On having things

978-1-60774-730-7.jpgYou’ve probably heard the hype about Marie Kondo’s “The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing.” (Example A, Example B, Example C, Example D )

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER! 3 MILLION COPIES SOLD!!

First of all, let’s call this book what it is: this is a self-help book for the masses. It’s a self-help book for people who are surrounded by objects, some of which they love/need and most of which are entropy encapsulated in objects.

So yes, this is a self-help book. I know. Bear with me.

I read this entire book and despite the many eye rolls, it was honestly life-changing in a small but important way. It is not about ascending Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self actualizing. It’s more simply about changing your relationship with objects (and maybe that makes you happy, maybe it helps with anxiety, or maybe you find it doesn’t really do anything for you).

The short explanation of Kondo’s approach is to approach your ownership of objects with intention, retaining only things that “bring you joy” and ensuring you appreciate those things and treat them with care. It sounds SO simple, yet Kondo has raked in millions of dollars for putting this into a book.

Yes, some of her tidying mentality is exhausting. She encourages the readers to have a dialogue with their objects, which I found silly. (*Enters house, kneels in entrance* “Hello house. I am here. Please accept me.” *Takes off jacket* “Thank you jacket for keeping me warm. Now I will ceremoniously, carefully place you where you belong so you can rest after keeping me warm all day….*Takes off shoes* Thank you shoes for helping my feet walk!…and so on.)

But, this book forces the reader to think about about the objects that surround us. We love to buy things, to collect things, to fill our spaces with things. That’s not a bad habit. But, Kondo has a point. When we are surrounded by objects for the sake of having objects, we don’t appreciate what we have, and our space becomes cluttered (i.e., diminishing value).

I drank the Kool Aid, and I applied her method to my space. I held every item I owned in my hands, and if it “sparked joy” as I held it, I kept it. If it did not have that special spark, I gave it away. Slowly I found myself in possession of honestly, 1/2 of my original stock. But what remained were things that I needed and enjoyed. It’s been four months and I found that I take better care of the fewer pieces of clothing I have. I seldom lose things in my apartment, and I have almost no clutter. I used to compulsively make multiple tiny random piles of things in my apartment. The more stressed I was, the faster these little piles of things would crop up. Now, clutter doesn’t surround me, my space is simple, and it doesn’t distract me.

I am fully aware I sound like an infomercial. And whatever, I don’t care. This book is ridiculous, but its central message is great and it’s clearly connecting with people. We are fortunate enough that we have the means to fill our space with things, but we take that fortune for granted. So why not pare our object repository down and re-learn what it feels like to appreciate and value our things?

Well. It’s now time to power off my computer, thank it for helping me write things about things on the internet, and then ceremoniously place it in its special place on my desk.

 

The objects of my affection.

There’s something rather sinister about the fact that when I was trying to think of a special holiday edition of GJH posts, the first thought that popped into my mind was “objects.” There are so many instances where what makes a (wo)man ends up being a collection of objects or the lack thereof. Haves and have nots.

A man is let out of prison. His freedom starts with the reclamation of his belongings. The right to own. A grandmother dies. Her family fights over claims to the object sum of her life.

We are sold success in business class seats, enlightenment in yoga mats, empowerment in red-lacquered soles, productivity in coffee cups, relief in wine bottles.

So, this GJH holiday series will objectify the subjective. Each post focuses on one object and the writer’s subjective experience of it.

Let the countdown begin.

The occasional concussion

I was supposed to write about objects today, and I am so excited to write about what I’ve learned from The Lifechanging Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, which instructs on how to intentionally own and interact with your belongings. It’s been a lifestyle gamechanger. It’ll come!

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Google image searched “walk into a pole” and found this gem from from http://www.blog.sibt.nsw.edu.au/tag/atar/page/7

But…a few days ago I sped-walked into a pole  while trying to catch my bus (100% sober) and gave myself what I’m realizing only a few days later must have been an actual concussion. I’m very disoriented still (even still have a bruise/bump on my forehead) and want to let my brain rest, but before I do, let’s take a moment to list out “Things that happen to Michi in two days when her brain is injured”

  1. Have taken the wrong tube train multiple times on my commute, and can’t figure out what happened or where I am. It’s incredible how confused I’ve been doing something I normally do without thinking each day.
  2. Missed my tube stop this morning, but had been trying really hard to pay attention so this didn’t happen.
  3. Locked myself out of my office.
  4. I am writing a report right now, and constantly I think that I have made certain changes or written entire sentences only later to realize that I have made no changes at all. (I don’t know what happened. Did I press ctl+Y a bunch? Or completely dissociate??)
  5. Couldn’t figure out how to turn my stove on, and finally just stood in front of the stovetop with my head in my hands, certain I’d never be able to make dinner.
  6. Somehow moved a ton of folders around my team’s dropbox but I don’t understand how I did it.
  7. Tried to put something into a cupboard multiple times in the same way, each time it fell out, but I couldn’t figure out what was happening enough to adjust what I was doing
  8. Went to my French lesson a day early
  9. Printed a report on A3 paper
  10. Had to return to my office three times before I could go home because I kept forgetting things.
  11. Am generally mystified by everything.

I’m usually a hot mess, but the past few days have been above and beyond. The utter confusion may not come across in the list, but this has been a very out-of-body experience. It feels like I have a loose grip on my brain. I am aware that I could do everything better, but I can’t seem to muster the thoughts/intention to make it happen. So, resting my brain for a few more days and crossing my fingers that things go back to normal soon.

Lesson of the day, kids: Don’t walk into poles.

Opinions. And on having them.

Maybe this was only the irrational fear of a 12-year-old, the fear of not having opinions on anything. It came from this idea that I don’t have anything to say because I don’t have thoughts about them and that those non-thoughts form only non-opinions. I don’t say things because I don’t have anything to say. Without an opinion, I don’t have a stake in the conversation, in what’s being put forward as right, as legitimate, as ethical, as the way things should be in the world. I don’t have opinions on anything. This fear hung in the air for a good chunk of my teenage years.

American grade school (and into college) is a place where young people are lauded for their “participation” because this active contribution to the classroom is hailed as the way that people are heard and legitimate and intelligent. These people are the ones that move the discussion forward, that defend their arguments to others, and have influence, and what I’ve heard called “leadership” skills. To voice your opinion and your thoughts on some issue is to be worldly and to “know your stuff.” In other cultures, it’s called being rude, loud, obnoxious, and/or imposing on others. For a long time, I had trouble reconciling these two worlds.

I’ve come to realize that, back then, I was only gathering information, so-called data on truth. It is without doubt that from a young age, I had some kind of obsession with the truth. I struggled with the idea that perhaps, and probably, there is no real truth in the universe. As you can imagine, this made religion a difficult concept for me to grasp. While you could argue that I wasn’t brought up Christian enough to take certain ideas as self-evident, I’d argue that it was in my nature to be skeptical of that which could not be reasonably or definitively proven multiple times over. Rather, it was my acceptance of religion as a value to human society rather than the belief system of any one religion that answered my questions into why it should exist at all.

I had a certain way of speaking. [Some would argue that this sentence should be written in the present: I have a certain way of speaking. Perhaps.] Things had to be worthy. Statements had to be worth the effort of speech. And correspondingly worth the time spent listening to it. Hey, I’ve always been considerate. Speech had to make some worthy contribution – worthy meaning thought-provoking or relevant, adding something new. Why would you spend your time listening to and learning the same things over and over again? You wouldn’t. But perhaps this leads me to make too many assumptions about what other people would find interesting or relevant or new or of value. Maybe it is only an excuse for me to continue gathering information without making my own contribution to that data collection and its synthesis. Maybe the assumption that people see what I see given the same information is too strong. But hey, I’m learning.

This is yet another fear about which my 20-something-year-old self would be able to reassure my 12- and 15- and 17-year-old selves. I have opinions. And strong ones. I have opinions that after 20-odd years of data collection in the form of experiences, anecdotes, media consumption, diversity, culture, and (I hope) continued openness have cultivated. I have things to say and it matters that I say them. Though I remain reserved, these are opinions that I will honestly share while being conservative with who is worthy to hear them. After years of being a woman, I know well when words only fall on deaf ears.

This past month has reminded me of these past fears and more recent realizations, and really in ways that I would have gladly gone without. It reminded me that I am capable of an emotional violence in my opinions and beliefs at a very basic, fundamental level – a driving force that remains hidden if not completely smothered in the day-to-day. And it reminded me again that there is so much more truth to learn. That settling down is not an option. We must instead strive to engage and listen and contribute and find those things that are worthy. That complacency and blind trust is dangerous. And that those with all of the loud opinions may be more empty air than American reverence would make them seem.

Dud defense strategy #431: head in the sand

NOTE: Google image “head in the sand” and you will come upon the glorious collection of stock images.

I’ve been a delinquent blogger for a LONG time. Spans of blog silence filled with useless fretting about being silent. Transition periods are always hard, and this many-month period of quitting a job, getting some R&R, and moving overseas only to remember that life’s a little rough without your family/friend network was no exception.

In the past quarter of a year, so much has happened in the world (see below posts for proof). Instead of jumping into the blog and writing about the world, or writing productively about my life + its intersection with the world, I’ve sat at a computer with brainlock and frozen fingers. Every blog idea I’ve had has fallen somewhere in the realm of self-indulgent, in the agonizing narrating voice of Gossip Girl (XOXO).

There’s a whole lot of hurt in the world. In this exceptional time of an unprecedented surge in human displacement by war and natural disaster, the incredibly depression electorate validation of Trumpism/Brexit…ugh you know what? I’m not going to try to list this all out. The world is in rough shape. I don’t understand.

In this global context, the already overwhelming, paralyzing anxiety-drivers in my life carry on. I’ve buried my head deep in the sand, and I think my radio silence is a bit of evidence of this.

Head-in-the-sand is not an appropriate defensive stance for dealing with the world, or with my own life.

So, here’s a pre-New Year’s resolution to plug in to the world and deal with my life. Process it. Write about it in a useful way.

Great.

Ah December. The red of world AIDS day marks the start of decked halls and Christmas lights. (RED) cups and gift cards. Expensive flights and long lines. Recipe books and carol hooks. And so on. You’ll notice we neglected October and November. That’s because nothing of significance was happening in the world. The American electorate did not outdo itself. A hatred-spewing, pussy-grabbing, language-perverting bigot was not elected into office. The very fabric of liberal ideology was not ripped apart. There were no violent ripples across the world. The uprising of the far right was not given a stamp of approval, both in America and otherwise. France and Austria remain unthreatened. Monetary systems were unperturbed in every way. People fleeing from profit-driven war and devastation were not used as pawns to trigger fear-based propaganda and inward-looking protectionism. The environment that sustains us was prioritized, its value as upstanding as ever. Knowledge and thinking were celebrated, informing decisions with long lasting positive impact for all. Love won.

Right… Alt-right.

Hundreds of articles are trying to make sense of the next four years and what they’ll mean not only for America, but for the world. The contrast filters on the colours of our skin are approaching maximum levels. Right wing parties are gaining even further momentum in Europe, the repercussions of which will be deplorable given that Syria’s conflict (rather, the global conflict that Syria happens to have the abominable pleasure of hosting) shows no sign of tapering. Lives continue to be destroyed as the world locks its doors and throws away the key into the convoluted maze of referendums and parliamentary process. Trade instability is pushing foreign investment in ironic directions. The environment continues slipping down the give-a-fuck ladder (even in lala Canadaland governed by Prince Charming). And don’t worry, they’re doing their best to equally dismantle progress on other social sectors. The incoming education secretary is pegged as “Public school enemy No.1,” rolling in with her charter schools and privatized education. Health and human services will be run by a man who sees Price(s) instead of patients, hates healthy populations and belongs to the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS), a right wing group of physicians who disavow evidence-based medicine and believe that doctors are God. No matter what.

But I don’t want to talk about any of this. What I want to talk about is more personal. The world has gone through these right/left ebbs and flows forever. It’s not that this four year presidency will dismantle everything (8 years however may). It’s that it happened in the first place – in this moment in time – that makes it hard to hold my world view up to the mirror to take a proper look. It’s not pretty. It hurts. It makes me feel insecure, disconnected, and at a loss for what to do next. You may argue that it was time for the built-in-America house of cards to come tumbling down, making a joker out of supposed racial harmony while crowning overt bigotry and chauvinism King. “The great experiment that failed. An American dream turned nightmare.” But I find that sad too. I liked having some shred of hope that humanity is capable of celebrating differences. I wanted to believe in a humanity whose main ignorance was behind Rawls’ veil. Instead I’m forced to look at the picture of Dorian Gray – the portrait we’ve all collaboratively painted using acrylic selfishness and strokes of ignorance.

It’s just Great. Again.

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