced with discarding some of my socks, I found myself getting teary-eyed. “Oh,” I’d sniff sentimentally, “these were the socks I wore when hiking the Badlands of South Dakota.” (Then I sniffed physically, and into the waste bin they went. But not all my choices were that easy.)

In one of my sillier Facebook whine-fests, I asked people to supply me with arguments — in poem form — for ridding myself of excess socks. I got many good responses, but this one from my sister-in-law was my favorite. I asked if I could share it, and she graciously gave me permission. I give you…

One Sock, Two Sock, Red Sock, Blue Sock

By A Seuss Wanna-be (Kimberly Arlia)

 

One sock

Two sock

Red sock

Blue sock

 

Black sock

Blue sock

Old sock

New sock

 

This one has a little cat.

This one has a little bat.

Say!  What a ton

But socks are fun!

 

Yes.  Some are red.  And some are blue.

Some are old.  And some are new.

 

Some are worn.

And some are torn.

Some you outgrew.

And some Bodhi likes to chew.

 

Why are they

Worn and torn?

Outgrown and chewed?

HEAVENS KNOWS – your mother spews!

 

Some are thin,

And some are f a t.

Some are missing

Taken by a rat?

 

From there to here, from here to there,

Funny socks

Are everywhere.

 

You see them come.

You see them go.

But now you need

To shop no mo’

 

Pair them up.

Take a day!

Got a hole?

Throw away!

 

Organize, stow away!

Make it neat.

Socks are a treat,

For pretty feet!

 

Bodhi-framed

“I’ve been framed.”

For more on my sock trials and tribulations, visit my story on Medium: 12 Steps to Minimalism (alternately: The Sock Incident).


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The Long Road to Minimalism – Part 2

I took a deep breath and stepped inside what hours ago been the home of a dear friend. The lingering intensity of the smoke smell created the impression that the house was still smoldering. The worn wood floors already warped with the water damage, and the blackened walls, combined with the boards we’d just finished putting over the broken windows, made the interior murky and dark. On my right, just inside the door, was the floor-to-ceiling bookcase I’d often envied. All of those wonderful books, reduced now to charred corpses with unreadable spines and disintegrating, water-logged pages. Irretrievable.

Years later, reflecting on the emotional and spiritual toll the fire had taken on her, my friend told me, “I realized, after the fire, that my things owned me, not the other way around. I won’t ever let that happen again.”

Discarding the Stuff that Held Me Hostage

I’ve been on a journey of…well, discovery as I prepare myself for living in a yurt. The yurt itself is simply an approach to bringing my lived values into better alignment with my stated values. I’ve always perceived myself as someone who valued simplicity and sustainability.

Then I take a look around at all my stuff. And I realize I’m being held hostage to modern convenience and all of its material trappings.

So the past year or so, I’ve been focusing more on discarding my excess belongings. There are a lot of them. Some of these belongings are things I picked up because they were “cute” or “fun” — but served no purpose except to collect dust. Others have been gifts from friends and family — highly appreciated but loved less for themselves than for the givers. Still others have simply been duplicates — the outward manifestations of a scarcity mindset, where one of an item is never enough because…what if? After watching T.E.D. Talks about minimalism and reading blog posts about throwing stuff away and even purchasing a book, I finally found an approach that worked for me.

I was a Tasmanian devil, stuff flying in every direction and landing in boxes for donation or to be gifted to friends and family members who said they wanted some of the things I discarded. I even sold a few major items — yay, me! It was glorious. Freeing. With every box I carried to my truck, I felt lighter. A minimalist lifestyle was soon to be mine!

Then I slammed right into a brick wall: my books.

The Things We Own and the Things that Own Us

My books mean more to me than some members of my family. (Sorry, Uncle George, but I can’t keep you. I’ve found you a nice, new family in Newark. Here’s your suitcase. Pretend we never met.) In fact, some of my books have moved hundreds of miles with me — twice — because I couldn’t part with them. And I’m not talking about a box or two of books. This is a book collection that has its own zip code. (Slight exaggeration.)

From Arthurian legend to sustainable living; from paper-craft to poetry; from contemporary Native American literature to philosophy and yoga and drawing and cookbooks…the list of topics and genres covers a broad territory of human thought and activity. My books define and describe me; they entertain and inform me; they ground me. They’re an important part of my identity. They evoke emotions that no electronic version can mimic, much less replace. I love the smell of them, the weight of them in my hands, the way I can thumb through their pages and rediscover them again and again. I’ve made notes in many of them, conversations with myself that remind me of who I’ve been and by what paths I became the woman I am today.

My books aren’t just “things,” I thought. They’re an extension of me. My books…are my history.

It was this last insight that provided me with the perspective I needed to let them go. History is important — we need it to ground ourselves and to connect with vital parts of who we are. But I’m not building a history. I’m building a future, and I need to find other (less space-consuming) ways to stay connected with my emotional past. Why was I carrying around the books I’d collected for the PhD I’ll never finish? Why did I hang onto that “must-read” when I knew I didn’t want to, so I never would? How many of those gardening books did I really refer to — and why was I keeping the ones that weren’t already dog-eared and dirty and worn with years of use? Did I really need to hang onto all that Shakespeare, or could I simply Google the bon mot I wanted to quote, when the need arose? (Yes, I’m serious. Don’t judge.)

Slowly, I began unwinding the tentacles that were strangling my heart and freeing myself of the weight of my literary history.

Thinking Inside the (Moving) Box

As the weeks went on, I sold or donated the books I realized I no longer loved — or, in fact, never did love. The books that still had meaning to me but no longer had a real use, I gave to friends I thought would enjoy them. (And they can feel free to donate or sell them as they choose.) I’m setting a target for only a few boxes of books instead of the library I’ve been lugging along with me every time I move. Every time I hold a book in my hand, I try to separate myself from it and focus on how I feel about it, all by itself.

I still have shelves and shelves to empty, but my paring-down now makes me more intentional about how I define words like love and need. I’m learning to hang onto what I truly treasure, those things I retain for themselves and not for some perceived obligation or the wistful memory of a path not followed.

I’m learning about traveling light, without the drag of a past I no longer need. I want to own my things, not be owned by them.