Thursday, July 3, 2014

Minimalism on The 4th of July

A few days ago, I was out running errands and I was at the local pizza place again.  And just like with my previous post on fostering childhood curiosity, I read an article in a free parenting magazine, this one on minimalist parenting.  I grew up in a restaurant and I read the newspaper as a kid so reading and eating sort of go hand in hand with me.

The article is better than the picture that went with it,
at least in my opinion.
This article on the minimalist lifestyle didn't trigger anything in me as so much as it sort of acted as a catalyst that brought about a culmination to a process that I was already going through.  I've already discussed that I frequently use public transportation on Long Island even though I own a car.  Those who don't live on Long Island may not see this as a big deal, but basically everyone here owns a car because everything is so spread out.  I ended up using the bus because I could no longer afford to drive or repair a gas guzzling 2002 Ford Explorer my parents gave me after I crashed my beloved 2003 Ford Ranger during a snow storm in 2011.  For about five months, from February to July of 2013, I managed to do what most Long Islanders consider difficult: live without a car.  So when a friend of the family gave me my '97 Honda, I still used public transportation.  It's cheaper, and I have to admit, I love meeting new people and watching stories unfold.

I then started to give up other things.  Cable was too expensive so we got the basic package (we got it back about a year later, and I felt mildly disappointed).  Every two months or so, I give away clothes and books and movies to Savers (occasionally buying a new book to read).  I don't get Netflix; I still get movies from my local library.  I only recently got a Kindle secondhand, and it was for free.  About a month ago (I think I discussed this in a  previous blog post), I talked about giving up watching the morning news.  I did upgrade my phone so I can get emails from my students.  But just like Joshua Millburn, the subject of the article, I was starting to feel like I had too many things, and not enough in the way of quality.  I read books piecemeal.  I was writing piecemeal, if at all.  My thinking about problems was scattered.  Thank goodness my girlfriend got me to take that blogging class back in April so I could have a place to write on a semi-regular basis.

I felt like my life was in a constant state of emergency.  This was justified in some sense as my girlfriend and her family were dealing with a lot, but in others, not so much.  I had what I considered to be too many First World Problems.

So what is minimalism?  Before reading this article, I thought it was a literary movement.  Just to stay honest, Raymond Carver is one of my favorite authors.  In a literary sense, minimalism is cutting away what is superfluous while showing the bare minimum to get your point across.  The trick, if you could say there is a trick to writing in a minimalist style, is showing the surface but achieving a level of tension that the reader intuits rather than rationally is aware of, feeling as opposed to knowing.  In other words, a story about a refrigerator breaking is about more than just the fridge breaking.  It's about a couple breaking up, a man having a depressive breakdown, and a woman who is fed up and ready for divorce.

Photo of Raymond Carver from Wikipedia
Millburn discusses tension as he is interviewed for the article.  Tension was the reason he turned to minimalism as a lifestyle.  Just as Raymond Carver cut away at a story to give you the bare, raw truth, as a lifestyle, minimalism has you face what you truly can and cannot live without, especially in a material sense.

As I was reading this article while eating my pizza, my phone must have buzzed, vibrated, or otherwise alerted me at least four times in 45 minutes.  Now I admit, I love my phone, even if it is the low end of the Samsung Galaxy line.  But what is true love if it is not fraught with some tension, yes?  I love my Twitter account, need my Facebook account, and I love trying out new forms of social media (Pinterest is my current favorite, with StumbleUpon a close second. . . Tumblr, we'll see.)  I'm not in the current Millennial demographic (I'm solidly a Gen-Xer) but I realize shying away from new technology because it's different is just an Old Fart thing to do.  My dad's an Old Fart.  I'm not ready for fishing or living in Florida yet.

But still, when is enough ENOUGH?  When does the phone stop ringing, or buzzing, or vibrating?  Do we need to see notifications from overly sensitive people arguing on Facebook?  Who cares about your Supernatural/Dr. Who crossover fanfic or your erotic vampire vs. werewolf story?  Who's sexier, Spike or Angel . . . who cares?  (Well, the answer is Spike, but let's move on . . . ).

So to make a long story short (too late), I decided to take a break from social media, and media in general.  I live on an Island, so why not be like Gilligan ("No lights, No phone, no lights, no motor car
not a single luxury"), at least in terms of living on an island without media.  I also figure with all the fireworks, who needs more noise?

In the spirit of what Millburn said in the article about minimalism being a personal thing with each person having a personal flavor, I made some rules for myself.  After posting this, I'm turning off my computer.  I'm going to turn off the notifications on my smartphone and use it as a (*gasp*) phone.  No Twitter, and honestly, that's going to be the hardest part because I do love Twitter.  No Facebook.  No blog posting.  No Pinterest.  I don't think Tumblr will miss me though.  Basically, no social media.

And just to see if I can go the distance, I'm not going to turn on a TV, watch a movie, or listen to music.  No news.  No NPR.  I will only read books and talk to people face to face, the phone only being for short conversations.

So books and dealing with people.  I'll let you know next week how things go.  

I hope you all enjoy your holiday.  Take a minute to celebrate not just the birth of our nation, but what our nation stands for.  Democracy, freedom of speech, and that though we as people may fall short of the ideals our Founding Fathers gave us, at least we reach for them.  We may still be a young country, but we've been through a lot.  And like Indiana Jones said, "It's not the years.  It's the mileage."  You don't need to take as much quiet time as I do, but try shutting the phone off for an hour.  Look at the fireworks.  They're a lot less annoying than your ringtone, and more colorful than your phone's wallpaper.