Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity! (Minimalism, post 16.)

It was continued home-improvement adventuring that left Sunday’s laundry undone, but I got right into that laundry yesterday. It felt like a good way to start Monday. I didn’t want to drag last week’s laundry into the new week.

Another thing not getting dragged forward in time: three boxes of books!

This is the minimalism post I thought would never happen, guys. This is the one wherein I report that I’m getting rid of a chunk of my book collection, not just a box or two as I’d done previously. From Day 1 of my minimalism journey, I’ve both wanted this and not wanted this. Behold the plot twist chez moi:

 

destination: donation

 

Only after separating out these books did I realize that yeah, they weighed a lot, physically and metaphorically.

It was just a matter of releasing my insistence on keeping all of the books, more than the books, themselves. I had this pre-determined course of action (e.g. inaction) regarding the books, and I finally decided to ask myself why. I could find no good reason for my obstinance.

What I’ve got left are two full shelves of books from end to end in my office closet, along with these stacks of books remaining from my large, stand-alone bookcases:

 

keeping

 

The exercise grew easier as I went. An exhilaration built up in proportion to the growing pile of books to be donated. The question I asked myself with each hard decision: Do I really need this? I know about the significance of Mary Lamb’s accomplishment, so do I need this copy of Tales from Shakespeare? I have a body of this writer’s/poet’s work in a larger volume, so do I need this extant publication? Do I need these classics for any reason other than they’re classics?

Many of these books entered my life during college and grad school, including anthologies and textbooks of literature, poetic theory, and philosophy. I’ve also kept related required readings. The wonderful thing about being an English major and creative writing scholar was that our required reading was largely comprised of novels and books of poetry. I loved most of them. I learned a lot as I read and studied them. Of course I had to keep them! But all of them?

Some books, my reluctance to let go came from what they were. I had this nerdy and pompous idea that everyone should have them. I went back and forth for a day and a half over The Odyssey, The Aeneid, and The Iliad, then decided that I didn’t need to hang onto them because where the ancient Greeks are concerned, I’m more interested in thought than mythology. I’m keeping Edith Hamilton’s Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, though, for reference. I’m keeping Aristophanes: Four Comedies for “Lysistrata.”

My decision to keep all of my collections of short stories (from classics to contemporary) sometimes came down to one work within. For instance, I’m keeping Melville’s Billy Budd and Other Stories for “Bartleby” (referenced in the title of this post).

In contemporary fiction, both literary and pop, I have a few collections: Nancy Drew (a pile that I’d purchased at a garage sale in Los Angeles in the 70’s hard-covers published in the 50’s and 60’s) and picture books from Hawaii. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. I’m keeping all of Harry Potter, as there are only seven books in that collection. I’m keeping Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series along with my favorite horror novels of his.

As for Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels? I have them all, and I wanted to keep them all… but there are 23, and while I like every one of them, I like some more than others. Actually, I discovered that I had 28 Reacher books, because I had duplicates of five of the novels. Something I wouldn’t have known! Five duplicates taking up space!

When I went to prune my Reacher collection, I ended up keeping:

  • The Affair
  • Gone Tomorrow
  • Bad Luck and Trouble
  • Worth Dying For
  • Persuader
  • Tripwire
  • Nothing to Lose
  • Without Fail
  • Make Me
  • Past Tense
  • Never Go Back
  • A Wanted Man
  • Night School

 

The Reacher that stays.

 

Plus No Middle Name, a recent collection of Jack Reacher short stories. The first three novels listed are my top three favorites, which might have something to do with the fact that they were my first Reacher novels in the order I bought them from La Fnac in Nice. I discovered Reacher in France, as I’ve mentioned before.

By the time I was finished going through the books, I felt as though I’d escaped a tyranny of sorts. This might seem a dramatic and bizarre way to regard the collection of books I’d so fiercely defended in my minimalism efforts, but I think the tyranny was that of my own stubborn self.

My bookshelves and I feel much lighter now. It’s delightful.

 

 

Brought to you by my bookcase. (Minimalism, post 5.)

Going through my bookcase the other day, I came across the literature that rooted the notion of minimalism in my mind years ago. It’s a book by Meryl Starr called The Personal Organizing Workbook: Solutions for a Simpler, Easier Life, published in 2006. Starr had published its prequel in 2003: Home Organizing Workbook: Clearing Your Clutter, Step by Step. Starr had already been an internationally renowned expert in this field.

The passage in Starr’s book that interested me the most was this:

When you walk into a room or open a closet door and you can feel your energy just drop, that’s your signal that you’ve found a perfect place to begin. Enter this problem area, close your eyes, and imagine what that space would look like with nothing at all in it. Just thinking about that empty space, you may notice your spirits beginning to lift already. Next, ask yourself: if you lost all that stuff, what would you really miss? Make a mental list… no peeking!

Based on this philosophy, she succinctly advises on various areas. The closet, for instance. She offers step-by-step guidance:

  • Get some boxes
  • Empty everything completely off the racks in your closet, and throw it all on the bed where you can see it
  • Divide your clothes into categories: shirts, pants, dresses, etc.
  • Pick out your favorites in each category… you can put them back in your closet.
  • Pull out items you don’t like, things that need repair, and clothes that don’t fit
  • Look at the pile you have left over. This is your pile of maybes – maybe keep, maybe donate, maybe sell. To help guide you when going through the items, ask yourself these questions: “When was the last time I used this?”, “Do I love this?”, “Do I have another one similar to it?”, “How does this make me feel?”

 

Meryl Starr’s book from 2006 (my minimalism journey inspiration)

 

I bought Starr’s book in 2006 and did absolutely nothing with it except take her initial quiz, acknowledge that some minimalizing was in order, and then fantasize about doing it. I may have made a false start or two; something held me back from getting started in earnest. Starr’s book lingered in the back of my mind, though, as her book has lingered on my bookshelf. It all came back as I encountered my post-its while flipping through the book the other day.

It’s funny that the one thing I (so far) refuse to minimalize is books, and that’s why I still have Starr’s book encouraging minimalizing!

That bit of personal history aside, on with my minimalism updates! I don’t have many. Since my last update about a month ago:

1). I replaced the high-tops I’d given away; the new shoes provide much better support with their thick, quilted ankles. They actually help me to keep my balance while doing lunges.

2). With reluctance, I went to Target to look for a dress (needed for a specific event), and I DID NOT allow myself to be lured by the camo bomber jacket that Target obnoxiously positioned between the dresses and the fitting rooms. I recognize a trap when I see one. I did not fail at minimalism that day.

3). I combed through our coat closet and identified five pieces of outerwear I can do without. I’d attempted this area before with no success. Meryl Starr’s book helped me over that hurdle.

With the holidays upon us, our house looks less minimal than before. We’ve got our Christmas tree up and decorated, wreaths, string lights, and other bits of festive decor. It’s cheery and fun, but I’m looking forward to baring the house more than ever in the new year.

The pull toward minimalism.

Have you ever looked around at your stuff and wondered, “What if I were to get rid of it all?” I have. Since the beginning of the year, I’ve been seriously thinking about getting rid of everything.

Okay, not everything. Just a lot of things. I’ve actually been lurking around the idea of minimalism for quite a while now… for years, in fact. I’m now realizing that it’s time to do it.

I look around at things I don’t need and will never use, and I’m thinking, why is that stuff still here?

I write a post about a falling-apart article of clothing, and I’m thinking, why am I so attached to it?

Knowing, right, how ridiculous it is. For one thing, as a Buddhist, I’m fully aware that attachment to material things makes no sense at all.

I’d thought about it before, but I really started to feel the pull toward minimalism since that post about the ancient sweater I couldn’t trash. That was back in February. I wrote that post. Then I wrote the KSJO t-shirt post. Then I had to sit and examine my life choices.

I should just get rid of stuff.

Why do I develop emotional/sentimental attachment to things?

One part of my mind says “keep this” as another part says “but why.” It mostly boils down to sentimentality and “I would want this if….” But what I want more, now, is to break away from such attachments.

Three months after the sweater post, I took my first step in the minimalism direction when I overhauled my office to create as empty and blank a space as possible. Now I’m looking around wondering how I can empty the space even more. I’ve discovered that my creative energy has more freedom to flow in the absence of physical distraction.

Now it’s three months post-office-overhaul, and I’m ready for the next step. This is how I know I’m not making an impulsive decision. I tend to make big lifestyle changes slowly, in increments. (Have I ever mentioned that going vegan was a six-year process for me?)

There are degrees of minimalism, and the degree I’m going for isn’t a drastic one. I don’t aspire to a life that can fit into two suitcases, but I do plan to pare things down much as possible. I should add that I’m talking about my personal possessions, not household-type items.

Too, there are categories of things I won’t touch. At this time, anyway, I won’t even consider getting rid of books. I have books in three different rooms, on shelves, in closets, on the floor. There are hundreds of them, and they’re staying right where they are. I won’t violate my book collection with minimalism.

 

Books: exempt from minimalism

 

We’ll see how things progress from here!

Thoughts while reading “Night School” by Lee Child. (REACHER!)

Good morning. Due to medical-type shenanigans that extended late into last night, I wasn’t able to prepare for today’s post. But I’m sitting here drinking coffee with Lee Child’s 2016 Jack Reacher novel next to my laptop, and it’s been on my mind to talk about it, so I thought, why not today!

(Side note: when I’m asked the classic question, “If you could have coffee with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?” My answer is Lee Child. It would’ve been a tough call between Lee Child, Stephen King, and J.K. Rowling if the latter two weren’t already demystified by countless interviews, public appearances of various sorts, and Twitter. Child remains somewhat of a mystery.)

So here’s my copy of Night School, exactly where it is at the moment:

 

2016's Reacher: "Night School" (Lee Child)

2016’s Reacher: “Night School” (Lee Child)

 

Night School takes us back in time: Reacher is younger and still in the army. I knew this before picking up the book, so I was already intrigued when I started reading. Of Child’s 20-odd Reacher stories, Night School is the third (I believe) to take place during Reacher’s active-duty years.

Some things I learned, things that stood out, and thoughts I had as I read Night School:

1). It was fun going back in time again to read about Reacher operating within an organized military unit.

2). How does active-duty army Reacher differ from present-day Reacher? It turns out not at all. Veteran Reacher does the same thing that active-duty Reacher did. When Reacher ETS’d out (left the army), he continued doing the same work… as a freelancer.

3). “Freelancer” being a euphemism for “vigilante” in his line of work.

4). Reacher is a thug, but being one part math genius and somewhat progressive intellectual (who speaks French) and one part pure thug with superpower fighting capabilities, Reacher is a thinking person’s thug. This has been the case from the beginning of Reacher time. This may explain how Reacher always attracts the women he desires, even though he’s notably not good-looking. Apparently, a rough-around-the-edges contradictory enigma of a vigilante is difficult for these women to resist. (Almost all of Reacher’s women are intelligent, powerful, and in positions of authority; Reacher has great admiration and respect for them.)

5). Also from the beginning of Reacher time, Reacher has had his characteristic threshold beyond which he has to go rogue to some degree or another, striking out on his own. In the army, he had no qualms about disobeying orders to follow his instincts.

6). Reacher’s part in group dynamics: in Night School, we can observe lone-wolf Reacher and his behavior when working with the people brought together by the case at hand, and how Reacher balances working together and going rogue.

7). Reacher chooses Sergeant Frances Neagley (always his number-one pick of enlisted soldiers) to help him in Night School, so we can see that his respect for Neagley and her considerable sharp work and badassery goes way back. Of the three experts tasked to take on the case, Reacher is the only one to choose a woman.

8). We also understand more about Neagley and her quirks, now, and about Reacher’s friendship and liaison with her.

9). Jalalabad, Afghanistan is “a hot desert climate, like Arizona.” (Not news to me; I just enjoyed that simile.)

10). Lots of Muay Thai techniques feature in Night School’s fight scenes. Reacher throws elbow strikes as efficiently as a professional Muay Thai fighter (i.e. what goes up must come down… as in a downward elbow chop taking out one guy after his up elbow took out another guy. Two bad guys with the same elbow on its arc saves time). And side elbows. And Neagley’s use of knee strikes, among other techniques. This comes as a surprise to no one who knows Reacher and Neagley, but still fun to read.

As always, I started looking forward to the next Reacher novel the second I turned the last page!

That’s all I’ve got for today. Happy Tuesday!

The First-World Problems of an English Major.

A fact of life: One never knows how many Stephen King books one owns until one moves. And yes, “Stephen King” is an adjective.

Decent progress has been made in the unpacking arena. I’ve now arrived at the books part of it, and… and nothing. I’ve just arrived. And I’ve taken the books out of the boxes – go me! But that’s where my victory dance ends, because now I have to decide how to sort all the books, and for some reason, I’m overwhelmed.

Well, I know why. It’s because this move is the last move for the foreseeable future; as far as I’m concerned, this abode is the forever abode, so my OCD-tendency-leaning self won’t let me get away with shoving books on the shelves every which way “because we’re going to move one day anyway” anymore.

I’ve carried books around with me all of my life. Over the years, I’ve sold, traded, donated and given away hundreds of books. I’ve lost some; I’ve “lent” some. But somehow, I still always move with at least ten good-size boxes of books.  My current collection includes some that I’d left in France (a pile of Shakespeare and some Russian lit, some of them duplicates, mysteriously enough) in my attempt to bring down the weight of our overseas shipping, and I have a small stack set aside for a garage sale we’re planning in the upcoming weeks. Still, I’m now confronted by piles like this:

 

Book piles in the living room.

Book piles in the living room.

 

And this:

 

Piles of books on the desk in the guest bedroom.

Piles of books on the desk in the guest bedroom.

 

And that’s not all of it. I also have a pile of books about Buddhism/eastern philosophy beneath the Butsudan, a pile of cookbooks tucked away in the kitchen, a pile of random books on the big bookcase in the dining area and a smattering of books in my office. And these are all just my books we’re talking about… Callaghan, too, has lots of books in his office.

This is what the inside of my mind looks like when I’m standing before these books:

Should I group them by century? Should I separate the American lit from the British lit? Should I separate them by century and group the Americans and Brits within the centuries? Should I group all the anthologies together, or should I put the poetry anthologies in the poetry section? Should I mix the pocket-size books with the trade paper and hardcover books? If I lump all the pocketbooks together, should I organize them by genre, or alphabetically by author, or both? Should I categorize the books by genre, only? Should I nest genres within nationalities within centuries (i.e. 19th-century British Romantics)? Should I mesh poetry and prose within those groupings, or should I keep poetry and prose separate? And which groups should I position where in the bookcase? Should I group the Russian lit alongside the British lit alongside the American lit, or would the Russian lit make more sense neighboring the philosophy section? Should I line the entire top of the bookshelves with poetry volumes, using them to bridge the two? Should I shelve the poets in alphabetical order? How should I organize the poetry… by era, or by style? If the era and style are inseparable (as with the confessionalists, the post-modern poets, the New York School, the avant-garde imagists, the Black Mountain poets, etc.), should I attempt to merge all the books similarly? What about my textbooks and essays about poetry and prose… should I put them with their authors, or in a category of their own? Should I put the surrealism section next to the magical realism section, or should I put the surrealists next to the poets? Should I put the biographies and autobiographies of poets and authors with the books those poets and authors have authored, or should I make a separate category for biographies and autobiographies? What about the smaller sections like classical Greek lit, medieval lit and non-Shakespearean drama? Should I separate Shakespeare’s poetry from his dramas, or keep them all together in the Elizabethan section? (Would it be weirder to have a poetry section without Shakespeare’s poems, or to have a Shakespeare section without his poems?) What about the contemporary literature? The non-fiction? Should I separate the political non-fiction from the general non-fiction? What about creative non-fiction? What about my western religious texts? The feminist texts? Should I group my books in French together, separate from the books in English, or should I merge them?

Etc., etc., etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseam.

I’ve been staring at these piles of books for a few days now.

I’ve already decided to put reference books and instructional books, including all of my French grammar books and dictionaries, in the big bookshelf in the dining area.

I’m hoping that somehow, my collections of Laura Ingalls Wilder, Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Lee Child, J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice and the like, along with random other books, will all fit in the tall, narrow bookcase in the guest bedroom. I like the idea of stocking that room with brain candy for visitors who are on vacation (Callaghan’s going to add some books in French for our visitors from France).

None of these considerations came into play in the apartment we’d just vacated. I knew it was temporary, so I created double rows of books in some parts and didn’t care that the ones in the back rows weren’t visible. In this house, though, I want to be able to see every single book, and I want to be able to find books easily. In the past, I’d typically arranged books alphabetically, by author. I’m craving that level of organization in my life again because I’m craving rootedness. I feel like if my books are in order, then my life will be in order. When I was a kid in grade school, some of my friends used to tease me about my reading, saying, Kristi’s going to turn into a book! Maybe that’s finally happened.

On that note, I’m off to spend the day away from the office, going to appointments, seeing people, running errands, and so on. Happy Friday, All!

“A Room of One’s Own”

I return with pictures! As I’d gleefully noted before, my books are up, which means I once again have, as Virginia Woolf would say, “a room of my own.” It’s such a simple thing, but it makes all the difference. After being away for over two years, I’m feeling truly at home again, and I’m grateful for it; my office is our living room, and it’s like a big cozy library. All the relics are here… the Chagall prints I’d scrounged from a dusty pile in that thrift store in West Germany almost twenty-five years ago, just before The Wall came down, and also from West Germany, the iron dragon candlestick found on a stroll through a street fair on a cold wintry night. My brother’s old Six Million Dollar Man thermos (c. 1974) and the white porcelain cat a friend gave me when I was sixteen. The fresh flowers, childrens’ books and pocketbook-size literature and pulp fiction in the dark bookcase by my desk, and, on the other side of the room, the bulk of my book collection awaiting detailed organization in the larger bookcases. The butsudan my Grandfather refurbished for me before he died. The candlestick a beloved friend sent from France. And so on.

 

My desk...

My desk…

 

 

...with the old Chagall prints

…with the old Chagall prints

 

 

Looking over my shoulder, I see the bulk of my book collection in the cases against the opposite wall

Looking over my shoulder, I see the bulk of my book collection in the cases against the opposite wall

 

 

The typical array of candles, framed photos and knick-knacks lining the top shelf, and some art made by friends.

The typical array of candles, framed photos and knick-knacks lining the top shelf, and some art made by friends.

 

Corner detail by the butsudan.... I positioned the clock so we'd have a reflection of the time in the mirror.

Corner detail by the butsudan…. I positioned the clock so we’d have a reflection of the time in the mirror.

 

 

So this is our living room. We’ve clustered our loveseat, ottoman and my beat-up old German trunk (serving as a coffee table, as usual) under the window on the wall between the two sides of the room.  Callaghan’s all set up, too… he’s got the larger of our two bedrooms for his art studio, and it’s perfect for him.

In other news, I can’t believe it’s Thanksgiving week already!

Getting Settled

We left Texas a week ago today, and it doesn’t feel like it at all. In other words, time flies. In yet more words, holy crap, we’ve already been gone a week?! Much progress has been made, though. We’re not quite finished unpacking, but we’ve got all of our books situated, which means that we’re home. Home is where the books are arranged on shelves, I always say.

On the kitty front, Ronnie James and Nounours are thrilled to be here. We have a little bedroom hallway in this apartment, an interior configuration they’ve never seen before. We put their favorite rug and one of their scratch pads there, and they adore it.

“It’s not a hallway,” Callaghan remarked wisely. “It’s a hangway. Where they hang out in the way.”

Living with Callaghan is a treat for a lover of language. Hangway. I never would have thought to invent such a word!

Here are the kitties chilling in the dining area, another favorite spot of theirs:

 

From the French Alpes to the desert in the American southwest, Ronnie James and Nounours are a well-adapted pair.

From the French Alpes to the desert in the American southwest, Ronnie James and Nounours are a well-adapted pair.

 

Ronnie James on alert, as usual. Nounours crashed out, as usual.

Ronnie James on alert, as usual. Nounours crashed out, as usual.

 

Sleeping and yoga - the two things kitties do best.

Sleeping and yoga – the two things kitties do best.

 

 

 

Happy Friday, All! Excuse me while I dive into the remaining boxes!