Tag Archives: clutter

Being ascetic about asceticism

250px-Ignatius_of_Antioch_2Well, things have continued to be unpleasant in my work life. Actually, they’re getting worse. I have had to take consolation from the fact that what I’m going through is hugely easier than being an early martyr eaten by wild beasts– if slower. I shouldn’t whine. But, anyway, this blog continues to help me stay more alert to my relationship with objects.

It appears that the level of stress in my life is correlated with an increase in the size of my Amazon wish list. I hate to admit I was really surprised when I looked carefully. The number of objects on my wish list has gone up by 2.4% this month alone.

I already knew that under stress I tend to eat too much, but I wasn’t quite so clearly conscious that I also tend to WANT too much. Wow! I see now that it’s like an anxious kid reaching for her bear and blankie! Not good for a grownup!

So for today’s object, I’m going to pick something from this month’s additions to the wish list that I am choosing not to buy.

Marriage, Celibacy, and Heresy in Ancient Christianity is the first major study in English of the ‘heretic’ Jovinian and the Jovinianist controversy. David G. Hunter examines early Christian views on marriage and celibacy in the first three centuries and the development of an anti-heretical tradition…

JovinianistControversyThe early history of Christianity is really fascinating. A lot of people don’t realize that a huge amount of action took place in the first centuries after the writing of the New Testament. It is very true that those who don’t know history are condemned to repeat it, because a lot of the most fiery disputes in Christianity in the most recent four or five centuries (such as between Protestants and Catholics) are simply rematches of similarly passionate disputes from the first centuries of Christianity. Any believer who has ever had a serious religious argument with a fellow believer knows: “Let Mortal Kombat Begin!”

The Jovinian Controversy was about what level of asceticism is most appropriate for Christians. Aha! You see why it caught my interest. The “Look Inside” selection on Amazon holds my attention, and rereading it makes me see why I put the book on my wish list a couple of weeks ago. The appropriate degree of involvement with the physical world is still a hot topic in Christianity (as the story of “the Bishop of Bling” illustrates), and probably always will be. The topic enthralls me.

ApostolicFathers1But thinking about it today, I know, deep down, that I don’t have the fortitude to wade through almost 300 pages of anything, much less a tome of early Christian studies. I also don’t feel I have enough background, which is why I’m leaving both volumes of the reasonably priced Loeb Classical Library’s Apostolic Fathers on my wish list, because Jovinian was quite a bit later than people like St. Ignatius of Antioch, who studied directly under St. John the Evangelist (best known as the beloved disciple at the Last Supper). And my work situation is keeping my span of attention low.

My experience in academic publishing whispers greedily, “You should get it before it goes out of print. You just know that probably there was a print run of 1000 and it will never be reprinted. Just buy it and keep it.” But my more ascetic self says it’s a waste of space and money I don’t even have, really, to spend $47 for a book (or $30 for a used copy) that I will probably never get around to reading. And this book, if I leave it in the freecycle area of my building, is going to end up in the trash.

So, with a great deal of regret, I’m going to delete it from my wish list. The mortal combats of Jovianian’s era will have to wait for another day, perhaps another lifespan.

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Too snug

I started out by writing some nonsense about not having posted for over a week because I was struggling with a topic. Indeed, my next post will be an Observation, and those always take a little longer to write.

However, the main truth about my silence was that in my constant war against overflow of the “bathtub” of my SRO, I’ve had to turn my emotional attention, slowly and very reluctantly, from shopaholism to hoarding.

Packratting is boring compared to shopaholism: I don’t want to gather up all my trash, then walk it down two storeys to the garbage depot, and then walk back up. Same story, again and again. And the more days I am in denial, as I have been this past week, the worse it gets.

At this time of year, facing my clutter is even more difficult. I don’t want to deal with the gifts that people give me, so I leave them here and there half-opened so that the boxes and wrappers snag on me when I try to walk from one place to another in my little home. (Let’s see if I get to the Harry and David’s basket before the pears go bad.) Then there’s the problem of the original boxes that things were shipped to me in that aren’t nice enough to use to give people their presents in. And now I don’t have space to gather up trash as I usually do, so the bags and boxes from needful things like food and prescriptions pile up, ready for me to slip and fall on and for vermin to explore

It’s like the huge garbage whorls in the Pacific Ocean. There’s the big patch by the sink, the patch between my computer and the window, the patch by the door on the closet side, the patch by the door on the other side…

It always amazes me that in about ten days I can go from imagining that I’ve got my hoarding sort of under control to finding that I’m living in quite unpleasant circumstances of my own making. Given that my place is only 8′ x 10′, I shouldn’t be so surprised at how fast this happens, but the sudden ballooning always takes me unawares. I really do feel like Alice (in Wonderland) panicking at how small my room has become so quickly.

I took a couple of little presents to the foyer and put them on the freecycle shelf for someone else to use as their Christmas presents for people in their lives, but that’s not nearly enough to make up for the chaos reigning rampant in my home.

So I am sorry not to have written as I regularly do, but I think the hoarding situation is urgent enough for me to sign off now and put some sweat into dealing with the mess. Housekeeping requires a completely different sort of asceticism from restraining shopaholism, but it is ascetic nonetheless.

640px-Pacific-garbage-patch-map_2010_noaamdp

A delusion, not a fantasy

The waiting room in Radiation Oncology had as its focal point a big, expensive saltwater aquarium full of colorful fishes with lovely cool blue illumination. The fish were not just the center of attention; they were celebrities who got the most flattering light in the place. The walls were off-white yellow and the fluorescents the old-fashioned greenish kind, so all the humans in the room looked utterly drained of hemoglobin, as if the Angel of Death had drifted by, as, perhaps, it had.

As the treatments progressed, I realized that the lighting in the clinic was not solely to blame — I really was turning pale. Blusher became not a grooming accessory but the way to keep from looking like a cold ivory carving.

After I recovered, I kept wearing blusher, because I never did regain all my color. Blusher (or rouge, as my mother called it) makes me feel more confident and energetic. The range of tints is wider than one might imagine, and selecting just the right colors of blush and lipstick each day is a minute of calm pleasure in the morning rush.

I discovered that blush looks so stripey or dotty on most people because they actually use the doll-sized brushes that come with the compact. Cosmetics are no exception to the need for the right tool for the job. So I became fascinated by blush brushes in all their many shapes – flat, oval, fan, round, angled.

da Vinci 332 large travel blush brushI bought just two, though, from Bdellium and Mary Kay. They were perfectly fine, but they could not keep me from obsessing over the luxury collection of da Vinci brand makeup brushes. In particular, I pined for the $65 large retracting travel blush brush in a gleaming metal case. I imagined how smoothly the mechanism must work, how soft the brush must feel and how evenly its perfectly domed fluffiness would apply color so naturally, as if I really still did have roses in my cheeks. I envisioned myself opening the case, swiveling out the brush, touching it to the lovely pan of color, and making my aging, post-cancer complexion come alive.

But then I realized that the da Vinci brush was so magnificently large, shiny, scratchable, and dentable, it wasn’t practical for daily use in my purse (alongside my headlamp), nor for the one-night “mental health breaks” I take in hotels a few times a year (a chance to soak in a tub, sleep in a bed, and watch TV). This brush was meant for the kind of travel that involves entire weeks away from home.

At that point, the brush came to represent for me a fantasy life of leisure, of weeks spent here and there in five-star hotels, in multiple homes in the great cities of the world, and in a quiet, breezy villa overlooking the blue, blue ocean the color of the aquarium in the Radiation Oncology waiting room, but with the drowsy brushing sound of waves soothing me as I gently used the brush to apply to my skin the shade of lifeblood, even when nobody was around to see, or perhaps too when there was someone special nearby.

All for a clever piece of metal filled with artfully shaped hair for which squirrels doubtless have more practical uses.

The fantasy is having the villa; but the delusion is that owning that brush would get me somehow closer to having the villa, in the manner of sympathetic magic. No, I can daydream about a villa just fine without delusionally spending money on something that I cannot use in its proper manner. But if you are the kind of person who uses the words “summer” and “winter” as verbs, and you use rouge, I recommend this brush highly because it is beautiful and so consistent with your way of life.

Progress report: One for one

VictoryI’m happy to report progress. This blog is helping me to relinquish my obsessions with wanting stuff. It provides repeated practice in renouncing things of many different sorts for many different reasons in many different ways. I’ve gone into a few of my older posts and said, “Oh, yeah, I used to really really want that for years… wow, I forgot.” This isn’t exactly conquest of my shopaholism, but it’s a little victory! I feel a bit freer on the inside, less bothered by spiderwebs of longing for objects. There are still tons of objects I want, but this blog is actually helping.

Now I’m trying something new. I’m going to balance buying something with getting rid of something. This feels uncomfortable. I’ve never been moderate in my management of belongings. I tend to either buy or get rid of stuff by the bag, by the box, or even more. Or I get rid of one single thing or buy one single thing, but not at the same time. Moderation and balance are a whole new ballgame. Or, to use the metaphor from early in this blog, this time I’m simultaneously letting out some hoarded water from the bathtub and letting some fresh new water in.

This plan is a little dicey, because I am buying a bible. I’ve written before about my fascination with bibles of various form factors, especially cute little bibles. (You can click here to see that post.) So I had hoped to be rid of the urge to buy more bibles. I don’t want to fall into a spell of enthusiasm and buy a boatload of various translations, or a parallel-text French-English bible, or that cute chunky edition…

However, as I told you, I read the Bible a lot online, on BibleGateway.com. Recently, the New International Reader’s Version caught my attention. (Click here to see a couple of verses in the NIRV compared to other translations.) And when I want to explore a translation, I want a physical book to flip through and page through.

NIrV with polka dotsI wrote half a blog post explaining how I chose not to buy this translation. I made fun of my wanting the jolly teal polka-dotted edition, and I tsk-tsked at the unscholarly simplified language in the NIRV (which is much easier than the translations I normally read, such as the NRSV). And I quoted myself: “God is not a genie to be captured in a bottle, and bibles are not toys.” That last is true, but I could not sincerely finish writing the post, because the more I wrote, the more I realized I do not want this bible out of shopaholism. I really do want to explore this translation.

Writing this blog is teaching me, slowly, how to distinguish the emotional sensations of shopaholism and hoarding. It is not easy, but it is becoming less difficult for me to tell when I actually want something for itself and when there are reasons not to get it.

I am beginning to sense that when I want to buy something in the right way, I feel a more level-headed, calmer, clear-cut set of interrogations compared to when I am longing for something. Do I really have the space? Do I really have the money? Will I have the time and commitment to respect this object and respect myself by using it, and using it well? Will I lay it aside because it turns into junk in my hands and I get bored with it? Is it worth devoting some of the minimal space in my tiny home to it? Will I have the willpower to give it away if it disappoints, even though I paid good money for it?

So this time I thought about it, and eureka! Why don’t I get rid of one of my least-read bibles? One for one at the same time! I know that those of you who don’t have hoarding and shopaholism problems are probably rolling your eyes at this big “discovery,” but it was a discovery for me!

My building has a tacitly agreed-upon freecycling space where we put small items we don’t want; anyone who wants can take them and after a couple of days, the building manager throws out anything left. This is the flat top of an unused radiator cover in the foyer — no clothes, very good for books, vases, bottles of perfume, and the like. It always looks neat, because if something is good quality, it gets picked up very quickly.

I put my telephone-book-sized six-pound Large Print NIV Archaeological Bible out there with a sticky saying “Great Christmas present!” I peeked a few hours later and it was gone. I felt relief. I should have gotten rid of that enormous bible long ago, because after I read a few pages I lost interest in it right away. (“But it was so expensive, and maybe I’ll make the time to study it, and I should learn what’s in it… and…”) It was even in its original box.

So, jubilantly, I ordered the (much smaller) NIRV, because even though my place is overstuffed with possessions, I was able to keep the situation from getting worse. Not exactly ascetic behavior, but self-disciplined.

One for one: A useful concept.

Evanescent. Scent.

120px-Guinea_Pig_closeupWhen the internet was much younger, I tried to participate in various forums and lists.

The only success I had was on the now-archived list alt.guinea.pig.conspiracy, which ran on the premise that guinea pigs are planning to take over the world. To grasp the belly-shaking humor, you have to have witnessed guinea pigs, as they often do, quietly going into a back corner, facing away from the room, and putting their heads together in a secret conclave inaccessible to stupid human beings.

Aglaonema_commutatum2In contrast, I was a thread killer on Aroid-L, which is about the family of plants that includes such familiar household inhabitants as the incorrectly so-called pothos and such rarities as the corpse plant. A conversation would go along fine until I posted something, and suddenly it would stop. Probably that was because the list is inhabited by scholars of botany and serious collectors of obscure species, whereas I was but a frankly ignorant enthusiast for aglaonema, a very common ornamental more easily, and also improperly, called Silver Queen (which is actually the name of only one variety). I imagine that I must have written things so simple-minded that there was nothing to be said in response.

However, I never provoked a crowd as I did on a forum about fragrances, Perfume of Life, which is inhabited by fanciers of scent both male and female. It was, I can say ruefully, my greatest success on the internet, as measured by the firestorm it set off.

Clive Christian No 1 for WomenThe thread isn’t on the revamped new site, so I must explain that my offense was to declare forthrightly that I live in a tiny SRO (where I still am today) with a shared bathroom and no kitchen, but that I was considering buying a bottle of “the most expensive perfume in the world,” Clive Christian No. 1 for Women, not because it was costly but because I sincerely liked the rather dark, large, dramatic scent a great deal. That amount of money (it was $740 then) was, and is, not nearly enough to raise my standard of living, but it seemed spendthrift to put so much into a bottle of ephemeral perfume when I had so little money to my name; yet where my accommodations are so spartan, it seemed a worthy pleasure. And so I asked what people thought.

The thread exploded with agitated perfume collectors approaching the topic from all imaginable angles. People got really upset at me. Probably they took it personally that I had unwittingly revealed to them how much money they themselves had spent on their own collections. Astonishingly, the thread rapidly surpassed 5,000 reader hits. Apparently not only fragrances but collectors thereof are volatile! The commotion so traumatized me that I fled all forums and lists to this day.

1001609_LFTEAROSEET4_A_400And so it is with great qualms (please don’t flame me) that I introduce to you something I have wanted for years but until quite recently mistakenly thought was out of production: The simply named Perfumers Workshop Tea Rose.

In the 1970s, my mother used to wear this summery, somewhat herbal, scent of tea roses, and it was really very pleasant on her, indeed far more consistently pleasant than she herself was. Also pleasantly, it was, and still is, inexpensive. You can get four ounces, an enormous amount, for less than the price of a pizza. It’s a simple pleasure of evidently enduring appeal. (Did I already ask you to please not beat me up for telling you about Tea Rose? Please don’t beat me up.)

However, I own many scents already — admittedly a fraction of what real collectors have — and before I found out that Tea Rose was still in production, my little herd of fragrances had come to include a bottle of a fabulous, tremendous rose poetically called La Fille de Berlin (Daughter of Berlin). It is the most recent release of the house of Serge Lutens,la-fille-de-berlin-main which is not a household name but is known for subtlety and artistry. It’s the kind of scent where, as perfume collectors are wont to say, when one tries it, one’s nose becomes glued to one’s wrist. You can buy a sample of it at Luckyscent.com.

I seriously doubt Tea Rose can stand up to La Fille de Berlin, although it would be fascinating to do a comparison. Really, I would be buying Tea Rose out of nostalgia and curiosity. And so, sadly, I conclude that it would be a waste of money and space to buy Tea Rose. It would make a fine present for a Secret Santa to give to a woman, so I encourage you to consider it, and it is inexpensive enough for you to try if you want the evocative scent of summer roses at the holidays. But I must show some self-discipline: I have no space for another rose.

Ooh, shiny!

320px-Poinsettia_2We’re getting into the “holiday season,” which is what secularists call the runup to Christmas, or “Xmas.”

Poinsettias, actually a tropical plant from Central America, and not to be confused with amaryllis, are part of “holiday” decoration. More secular than images of creches and infants, they have the traditional red and green colors of Xmas, and they don’t put secularists on the defensive. (I send Christmas cards only to people I know are believers, and New Year’s cards to everyone else.)

A catalog I buy from, mostly the really delicious and diarrhea-inducing sugar-free (but not calorie-free) fudge, is offering daily specials via email. These emails are dangerous for a shopaholic, but I do manage not to buy anything from them. It’s a struggle, though.

PoinsettiaBroochToday’s email of specials included an item I like a lot and want, a poinsettia brooch that is covered in Swarovski crystals and is a massive 2 1/2″ across. After work, I gazed at the picture, looked at 2 1/2″ inches on a ruler, and pondered buying it. The sale price is very reasonable.

I like brooches. Granted, they have an antique, old-ladyish air, but they do liven up a woolen, Nixonian “respectable Republican cloth coat.” When I had a big, spectacular one (now disposed of because the fake pearls’ coating wore off), it attracted a lot of comments. In recent years, my coat has sported a little one about 3/4″ across, depicting colorless fruit, and even that attracts comments.

Hardly anyone sees me go to work, and I leave the office in the dark. My body engine runs hot, so I don’t wear my woolen coat until the weather gets really cold in January and February. So there’s no reason to have it for the “holiday” season.

It would make a terrific gift for someone who enjoys bling, and as you know, I certainly enjoy sparkly stuff. I would enjoy holding it in my hot little paws, looking at it in the sun, and making it twinkle. But, sorrowfully, I myself have no real use for this very pretty brooch.

Dem bones, dem bones

The word “relic” is commonly used today as an insult to refer to what is old and outdated and thus unworthy, such as an iPhone 2.

320px-2347_-_München_-_St_Peterskirche In contrast, in the strict religious sense, relics of especially holy persons continue to be venerated — bones, mummified flesh, personal effects, clothing. And in a nonreligious sense, the Victorians made jewelry from the hair of loved ones, which they found particularly comforting after the death of the source of the hair.

In the third millennium, it all seems unappealingly unsanitary — a relic, so to speak, of an earlier era — compared to a digital photo, an image made of electronic zeroes and ones.

However, in the literal sense of objects tangibly connected to a person of significance, relics are still very common today and created all the time. Crayon drawings produced by kindergarteners hang in offices long after the children have graduated high school. Fine jewelry is available engraved with the fingerprints of loved ones, or even set with gems made from their cremated remains. There are kits available to memorialize the hands, feet, and buttocks of infants in three-dimensional glory.

Illu_compact_spongy_boneRelics are meant to give us a tactile, not merely visual, connection to the past. And so it is with these emotions that I am fascinated by dinosaur bone fossils. I so intensely want the pieces I am showing further down on this post that I feel a greedy, acquisitive adrenaline rush just looking at the pictures.

One is inclined to think of the plain surface of bones one sees in museums, but in some fossils, the actual delicate internal structure of the bone is visible; stone has filled in the spaces of the cancellous (spongy-structured) bone that is found at the end of long bones in all sorts of creatures. You may be most familiar with cancellous bone from the chewy end of the leg bone of a chicken underneath the cartilage (birds being the most notable descendants of dinosaurs). These fossils are sometimes called “agatized.”

red dinosaur boneFor me, there is an appealing intimacy to these wondrously lacy bone fossils. To me, the small, intricate reticulations prove the fleshliness of dinosaurs in a way that plainer, more stony specimens do not.

These attractive fossils make me recall the dry, warm, incredibly soft bellies of little live sunwarmed lizards I have handled in a tropical climate, and I imagine a hot planet filled with herds and flocks of reptiles big and small carrying out their lives in the midst of overflowing vegetation with sunlight streaming down through it and onto it — animals eating, and resting, flying around and running about, mating, and carefully raising their nests of babies, being so numerous and living lives in a climate so materially rich and verdant that our entire civilization is sustained by the petroleum remains of their world.

If I could handle one of these fossils, it could make me feel vividly, by means of flesh to flesh contact, that that world really existed ages of ages ago, really lived.

36 mm dinosaur boneAnd for so little money! And yet as inexpensive as it is, it is a treasure. It is a beautiful thing that didn’t come out of a factory, that wasn’t imagined by the human mind, a wonderful object that shouts down through the ages of a purer, more majestic time before mankind and its moral corruptions.

But I know that if I had such a fossil, I would marvel at it for a week or so, and then set it aside, and eventually it would end up in a box of chowder, forgotten, to be thrown away by the estate liquidator when I die. I have no vitrine to display it in and keep it safe. And even if I had it set in jewelry as a pendant, I would wear it almost never. I would not give it the attention, the respect, the emotional maintenance that it deserves.

Best for me to let you enjoy it, feel the flesh of the dinosaur press against your own hand, dream the dream of the ages past, and sing the song about dead bones coming alive again:

[The Etsy listings I have linked in this post are mortal, so if these particularly nice specimens have been sold, do a search for “dinosaur bone” or “agatized dinosaur bone” on that and many other websites.]

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