These are scenes from yesterday morning’s walk. A fresh snowfall, crisp air, and heavy boots to work up a sweat … what a lovely way to start the day 🙂 .
I’ve never been much of an “exerciser”. My pre-children attempts at exercise were sporadic, at best, and my post-children years have been even more dismal. I’ve watched as others (my husband and my sister-in-law, for example) have consistently managed to find the time for regular exercise, but I’ve always put other obligations (children and home) first, completely discounting and disregarding — disdaining even! — the whole don-your-own-oxygen-mask-first-before-attempting-to-help-others approach to self-care and health.
So after a lifetime of neglect, it shouldn’t really have come as any surprise when, about three years ago, I began feeling distinctly creaky in the hip area.
Slightly panicked and knowing I had to finally do something, but reluctant to be spending an hour in the basement on the treadmill, I decided to try going for a long walk after dropping our youngest off at school in the morning. But while I managed some mornings, it was still sporadic; I was letting the day and its obligations dictate the exercise, rather than scheduling the day around the walking. I was still letting myself be somewhat of a martyr to my family and my home. I was still putting my physical and mental health in the backseat, and it wasn’t until Deborah advised that I should view my walking as a prescription for health that I managed to completely turn my way-of-thinking around.
Our daughter sent us this very funny (and OH, SO TRUE!) video a few days ago, which completely fits with the theme of this post. If you haven’t already seen it, I hope you enjoy it as much as we did (but FYI, there is one partially beeped out f-word):
I’m fairly certain that limericks are pretty much inexcusable. All I can say is that this is what happens when someone (Sarah 🙂 ) points out that I started the year with a haiku and followed with a pun … does that sound like a dare to anyone else?
Moving right along —
I’m at least six months — perhaps even a year — late to this party …
After being on the library’s waiting list since July, I *finally* — in November —read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
Although I am decidedly not a fan of self-help books, I do have a bit of a weakness for books that discuss “stuff”, a fascination which began many years ago, when I happened upon Karen Kingston’s Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui.
When I first read this book I was a mother to two very young children. I was struggling just a bit with day-to-day life, and Kingston’s claim that clutter could cause a person to feel anxious came as an Aha! lightbulb-revelation. Now, Kingston’s writings aren’t perfect — her tone is a bit self-congratulatory, there’s a fair amount of woo to get past, and there’s a chapter on colon cleansing (yes, you read that right!) which likely makes some people squeamish — but it is a book that has, for me, stood the test of time. Some of Kingston’s words — these, for example:
You are connected to everything you own by fine strands of energy
— resonate just as strongly with me today as they did when I first read the book, even if I do have to take what she means literally in a strictly figurative sense.
So when the buzz began about Marie Kondo’s tidying book, I was fairly anxious to read it.
(But clearly not *so* anxious that I was willing to spend $15 in order to buy it!)
To begin with, I have to say I feel a fair measure of pity for Ms. Kondo. She clearly had childhood issues, which I, unfortunately, can relate to. As a child, I too, felt the comfort that could come from setting physical objects to rights, and would often come home from school and embark on tasks such as the completely voluntary — unasked-for, even — spring cleaning of my mother’s spice cupboard. I would at this point say, Pot? Meet Kettle… but the young Ms. Kondo was WAY more obsessed about it than I ever was. (So … hmmm … Spoon? Meet Kettle … ?)
Empathy aside, this book has left me feeling very conflicted, and as much as I don’t want to say it —
(if you can’t say anything kind, don’t say anything at all...)
— I had a really hard time liking this woman. I know it would be unfair of me not to acknowledge that her cautionary tales — getting rid of other people’s stuff, and guilting siblings into taking her cast-off belongings — were part of her early practices, and that in telling us about them she is merely painting a picture of what not to do, that she doesn’t do them now. But still… Even when she was an adult, and already working in a professional capacity, her judgement seemed a bit off: telling a client she could tidy up by offloading stuff to her mother’s house for indefinite storage? Quite honestly, the word spoiled comes to mind, a descriptor that struck me as befitting both her and her clients.
I also got bogged down in semantics: the use of the term “garbage” when referring to the stuff that she’s encouraging people to get rid of. Are her clients actually throwing everything that doesn’t spark joy into the dump? Are there no charity or thrift stores in Japan?
On the flip side, her advice to use the boxes and bins one already has kicking around the house was a breath of fresh air, and her folding methods are probably bang-on: my ten year-old son’s drawer is still neat and tidy, months after I re-organized it and file-folded his t-shirts. And, her assessment of professional organizers as hoarders? Yes, thank-you, Ms. Kondo: there’s a bit of truth you don’t often hear.
Kondo’s claim-to-fame is, of course, the whole sparking joy thing … and to that I say, okay, sure, yes, in an ideal world, we would and should all live surrounded by only those things that we love, by only those things that spark joy. But … I can’t help feeling this is such a privileged, upper-middle class, first-world, consumeristic metre-stick by which to measure our belongings.
In the first place, it’s a method that really only works for those people who have both the time and the money to assess and possibly replace each and every object which doesn’t make the cut.
And in the second place, while I can see how joy could be a very useful determiner for clothing, say, or for books, or items of decor, isn’t joy rather a silly way to assess* a garlic press or a spatula or a wrench? Surely, in and amongst our belongings there’s room for pure function? Whatever happened to utility and making-do and deciding to live with good-enough? I would argue there’s a certain beauty to be found in all that, as well as in the ability (or determination) to say, Yeah, it doesn’t spark joy, but who the hell cares? I’ll seek my joy elsewhere, thank you very much.
(Are you thinking, methinks the lady doth protest too much about this whole joy-sparking thing? If so, you’d be right. The fact is, I want a nice home just as much as the next person, and I actually have a very finely-tuned aesthetic sense: I can immediately see what I love, what I don’t, what “goes” with what, and how things could be improved … in other words, I see all the stuff; I care about all the stuff … but the thing is, I don’t want to!).
Lastly, there’s the part of the book where (according to Goodreads reviews) she seems to lose a lot of people: her propensity to anthropomorphize objects, and to attach feelings to stuff. She even goes so far as to thank things for their service!
Oh. My. Gosh.
That’s just crazytalk!
I mean …
Gulp … yes, well …
As completely whackadoodle as it sounds, I have to confess this is a concept I *totally* get.
Because — as a person who sees all the stuff — I have, on numerous occasions, thanked inanimate objects for their service.
There was a stove, for example. A pair of sandals. A blanket.
And then there was a bowl, the smallest of a set of three I purchased just before my husband and I got married 25 years ago:
These bowls were the first “household” item I bought, and if ever a set of mixing bowls could spark joy, then my goodness, it was these. Made in Portugal, purchased at a delightful little kitchen shop, the perfect sizes for all my needs … So when the smallest one broke a dozen-or-so years ago, I nearly cried. And I distinctly remember, as I placed the pieces in the garbage, saying the words out loud: Thank you, Small Blue Bowl; you were a good bowl, and I’m really going to miss you.
But I wonder if, in our consumeristic and disposable — and warming — world, this is actually part of the solution.
Maybe we should all be thanking our stuff for the service it provides. Not because, as Ms. Kondo suggests, our stuff is capable of emotion and will have hurt feelings if we don’t acknowledge its hard work, but rather because perhaps, by taking that small action, we would all start to really and truly see the objects in our lives. And perhaps, if we all actually saw the objects in our lives, we’d also be forced to acknowledge the fact that stuff isn’t made from thin air, and that it doesn’t just miraculously appear on store shelves for us to buy buy buy without thought.
Like these Christmas crackers, making a curtain call from my last post:
I wonder … were any of the people who purchased — or merely had the pleasure of pulling apart — these Christmas crackers *actually* thankful for their hat, their joke, and their unique gift (and their 30-odd seconds of fun)?
Maybe Marie Kondo is onto something with her thanking shtick.
*Apparently, Kondo’s second book (Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up) addresses the inherent problem that comes when using joy as a determiner to assess things that are utilitarian in nature. Sarah, who has read the new book, points out that “… Kondo acknowledges her ridiculousness. It’s a big part of her insight about finding joy in what’s useful (a really important principle, but one that I think could be more explicitly stated in the book)”. I wonder whether those fans who have followed her methods to a T will now be royally ticked off as they re-purchase tools they’ve summarily tossed. I will have to wait approximately six months to read this for myself; I’m number 11 on the library’s waiting list.
So some of you might have noticed things were pretty quiet around here this fall. I wrote my over-analytical knitting post in November, and then silence reigned until New Year’s Day, when, inspired by the beauty of a long-awaited snowfall, I gathered some profound feelings of relief —
(Yay, there’s finally snow! And, yay, 2015 is over!)
— and with some fervent hopes for the new year, I broke my silence with a (probably trite) haiku.
November and December tend to be difficult months for me at the best of times. Even though we’ve always kept Christmases fairly minimalistic, I still find the month(s) leading up to the buying holiday season really difficult. It’s a season of pressure, after all; a season where even if you decide to keep things small and reasonable, to not buy all the crap, to not succumb to the you-must-have-it-all consumeristic mentality, you still have to work really hard to ignore it all.
Making things worse for me, Ruminator Extraordinaire, was a layering of a whole lotta other stuff. There was a heavy dose of way-too-much-to-worry-about with regards to loved-ones close to home, and there were also weighty matters farther afield, most notably in Paris: the terrorist attacks, as well as the climate change talks which took place there a few weeks after.
And when all of it was put together? Quite frankly, I was a bear this fall; a sad-sack; a grinch.
I’ve been tossing the word grinch around a lot these days. I mostly do it in a berating fashion, a mental pummelling of “Why are you such a grinch?” that comes quickly on the heels of the immediate knee-jerk irritation I feel when I see overblown consumerism or store-shelves filled with complete and utter crap.
(Oh, this is going to be a fun post; I wouldn’t blame anyone if they clicked away.)
So … grinch, yes … if you’re still with me, I’m going to assume we’re all familiar with the nasty character in Dr. Seuss’ How The Grinch Stole Christmas! … and I’m also going to assume we have the same narrative in our heads: the Grinch is a mean-spirited fellow who tries to ruin Christmas for the loveable Whos.
Since Seuss wrote the book in 1957, the term grinch has garnered a widespread, general meaning. The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines grinch as:
an unpleasant person who spoils other people’s fun or enjoyment
But it seems to me that the term is tossed around much more loosely than that. I often feel that ANY non-compliance or non-participation in things which the majority of people determine to be fun or festive can result in being termed a grinch, if not in actual fact (aloud, and to your face), then — maybe more importantly and insidiously — by you, yourself, in your own head.
So, for example, if you are the lone abstainer in the outdoor-holiday-decorating olympics in the cul-de-sac, you run the (very small) risk that your neighbours will verbally call you out as a grinch (or merely whisper it to each other). The greater risk though, is that you yourself will label yourself as a grinch, and that your mind will then — perforce — either be filled with feelings of guilt, or feelings of defensiveness. In other words, a litany of justifications as to why you’re not *actually* a grinch.
/ Over-thinkers Anonymous? Yes, you’d better send help. Someone’s having a crisis. /
So … anyhoo* … an epiphany hit me the other day:
What if the Grinch was actually the hero of Dr. Seuss’ story?
It’s occurred to me that we only see things from the Grinch’s perspective. When he steals the Whos’ trimmings and trappings and hauls it all up the side of Mount Crumpit, we aren’t shown the Whos’ initial reaction, are we?
No. We have a small protestation by Cindy-Lou Who, and that’s it. After the deed is done, we see the Grinch waiting, perched with his stolen goods on the side of the mountain, and then we see the end result, the Whos gathering outside, hand-in-hand, to sing.
But what I’d like to know is, what just happened inside their homes?
When the Whos wake and clamber out of bed and find all their stuff gone, do they not even blink an eye?
Are they not even a little bit upset that all the stuff they’ve made/bought/wrapped/baked/cooked/decorated is GONE?
Are they not even a little bit disappointed that all the time they spent making/buying/wrapping/baking/cooking/decorating was completely WASTED?
Are they really just all, Oh well! … ?
Or … are they gnashing their teeth, wringing their hands, vowing revenge … until, perhaps, one Very Wise Who steps in and says, Hey! Wait a minute! It’s only stuff we’re crying about! What is Christmas actually all about, anyway? How about we all quit our whining, and get out there and sing?!
So … if the Whos have suddenly realized that Christmas will come even without all the trimmings and trappings, then WHATEVER motivation lay behind the Grinch’s actions — whether he’s simply a petty asshole with a heart that’s two sizes too small; or whether he’s acting out because he’s lonely and feels left out; or whether he’s stolen the stuff because this is his misguided-activist-way to protest child labour or mercury-laced strip-mining techniques or inhumane animal husbandry — whom do the Whos have to thank for this very valuable epiphany? Why, the Grinch of course!
This then leads to a further question: if the Whos can manage to celebrate Christmas just fine, thankyouverymuch, without all the trimmings and trappings, then what purpose do all the trimmings and trappings serve?
And the answer to that is, Duh, Marian … the trimmings and trappings make things fun and festive!
But for me, this then begs the grinchy question: at what cost does that fun and festivity come?
Perhaps, in the Whos’ world, their trimmings and trappings are wholly and completely sustainable. Maybe there’s a local Whoville toymaker who makes frambamafoozlers from sustainably-harvested wood. Maybe their wrappings are reusable bits of cloth made from un-dyed, fair-trade truffula tufts. Perhaps their roast beast is wild-caught and humanely butchered. Maybe, for the Whos, there’s absolutely no harm in any** of it.
But that’s not the world we live in, is it?
We live in a warming world.
According to the vast majority of scientists, we have to keep this warming to a minimum in order to avoid catastrophic effects. Our very survival is hanging in the balance, and what do we do?
We ship fun and festive stuff, such as these Christmas crackers, halfway around the world.
These particular Christmas crackers were made in Indonesia. They travelled over 14,000 km (nearly 9000 miles), over two-thirds of that distance on a container ship, just so Ontarians could have 30 seconds of fun and festivity at Christmastime.
And here’s the thing: did you know — because I sure as heck didn’t! — that international shipping — the way we get so many of our goods — wasn’t in the climate change talks? Emissions from container ships aren’t ascribed to any one country, so no country is responsible for doing anything to address the considerable carbon footprint due to shipping.
I wonder — maybe it would be a good thing if we all started to be just a bit more grinchy when it comes to choosing our fun and festive things.
But then again, maybe grinchy is the wrong word altogether. After all, the Grinch’s success — if indeed my thought exercise managed to convince anyone — hinges on the simple fact that he (perhaps) caused the Whos to see things differently. In the end, it has nothing to do with spoiling fun; rather, it’s about seeing things in a different light.
More on that coming up next …
*I once said, Never again! to the use of the word anyhoo. But sometimes it’s the only word that fits.
**This mostly-vegetarian simply cannot stop herself from pointing out that there is indeed harm done to the beast who is roasted.
So I have to share this with all of you, because it just makes me so freaking happy 🙂 .
(And yes, I know … they’re *just* socks … but I have a small, simple life; therefore, small, simple things have the power to make me inordinately happy).
I had finished knitting my pair (the ones on the right) in early December, and managed to get the first of my daughter’s all the way to the toe stage. For the non-knitters out there, these socks are a cuff-down construction, so I was just about an inch and a half away from completion, when my daughter came home from university for a long weekend break in the middle of exams.
She was barely in the house when I nonchalantly tossed her my pair and quipped Hey, look what I just finished!
Sure enough — without my asking — she immediately tried them on while I stood by and rubbed my hands together and cackled gleefully Oho! my plan is coming together! .
I even managed a stealthily-arranged and nearly-blasé foot comparison, sans measuring tape, of course, because that would have immediately aroused her suspicions.
As soon as she went back to school to finish her last exams, I once again whipped out the knitting. I finished the first sock, but between baking and agonizing over presents shopping and way too much hockey (oh why is there so much hockey?!), I didn’t manage to finish the second one before she came home for the holidays. Not wanting to ruin the surprise, I hid the knitting once again, spent the next two days shaking from knitting-withdrawal, and on the night of the 24th tucked one lone sock into my daughter’s Christmas stocking, along with a promise that the second would be done in time for her to take the PAIR back to school with her on January 3rd.
And yes, as you can see by the photo, I managed! And she LOVES them. Sock-cess!
So for the knitters out there who might be curious as to why my earlier attempts at sock-knitting had resulted in un-put-on-able socks:
I had used too small a needle, resulting in too many stitches per inch, resulting in too stiff a fabric with too little stretch. Apparently I am a very tight knitter. (*WHAT* a surprise 😉 ).
Although I had used a good sock pattern, following it to a T and adjusting properly for calf length and length of foot, the heel flap had followed a one-size-fits-all approach, which doesn’t provide a very good fit for those of us with high in-steps. I have since learned that measuring from the floor to the ankle bone is the way to determine whether or not you can stick to a standard heel flap, or whether you should make yours longer.
What’s next on my needles?
Well, more socks of course! 🙂
Are any of you making anything these days? I’d love to hear about it 🙂 .