Today I retired a pair of jeans. They weren’t too old yet, but, regardless, a hole at my bottom-left buttocks rang the death knoll for the faithful black garment. I noticed it only a few minutes ago. It’s a pity, honestly. A few inches could have made all the difference. A hole at my thigh might have been acceptable.
Yesterday I retired three pair of shoes. The reason was quite the same. Each had a hole burrowed straight through the soles or toe. Unlike my jeans, the holes were not a new discovery. They had been Swiss cheese clods of rubber and canvas for months, yet still I kept them. What’s more I wore them. Often. For quite some time they were my only shoes.
I have an intimate relationship with decay, or at least it feels that way. Chaoskampf, or battle against chaos, is the theme of my conscious narrative. Far too familiar is the sensation and even realization that rot and wear are actively taking what I have from me. This ranges from my material possessions like clothing, to more abstract things like my sense of organization and (at times) my reputation. At some point I began to identify with the concept.
Over time my loved ones grew a bit concerned at the thought and sight of me doing business, delivering speeches, and performing in my Sunday worst. As these shoes were very obviously past their prime they saw it fit to purchase me three new pair for Christmas. It is now the end of March and I’ve finally separated from my more unfortunate footwear. Why did it take so long?
Part of me was also fed up with walking the streets of my town looking poor (though I am at present impoverished) and wanted to put on the nicer, newer, warmer, drier shoes my family bought me. Another much louder and dominant part, however, convinced me certainly that the moment I put them on they would fall apart to sawdust.
I had some good reason to get this sense, honestly. I’m not kind to my shoes. Currently I don’t own a car, so I walk and cycle often. This puts a fair amount of stress on my shoes. Further, I’m active in my idle time. See me with my children at the park jumping, climbing, running, rolling, and skipping along with them and you won’t be far off from how I generally spend my time away from work. The mere fitting of a shoe on my foot is a death sentence to it.
But isn’t it supposed to be?
I’ve grown fearful, and if there’s anything I have learned it is that nothing good comes from fearful action (or inaction). I had grown afraid to wear my own clothing, which was designed to be worn, lest it become worn. Somehow I managed to internalize the most inevitable tendency in the universe: entropy. In science, the natural movement of everything toward disorder. I felt I was an agent of wear and tear. Even feeling responsible for its presence in my life. No small responsibility. And in being afraid of losing something new, I clung to something old to protect a possession I never allowed myself to actually possess.
Let’s talk about possessions a moment.
The realization has made me rethink something else I have embodied pretty holistically in my life: minimalism. The culture of minimalism is vast and varied, as is the definition of the same. It should perhaps be made clear what I mean when I use this term. I refer to it as the reduction to and maintenance of practical essential items for the ease of effort. It is to have less stuff so I have room for more purpose. Let me note that “purpose” holds the most important place in my view of the world and my self image.
Having been raised in a Catholic school and being an avid watcher of David Carradine in Kung-Fu and Kung-Fu the Legend Continues I had many flattering impressions of monks. Their piety. Their discipline. Their aversion to possession. It was romantic to me that one’s dedication and purpose could be enough to stave off material and sensory desire. So, pretty naturally I was shown and therefore I felt that these were qualities attached to one who was truly devoted to a cause or mission, which is what I wanted for myself. This became the impetus for something that didn’t yet have a name and that I encountered as a type of minimalist lifestyle.
It was cute and even noble at first. At this moment, with my shoes and pants lying in the trash, I am now aware that minimalism became a validation for both my poverty and my fear of having and destroying new things. I wasn’t a minimalist so much as I was desperately trying to salvage the old while constantly denying the new. This became my piety and an outward symbol of my devotion to something lofty. Further, fulfilling my innate desire to “save” something or someone, salvaging the broken became part of my purpose. I held on to the worn and broken until it could no longer be loved, and only then did I reluctantly purchase the new, thereby damning it to a death without dignity as it fell apart upon my body.
Now, here’s the conflict this all presents and why any of this really matters for my life. I am a person quick to announce my love of philosophy, and at least of rational thinking. A rational thinker in my opinion should reassess his premises and do so often to ensure they are not carrying false beliefs, disproven truths, or faulty mental models. Here the metaphor starts to thicken like cooling grease. This event is a call-to-action to look through all the worn ideas I continue to wear and not replace because I believe I’m “saving” them.
This. Is. Important. One of my hobbies is the casual study of antiquity. Few series of ideas and philosophies are more rightfully on the chopping block now than our ancient views of the world, influenced by government-run religions, scienceless tribes, and outdated world scenarios. Even without this fact, I am very much human, and a first generation American at that, inheriting old-world knowledge from habits, rituals, and wives tales that I grew up coming to know as sooth. I think it’s time to look for where there may be holes and to discard old concepts. First and foremost should probably be my ideas of minimalism, purpose, and what to do with all of these holey turtlenecks. Happy Spring Cleaning.