Sunday, October 17, 2010

Stuff

We’ve made two Goodwill trips in a week’s time, had one successful Craigslist sale of a weight set, sold some books to the used book store and tossed out a pile of otherwise useless junk, and I doubt that will be the last of it. The savvy, Better Homes and Gardens word for this would be: decluttering. I can translate that as getting rid of stuff. As much as Americans seem to have issues with our expanding waistlines we also have issues with our expanding domains of material goods and piles of junk. People are more like crabs than I would have thought given our differences in outward appearances. Both species, however, certainly grow to fit our shell. We moved from a small cabin in the woods to a considerably larger urban home and I suppose for want of filling rooms with the pitter patter of little feet, have instead filled them with things. Now we are to the point where we stand on a precipice of stuff.

I suppose on some levels I’ve always been a collector of sorts. As a child I took good care of and held on to what things I had. I kept my toys and odds and ends in good shape and enjoyed their use in all likelihood much past what would be expected of a childhood plaything. This habit continued on into adulthood. I acquire this and that and kept it in relatively good, usable shape, which in and of itself is not a bad thing. I also suffer from a sickness of over sentimentalizing material possessions. I hang onto things because of some intangible ‘meaning’ associated with it. The net effect of this syndrome is boxes of mementoes and random bits of otherwise useless trifles which gets hauled around from place to place marking the passing of time not in hours or years but in pounds. This hording behavior coupled with my fastidious care of things makes it a shame to get rid of a perfectly good, ‘valuable’ item. And therein lies the trap of it all, the accumulation, the personification or sense of comfort in this stuff, the ease of storing things in a back corner room and then the eventual suffocation on junk.

What compounds the issue is my accomplice in crime:  Kate is a collector as well. One is bad enough, but two under one roof; watch out. While I think she suffers from a similar psychosis of sentimentalizing things, she has a knack for finding things that nobody wants and then brings them home. A rescuer of sorts, this is at face value not a sin but a merit. However in excess or unrestrained, it translates into wonton accumulation, albeit a cheaper and more environmentally friendly version of it. Bits of unwanted office furniture, chairs, odd bins found on the sidewalk, things pulled out of dumpsters, dead or dying plants, unwanted and largely unsalvagable bicycles and other miscellaneous things. This stuff piles up, and while there's a tremendous value to repurposing and reusing old items, one household shouldn't look to be the savior of the world's island of misfit toys.

Better to not accumulate the stuff to begin with, I would say. There is something to be said for the untrammeled simplicity and beauty of a clean room with very little in it. Turning off the supply chain of things certainly would make the seasonal ritual of purging and cleansing more manageable if not altogether unnecessary. And when an item has long since run its life of purpose, best to be done with it and pass it on to the next person. There’s something quite cathartic about seeing otherwise unused items head out the door in another person’s hands to be otherwise purposed and reused. It helps to reinforce how silly it was to hold on to it for so long, and how worthwhile it can be to just let it go.

So now that our purging is well underway, at least for now, I’ve got my ‘clutter’ sensors working on overdrive. Every likely candidate for the recycle or thrift store bin gets a nod towards the door. I’ve declared a war on things, and I have to say I’m doing a pretty good job. Hopefully this lesson won’t be one that I’ll repeatedly learn over and over again throughout the years, but I have a feeling that’s easier said than done. Maybe I’ll enact a one in-one out policy on stuff…that way our balance of equilibrium here doesn’t get too out of whack--if not for peace of mind, for peace of back. Al this stuff at a point gets pretty heavy.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Outtahere...well eventually

Is it the caffeine now unheedingly coursing through my system, the promise of an unscripted day off before me (furlough), or the changing winds and long shadows of fall that has me sitting here staring at this blank page, antsy and restless? Kate and I have spent the last two weekends feverishly reworking our small, suburban home to the suggestion and guidance of our real estate agent: we’re out of here. Well, we’re not out of here, at least not just yet. We’ve still got some finishing, sprucing up and decluttering to do. We’ve got to sell our home in the worst of imaginable markets, and we’ve got to do so without losing our shirt in the process; otherwise we’re not going anywhere. Its an unenviable, ‘stuck’ place to be.

Fortunately we’re not in the boat as many, those strapped between payments, facing reduced income, piling debt and the ominous loom of foreclosure. We’re thankfully in a very different boat, yet no less comforted by this fact; we just desperately want to be someplace else. And our timing really stinks. This has been a fine place to live, but its not felt like ‘our home.’ It was crafted in the imagination of the previous owners and countless HGTV episodes. It’s the perfect house for that great American buyer seeking domestic perfection. But for me, I can’t get comfortable and look past the fear of scratching or denting the precious surfaces of our grand ‘investment.’ Even before any of our furniture was moved in to this place I knew that our tenure here would be short, and with that knowledge I’ve neurotically watched over the pristine appearances of this 1950’s gem to ensure its attraction to future buyers when that time would certainly come. As painful as that has been, hopefully its paid off because that time is now: I want out, plain and simple.

I don’t want the neighbors eye balling the length of my grass, and suspiciously discussing the extent to which I’ve sacrificed beloved bluegrass to “what is that?…vegetables?” I don’t want my neighbors to largely avoid us because we’re not in our 50’s, or we don’t have children, or because badly played banjo music emanates from our home, or we‘re just weird--those bike riding, yard destroying, childless weirdoes. I don’t want to drown in all this unused, superfluous space. I don’t want to fill rooms with unnecessary crap for the sake of appearances. I don’t want to be told we cannot have bees, chickens, privacy, freedom to explore our interests and passions without the admonishment or judgment of municipal codes and paranoid neighbors.
“Is that compost bin too close to the fence?”
“Are you going to spray those weeds?”
“Is that a Pit Bull?”
“I think the bin is fine. I’m not spraying poisons on anything and yes that actually is pit bull mix, We rescued her. She’s like 9 years old, allergic to everything, old, tired, and very gentle…wait where are you going? Nice talking to you.”

But with our readiness to end this chapter and begin another we’re faced with the grim realities of how likely it will be that we’ll be here for a good long while yet. Despite the optimism of our agent, the eternal faith and positive thinking of my wife, the assurances of our friends; I’m not quite so cheery and hopeful. Ever the practical realist, I’m not quite content that this is just going to go our way. And that bums me out, pure and simple. So I’m trying very hard, spending good cash on appliance upgrades, paint, trim; spending my free time and weekends working hard on those ‘final finishing touches’--“but it may be all for naught.” Those nagging, realist thoughts of mine are an annoyingly hard pill to swallow.

So I’m not going to dwell on what may happen, what could be. I’m just going to focus on right now; what needs to be done, what the next step is. Its like that point in a very long ride, where you’re done, taxed, and miles from the end. So you get into that carefully focused zone and just pedal continuously into the weariness and infiniteness of time and space; every lane marker passed, each seam in the pavement crossed is a sign of progress, grindingly slow, yet eventual, progress. That’s where I am; head down, pedaling hard, steady and marking my slow progress.  Time to get back to work.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Pickin' & Pumpkins

A dreary and damp day stands to ready to deliver on the threat of Denver's first autumn frost.  And while some gardeners might be inclined to rush out to cover their remaining summer flowers and veggies, I'm ready for the turn of seasons and welcome it with open arms. My small amount of cool veggies, the ones left uncrushed and not trampled upon by the neighborhood cats, are ready for a bit of cold. All of my warm season crops are done with one exception.

This morning before too much of the day's soaking could get to them, I went outside to pick the 8 or so pumpkins we've been nurturing for the better chunk of the summer. Our two 'large' and mostly squatty pumpkins made it the entire season along with a compliment of smallish ones of varying hues of orange and red. I lost one to birds, one to rot and another to its own stubborn unwillingness to sufficiently ripen. And yet despite this, and the somewhat misshapenness of my survivors (everyone, including the neighbors, made it a point of noting the wide and simultaneously dwarfish shape of these 'jack-o-lanterns') I consider my first attempt at pumpkins to be a success. Next year an earlier feeding, sunnier location and spot away from the grass and its clinging moisture, will hopefully yield even better results. Until then we'll decorate, cook with and hopefully carve up this crew.

And after a bit of pumpkin picking, a nice warm bowl of homemade tomato soup and maybe some tea, its going to be time for another kind of pickin'. I do love the slower pace of these lengthening fall nights.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Mostest Liberal Ever

And this is why the ‘left’ continues to devour itself at the expense of its precious agendas. I get more and more tired of supposed ‘liberals’ every day. This morning while lounging on the couch enjoying a warm cup of coffee and the brisk 46 degree morning I cruised some of my favorite blogs and sites on the internet. My default windows open to Google and MSN, and while I generally don’t spend much time on MSN an article about ‘Giving up Cable’ caught my eye so I gave it a read. You can read it for yourself here. It talks about the savings one can potentially experience by cutting out cable and perhaps TV altogether. As one who’s also pulled the plug on cable TV, and thanks to the digital conversion don’t have functioning network and local TV, I enjoyed commiserating with people of likeminded principles. And then I read the comments…I really need to stop doing this.  Most of the comments were all very supportive of the concept; testimonials of folks who’ve made similar decisions and have been pleased with the results. And then there was the troll.

“…I know it is "trendy" to say you have given up tv, but please, don't watch movies from the library or netflix and tell me you have "given up tv". You have failed to reach the "gucci plateau" folks.”

I’m generally pretty tolerant of people’s opinions and whatnot, but I’m getting a bit fed up with this type of judgment and admonishing of people for not being ‘idealized’ enough in accordance with some holier-than-thou, self-aggrandizing standard.

I attribute this type of behavior to the ‘left’ based on personal experience, however I’m sure it permeates both ends of the political spectrum. I remember going to a CSU Extension presentation on small acreage management, where the extension office brought in a variety of resources to talk about alternative energy, bee keeping, pest management and noxious weeds. There were donuts and handouts and it was generally pretty informative and innocuous. And then there was the ‘super liberal’ in the back. HE just bought 90+ acres in eastern Colorado. HE was going to turn the land into an organic farm. HE was going to eat all of his weeds for the Vitamin C. HE was going to fight big agriculture. HE thought it prudent to point out the shortcomings of every extension presentation and their collusion in every large scale agricultural crime against humanity and nature since the dawn of time. I couldn’t stand the guy and as he droned on with this incessant inquisition the audience grew audibly more uncomfortable. And these types seem to be everywhere, whipping out their ‘liberalism’ to measure it up against the next guy or gal. “You eat organic vegetables? I grow organic vegetables.” “You grow organic vegetables? I AM an organic vegetable….”--etc.

I’ve seen this behavior prevalently with the environmental movement. Here the extremes are palpably visible fighting between more moderate groups like the Sierra Club and even Al Gore and the more activist centered organizations like Greenpeace and EarthFirst! Its almost a hobby to deride Al Gore for his hypocrisy of millions of dollars and flying around presenting “Inconvenient Truth.“ Indeed think of all the greenhouse gases he produced jet setting to China and back…not to mention the fact that he probably educated more people world-wide on the grim realities of our current climatic conditions than oh…just about anyone. The idealists are right though, he should be shot, or at least be drummed out of the ranks of the environmental movement.

But I’ve also seen Sweat Shop activists actually call each other out on their clothing labels and ridicule each other for the type of footwear they wore. I've heard the sermonizing of local food activitists and organic farmers, measuring the radius at which they get their food and disdaining those who only practice organic methods and not organic PERMACULTURAL ones. I’ve seen bicycle advocates engage in the game of one-ups-manship of how long they’ve gone without a car. “How long have YOU been a bike commuter?“ I hate that question for the condescending tone in which its generally asked. I’ve seen child advocates fight about the interests and well being of children who all the while languish in long term institutional settings. And now apparently it’s a sin to not have cable and get DVD’s from the library.

Person 1: “My family gave up cable a year ago to save money. We still watch the local news on the free TV and some of our DVD’s”
Person 2: “Oh yeah, well we gave up our TV’s altogether by selling them in a garage sale.”
Person 3: “Oh yeah! Well we burned all of our TV’s in the back yard while dancing around them naked and chanting.”
Super Exemplar Person 4: “OH YEAH! Well I’ve never even seen a TV--ever. And I moved to the Outback of central Australia where TV waves won’t even inadvertently penetrate my house.”

Since when did an extreme become the standard or ideal? Or for that matter, when did there become an ideal? It is not enough that everyone tries to do their part: take the bus, recycle their pop cans, buy CFL’s, eat local etc. Instead many on the left seem to perpetuate gross stereotypes by extolling the virtues of an aesthetic set of inapproachable extremes. These are the types who pick at Thoreau as being too urban and civilized for his living close to town and having regular visitors, or Gandhi for not doing enough to assist all levels of India’s diverse caste system; really, I mean REALLY!?! No wonder more moderate or conservative Americans reject many of the causes and values of the liberal agenda, despite that fact that your average American probably agrees with them. I bet you’d be hard pressed to find people that don’t believe that: we should use less energy, we should do more to protect endangered species, we could take better care of our water and air, we should be more attentive to the chemicals in our food. There are those who are oblivious and those who are not informed, and then there’s probably the majority; silently agreeable yet reluctant to be more vocal for fear of the judgment and derision of the extremes.

But the worst part is that this end fighting ultimately only leads to inaction or ineffectiveness. It becomes a distraction from the actual issue itself. The left seems to tear itself apart and implode, which shouldn’t be too surprising when you think about it. Rather than building a movement of diverse efforts along an entire spectrum of action, you’ve got factions. The extremes won’t associate with the moderates (because they’re not extreme enough--in fact they’re viewed to be part of the problem) and the moderates disassociate themselves from the extremes because they’re polarizing.

“Can’t we all just get along?” It seems somewhat of a trite sentiment, but perhaps there is still value to asking the question. What more could be accomplished with more understanding and support within these movements than jockeying and ‘yardsticking’ for the who’s who of exemplary activism. I suppose there will always be those who think more should be done, and find frustration at the sight of those who aren’t as impassioned or as angry as themselves. And yet no one can do it all. If we don’t acknowledge the efforts of all then we ultimately squander the efforts of both the large and small contributor: united we stand, divided we fall as someone once said. “Oh yeah, but I bet I can fall the most…” "Oh no, I'll fall the most...just watch."