the simple minded suburbanite

#1. Generosity. 5 Transcendent Principles
February 15, 2012, 1:27 pm
Filed under: authenticity, culture, gratitude, suburban, voluntary simplicity | Tags: ,

“…we find fundamental richness everywhere.  It is not ours or theirs but is available always to everyone. ..this wealth is the nature of everything.  It is like the sun in that it shines on everyone without discrimination.  It is like a mirror in that it is will to reflect anything without accepting or rejecting.”  Pema Chodrom, When Things Fall Apart.  5 Transcendent Principles

We give away old clothes, spare change, food.  We share time, our stories, our pain.  But to truly be generous we have to give what we most want to hold on to.

I had lunch yesterday with some acquaintances.  Lovely ladies, loads of fun.  As the lunch progressed, I noticed a pattern in the conversation.  Whenever a subject was brought to me to speak about, “How is your work?”  “Where are you going for spring break?” “How are the kids?”, one woman could barely wait for me to finish my sentence before she would jump in, “We’re going to Costa Rica.  We’ve been to Austin.  I am so busy with tennis.  Lilly is doing so great in school.  Fantastic grades!  Ryan is playing traveling baseball.”  And on, and on.

I began to question myself.  Was I boring?  Do I brag or ramble on too long?  Have I somehow challenged this woman?  Maybe she really doesn’t like me and doesn’t really care what is going on with me (can I say that we had already spent much time talking about her, as well as catching up with everyone else around the table.).  I decided that none of this mattered:  my hurt feelings, my egoic need to share what was going on with me, my perception of the situation.  Instead, I decided, the only thing I knew for sure was that this woman had a need to talk about herself and did so in place of listening to anything about me.  Fact.  No judgement.

I turned my body in my chair toward her.  I leaned my elbow on the table.  I nodded.  I asked questions.  I confirmed.  “I’ve heard wonderful things about Costa Rica.  You’ve been there before, haven’t you?  What do you like about it?…You must be so proud of Ryan. I bet it is a challenge for him and fun for your family to travel with a group of fun parents and kids.”  Generosity.  Generosity despite having an urge to push up against.  Generosity to give something to someone despite having my own need to be received.  I truly took an interest.  It was not false.  It was not pitying.  I opened my heart and my ears to her and accepted the situation as it was and felt I had a much more rounded experience at lunch after I gave her what she desired than I had while I was trying to get a word in edgewise.  It felt even better than paying for her lunch because I gave of myself and gave her what she deeply needed and it took nothing away from the fundamental richness of the world around me.  It’s all still there.

Have you ever given something very difficult for you to give and found that you didn’t end up missing it?


“Dreamers Are Gluttons…
February 14, 2012, 3:34 pm
Filed under: authenticity, culture, suburban, voluntary simplicity | Tags: , ,

…and only lazybones invent labor saving devices.”  A passage I came across written by Gunter Grass in the classic, The Tin Drum.  It struck me and I found myself arguing with its logic, since a dreamer is what I fancy myself.  Arguing against is a sure sign that there is some personal truth contained in the words.  Are dreamers gluttons?  At first, I say, “no.”

I imagine artists living on spartan farmettes on the outskirts of town.  I think of poets, writers in one-room flats.  Thoreau, Emerson lived simply and connected greatly to nature.  Starving for their craft.  Living on minimal sustenance.

But now, as I think deeper into the meaning of gluttony, I think maybe, “yes.”  Gluttony in the form of consumption, the greedy need to be filled to overflowing to the point of perhaps taking from someone else.  When I think of Picasso who spent every waking moment painting, sketching to the detriment of family life, friendship, personal reflection. The prolific writers who walked the streets of Paris, observed life with only a writer’s mind, who befriended other like-minded artists and devoured the self of many a lover.  Gluttonous.  They consumed the hours of each day with the ravenous orifice of their art.  It was their genius they fed, their dreams.

Don’t all we dreamers envision days on end at the piano while the dishes pile high in the sink and the kids play, filthy on the lawn?  Dream of days with a behaggled maid to sweep up our messes and keep visitors at bay while we scratch away with feather quill at our paper strewn desk.  Dream of being consumed by our passions and feeding only on that feeds our hungry soul?  Our desires.

And don’t we all have to fight that monster, us dreamers?  Keep the children clean and feeling loved.  Lunch with friends.  Listen, empathetically, to our spouse.  Make the beds.  Go to work.  Wash our hair.

And don’t all of us dreamers think of ways to save time, save labor, save energy and space to create it, however small, for our passions?  A nook, a pillow propped on the bed, twenty minutes of solitude on a Sunday morning.

Dreamers, I believe, are gluttons.  We love a feast.  We can lull about the table of desire.  And yet, we always are able to stay hungry.

Bottoms up to us, dreamers.

“Only Stupid People are Bored”
January 20, 2012, 4:28 pm
Filed under: achievement, culture, suburban, time management | Tags:

A phrase for which I would like to thank my friend, Emily’s, mother.  She would say it to a young Emily and her young brother, in her native Spanish tongue, whenever they complained of being bored.  I find myself dying to repeat the phrase to many a suburban housewife whose children have gone off to school full time, whose husband drones away at work, whose rooms are completely decorated.  They say the phrase, “I’m bored,” in their native suburban tongue.  They say things like: “I need to find something to do,”  “I go back to bed after I get the kids on the bus,”  “Do you want to come over for ‘The Bachelor’  viewing party on Tuesday night?” or (the worst) “I’m so busy doing nothing!”  Listen, we’ve all muttered things like this on occasion.  We all have to shift things up as our families grow, our lives change.  We all wonder about our purpose in life.  But, it seems to me it’s the same people saying the same thing time after time again.  And it boils down to one question for me:

“How many times are you going to ask that question, allow yourself to drift, before you do something, no matter how small, about it?”

Look.  Stupid people don’t always realize that they’re being stupid (that’s what makes them so).  And smart people can do stupid things.  I laugh inside everytime I think of Emily’s mom’s phrase.  Not in a judging way (well, most of the time) because I’ve added:

“Only stupid people are bored, and you’re not stupid.”  So, find something meaningful because in a world of possibilities, if you don’t do something, anything, that’s just plain dumb.


Summer Reading. Fahrenheit 451. IV
August 26, 2011, 8:00 am
Filed under: culture, suburb, suburban, suburbanite, voluntary simplicity | Tags: ,

“And number three:  the right to carry out actions based on what we learn from the interaction of the first two.”

How can we do better if we don’t take the time to understand, question, integrate?  How can we get to the core of what we value if we don’t take the time to question others’ values and clallenges?  How can we behave closer to who we want to be?

Summer reading: Fahrenheit 451, II
August 23, 2011, 1:43 pm
Filed under: authenticity, culture, suburban, voluntary simplicity | Tags: ,

Three things that are missing:

“Number one:  Do you know why books such as this are so important?  Because they have quality. And what does the word quality mean?  To me it means texture.  This book has pores.  It has features.  This book can go under the microscope.  You’d find life under the glass, streaming past in infinite profusion.  The more pores, the more truthfully recorded details of life per square inch you can get on a sheet of paper, the more ‘literary’ you are.  That’s my definition, anyway.  Telling detail.  Fresh detail.  The good writers touch life often.  The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her. The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.

“So now do you see why books are hated and feared?  They show the pores in the face of life.  The comfortable people want only wax moon faces, poreless, hairless, expressionless. We are living in a time when flowers are trying to live on flowers, instead of growing on good rain and black loam.  Even fireworks, for all their prettiness, come from the chemistry of the earth.  Yet somehow we think we can grow, feeding on flowers and fireworks, without completing the cycle back to reality.  Do you know the legend of Hercules and Antaeus, the giant wrestler, whose strength was incredible so long as he stood firmly on the earth?  But when he was held rootless, in midair, by Hercules, he perished easily.  If there isn’t something in that legend for us today, in this city, in our time, then I am completely insane.

“Well, there we have the first thing I said we need.  Quality, texture of information.”

Thoughts?  In connection to nature?  In connection to consumption?  To simplicity?  To the richness of life that cannot be shellacked?  That can be dirty and rainy and porous?  In connection to the details?  To ourselves as “writers” of our own story.

April 28, 2011, 6:45 pm
Filed under: authenticity, culture, suburban, time management, voluntary simplicity | Tags: ,

Nobody’s going to “My Mary’s” charity event.

One of the central practices of voluntary simplicity is to align the way you spend your time with your values, passions, and goals.  It is a practice that I struggle to keep at the forefront of my mind but also recognize that it is a “rule” that is meant to be broken.  I will occasionally stop in for a glass of wine with a group of friends (acquaintences, I’ve learned the difference) I haven’t seen for awhile, even though a book is calling my name (okay, I guess you could say I value “community”).  I will head up the bakesale even though I can’t think of a more apron-wearing, thick-in-the-middle activity that screams “She is soooo boring!!!”.  I do it because my good friend chairs the school’s fall festival fundraiser (okay, I guess I do it because I value friendship and my children’s educational opportunities).  My point is, sometimes I take liberties with the principles of voluntarty simplicity.  But that’s the point, yes?  It is meant to be what you want it to be and is ever evolving.

So, anyway Mary is “hosting” a tailgate fundraiser for Japan at our clubhouse.  And nobody’s going.  Mary thinks it’s because everyone who lives in our neighborhood is shallow.  That may be partially true but, the real reason nobody is going to Mary’s charity event is because Mary hasn’t built community.

You may recall my post “What if Your Mary Was Right“.  In it, I disussed how Mary is very keen on the idea of living her life in line with her own vision.  Unfortunately, her vision is a little narrow…loyal, but tight.  She has a tight group of very good friends.  She spends her time EXACTLY as she wants, often manipulating other’s plans to what she would rather be doing.  All this is fine and good until…an event when she reached outside of her tight circle and expected that everyone would come bounding and skipping because the cause is a good cause.

Mary rang false by calling on a community that she clearly did not value.  It is difficult to draw a circle in for charity when you are perceived as slightly rigid and selfish.

So, the lesson in it for me is this:  When making your choices and parring down, self is very important, self nurturance is essential, but selfishness…well, though it’s a fine line, that can come back to bite you.  If you’re okay with that, well okay then.  But think big picture.  Think of future scenarios.  Think about what you truly, truly value.

And, even though I have to run 2 kids to 2 seperate bday parties and one to guitar practice, and even though I really just want drive through Taco Bell and a bottle of cheap red, and even though My Mary didn’t show to my kids’ lemonade stand for Haiti, I’mmaking a dish to pass and I’m going to theMary’s tailgate.  I value friendship and I value charity, even towards Mary.

Just What I Needed on a Tuesday Morning
April 26, 2011, 12:29 pm
Filed under: authenticity, collaboratation, culture, voluntary simplicity | Tags: ,

I try not to check my email first thing in the morning. It’s usually a sure-fire way of assuring pre-mature panic (see my post months ago about email craziness).  But this morning, after reading Flannery O’Connor for a few minutes, I decided to check my inbox.  This link was sent to me by a friend.  It’s inspiring and reminded me not to spend the morning cleaning out the coat closet or laundering the dog’s pillow but to get out and do what I am being called to do.  I feel like the world is changing. People are sharing, inspiring, acting.  And I’m being drawn to it.  To all of my “I am an island” neighbors, falsy wearing Tom’s though they could really give a shit who else in the world has shoes, who are buying tickets to Atlas Shrugged, “I’ll be there to help you blow off the dust when you find yourself left in it!”

No, I won’t be meeting you for lunch today.  And no, I won’t be volunteering jockying for the PTA.  I’ll be out setting my world on fire.

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