Thursday, July 31, 2008

Drum Circle Simplicity

One of the most pure, authentic experiences that I’ve had in Washington DC has to be the drum circle that is held every Sunday in Meridian Hill Park. Picture dozens and dozens of people from all over, (young and old, black and white, American and foreign, rich and poor) just getting together for an afternoon to jam. This particular circle is imaginary (it’s more like a rectangle) but the rules are clear:

-do not enter the circle if you are not prepared to play something.

-if you don’t have an instrument to play with borrow one.

-if you have extra instruments you must share.

-if you can’t play an instrument someone will show you.

-if you are unwilling to play, you have to dance.


It is still hot and muggy by the time I park my bike inside the park. I have the essentials in my backpack: a copy of Herodotus, wine, cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, tapenade, and crackers. As the afternoon gets longer, I am seduced by the wine, the women and the sounds of long, flowing drumbeats. The music howls at me like a cornered animal, always rough, ever vengeful, untamable. The large black man with the double drums maintains the beat long enough for a young Asian girl to find another. The rest of the circle follows. This is an animal with tentacles.

There is the disabled black girl, sitting in a wheelchair, beating a miniature drum, occasionally flashing a smile that is dry and lonely.

There is the young summer intern who closes her eyes often, confident that she can stave off adulthood for another year.

There is the card game guys. Some have prison tattoos, others wear Rolex watches.

There is the belly dancer. She moves like a rhythmic serpent, caressing sounds unseen.

In the end, for an afternoon as least, everything is simple and complete.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I would like to thank the academy...

It’s been crazy at work this week, but I wanted to take a second to thank Donna and Sharon for giving me this blog award:

Thank you guys! Definitely appreciate it.

My own nominations for best blog (excluding the award givers, of course) are, in alphabetical order:

You guys can find links to these, and other wonderful blogs in my links section. Enjoy!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Harold Loves Maude


It’s one of my favorite quotes of all time, from one of my favorite movies of all time, Harold and Maude. The scene is rather simple, yet incredibly evocative. Harold and Maude have spent all afternoon at an arcade playing games together and Harold is smitten. They are now sitting on the banks of a river.

Harold: Maude?
Maude: Yeah?
Harold: [pulling a stamped coin from the arcade out of his pocket] Here.
Maude: A gift! [she reads the engraving]
Maude: "Harold loves Maude."... and Maude loves Harold. This is the nicest gift I've received in years.
[she tosses the stamped coin into the water]
Harold: [gasps]
Maude: [looks at Harold with a great deal of love] So I'll always know where it is.


I’ve been talking with some friends about just skipping the whole ebay/craigslist/freecycle thing and giving them all of my furniture for long-term storage. The idea is that I would be providing people I care about with things that they actually need. In exchange, they would hold on to my furniture until I figure out what to do with it. This would be a long-term loan of sorts. And I will always know where my furniture is.

I’m a bit conflicted about this. For one thing, I’m sure there is a part of me that looks to this as a way to ‘keep’ my stuff and not have to go through the trauma of actually selling it. To use ebay or craigslist would, in essence, put a dollar figure on the money I wasted trying to live a ‘material’ life. This would force me to come face to face with the consequences of unmitigated consumerism.

I’ve also been thinking about the idea of freecycling. There is definitely value in giving for the sake of giving. Of recognizing one’s past vulnerabilities and attempting to make amends. I can’t go back in time and save the trees that were destroyed in order for me to enjoy an 18th century Chinese bookshelf. I can’t recapture all the fossil fuels that were wasted when my handcrafted king-size sleigh bed was delivered.

But I can let go completely. I can just give it ALL away. Why do I need to charge someone for something that really shouldn’t have been mine in the first place?

I have through the middle of next year to figure this out. But I would certainly appreciate your advice, my dear reader. What would you do?

Sunday, July 20, 2008


So I just completed the first step of the decluttering process:

-Trash bags filled: 9

-Bags filled for distribution to Salvation Army: 1.5

-Simplicity attained: priceless

I wanted to share a couple of thoughts:

*Getting rid of books has been, by far, the hardest part of this process. I had a box and a half of books when I started. I was able to give away a good chunk and had to recycle a bunch more. I now have less than a full box which I will be taking to my folks for storage. The books I chose to keep are just way too important to me. They have sustained me during hard times. They have fed my curiosity. They have spoken of love, intellect, history, and art. They have made me who I am today. I just CAN’T get rid of more.

*Going through my place in such a methodical way made me realize that, besides all the furniture left to dispose of, I actually don’t/didn’t have a ton of stuff to begin with. Given the size of this place, I’m actually surprised I didn’t have to throw out a lot more things.

*At this point, I think I can pack and leave my place with all my “essential stuff” within an hour. How awesome is that?! :)

*And for the Excel nuts out there, here is the initial draft of the spreadsheet I put together:

Ok, now I will move to the second step of the decluttering process: sell, sell, sell! I just love Craigslist!!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

And So It Begins

Decided to leave work a little early today and get myself a little voluntary simplicity fix. I’m in the decluttering phase of The Plan so I’ve adopted the following strategy: start on the first floor, go from room to room categorizing everything in my path into (I) stuff that I can get rid of NOW; (II) stuff that I can get rid of once my tenant leaves; (iii) stuff that I will need to get rid of before vacating the premises. I will be putting up the excel spreadsheet (yeah, I'm using a spreadsheet, so what of it?) once I'm done. Along the way I trashed everything that I could.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Picture if You Will

I’ve been a bit sporadic with posts these past couple of weeks. I think that’s partly due to how crazy things are at work at the moment. Never underestimate how the reality of the “material” can compromise your desire for change. It’s hard to focus on personal growth/shedding the old to make way for the new/simplifying/downshifting when you have billion-dollar deals on your desk that need attention.

But that’s not the whole story. I feel like I’m in a holding pattern, waiting for specific dates to show up on my doorstep, just so that I can cross something off my list. The worst part is that I’ve caught myself counting the days and noting how many months I have left till December 2009. It is just not healthy. I’m in a rut and it really sucks.

This week was particularly bad. Things on the romantic front took a turn for the worse with someone that I’ve come to care a great deal about. I spent all day yesterday with buddies drinking up a storm all over the city. Spending tons of cash. Feeling sorry for myself. Suddenly everything was spinning out of control and I couldn’t give two shits about The Plan, The Enemy, and, most of all, myself.


Picture if you will, my dear reader…

Jack and his friends charge into the bar, like wild bulls. They spot a crowd of girls in the middle of the bar. Jack turns to his friend and says “Dude, they are HOT.” Jack’s friend nods and knows what comes next.

Jack makes his way over to the one in the middle; the porcelain centerpiece; the one all the other girls always congregate around. He’s a bit coy this evening. “Hey. I’m Jack. What’s your name?” She responds hypnotically, “Hey Jack, nice to meet you! I’m External. External Validation.” Jack raises an eyebrow. “You know, I know this is going to sound like a line, but you look super familiar. Do you know Apathy? He was my roommate in college.”

Within a minute Jack’s friends join the party and that shameful, empty business can start all over again. He buys them shots. He mentions a certain law school’s name. He talks about his ‘portfolio’. He buys more shots.

All the while External Validation stares at Jack, full of adoration. Or is it pity. Jack doesn’t care. All he knows is that she is everything he ever wanted.


Jack watches the cab pull away. He walks inside his beautiful townhouse, cursing under his breath. It’s 7:00 am and he is still drunk. The emptiness is drowning him. He turns on his laptop, opens up Word and begins typing:

“I’ve been a bit sporadic with posts these past couple of weeks…”

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Stuff and Happiness

I was perusing the net the other day and came across this:

It’s an article about a study that ranks the happiest countries in the world using the following survey questions:

“Taking all things together, would you say you are very happy, rather happy, not very happy, not at all happy?" And, "All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?"

Let’s just say that the US didn’t quite crack the top ten. But you know what? Colombia and Puerto Rico did.

This got me thinking about what, in fact, makes us happy. More to the point, what, exactly, does a person really need to be happy? This is such a subjective question, particularly in the realm of voluntary simplicity. Not everyone gets the same kind of joy from the same activities or life amenities. My mom, for example, is perfectly happy lounging around at home, watching TV, and talking to her girlfriends on the phone. For her, leaving the house is a chore that is done only when absolutely necessary. On the other hand, I have a very good friend who LOVES to sail. I suspect that he would be perfectly happy living on a sailboat, sailing from port to port, without the comforts of a house, car, etc…

So, the question presents itself: What are the bare essential of MY happiness? To put it differently, what are the things that I would need to have access to so that I could be in a position to be happy, whatever happiness means?

Here is a bare-bones list that I came up with on the fly.

*Affordable health care (medical and dental)

*Air Conditioning (definitely NOT a heat/humidity person)
*Comfortable restful sleep (i.e., a bed, couch, other surface that would allow me to have a good, full, night of sleep)
*Working laptop
*Access to the internet
*Cell Phone
*Basic set of clothes for all types of climate/conditions (nothing fancy, so long as it is durable and well-made)
*Long-term travel necessities (backpack, sleeping bag, etc…)

*Bicycle (plus helmet)

*Listening to music (off an Ipod/PDA/laptop)
*Going to the movies
*Renting movies (which I can happily watch on my laptop)
*Occasional lunches/dinners/nights out with friends (nothing fancy)
*Access to books (buy used on Amazon; library; friends)
*Travel (cheap, cheap, cheap!)
*Travel-related activities (hiking, access to museums, access to historical sites etc…)

*Occasional nice dinner out

I think I may just use this list as a guidepost as I start to get rid of stuff later this month.