Taking out the trash  

rm_connor696 60M
944 posts
7/24/2006 10:28 am

Last Read:
8/2/2006 1:32 pm

Taking out the trash

Back in my teen years I had a vision: a house, made of stone and open to the elements, overlooking the sea. The image suggested a classical culture, maybe Greek or Minoan; the sea might well have been the Mediterranean. A warm breeze blew through the open, sparsely furnished rooms glowing with sunlight. What difference that lizards scampered across the walls or that clouds occasionally flung handfuls of rain on the floors?

The vision spoke to me because it spoke of simplicity. And now maybe more than ever the simple life beckons, offering an almost maternal comfort.

So many others have shared that dream: "Our lives are frittered away in detail. . . . Simplify, simplify"--so advises Henry David Thoreau. But there's a catch, because . . . well, because simplicity is complicated. First and foremost, reducing your material possessions makes life simpler in one way (fewer things to master and use and maintain) but more difficult in others (figuring out ways to use what you have in order to do everything you need to do). There's a reason that all those complicated tools are called "labor-saving" devices. They do indeed save a lot of labor--until they break down. So one sort of simplicity becomes another sort of copmplexity.

The solution, of course, is to simplify your life, too. Reduce your wants and give up all that isn't necessary to life--then material simplicity will cease to complicate your days. A man of few wants needs few tools; a man of modest appetites needs but little sustenance. This may require redefining a life worth living, but that's sort of the point, isn't it?

But here comes the second catch, and it's a doozy: to a large extent, the value of simplicity is directly proportional to the complexity of the person living in it. Very likely, in fact, the notion of simplicity as an ideal not only stems from but even requires a complex soul. I realize that my dream of material simplicity represents a deeper desire for existential simplicity, a desire that itself reflects my weariness in treading and retreading my perennially convoluted thoughts, whose paths inevitably branch at every turn. It's as if I'm screaming, "Make the voices stop," even though they are mostly my own.

And suppose I were to shuck it all and retire to my own personal Walden? I might well get something out of it, but only because I had brought something into it. I won't say that simplicity by itself limits. Those who have been born to it never feel it as a limit. Their lives are what they are. It is only against a backdrop of complexity that simplicity can be understood as a circumstance, a condition. Only then can it be felt as a limitation. Similarly, only then can it acquire its special value. Those born to simplicity tend to the brutish, to narrow-minded predjudices and repetitive creative traditions. But come to the simple life with a complex mind and that mind can bloom, for it can then filter out all those picayune details and focus, really focus--maybe for the first time.

Until it all gets dull. The painter Eugene Delacroix said that a taste for simplicity can last for only a short while. Of course, people can live their entire lives in simplicity, but in that case they don't have a taste for it. Rather, it is invisible, a fact of life. You might as well speak of a taste for hunger. But the complex bring their complexity to simplicity, using the latter in service of the former. They pick up simplicity as you might pick up a hammer. Like Gaugin, they may never physically return to their messy earlier lives--but then, they never really escape them in the first place. Simplicity becomes a congenial house in which complexity may flourish.

I still sometimes dream of that house, though, and of hours passed watching the sunlight shimmer across the water, shattering into a million dancing jewels. If anything remains lacking, it must be only a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, and a good friend and lover.

florallei 99F

7/24/2006 11:44 am

Hi Connor,

It sounds lovely the scene...breaking 'loaf of bread...wine...friend and lover.' Simplicity at it's finest!!!

rm_connor696 replies on 7/25/2006 10:05 pm:
Well, I can claim authorship only for the visuals. The bit about bread and wine paraphrases a line from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, a Persian mathematician and poet who obviously knew a thing or two about simplicity.

rm_FreeLove999 46F
16127 posts
7/24/2006 11:58 am

yes it does sound idyllic. i try to simplify my life, but i don't have a fixed and steady income, so i have to work ... this requires computers and communication with a complex world ... i think simplicity in it's idyll requires an income to cover the rudimentary basics, otherwise you are thrust into the complexity of daily survival and the idyll is gone.

[blog freelove999]

rm_connor696 replies on 7/25/2006 6:31 am:
Well, you got that right, which is why I said you might have to redefine a life worth living. For example, though people rail against many facets of modern medicine, it's pretty great to have MRIs, ultrasound, laser surgery, and so on. But only a complex society can produce those. What's the point in escaping the rat race if you have to live--or more important, die--like an animal?

BTW, I gather that you work in the publishing field. I was an editor at academic presses for almost twenty years, and I can't imagine the days before computers and fax machines--and let's not even talk about hand composition!

rm_sj365 55F
2414 posts
7/24/2006 8:13 pm

funny..i've always taken the advice to simplify as more psychological simplification....not less 'stuff', less baggage.
i guess i figure that at the end of the day its not about what you have or do not have, its how you feel about what you have or dont have.

i like simple

rm_connor696 replies on 7/25/2006 6:45 am:
There's certainly something to that, but I wonder whether the exterior might not govern the interior more than that. I suspect that it's difficult to be truly simple, to live a simple life, when you're ensnared in surroundings that are complicated both materiallly and socially. I agree that you can do a lot just by letting go of concerns, but a complicated society requires much more knowledge and more actions than a simple one does. So you have to get involved in those wrinkles just to survive. And beyond that is the question of motivation. T. S. Eliot wrote, "Teach us to care and not to care." But what could be more difficult than that? Equally difficult (or perhaps the same) is the Buddhist injunction to act but not to care. I don't say that it can't be done; I say only that such enlightenment is a rare commodity. Even most mystics drop out of their societies, at least at first.

Still, we absolutely do author many needless complications in our lives. Will it help if I cut the soles off my shoes, live in a tree, and learn to play the bongos?

rm_FreeLove999 46F
16127 posts
7/28/2006 5:21 am

LOL! I am the publishing department of a health equity network, so I guess I work in publishing, but I tend to say I work in health equity ... but yes, it must have been gruelling to do publishing without computers and in spite of the endless problem computers give, i'm glad we have them! as it is, i work from home, and manuscripts arrive via email from all over southern and east Africa. it would be gruelling to have to do this even 30 years ago via the postal system; we wouldn't be nearly as productive.

[blog freelove999]

PrincessKarma 43F
6188 posts
8/1/2006 1:59 pm

Quoting from memory so be kind...

"... a loaf of bread, a jug of wine, a book of verse and thou
singing beside me in the wilderness
and wilderness is paradise enow."

The Big Bang was the mother of all orgasms.PrincessKarma

rm_connor696 replies on 8/1/2006 2:26 pm:
Not to worry. After all, you're quoting a translation anyway (Fitzgerald's, I believe), and there must be about a zillion different translations of the verse, with each translator calling all the others idiots, scoundrels, or both.

Whatever. You recalled the basic sentiment, and it's a lovely one, isn't it? Food, drink, friends, and nature. We must be fools who want much more than that.

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