Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Resolution Solution

CT readers: Sunday, January 13 at 4PM is the new “snow date” for my reading at Burgundy Books in East Haddam. Here is a link to Author’s Track, a site on local readings and signings. (See lower right for the Get Satisfied reading. The site also links to Burgundy Books.)


In the interest of simplicity, I propose boycotting yet another “to do” list, this time in the form of 2008’s resolutions. I have chosen instead one philosophical perspective to aspire to, embodied by a quotation (see Prose below).

I hope these quotation sites spark some genuine inspiration and motivation that extend far into 2008.

-Of course, some quotes on simplicity, from
-It all boils down to just living thoughtfully day to day. has several great quotes on the business of living well.
-Make this year a more creative endeavor! Follow your includes a collection of creativity quotes.
-Just for fun, here are some quotes on the New Year itself from the Quote Garden.


This has been a hard season for me, the kind where I feel I’m doing everything right and everything still goes wrong. I wrote in early autumn about complicated families, and this last entry of 2007 could very well be part 2 of a long-running series on the topic.

But I know that it is time to regroup, a concept the New Year’s holiday uniquely champions. Stopping to think back on the last month, even with the formula of usual holiday stresses + family problems = near insanity, I am grateful to recall several windows in time that offered comfort and joy, just like the Christmas carol says.

Both Christmas Eve and Day were graced by family walks, a budding tradition I relish much more than gifts and meals. The Eve found us strolling around unseasonably warm Essex, CT. Gavin played on the mini-beach that joins Main Street with the Connecticut River. We fed the gulls, ducks, and geese. Tom popped into a store for some very last minute stocking stuffers. We were refreshed by the cool air and the smell of the river water. Christmas Day dinner was capped by a walk in Chester. All of the stores were closed, of course, and the silence on the street, only our footsteps to interrupt it, was a treasure.

My sister also struggles with these family calamities, and sent me the gift of appreciative words in the middle of a chaotic week. She shared the visual clarity of a berried shrub peeking out of the Vermont snow, a big silver bucket of cranberries at the ready for the holidays. These words of appreciation reminded me that there is always beauty to be found.

I want a quotation to center around, words that summarize what I want and need for my New Year. There are so many sophisticated words to choose from, wise insights from great academics and scholars, sweeping poetry verses that quicken my pulse. But I keep returning to a fluorescent green index card that seems to repeatedly resurface around my house. One Sunday at church, the 4th through 6th grade class greeted each attendee at the door with a neatly handwritten card. Their project had been to choose and distribute quotations to the congregants. I was given one from Aesop’s Fables:

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.

There’s simplicity for you. It is difficult to embody gratitude when times are stressful, and yet I know that this message is key for me this year. It looks backward at my childhood love of the character Pollyanna; it looks forward to the sort of writing I want to do and the kind of days I want to spend. And for today, it centers me on all that I have, versus what is lacking.

Wishing you the happiest of New Years.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Sanctuary of Sleet

WEATHER NOTICE: Today’s book signing at Burgundy Books has been postponed (new date to be scheduled soon—stay tuned).

Today’s book signing was postponed, a wise decision as the roads look pretty slick. It’s possible we’ll venture out later, but for most of the day we are “iced in”. Disappointed at first, I am coming around quickly to being grateful for the “enforced” home and family time.

I am reading The Year of Living Biblically, by AJ Jacobs. I admire this writer’s open mind. He is not religious-leaning but has a lot of curiosity about biblical rules and their origins, and he manages to remain open-minded about even the most archaic sounding dictates.

In one scene, he manages to lock himself in his apartment’s bathroom. No one is home, and he goes through the usual aggravation before finally settling down and awaiting his wife’s return. This 4-hour confinement leads, ultimately, to some rather profound thoughts. He writes, “I know that outside the bathroom, the world is speeding along. That blogs are being read. Wild salmon is being grilled...But I’m OK with it…I’ve reached an unexpected level of acceptance. For once, I’m savoring the present.” Jacobs realizes that this is what the Sabbath should feel like: “A pause. Not just a minor pause, but a major pause….a sanctuary in time.”

This is a speedy season. Despite pacing myself, there’s still that December 25 deadline to consider, cards that must make it on time, packages that must get shipped. True, the world won’t dissolve if things arrive late, but as in my work life I always feel compelled to hit those deadlines.

So this enforced Sabbath, albeit a real reformed version, is a welcome break for my family and me. I’ll give Gavin a long bubble bath later, and we’ll put up the tree that waits on our front porch. We’lI wrap our nieces gifts so they can ship to Florida on time. Yes, an orthodox Sabbath observer would be unlikely to do even these things, for they still involve work of a sort. But to us, this is a pleasurably slow day in, tasks done at leisure rather than at hyperspeed.

This is the second involuntary change in plans in 2 days. Extended family needs left us drained, and we decided not to push ourselves to the church pot luck and variety show last night. Instead, we grabbed the last pre-darkness hour to chop down our tree at Joe’s Christmas Tree Farm right here in Deep River. After a frigid walk and chopping our spruce, we sat on hay bales around the fire and roasted marshmallows, surely Gavin’s favorite part of the outing. Another unexpected break, another much needed mini-Sabbath.

I think interruptions, be they snow storms, cancellations, or mechanical failures, deserve a second chance especially during this season. They may contain a message, or at least some respite from the daily grind. Wishing you “sanctuaries in time” that allow a deep breath, a reflection, some much needed rest.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

What, in fact, WOULD Jesus buy?

Connecticut readers: Please stop by Burgundy Books in East Haddam on December 16 at 4. I will be reading from Get Satisfied and answering just about any question you ask.


No one truly knows what, if anything, Jesus might buy if he was here today. But I like to think he would, if he had to shop, center on compassion and justice. Some thought-provoking links:

  • The What Would Jesus Buy site lists several like-minded partners that also weigh the human costs of mindless shopping and unfair labor practices

  • Teenage girls in the movie, clearly fashion lovers, log onto responsible (aka sweatshop free) shopping Web sites for more information.

  • Here are some thoughts on the many nonmonetary rewards employees want. Surprisingly, monetary rewards rank 12th on employee wish lists. Workplace wishes like recognition and the opportunity to contribute are surely a microcosm of the broader life experiences we all crave.

Regular readers know that I had an appearance last week. I had the privilege of reading part of my Get Satisfied essay in conjunction with a movie screening. Director Rob Van Alkemade spoke in eloquent terms at a screening of his film, What Would Jesus Buy. But he didn’t really need any verbal talents: his compelling movie spoke for itself.

I’m already in the “stop shopping” mode, however gradually I approach it. But Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping, the attention-grabbing and often laughter-provoking central characters, made another thing clear to me: there is a global “emperor’s new clothes” mentality that drives the consumer frenzy, at Christmastime and beyond. If those around you are driven to acquire the latest Xbox or designer tag, and you have not managed to center on what matters deeply to you, you may join the crazy, hazy group delusion in which these passing fads are utterly indispensible.

But there is another dimension here that bears examining: the ripple effect. Where you shop and where it was made matters. Look more closely at companies that construct an image of compassion. In some cases, the subtly colored packaging and sweet soundtrack might mask some hypocrisy in their practices. It’s hard to be vigilant 24/7, and even the indomitable Reverend Billy (or was it one of his crew?) admits that they don’t expect anyone to completely adhere to the “Gospel of Stop Shopping”. But a pause before spending, a decision in the right direction might stir some serious ripples. The movie’s laments about big business and values-blind consumers are equaled by the hopes that supporting your local business and buying from ethical manufacturers just might accumulate in a significant difference.

Simple Christmas is an oft-expressed wish and, to many, an oxymoron. Please share your favorite simplicity- and humanity-friendly holiday traditions via the comments link. This is a gift I would truly appreciate.

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