The Road to Hell

December 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

I had the best of intentions of inching closer toward zen and clarity and all the good things that make me feel pure and uncluttered

country road

country road (Photo credit: Slideshow Bruce)

. But nature abhors a vacuum, or at least it does in my universe. So as I removed belongings that tied me to a part of my life I was ready to let go of, I found myself acquiring things I didn’t anticipate wanting or needing. As the balance shifted and space emptied out, it quickly replenished itself. Okay, if I’m going to be honest- I did help.

I covet cute things and sparkly things and brand new tech things. And even as I sometimes indulge, I try to understand my ever evolving cravings. I’m a creature of my time and generation and as such find myself fascinated by new developments and product innovation. Professionally, I have to keep up with trends and styles and technology. And while I enjoy it, there are times that the trends treadmill feels faster than ever bordering on crushing.

So I’m not setting specific new goals for 2013, though I will make public my dedication to continuing on my road to More Clarity & Less Clutter. And some other things as well…

I finally rid myself of over a decade’s worth of work related notebooks, emails, scribblings and more. It was an incredible journey to leaf through some of my earlier typed and scribbled professional hopes and dreams and see the way some had gone beyond my wildest imaginings, while other withered on the vine. Among other things, I also found the now worthless shares to a company I’d co-founded during the heady web 1.0 days. An object lesson in not putting much faith in paper. It did remind me though, that I’ve built things from scratch in the past, and intend to again in the not too distant future.

I almost saved these notebooks and notes for another decade- just in case I write a business book. And then I realized- I already did. Amazing how unattainable goals once reached and passed become almost endearing, rather than thrilling.

I’d like to be thrilled professionally again. Though 2012 was a year of great new successes and accomplishments, the residual sagging economy and previous lingering life events left me without the full passion I once had. And I miss it. And I vow to fully reclaim it, without losing myself in the process. And I’m excited about what I have planned for 2013. And I can’t wait to tell you about it.

But before I can do that, I need to clear out some of my mental and emotional bandwidth along with some of this lingering clutter. I suspect that it’s more of a lifelong battle for me. To conquer things that crush me instead of sustaining me.

An informal poll of the New Year’s plans or traditions of friends provided me with inspiration. One friend mentioned working on a list of things she’d like to leave behind in the old year. And that come midnight on December 31st, she intends to burn that list.

I’m inspired to do the same and was going to include some of the things I want to leave behind, but don’t want to have them recorded in perpetuity to mock my intentions.

But I’m working on it. And I can’t wait to leave all of those things behind and make room for even better days ahead. And before you think me overly maudlin, Last year was filled with so many good and amazing moments. I want to make sure to make room for even more in the year to come.

My philosophy for the past few years was Better. I’ve amended it slightly. My motto for next year?  Even Better.

On Giving Thanks

November 22, 2012 § Leave a comment

On Thursday, many of us will be gathered around a table groaning from the load of too many delicious things to eat.

English: Saying grace before carving the turke...

English: Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in the home of Earle Landis in Neffsville, Pennsylvania (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’ll talk about things mundane and magnificent. Like the fact that Thanksgiving falls on November 22nd and seems to be coming early this year (is it ever too early to give thanks?). Or the fact that so many of us in the Northeast had our lives shaken up mere weeks ago by hurricanesuperfrankenstorm Sandy and that we’re so incredibly fortunate to have our lives creeping back to a semblance of normalcy. And we’ll also send up a guilty prayer for those who are still weeks if not months away from anything even remotely resembling normalcy.

And we’ll pass the yams and marvel at the pies and then steal covert (or more obvious) glances at our smartphones. We might update our Facebook pages with pictures of our food or relatives and tweet clever or snarky things about the onerous responsibility of spending an entire day with family and being forced to muse upon things that we’re thankful for.

But for one day, we will slow down and mostly shut off and give thanks. And for that I’m truly grateful.

I’m grateful for a lot this year. For health. For family. For love. For friendship, the real kind, not the click and like kind. For the ability to make things better as they’re getting better. And for holding fast to, and then rediscovering my innate and hard-won optimism after a sandstorm of challenges.

So have I still been pruning my belongings regularly? Yes and no. And I hope to tell you more about it and more frequently than I have been.

In the meantime, thank you for sticking around if you’ve stuck around.

V. Neat

June 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

Sierra magazine reports via their blog, that artist and author (and I’m tempted to call him a futurist) Douglas Coupland, the voice behind Generation X, has figured out a tidy way to declutter the city.

Coupland’s introduction of the very cool looking V-Pole(in Vancouver, hence the ‘V’)

Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ, USA.

Taliesin West, Scottsdale, AZ, USA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

would be connected to underground optical wiring and provide  neighborhoods with “wi-fi and mobile wireless, LED street lighting, electric vehicle charging, parking transactions and can act as an electronic neighborhood bulletin board.” I seem to remember that Frank Lloyd Wright hoped to petition the state of Arizona for underground telephone wiring so as not to mar the stunning vistas near Taliesin West.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if more people concentrated on making our cities more beautiful, either via public art, or in discovering ways to contain our collective modern and necessary technological clutter? Viva la V-Pole!

On Essays, Soul Spilling and Survivors

April 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

While it would seem to the world that as a professional writer I spill my guts on a regular basis, I’m actually incredibly circumspect about what I share publicly. My other self, the marketing strategist, regularly lectures me to ignore my desire to share the painful and over-twee and to instead mind my brand when opening up in print. So I write about beauty. And I write about culture. And I examine modern cultural minutiae and try to understand what motivates people. And I try to find ways to help people in their business lives and every day strive to make people’s worlds slightly more amusing and hopeful. And I try to tiptoe through the misery and inequity in the world and instead focus on teeny, tiny ways to make things better. Happier. Clearer. Because the

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judens...

Yellow badge Star of David called "Judenstern". Part of the exhibition in the Jewish Museum Westphalia, Dorsten, Germany. The wording is the German word for Jew (Jude), written in mock-Hebrew script. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

collective clutter of misery in the world can be far too soul crushing.

Yesterday was Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day meant to commemorate the millions murdered by the Nazis. As a child of survivors I wonder where is the day celebrating the survivors? What about the ones who endured living hell and went on to create families and communities and lives filled with both magical and mediocre moments?

As the child of a child concentration camp survivor and a member of a family of survivors, I don’t need one day to remind me, every day is Holocaust Remembrance day in my world. I am a living, breathing, Holocaust memorial. After years of not discussing my familial pain, I decided to write an essay about it and submit it to my usual outlets. It was neither raw, nor overly emotional. What struck me most is how matter of fact I was about the facts of my life. And the fact that I didn’t much care if it was published or not. More than that, it was cathartic to talk about the ongoing struggle of survivors to be afforded dignity as they age. I spoke about the indignity of survivors trying to deal with the organizations that are funded by German reparation money and exist to aid them, who instead choose to victimize them a second time. There was no rage. There was no pain. Merely an airing out of a story that should be told over and over again until justice is meted out and not in insultingly tiny increments.

I’ve written and deleted tens of thousands of words over the years dealing with the particular pain of being what is known as 2G, the second generation of survivors. I wasn’t ready to share with the world the fact that as a very little girl in summer camp, I’d map out escape routes through the forests, just in case the Nazis came back for the rest of us. I felt too vulnerable to share the particular terror felt by children of survivors, that every time you kiss a family member goodbye, it could be the last goodbye. Or the fact that I almost exclusively dated tall blonde WASPs in the hidden hopes that they would save me, if it ever happened again. I never wanted to share the rage at feeling that even my most crucial moments, illnesses or heartaches were inconsequential, because really, how can you compete with the specter of your then eleven year old father being a slave laborer before being sent to a concentration camp? Or knowing that your name isn’t even your own, but rather one plucked from the mass grave at Auschwitz, where the first Rachel Weingarten was gassed before being obliterated in a puff of crematorium smoke. Or how after emerging from the hell that was cancer, you wondered why on earth people insisted on calling you a survivor.

But this time I hit send on my essay instead of delete. I felt as though I was sweeping clean some of the barbed wire cobwebs that pin me to a painful past. Still there, still somewhat rusty, but perhaps less oppressive.

In yearning to clear my life of extraneous clutter, I have to sometimes publicly explore my personal pain, the pain of a lost generation and wonder how people manage to forget.

Zachor. Remember. Not just one day a year, but every day. Not so that you live in the past, but so that the future can remain a hopeful place and not one crowded by ghosts demanding retribution.

Spring Cleaning

April 1, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve been paying attention lately to the timing of my cyclical cleaning jags. Sometimes the urge to purge intersects with impending

Festive Seder table with wine, matza and Seder...

Festive Seder table with wine, matza and Seder plate. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

visitors and other times with different dates on the calendar.

As someone who was raised with a traditional Jewish upbringing, I’ve often fallen victim to the near hysterical house cleaning that generally accompanies Passover, which begins at sunset on Friday.

Though most frequently associated with the shunning of all things leavened (with pasta, bread & bagels topping the list) and eating of matzoh, the holiday that heralds spring also has a subset of rules and regulations. Some that have been passed down over the generations include the reading of the Hagaddah which recounts the Jews exodus from Egypt and the tyrannical Pharoah (10 plagues and all); drinking four glasses of wine; asking the four questions and generally celebrating the Jews’ escape from slavery to freedom complete with a huge meal and quest for gifts. Or as Good for the Jews puts it “They tried to kills us. We Survived. Let’s Eat.”

Good for the Jews: They Tried to Kill Us…

For Jews like myself of Eastern European heritage, the holiday also involves a generally frenzied top/down house cleaning and subsequent disposal of any offending bread-like or even remotely near leavened products. Also clothes that you no longer wear, shoes that have fallen out of favor, kitchen gadgets bought in a weak moment, shampoos that are barely used, unread magazines- well, you get the picture.

I’ve been busy lately. Really (wonderfully) busy and (please don’t read this, mom) haven’t really given the holiday much thought. And yet without paying attention to the calendar, the pre-holiday abstersion submersion has crept into my life. I find myself feverishly throwing out half used boxes of quinoa, divesting myself of bedding bought in a weak moment and questioning my need for 11 pairs of sneakers. (No, really. 11. And I’m not even a runner).

In other words, be it nature or nurture, sometimes you really do have to take a long, hard look in your closet and kitchen and just eliminate. Without remorse. Without nostalgia. Without wondering if you can re-purpose that skirt into a pillowcase.

Now is that time.

Delicious Minimalistic Holiday Wishes

December 23, 2011 § Leave a comment

My friend Iyna posted this link to a slideshow featuring iconic architecture constructed out of gingerbread. Included are Frank Lloyd

Fallingwater

Image by kevinq2000 via Flickr

Wright’s Fallingwater complete with bricks made of Sweetarts and Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House.

Last night I spent some quality time at the Crafting Modern exhibit at the Museum of Arts and Design, and over the weekend I’ll be rewatching the Ray and Charles Eames documentary that aired on PBS earlier this week.

In all, I’m feeling rather spoiled for choice this holiday season and not missing a minute of the crazed shopping and acquiring frenzy that used to mark my Decembers.

Wishing you a holiday season with a minimum of stress, but jam-packed with soul nourishing and interesting experiences.

A Pared Down Holiday Season

November 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m not a fan of Black Friday (other than as an economy spurring device). Small Business Saturday makes me question American Express’s motives more than anything else, and Cyber Monday kind of gives me the creeps in a Neal Stephenson sort of a way.  It

Think outside the box

Image via Wikipedia

isn’t that I don’t love to shop, it’s that I hate the rigidity and new enforced holiday spending madness. Also that creepy Target Commercial woman.

This year I created a new holiday ritual. Instead of stocking up on more of the same, I tried to rid myself of old, unneeded and unused. It was a weird feeling to be clearing space out instead of clogging it up.

My journey toward clarity seems to take longer than anticipated, since I’ve been not only working, but also examining every item and trying to figure out how it once fit in my life, and if there is in fact place for it in my future. It’s also a challenge to reject the idea of disposable everything, but
instead trying to measure things based on need and usability.

Which brings me back to the holiday shopping madness. When even isolated incidents involving pepper spray are reported, when store employees have to spend upwards of 12 hours at work when they should be spending time with family, and when the holidays feel more chore than cause for celebration, it’s time to rethink our motives and messaging.

Bah, Humbug and all that to rampant consumerism even in a crappy economy.

Craft or Clutter?

October 17, 2011 § 2 Comments

I like to joke that I was born into sales, which is mostly true.

Rosey Grier's Needlepoint for Men

Image by liquidindian via Flickr

When I was two years old my mother opened her first business, a yarn and crafting shop. I’d sit attentively at her side as she gave instructions, paired colors and otherwise helped women (and the infrequent, but brave men inspired by Rosey Grier) learn to beautify their worlds through the art of crafts.

While crafting is enjoying a resurgence in popularity, for me it’s always been a lifelong hobby, if not obsession. I’m constantly amazed at the magic of taking threads, canvas or paint and weaving, winding or daubing them into beautiful or useful objects.

Like most crafty people, I’ve amassed a collection of half-started projects over the years. While I’ve finished too many to count, I’m constantly haunted by the ghosts of non-finished needlepoints, half-painted canvases or long forgotten granny squares.

There’s no craft too arcane that I haven’t made at least an initial attempt to master it (yup, even lampshade making). My hall closet is crowded with unpainted canvases and I have a trunk full of hat making supplies.

Like most crafty people, I also suffer from the urge to buy supplies when inspiration hits and then watch them languish when I can’t quite recall their original purpose.

One of the hardest things I’ve faced in my quest to declutter is deciding what to do with my abundance of crafts materials. Are they masterpieces waiting to happen, or yet more masses of tiny objects conspiring to crowd me in?

Treasures from Trash

August 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’ve spent a good portion of the last few weeks on Fake-Cation. I use my own variant, fake-cation, instead of more recently mainstream, accepted and twee staycation (or its dozens of spawns), because while I was mostly local, I ended up working and pitching, thereby making it more faux time off than fabulous escape. That burst of activity coupled with earthquakes and hurricanes and a rumored tornado (oh my) made my time off more eventful than restful.

And yet here I am refreshed and ready for big things this autumn. I should clarify, big good things this autumn. I could do without additional drama.

But on to the real thought of the day. Sometimes when you’re clearing things out you may discover a treasured object or something lost long ago. It doesn’t have to be buried treasure- sometimes a misplaced earring or bottle of shampoo makes you rethink your purchasing habits of the last few months. Instead of regret, per se, you might be filled with a memory of a purchasing things that worked for you instead of the ones most heavily advertised or highly priced. In these instances, it can encourage you to also start buying based not only on need or price- but based on quality, consistency and reliability.

So much more fun to have one that you love instead of eleven that fill you with post buyer’s remorse shame.

Clearing Out The Junk….Food

July 8, 2011 § 1 Comment

At a recent visit to the doctor I discovered that I had perfect blood pressure – fairly shocking after the year I’ve been through. A friend asked me to what I attribute this fact, since we’d both shared woes of the specter of a fine family tradition of high blood pressure. “Well”, I said proudly, “Do you remember a few years back when I stopped eating junk food? Since then, I eat healthily, avoid salt or cooking with salt, walk as much as I can…” and then I stopped. Because that wasn’t entirely true.

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 05:  Packages of Pri...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Though I avoid meat, cook without or avoid salt when I can, avoid food with preservatives when I can and really do try to walk everywhere, I’ve found that junk food has found a sneaky way of sneaking back into my life. I did a quick mental tally of the last few weeks – from the rushed sandwich while on the go, to upheaval that could only be solved with a lot of teeth grinding and Pringles, I’ve become increasingly reliant on food better classified as junk.

Well that’s gonna stop too.

As I clear out the clutter from my life, I’m once again going to become more mindful of the junk I randomly ingest. As I treat my living space better and empty out the things that are distracting or no longer welcome, I’ll apply the same principle to my ultimate living, breathing space and vow to treat it a lot better. To that end, I’m going to be even more vigilant about what I eat and how much of it.

Here are some guidelines that have worked for me in the past:

1. I will try to prepare or cook the majority of the food that I eat

2. I will try to eat fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables when possible

3. I will avoid overly processed, salted or mass market produced foods.

4. I will not add salt to food when cooking, and try to avoid adding salt when eating it

5. Junk food is not my friend. It probably isn’t yours either. So while fries are an infrequent treat, I’m going to try to avoid them and their kin altogether. Pringles- consider yourself warned.

6. Whole Foods prepared foods, etc. are better options, but not the best option.

(And I’m going to update The Conflicted Minimalist Manifesto right now!)

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