Looking in the Rear View Mirror

It’s finally rear view mirror time. Some seasons of life feel like they will never end, but of course they always do, one way or another. This one lasted a little over a year, but let me tell you – it was a LONG year. Somewhere in there I lost the ability to give a shit about much and that has been a boon I think. The fire of purgatory hurts, but it is a cleansing fire. This is how I see it, with no intent to over dramatize in any way. I find myself already forgetting how painful it was, and in some regard I don’t want to forget. Then again, maybe that is life’s way of allowing you to move on. The pain of childbirth is forgotten remarkably quickly, for example. If it wasn’t, no one would have a second child, much less a third, forth, or more. We’d have all died out by now if our pain memories were very strong.

All the same, I think it can be too easy to forget trials and thus forget all it taught you, hence life also has a way of teaching you the same lesson over and over until your dumb ass finally gets it. I definitely don’t want to have to go through that again if I can help it. So whatever I have to endure now is for the sake of not repeating the grade I just finished and move on to the next one, hoping it’s time for it to get a little easier to handle.

I also just don’t give a rat’s arse about politics and world events. Nothing I might think about it will have the slightest impact on any of it, so I choose to ignore it all. I only know about what my husband decides is worth telling me about. The end. I’m happier not knowing, frankly. No one is going to sort the world out until they sort themselves out.

I’ve kind of come to terms with the fact that I am a product of the culture in which I grew up. This means that I am definitely a city person and I’m done with the running off to the country fantasy. Done. Done done done! Maybe for a vacation, but not to live there unless every city I can get to totally goes to shit and becomes uninhabitable. Basically, until the city burns like Sodom and Gomorrah, I’m staying. (Hyperbole makes my point). In all seriousness though, the point is that nowhere is perfect and nothing is perfect. The pursuit of the perfect life will always end in disappointment and more want. 

This is why I don’t like the phrase “pursuit of happiness”. You cannot pursue happiness – the pursuit of it negates it. You can find it within contentment, but not if you are pursuing it as an end in itself.

There will always be something else to want. 

There is the Japanese practice of wabi-sabi, or embracing imperfection. This is something I have striven to do in my life but not really been all that good at in a deeper sense. Maybe it’s easy for me to say now that I am in a better place, but as my 11 year-old commented on how much she liked this place, I said just imagine someone else moving in here from a big house because they got divorced or something, and they’d be all depressed because of how small it is, and some of the doors don’t close properly, and things like that. It’s all about perspective. We think it’s awesome because we just spent an entire year living in a 323 square-foot tin box. We can easily appreciate all the good in it. As far as I’m concerned, the imperfections are most welcome and remind me of the last place I really felt at home and where I lived long enough to make it home.

The strange thing is I feel in some way like I’ve been plopped back to where I was before I moved to the US in 2015. This apartment has a lot of similarities to my old one to the extent that when I was sweeping yesterday, I went to rest the dustpan in a nook where I used to rest it, but of course, that nook doesn’t exist in this place. I lived in my old place for almost 9 years, which is the longest I’ve ever lived in one place. My kids went from diapers to school there. In my mind that is as close to “home” as I know of, so it is in some sense that being here feels something like an opportunity and I just can’t screw it up this time.

There was a pretty recent time when I would have wished this place had a gas stove. I like gas stoves and all, but electric also cooks food and is easier to wipe every day and keep clean. Although the electricity went off yesterday and I realized I couldn’t make a cup of tea. Have to grab the little camp stove. I could wish for things like not having a street lamp right outside my window, but I think it’s worth the trade-off. It reminds me that I no longer live so far away from anything besides a tree. I love trees – and I wouldn’t like this city too much if it had no trees – but I also like to see people walking places and to be able to walk and get some vegetables whenever I need some unless for some reason I need some at 3am. Then I’m out of luck, whereas two months of the year in the country I could go pick what I wanted out of the garden. So that’s one con to living in the city.

I’m perfectly sure that as I get settled in, I will once again want things, but I also will try to revisit the feelings I have now about it all, and remember how little of it I really need. I think it will help to stay in saving mode. The priority now is to work out a budget and stick to it, create a good emergency fund, pay off debts, and save for anything that is really needed. In this mode, you really see how much of your wants are really not necessary and in many cases wouldn’t particularly improve one’s quality of life. It is well known that beyond a determined level of income, which varies depending on the place of course, there are diminishing returns. Look it up – it’s surprisingly low! People do not get happier or a better sense of well-being past a certain threshold. When you strip things down it isn’t too hard to see why this would be the case.

My conundrum is that the kind of place I am attracted to tends to be attractive to leftists and various other loons, and this is why I kind of have to turn off all that. It’s survival but also just being able to get along and not get all bent out of shape over opinions. I think city “conservatives” kind of have to do this. That said, I would not characterize myself as “right wing” either, nor even “centrist”. I don’t think the truth lies in the middle (“between the extremes of right and wrong”) but that the truth lives where it lives. Some might be found in the middle, some on the “extreme” left and some on the “extreme” right. Thus I can find points of agreement with many people but have points of disagreement with those same people. Then there are endless things that I really have no idea about if I’m honest, and that is where I chose not to waste the few shits I have left to give.

This leads to another thing that most of us say but don’t really do, which is to acknowledge that each of us has a path we’re on and sometimes those paths cross or appear quite similar, and others they’re just totally different. Instead we pay lip service to this idea while envying others. The problem with envy is that if you want what someone else has, you have to take all of it, and everyone has things they’d rather not have and things you’d dislike intensely. That is life. I told my younger daughter as we were walking the long walk back from her school after back to school night, if you find yourself wishing you hadn’t decided to go back to school (after 2.5 years of home educating), just remember, shit sandwich. That is, in life you have to eat a shit sandwich, so you might as well choose the one with an olive. The olive is whatever benefit is derived from any particular of life’s shit sandwiches.

And this is the kind of philosophy we can all get on board with. It’s much less depressing in reality than all the crap about “dreams” and “you can be anything”. What a no olive shit sandwich that is!

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The Digital Bubble

That’s right, it’s another article on the Internet bemoaning the Internet, but in my defense, it was first written as a draft in a paper notebook at least a couple of weeks ago, so that makes it OK. Because I say so. So there.

It seems to me that at this point, we are far enough in that it’s unlikely we will get out. We have replaced the genuine community of place with the faux-community of shared identity, belief, and values. No longer face to face, we have become blips on a screen, desperately trying to get some sense of what we’ve lost and what many under 35-40 have never experienced.

The problem is that the Internet is always there, telling us what we want to hear, with our carefully curated opinions that need not be challenged by reality. In our hidy hole, it is safe, and even the negative is comforting since it confirms our worldview. But the funny thing about a worldview is that no one is objective. What you choose to focus on says much about you as a person, for good or ill. It is one thing to keep up generally on “the news”, though I’m skeptical of the value of that even, at least for myself, but to spend countless hours on “analysis” that really doesn’t change from year to year is not a fruitful use of time, in my opinion.

One could argue the same of books, but I think it depends greatly on the book and the motivation for reading it. If the result of constant reading is more or less nil, then it too is a waste of time. Most books are no more worth reading than chatter worth listening to. Most people choose books that tickle their ears too. Of course, I realize it could also be said of the Internet that it depends on the user and his motivation, but I think it is a different beast altogether. More often than not, I have heard the excuse from others as well as myself that it is “interactive” and “not passive like TV” and you can choose what to look at and it’s educational, etc.; but I think this is merely the justification of an addict.

This is a good article that describes what I’m talking about well: I Was A Podcast Addict There’s the avoidance, the addictive aspect along with excuses and justifications, the curating of opinions, and the effect it has on the author’s life. It may seem an extreme example, but is it really so extreme? I don’t think it’s actually all that far from what many people do.

The common thread is an avoidance of living now, or of being in the present moment. Everything we do is distraction of one sort of another. When do most people just sit in quiet contemplation? I think it is absolutely necessary to do this. And I don’t think that includes endless mental chatter directed at some god or other. It means you quiet yourself so you can hear the breeze outside, you notice the sound of water dripping somewhere, a bird chirping, the traffic hum, the shoes on feet walking on the sidewalk outside – that is, your surroundings and how they impact you. If your surroundings include the constant interference of “news”, this is not conducive to a peaceful mind and one that can notice what needs to be taken care of.

We are expert avoiders. As a writer I’ll add that we also don’t need to try to capture every thought. A thought worth capturing will return when it wants to be captured if we forget after the moment passes. Whatever it was, it probably won’t make that much difference anyway, and if it was really good it’s probably already captured in some philosophy book or holy text or whatever. So don’t sweat it!

But I must inevitably reach the conclusion once more that the Internet is more of a pain than it is useful in many ways. Mostly people lack the self-control to impose limits on themselves and they like their comforts. The easiest of comforts is firing up your electronic device of choice and bringing up whatever it is that comforts you. Rather than taking responsibility for your own happiness, you anesthetize yourself with the protective impulse that takes you down familiar and thus comfortable paths.

The Internet: Helping you avoid yourself since 1994 (or thereabouts). While this isn’t directly related to tidying up, it kind of is. It relates the the mentality of clutter and kind of where I started with clearing out the mind clutter. It is hard to tidy one’s life without getting the mental part under control. Half of the game is 50% mental, as Yogi Berra said, and I’ve demonstrated this with the example of smoking cigarettes. The physical aspect is not the hard part of quitting but the mental/habit element. So it is with the Internet. The thing itself isn’t the problem so much as people’s habits that have formed around it, the “fix” they get from it, and the easy rewards it offers along with the illusion of being productive.