Monday, August 11, 2014

Reflecting on Minimalism and Life and Goodbye, Mr. Keating

This post started life as one thing and became another, yet somehow it all comes together.

Life got in the way the last month.  I had every intention of returning to discuss my experiment in minimalism but life got in the way.

I've been dealing with many issues.  In retrospect, I should be grateful, mainly because these issues allow me experiences to draw from as a writer.  At some level, I am grateful.  As I love telling people, I don't lead an exciting, glamorous life.  I just know how to make mundane things sound interesting.

I can't really share the details of the events that have happened to me as they are the details of others.  Suffice it to say, the last month has taught me something that goes hand in hand with the experiment in minimalism I performed.

This may seem like a digression, but it's not.  There's been a lot of discussion lately about "The Selfie."  Whether it's something like The World's Most Famous Selfie or a picture of someone else taking a selfie, these things are everywhere now.  Some even say they are self-indulgent little vanity projects.  People brag about where they take selfies, whether at the top of roller coasters or deep sea diving.

But when we take these pictures, are we really looking at what we are taking pictures of?  Are we looking at ourselves?

Think about why most selfies are taken in the bathroom.  The light is good and you have a reflective surface to use.  But all you're really reflecting on is the surface, your face, your features.

When we "simplify, simplify, simplify," as Thoreau would say, we're left with what's left, the bare minimum.  When we take a selfie, we aren't really being reflective.  You take the pictures, hit a few buttons, and it's shared with everyone, everywhere, forever.  Some people don't stop to wonder what they are posting.  You think this guy cares?

So without time to reflect, we react, as our mammalian ancestors did when they were hunting mastodons.  We now have the technology that allows us to reflect and learn more than ever, but we never take the time to do so.  In fact, as I'm writing this, I just found out that Robin Williams may have committed suicide.  It's spreading on Facebook like wildfire.  We, as in the collective "we" just discovered this, and because there have been so many death hoaxes and errors in reporting, I don't know if it's even accurate to say he committed suicide or not.  Time will bear out that it's probably true, but we now live in an age where we run headlong with information  and rarely take the time to process it.

Reflection is the lesson I learned from minimalism.  We live in an age of unprecedented information exchange.  In some ways, however, we're still isolated.  Worst of all, we're isolated from ourselves because we can't really reflect on who we are.

Take time to slow down.  Read past the headline.  Ask questions.  You don't need to get rid of your smartphone.  Just be smart about how you use it.

Cast photo from Dead Poets Society from here

As for Robin Williams, I am sorry to hear about his death.  "Dead Poets Society" was one of my main influences for becoming an English professor, and I loved his performance in "Insomnia."  He was a rare talent that influenced me in a very fundamental way in terms of my love on English, writing, and my desire to help students think for themselves.  The first phrase I ever learned in Latin was Carpe diem.  I think his performance in Dead Poets Society made me realize that if we are mindful of the beauty of language, we understand what makes us human.

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