The Thing and I

Seems like all my friends are reading the same book I’m reading right now:
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The book has been out for a while; I don’t know why it’s suddenly all over the place in my circles.

But here I am, taking Marie Kondo’s advice about folding clothes and discarding books. She has a lot of things to say about how to do these things, and how to start. She promises a transformed life if I follow her directions.

I am not following her directions. My life does not have room to do it the right way. I have to kind of start where I am and go forward in the size of steps I can do. I can tell it would be better if I did it her way, but things are a little better even when I start imperfectly.

I went through my hall closet. Not the whole closet, just my coats. Which jackets did I want to keep? And the inverse question, which should I let go of?

I got rid of two beautiful coats that never fit me right. One was a lovely GAP trench coat I bought at a thrift store 8 years ago. Eight years of never being able to wear that coat! Time to let it go.

Then the other jacket.

The Other Jacket.

20 years ago I bought a fan-dang-tastic leather motorcycle jacket from Wilson’s leather. Oh My God.

It was perfect. No one wearing that jacket could possibly be trifled with. It was urban armor. I festooned it with even more metal that the plenty it already had.

I wore it from time to time to be armor. When I wanted to come off as fearless. I wore it for the first date with my now husband.

But it was the wrong size. Very the wrong size. It must have been on the clearance rack, but for 20 years I have owned a truly beautiful apex-of-tough leather jacket that was three sizes too big.

Back when I bought it, I needed armor a lot more than I do now. And the fact that it was a sale rack must have been the permission I felt I needed to buy it. 20 years ago, things were moving from impossible to barely possible–a heady time.

It gave me so much joy to possess it. To have this thing, an emblematic thing that meant I was a rock star! I was unassailable! I told myself that the fact that it was too large made me look like I was wearing the tough coat of someone even LARGER and TOUGHER than myself.

So last week as I cleaned my closet and I saw that beautiful jacket I knew it was time to let it go.

I put it in my car to give away. It was time to find a jacket that would fit me.

I mourned it for days. Like an ache.

How could I abandon this jacket? This jacket and I had created a story together. When I bought it, I saw this whole future trajectory of the jacket and me together, the things we would be and do.

Isn’t that crazy? And I know I am not the only one. Boots, coats, luggage, all these things tell us fascinating stories of who we could be together.

“Hey, there. Think of the person you could be if you owned boots like these.”

And that may be why Marie Kondo had to write this book in the first place. So many of us get tangled in the stories of the STUFF. One day I’m going to read that book. I will finish that quilt. I know that one day I will have a very dressy occasion that consists entirely of sitting down when I can wear those gorgeous shoes.

I gave the jacket to a friend. Thank you, beautiful jacket; for all that you have been to me. I want to live another story now. I may find another tough jacket, but if I do it will fit me.

Homer and Ready Player One

Last fall, I was going through a mindfulness exercise. This app was teaching me about the negative effects of stress and anxiety on the body.

A soothing-voiced narrator explained that the body responds to thoughts of bad things nearly the same way as if the imagined bad thing were actually happening! Of course, his point was to learn to be present and appreciate the peace of the moment.

I just finished readying Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. It was a stylized time warp. The 80’s weren’t really like that, but it was so much fun to remember the songs and the movies.

And the video games. I was really impressed with how the author used words to show the intensity and loneliness of intense gaming.  The premise of the book made the premise of nearly every video game transition into real life. Video games are played for points using a limited number of lives.

The story has the avatar Parzival playing video games inside of a video game for a real life fortune, and his real life is quickly in danger.

Of course it’s a book. Yet it’s all story. Video games are story and books are story. In the middle of the story, if it’s a good one, the imagined thing is actually happening.

I read Ready Player One later than I should have. I read it standing in lines on my phone Kindle. I was in it. It affected my mood for days, and still does. Is the writing stunning prose? No.

But it did the trick for me. I walked through the time gate and felt the loserish isolation of Wade, the protagonist, then channeled his game master Halliday, and my own loserish isolation as a hapless incompetent teenager.

Wade and Halliday turned to games. What else was there for them? Imagining a world where they had puzzles to solve, and powers to achieve was a fantastic option. An invented world to challenge the wits, reflexes and dogged determination–a world with a trustworthy promise that victory was possible? Here was a siren call past endurance.

I know that call. Not games for me, but books that consume me and flare all my senses in the story created for me. Isn’t that what my mindfulness narrator said? My body’s response almost as if the imagined experience were happening.

A few months ago I read the Iliad, one of the oldest stories ever. Discussing it with a friend, she said “Why do they have to fight it out? What is pushing them to war, really?”

It’s right there in the text. Homer says it: every Greek hero is there to do what he was born to do. To FIGHT. To put all his strength and courage and wits to bear against a worthy opponent. Life is short! What is life for, but to stretch ourselves to our limits, best others and then ourselves?

Of course, the immortal gods cannot risk their lives. The glory is only found in the risk of what costs.

And that is where the games break down. Because as exhilarating as the win, and the leveling up, can be, the only risk is the opportunity cost. The time spent in the virtual world is time that cannot be spent winning and losing in the real world.

At some point, a person has to pull their eyes away from the immersive story or game–whatever it is–and engage with life and real people.

The only way to win is to play.


I certainly did not set out to be obscure, and yet now that I have been for so long i kind feel strange losing it.

I was raised with very intermittent TV, the only radio I was permitted was christian music radio and movies were pretty rare.

I had a natural affinity for books. I had nearly free reign at the library.

I had always gone to tiny private christian schools. Then for high school i was homeschooled.

and that meant I had nearly no intersection with society any more.

Just me and my library card.


Now I read about the 80s in America, and while I was there, I had such a slight exposure to mainstream culture that it is almost as if I weren’t there.

Here’s some advice

There are times when I am so full of good advice, I can’t stop. Really. I will hold the floor and tell my friend or whatever stranger I am talking to examples and really convincing reason that my proposed course of action is the best.

I would like to say that I used to do this, but that would be kidding myself.

A couple years ago I found myself full of ideas about how other people far and near could improve their situation and run their lives. The thing was I was not doing such a great job of running my own life.

I was tired and unhappy and everywhere I turned there were problems I had to fix.

There is an old saying, whenever you point your finger at someone you have four pointing back at yourself.

I started to see a pattern. All the advice I thought I had for other people—and maybe it was good advice for them!—was actually something I should be listening to myself.

I tried it. As soon as I began to think, “She really can’t seem to get past that particular issue” I would turn it on myself.

Can I get past that very particular issue?

It shut me up, I can tell you that. It seemed like everything I saw in other people was something I was hurting from too.

Jesus said it too. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?…”

How embarrassing. I wonder if all the people I had been dispensing my gold standard advice to have seen how very flawed I was while saying it.

Before I crawl under the nearest rock to hide my shame, I realize something. The stuff that I’m hiding from myself stick out like a sore thumb in others.

I can USE this tendency.

It can point me like a compass to the stuff I need to focus on.

It is inconceivable how painful it would be to have a whole plank coming out of my eye. And yet I know that I can reset that sort of pain to “it’s normal” and carry on.

But other people’s eye issues will drive me crazy.


Like I said, my advice is really, really good. I should listen to it.

Evident Ignorance

I’ve said before, one of my favorite things in life is to learn new things. I learn new things for fun. I would totally take all my vacation days to learn new things.

When I first landed in Russia I was dying to explore this city and learn what there was to know.

One of the major things to know was the Russian language.

When I first got there, the easiest people to interact with were the clerks in shops. The clerks didn’t know English, and I didn’t know Russian.
I had my opening line:

Skolka Stoeet?- How much does this cost?”

The first time, the clerk gave up after numerous attempts to tell me who much it cost, and grabbed a piece of paper and pen and wrote it down.

Oh! First lesson in Russian conversation: always have a pen and paper to have the person write it down.

When it’s written, I can understand it. Or if I don’t, I can flip open my dictionary and the clerk will help me understand what is being said.

I would go back to the flat, triumphant with strange foods and items that I purchased at the store. After a time, I noticed my mom didn’t leave the house like I did.

Also, she was not learning Russian as fast as me.

“Mom! You should get out. How else are you supposed to learn?”

“I don’t like not being able to talk. I am used to being able to communicate easily, and I’m proud of the vocabulary I have in my native language. I don’t want to have to sound stupid.”

I understood what she said then, as the 19-year-old I was.

Now I understand it even better. Now I am close to the age my mother was when she said that.

I understand the desire to protect myself by making sure to present a tight surface of put-togetherness, of I-can-handle-this.

I’ve felt how people can be waiting to pounce on an admission of weakness and exploit ignorance to push me under and behind.

It’s easier to fake it here. I know the language back here in America. And I miss the blazing ignorance of my time in Russia.

Every single moment was an opportunity to learn something new. It was impossible not to.

In my life now, I know how to get ready for my day and proceed through it. I have already figured out the answers, and I am sure to get a solid A.

Which basically means my day is a treadmill. That wasn’t what I wanted. That’s not why I learned the answers.

Davno oozhe para-It’s high time to learn something new.

I need to get stupid again.

I want to put myself in situations where I don’t know, so I can experience the joy of learning. The only way to learn something new is to be completely ignorant about it before I learn it.


It’s pretty clear at the end of the day that we’ve had it. I have one shining goal: get her to sleep so I can be done.

My daughter had a wide-ranging imagination. It seems to heighten right before bed.

I love her imagination. And sometimes I have no patience for it.

Because when I am putting her to bed, and I feel like I have no extra anything to give, and her imagination takes off I’m done.

“Mommy…I just want to be with you.”

“I’m here right now.”

“I have to be with you all day tomorrow.”

“Veronica, I can’t be with you all day tomorrow. You have school.”

and the tears. And my vision of finally being alone recedes.

If I remember myself, I realize I can’t take her literally. I don’t need to engage with the specific issue she had brought up.

Her real issue is more primal that the complicated reasons she brings up.

I recognize this sometimes in myself. I have been overwhelmed and had all kinds of things to say about what needs to happen and my sweet husband deals with the issue not what I’m saying.

It’s very human.

I have to double-check the literal response sometimes.

Many times what people ask for is not what they want.

It pays to take a long look before setting off on a course.

Most especially when it has been a long day.


I was too tired to properly rant until Veronica was asleep.

Then I started. Chris listened and said its hard and it’s going to take a while for me to be happy with myself.

That helps. It is hard. It does take time.