Thursday, October 29, 2009

My Progenitors....

“What old people say you cannot do, you try and find that you can. Old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.”


People, listen. I'm fighting heredity here. I'm fighting genetics. I am fighting the code that lives in the deepest part of my DNA. I'm not just fighting society; I'm fighting the evolution of my family line. And somewhere along the line, "survival of the fittest" obviously morphed into "survival with the most." 


I hope my parents, if they even read this, will forgive me this intrusion, but as we have been staying with them the last few days, something has struck me: I was not just born this way; I think I was bred this way. 


If it seems unbelievable, just click on the photo to see it in startling detail. 

And please keep in mind, this may be a photo of the garage...but it is a small piece of the puzzle...



I don't really have anything I think that I can add to they say, a picture speaks a thousand words--and in this case, maybe 127,000?


I have, of course, been too chicken still to post pictures of my own disasters. Thankfully, I have not, like my parents, spent 23 years living in the same house. Since I am such a chicken though, I will show you an "after" photo--a photo of what the babies' armoire looked like after I managed to part with so many of their belongings. 



Looks good, huh? Yeah, I'm feeling better and better about that one every day now. 


Time is a little short today, but I also wanted to share this article--an awesome, succinct piece about one writer's transformation from "unaware purchaser" to "conscious consumer". I love it!  I hope to find myself among her ranks at the other end of the spectrum one of these days. 



Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Thoreau Didn't Know

Wednesdays around here are dedicated to what Thoreau didn't know. He knew how to live simply, to commune with nature, to live free from burden and the slavery of belongings. What he didn't know, was the joy of a family. Each Wednesday, I'll spend some time sharing a few of the moments with my own children and husband that have brought me "inexplicable joy". I hope any readers will add a few of their own week's joyful moments, either as comments here, or as links to posts on their own Twitter or blog.

My own inexplicable moments in this past week:

My 8.5 month old has started saying "Mamama"--he only says it when he is sad or needs something, but it still warms my heart that I am the one he is asking for.

My 2 year old daughter is very into magic wands--she calls them her "sparkles." Anything from straws to forks have been carried around lately, having been pronounced her "sparkle" of the moment. I love seeing her dance around, waving a fork over the dog prounouncing "Sparkle Power!" as she apparently attempts to turn the poor critter into something more extraordinary.

My daughter is also very into singing...about ANYthing. I love to listen to the songs she makes up, alone, or with her cousin of almost the same age. A scene from a recent jam session with the two of them, after a rousing round of "Old MacDonald":
R (her cousin): What sing next?
A: Hmmm....sing "A"!
R: Okay! (Strumming the prop ukulele they carry as their main instrument of choice) A-A-AAAA-AAA!

Again to the 8.5 month old: He is apparently going through some terrible sleep regression and absolutely hates napping lately--as I like to put it, he fights naps like a ninja. After what seems like hours of rocking him to the brink of sleep over and over again, he starts to reach a state of delirium. No matter how frustrated I am at my inability to get him to surrender to sleep, there is something that just makes me forget all about it when he reaches that point--it must have something to do with the smile behind the pacifier and sly side looks as he giggles about the rocking motion that is supposed to put him to sleep.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope you'll share a little piece of your joy with me today!

Friday, October 23, 2009

"I went into the woods because I wished to live deliberately..."

" front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."

In July of 1845, Henry David Thoreau moved into his self-built one room cabin to begin his experiment in simplicity, Many thought that Thoreau was taking a tremendous step backward in doing so, leaving behind the comforts and conveniences of life at the time, but it was through the experiment that Thoreau was really able to live his Transcendental ideals. Thoreau is the father of American conservationism, a philospher, a naturalist--and all of these roles came to him largely because of the voice he found in his time at Walden.

Well, we too are now embarking on a little experiment of our own. It may seem like a big step backward, but we hope it will give us the perspective we need to find the right way to do things--we are sort of hitting the reset button on our lives. Today, we moved back in with my parents. Yep, a couple of twenty-somethings with two kids and we are back in with mom and dad for the next few weeks. There are some other reasons for this, but suffice it to say that we needed the distance from our own home to decide what stuff we need, and what stuff we need to let go of.

Today we packed up the things that we knew were absolute necessities to get us through the next weeks--beds, clothes, toiletries, etc, and we moved into my parents' guest room. We have been planning this for a couple of months, but when we walked into our home today with the real intent of only taking our most basic necessities, I was surprised at how much our perspective had already changed. It's remarkable what can happen when you get a new perspective; it really is like getting a fresh pair of eyes.  As we moved from room to room, gathering essentials, it was almost surreal to move among the many piles and boxes of stored up junk, knowing that we would be leaving them behind--and even more, it didn't bother me one bit.

Last night, after the babies were safely tucked away in bed at my parents' house, my husband and I went home to start separating out the junk. We decided it would be best to tackle one room at a time, moving from one side to the other and sorting things into three piles: toss, keep, and sell/donate. We managed to get the living room done--all 15x12 feet of it. And we hauled away 4 bags of garbage--four industrial sized bags of garbage. I don't even know how that happens. I don't even know where it all came from. But I know that I am OVER it. I know that every bag of trash thrown out, or every box of items to donate, lifts a weight off my shoulders I didn't even know was there. We still have a long way to go (and another huge yard sale coming up, if you need anything...), but we are slowly plodding along.

I took some pictures yesterday. My husband, who generally tends to shy away from influencing the blog in anyway said sharply as I was doing so, "You better not stick these on the internet." We'll see if I get brave enough. But either way, I will keep them and they will serve as a reminder to me to NEVER get back to this place again.

So, just as Thoreau required separation to live out his life in the order he craved, we are doing the same. I find his statement fits us in just the same way: We went back home because we wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if we could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when we came to die, discover that we had not lived.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What Thoreau Didn't Know

Thoreau was brilliant. He was progressive. He had foresight that few men have ever possessed. But there is one thing he got wrong. I've been reading a couple of biographies about Thoreau, and for all his brilliance and desire to live deliberately, he missed something--took it just a step too far. Thoreau perfected the art of bachelorhood; he never took a bride and never knew the joy of offspring. He valued his parents--returning after his experiment at Walden to their home and working for his father's pencil-making company--but never had one of his own. And here, I think, is where he missed the mark. For all his talk of breathing deeply the air of one's own life, he missed out on the one thing that makes me stop most days and really absorb the beauty of my life.

With that discovery, I have decided to devote Wednesdays to what Thoreau didn't know. Each Wednesday, I'll share the joy in the little moments of family life--the moments that speak to our hearts the "inexpressible delirium of joy".  Please join me by sharing a few moments from the past week--moments with spouses and children--that Thoreau just wouldn't understand. Share them here in a comment, or link to your own blog or twitter page!

What Thoreau Didn't Know--
Thoreau didn't know about the kind of laughter the love of your life can elicit, even after 6 years of marriage.

Thoreau didn't know that two year olds will eat fists full of powdered sugar when given the right opportunity.

He didn't know that an 8 month old will make a beeline for his sister's high chair every. single. time. she sits in it to eat. Or about the hilarity that ensues as you try to pry his fingers off of it, one by one, amidst great exclamations from both.

Thoreau didn't know that sleepless nights often lead to afternoon naps with sweet baby sighs in your ear.

He wouldn't understand why the best birthday in my memory consisted of a movie with my husband and homemade cake with my children.

He didn't know about the "delirium of joy" that comes from the thousand little accomplishments that happen every day: the little man taking a step on his own, my daughter actually sharing a toy on her own with her brother (finally!), climbing ladders and sliding down slides at the park, and always the sweet smiles that come to me for no other reason than the wondrous fact that I am their mother.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

"Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me."

I woke up this morning feeling much better than when I went to bed last night. Sleep is like that, you know. Some whirring mechanism of peace takes our pains and puts them into perspective, relating them to other events, stories and literature we have encountered. This morning, I woke and walked into my daughter's room, saw the pile of clothes to be discarded, and rather than anger or sadness, there was peace. (Again, the hardest part is the decision to let it go.) The dawn in me this morning came in the form of a story that popped into my mind as I looked upon the wreckage of yesterday's emotional crisis.

When I was seven or eight years old, I was traveling home from a friend's house on some ridiculous 90s contraption that consisted of a triangle seat, 3 tiny wheels, and a set of handlebars. As I rolled over a crack in the sidewalk, the tiny front wheel caught, and the seat launched me, face first, into the concrete. I barely made it home for the nausea, and for years, the splattered drops of blood that poured from my nose onto the sidewalk remained visible. (I remember looking for them each day on my walk home from the bus stop.) Many years later, I would look back and realize that I had most likely broken my nose rather badly, but at the time, I lacked the perspective to recognize the injury for what it was.

From that time until I was 16 years old, I was frequently ill with chronic sinus problems. Often, I would experience a separate sinus infection every 2-3 weeks. I probably spent half my teen years on prescription antibiotics. Finally, after 2 weeks out of school for a sinus infection that had spread to my tonsils and my throat (and after being told by an orthodontist that braces would do me no good if I didn't fix my breathing issues), I saw an ENT and made the decision to undergo a septoplasty--a surgery to repair my very deviated septum.

Modern septoplasties tend to go very well. Mine did not. As it turns out, my nose was substantially worse than my doctor had anticipated, and he ended up re-breaking my nose in two places. It was the only course of action he had to straighten things out and finally give me a chance to breathe. For weeks, I was swollen and bruised. I had one black eye, and a nose twice the size of normal. My face was a bloated, weepy mess of tenderized meat. What's more, when the swelling finally came down and the splints were removed, I had an entirely different centerpiece to my face, one that is certainly not aligned to any standards of traditional beauty. I often jokingly refer to my surgery as my "nose job" because I enjoy seeing the reactions of people as they wonder how awful my schnoz must have been before, for me to pay to have it look like it does now. Beyond the weeks of bruising and the more prominent proboscis, I also suffered years of increased sensitivity. Thanks to my clumsiness (demonstrated by the original incident causing the nasal mishap), I often experienced intense, shocking pain to my face from any number of small accidents that would never have bothered me previously.  However, in spite of this somewhat unsettling change, one remarkable difference was all that mattered: I could breathe. The infections stopped, I slept more soundly, and I spent more time being myself, unencumbered by the fatigue that had long accompanied me. Perhaps most importantly, I have learned to love my face, even if it isn't the one I had always expected to have. I can look in the mirror and see beauty outside of what the magazines tell me the boundary is.

This morning, I realized that I am journeying through a similar, though more emotional, exercise. Somewhere along the way, my sense of what I need has become "broken." I ran face first into the lies society has been serving me, and though there have been signs and symptoms showing me that I was not well, I never recognized them for what they were until I was too sick to even breathe.

Now, slowly, I am breaking things back down. A simple attempt to clear out my home has revealed that things are far worse than I could have anticipated. This, in many places along the road, may be more painful than I thought. And the result will not conform to what society deems worthy of its praises. My life will not be beautiful to outsiders who have no knowledge of the life before. In fact, even after this transformation, I imagine there will be accidents, steps backward and shocks of pain as I struggle to heal the severed ties to my previous ideals. But to me, there will be that one great accomplishment: I will be able to breathe. I will be able to look around my home and see peace and space and freedom from my belongings.

And it will be beautiful, even if I'm the only one who sees it that way.

Monday, October 19, 2009

"Simplify, simplify."

Well, I cried today. Those who know me know that this is a rare occasion indeed.

Today, I went through my children's outgrown clothing. This was especially difficult considering the fact that just a short time ago, I had gone through my babies' things and had pared it down to what I thought was a reasonable amount. Yet, the drawers still spilled over, things vanished in the mass, and I could not find some items for the chaos. So I pushed on and tried again--compelled to eliminate these tiny tumors of cloth and thread from my new world of simplicity. It took a long time, and it was HARD. Every little piece of clothing was so closely tied to a sweet image in my mind of one of my children at an age and a stage of development that I will never again witness that it felt as though I was throwing those perfect film reels of memory out as well. I wept over a little car-covered Hawaiian shirt, a polka dot Easter dress, a cow-print jacket, a pair of dinosaur socks, a single tiny blue shoe made from an old sweater, the list goes on....

I chanted my mantra of "Simplify, simplify." I reminded myself of the environment I was cultivating; I told myself they were just things, that the memories themselves weren't tied to them; I thought of how Thoreau could flippantly toss his beautiful rocks out the window. And you know what? None of it made me feel any better. And I'm mad at stupid H.D. tonight, too.

Thoreau threw his lovely chunks of limestone out the window, and then he got to walk by those three hunks of stone every day on his morning and evening walks--so at least four times a day, even if that was all he left the house for. He could watch them gathering moss; he could stack them into a little rock snowman; he could see the birds perch upon them. And even then, they were rocks and nothing more. When I expel these sweet garments, they will be gone from me forever. Tonight I am angry at Thoreau for his lack of sentimentality, and the implication that we should all be as equally unsentimental. He had nothing to be sentimental about. He never understood the simultaneous joy and grief a mother feels at watching her children grow and learn and improve, witnessing moments as static as quicksilver slipping through her fingers. He never put a baby to bed in a pair of pajamas one night, only to find that the legs can no longer fit by morning. He didn't see the speed at which my children, my precious children, are steadily marching toward independence.....

And yet, I did it. I kept so little that it almost makes me sick to think about it: the outfits I brought them home in, their blessing clothing, heirloom pieces made by my mother, their first Sunday clothes. That's it. That's the list. The strange thing is that now, even though it hurts, they feel more special. It feels like these little articles of clothing are finally getting the attention they deserve. They aren't crammed into a drawer with hundreds of other pieces of clothing. I know where they are, and because I have cleared away the things that are far less important, I am able to treat these items--items I will pass on to my children's children--with more tender care.

Thoreau wrote, "Our moments of inspiration are not lost though we have no particular poem to show for them; for those experiences have left an indelible impression, and we are ever and anon reminded of them." I have nothing to show for my memories. Nothing about which to say, "Look, my kid was darling in this sweater." I do, however, have that indelible impression. I carry with me the constant reminder of my children and the stages they have grown through. Every time I look into their faces, I see the film reel playback of smiles and tears and laughter and triumphs that is being added to every minute I experience them in my lives.

So it was that tonight I shed a few tears. I held the little rags to my face and inhaled the sweetness of each piece, a little poem unto itself. I carefully retraced those indelible marks on my memory, and I set them free.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

In my afternoon walk...

"In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society."

If you've ever visited Arizona anywhere in the months of, oh, January through December, you may know that on a walk is one of the last places you might like to be in the afternoon. However, as the weather has started to drop to just 2 digits, I have made the effort to take my children out for an afternoon walk each day so that they may witness and experience the little patch of nature that is around us. It isn't much--just a few scattered trees among parking lot spaces and green areas between houses--but nature is nature and it's good for the soul.

We get our feet in the grass...

We lay on our backs...

...and look at the sky...

...and the occasional skeptic...

...and ride off into the sunset.

And H.D. is right. We walk out the door and leave our worries behind.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

"Simplify, simplify."

In Walden, Thoreau shares an episode he has with three rocks. He explains that he had collected three pieces of limestone and placed them decoratively on his desk, but later "was much terrified to find that they required to be dusted daily." At this discovery, rather than allow the rocks to begin to own him by requiring his time, energy and space, good ol' H.D. tossed them out the window.

I have heard tell of a television show on A&E called Hoarders. I have seen bits and pieces of the show, but cannot bring myself to watch an entire episode for one simple reason--it hits too close to home. Granted, I know that, primarily, people hoard due to mental illness, which, thankfully, I do not have. However, I think many Americans can recognize themselves in, or at least sympathize with, the compulsions shown on Hoarders. Their lives have slowly slipped away as piles and piles of STUFF have steadily been suffocating their freedom. They are oppressed by their possessions. The pursuit of STUFF has turned on them until they have become powerless to overcome the compulsion to hang onto things of nothing more than perceived value. Do we not all sometimes feel a bit burdened by the weight of our possessions and the cost it is to own them?

Do not suppose I am a hoarder. But do not suppose I am so very far off. After all, what is the difference between those who hoard, and those who live amongst an acceptable amount of clutter? It is often as simple as the passage of time and the struggles of life--loss of a loved one, or a job; a bout with depression; loneliness; retirement; empty nest syndrome; the list goes on. I think (wishful thinking, perhaps?) that there are many Americans out there like me, who live on the brink--who live just one disaster away from handing their complete happiness over to their possessions, from letting STUFF take over their lives. After all, as Americans, we have had the "value" of consumerism etched into our minds since birth. In America, consumerism and patriotism stroll down the lane of our ideals hand in hand.

In the spirit of H.D., this post will serve as the first of what I hope will be many that will chronicle the metaphorical hunks of limestone of which we are ridding ourselves. The gross excess you will find in these posts may horrify you. Or perhaps, they will hit a little close to home. I think perhaps you will be shocked by what you will see. But I also think for some, you may recognize a bit of yourself. "Simplify, simplify," is my new motto and will be used to signify my attempts to purge the STUFF that has been pushing in the boundaries of my freedom.

I have been conspicuously absent from the blog. I've been very busy. You see, in an effort to "simplify, simplify" we have been preparing for the yard sale of the century. Originally, the concept was that we would have plenty of time to purge the house, as well as the storage unit, to prepare for the sale. This proved entirely impossible, and we succeeded only in purging the storage unit. Please keep in mind that the storage unit contains only things that have NEVER been used in our small home. In this area were items that we either had no place for when we moved to Arizona, or are things which we have accumulated over the years here and never had an opportunity to even use. We spent a great deal of time sorting items, and eventually filled 3 truckloads and an entire 5 foot by 10 foot trailer completely full. Of our stuff. That hadn't been used in years, if at all. There was no one to blame for the orgy of consumerism laid out before us as we readied for our yard sale. No one but us to point a finger at when all the items lay out on display.

Below, you will find a couple pictures of the carnage, which was difficult to photograph accurately on account of its sheer volume (and yes, every item you see belonged to us, and had been sitting unused while we continued to fill our home with more useless things):

Amazingly, we managed to let many items go. Most remarkably, my husband set all his tools free--which had been trapped, useless, in a storage facility since our move. I managed to rid ourselves of a ridiculous amount of Christmas decorations, baby items, household items and a few sentimental things, which, when scrutinized under my new motto, I realized weren't sentimental at all. It was all just STUFF. The most difficult task, in spite of the hours and hours of heavy lifting and organizing and sitting in the sun, was actually just the mental disconnect from our belongings; the hardest part was deciding to let things go and not turn back.

And I must add, as we pulled away from the storage unit with an enormous load of junk, aside from the obvious horror at what we had amassed, there was the unmistakable feel of a tremendous burden being lifted from off our shoulders. It felt good to be liberated from all these things and to know that it was just the beginning. I wish to share that liberation with you, reader (if there be any), so a challenge: Find something and set yourself free from it. Look around you and see the "limestones" in your home that do nothing more than drain your resources and toss something out the window--give it to a neighbor, donate it, sell it, recycle it, or just put it in the garbage. There...doesn't that feel better? (Be sure to leave a comment sharing what you tossed!)

Friday, October 2, 2009

"Some of you, we all know, are poor."

"[You] find it hard to live, are sometimes as it were, gasping for breath. I have no doubt that some of you who read this book are unable to pay for all the dinners you have actually eaten, or for the coats and shoes which are fast wearing or are already worn out, and have come to this page to spend borrowed or stolen time, robbing your creditors of an hour."

Ouch, when he puts it like that. Yeah...we're working on this too. And interestingly, I think the knowledge that I would be staying home is helping us with that. Change the priorities, change the outcome. Relearn what you thought you already knew.

What I love about Thoreau is that he just says it how it is. Debt doesn't make us any wealthier. It just means we'll be working that much closer to the grave.

By the way, today's post is short to give you time to watch this. It is one of the catalysts for this blog. It is eye-opening, to say the least, and well-worth the 20 minutes. Pass it on if you can.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"Shall we always study to obtain more of these things...

...and not sometimes to be content with less?"

Forgive me my ramblings, dear reader, in these next days. The song, though escaping the inner recesses of the soul, is still searching for the words and the tune that go together. There is, in every attempt to eradicate a problem, first the need to recognize it. There are many, nay, infinite, areas of my life which need a little recognition and sprucing up; I anticipate the next several days will be spent in laying my inadequacies wide open for the world so that I may better address them.

The hubs and I have recently made some major life adjustments. The largest of these being that I left my job to stay home with our two children. I'm a former (on my third official day of freedom!) high school English teacher. Though there is nothing in the world I would rather spend my days doing than see to the raising of my own babies, I am not an excellent homemaker. This fact (and it IS a fact to which anyone who has ever been in my home can attest) is just one of the things that gave me doubt when we began to discuss the possibility of leaving my job to stay at home with the children. The other, I admit, was money. It was worry over not being able to provide my family with new clothes, a nice car, fun trips, and the myriad other things that I was, for some reason, worried about keeping. It was the pursuit of STUFF. I have long studied how to obtain more, and even while embarking on many short-lived attempts at living more simply, have never quite mastered the art of learning to live with less. I don't think that Thoreau means we ought to starve ourselves, or take up residence on the street without shelter overhead--even in his experiment at Walden, these needs were always met. But I do think that it is about deciding between what is needed and what is wanted, between convenience and necessity, between being "respectable" and worry about being "respected."

So the point is this: I am learning to rewrite the self-talk that occurs in my head. In the last months, I have quit my job, canceled the cable, and now drive a 20 year old van. There are many things I have been learning to do, most especially since having children, that I now see have been driven by this buried desire for simplicity. There are many more things that I have long aimed to do, but have failed because I have been too concerned with being respected. The trick is to undo all the learning and all the studying I have done over my life--to quit trying to obtain more and be content with less. As H.D. put it, “When any real progress is made, we unlearn and learn anew what we thought we knew before.”

Hey, while you're here, check out this fun link about a high school that studies Thoreau, sent to me by one of my favorite people. How awesome would it be to sit through school amongst the trees?