Real Simple

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In an attempt to organize my life yet again, in what is surely the umpteenth time, I browsed the great Internet for clues. Hours of browsing helpful how-tos, bright ideas, tips and tricks, left me with no idea where to start. Everything flew by me, nothing stuck.

What became clear though, was that the amount of stuff accumulating in my house, my work, my thoughts, my days, my life—is getting to be overwhelming.

Accumulation requires very little effort. It’s so easy to satiate hunger—both the physical and the spiritual—with all sorts of things. With stuff. With fluff. You can rush to the nearest mall and let loose on the stores, grab things off the shelves and schlep them back home, marveling at the speed with which you can decimate a month’s hard-earned pay. Get it on, pile it up, shove it down, take it all in. Who cares about rent and bills and milk and diapers and flu shots when you can have the pretty green shoes? And look, I can even run in them!

I excelled at accumulation. I would eat sugary goods the equivalent of my righteous anger in one sitting, washing them all down with tepid green tea in an attempt at control. I would watch movies indiscriminately, one after the other, not pausing to think, skipping the intro, skipping the credits, skipping analysis. I would let the images come at me fast and furious: the ugly, the unbearably beautiful, the bleak, the bloody, the sublime. I let them all come, my eyes raw and red, my head throbbing, my mind turning into a palsy that would not let me sleep, would not let me sink into quiet. I have read a book unto its death, not stopping for hours, worming my way into the words, reading right into the dark of night, the only one awake, the breaking light outside the window falling gray as I turn the last page. Sometimes I would think of getting on a bus at the stroke of midnight, just speed across the blackness into nothing, not stopping, not slowing down, not changing direction, hoping only that the ceaseless moving through time, surely, please God, would be enough.

I have a friend, we all used to be condescendingly amused by him, he was the type who got lost in the details, plodding through life at what we thought was a pitifully slow pace. He could sit engrossed for hours looking at how light causes leaves to show the tracery of their veins, could be held captive for an impolite length of time by the shell curve of a woman’s ear, could spend days beating an idea to death, one insight at a time. He couldn’t get to the big picture fast enough for us, he was bogged down by how it was all pieced together.

The fine irony of that little story is that only now, years later, do I understand how that feels, to be burdened by all the smallest things. By all the stuff we surround ourselves with. All that we ingest, all that we take in, all that we chase after. Soon enough everything adds up, swells to a burgeoning that fills one to the point of bursting.

That friend, I visited him in L.A. last year, and he seemed distracted by the temp job, the many plans to be upwardly mobile, the travails of getting it on in the big city. We filled the hours with catching up, taking great care to get the details of our stories exactly right. For all that it mattered, what I took away from that visit was a moment that was unadorned and still achingly clear: he and I, we held hands the entire time we walked that long strip of shops in Pasadena, in those last few moments at sundown, the sky above us violently saturated orange and indigo.

It was simply that, and not much more.


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