Inching Toward Simplicity: Pragmatics and Prose

Sunday, January 27, 2008

No Man Is an Island


  • -John Donne said it first and best. I just learned that “ask not for whom the bell tolls” was in the same meditation as “no man is an island”. He packed those insights in, in one paragraph in this case!

  • -Here are one woman’s thoughts on reinhabiting her own community as part of her efforts toward simplicity.

-Thomas Merton, a new favorite of mine, had a lot to say on this topic (he wrote a whole book with the same title as this blog). A man who experienced (and perhaps preferred) much solitude, he did not fail to recognize how vital community was: “Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and ‘one body,’ will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives.” Here are some other quotes of his.


I write fairly regularly about alone time and down time, both being necessities I have discovered along the way. Both contribute, for me, to a meaningful and balanced lifestyle.

But this week, it’s the flip side I’ve been thinking about: community. One essay I read recently (wish I could remember where) wrote about a different kind of lifestyle than most of us have now. Before TV, before even radio, neighbors were known to visit. They would pass time and share stories. Especially in less populated areas, like the frontier, fellowship was vital for both sanity and survival. I do think there’s something to the in person community, versus all of these online forums we have today. But both come from a good impulse.

Two weeks ago, I experienced community at Burgundy Books in East Haddam. Linda and Chuck were warm and gracious hosts, every writer’s dream. Just a small handful of friends turned out for my Get Satisfied reading, but it filled my heart to feel their encouragement and interest.

My two readings in these last 2 months have called for courage. It was not the courage to stand up and read what I wrote. I needed courage to reach out, to let people know that I wrote something, to ask them to come to my event. I’m also gathering the courage to connect with other writers, exchanging information on agents and workshops. This includes contacting writers much more advanced than I—to get to their wisdom and their encouragement, I am willing to risk rejection.

In keeping with my simplicity focus, I’ve also found likeminded people online, via Freecycle. I’ve decided the types of people who frequent Freecycle want the value of their possessions to be meaningfully maximized, something I can relate to in my efforts to discard with discretion. Rather than dump hauls they are thinking about who might use what they can no longer fit into their home or lifestyle. They are taking reduce, reuse, recycle to a new level of productive community exchange.

Then there’s a more serious kind of community: my first NarAnon meeting last Tuesday, a much needed tool for dealing with an addict family member. To be greeted with warmth and understanding about such a painful dilemma was a long overdue step for me.

It seems all 12-step groups have a lot of catch phrases. These phrases provide important, easy-to-recall reminders of truths that should not be ignored. At NarAnon, I heard, “Keeping coming back. It works if you work it.” The same can be said of community. It’s a well that should be dipped into more often, a tool that can be applied to solve so many problems.

I like this quote by Black Elk, a Sioux holy man. It speaks to our connectedness, to the need for each other that cannot be overlooked:

Hear me, four quarters of the world - a relative I am! Give me the strength to walk the soft earth, a relative to all that is! Give me the eyes to see and the strength to understand, that I may be like you. With your power only can I face the winds.

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Saturday, January 12, 2008

Saying Thank You

Local readers: I will be at Burgundy Books in East Haddam tomorrow (Sunday, January 13) at 4PM, promoting Get Satisfied. Please come!


-If your thank you note skills have gotten rusty, here’s a good primer.

-Still feeling stumped? Here are sample notes for all kinds of occasions.

-Here are some tips to encourage kids to write thank yous. For the beginning writer, they make fill in the blank cards—Mad Libs for etiquette!

-I liked this blog by a young woman with diabetes. Obviously challenged by the demands of the disease, she devoted her space to wholehearted thanks this past November.

-I recently saw some troops in the Memphis airport. Regardless of my feelings about the war, I saw their young faces and was struck by how much they are sacrificing. Check out the Gratitude Campaign’s video on saying thank you to these brave men and women.


After every celebratory event of my young life, I was strongly encouraged, ordered really, to put pen to paper and write a glowing thank you note. This practice has slipped a bit in recent years – I often let a phone call or e-mail suffice. But this year I’m savoring the thought of sitting down with my fresh packet of blank holiday thank you cards.

I’ve already received some thank yous. Aunt Norma penned the first note. She has always been the note writer, signing Uncle Jack’s name first, except now there is no choice in the matter. Uncle Jack suffers from dementia and Norma carries every task imaginable these days. Life has not been easy, from young married farm life through present health concerns for both of them. But I feel Norma’s irrepressible spirit when she writes of her “deep appreciation for our many blessings”. She also reminded me, as Jack turns 80, to “Spend some time enjoying life and togetherness. Time is so precious…”. My mom’s notes echo the same sincere thanks to a family that she loves deeply.

Tom’s sister Corlyne would not rest until she knew that Gavin’s package had arrived. I think of the many long-distance family members who phone in orders, wrap packages, and wait in line at the post office thinking of us. Christmas morning is peppered with their phone calls, some reunions with folks we should call twice as often.

My mom needed help to haul our gifts up the steps this year. She always manages a true surprise, this year a noisy electric guitar for Gavin. He picks it up at least once a day, and every “riff” recalls Christmas Day and his loving “Nanny-Jean”.

Our neighbor Mr. Dube is often a “wave-to” neighbor. Each year flies by, and we see him less when the cold weather sets in. But he is faithful in his pre-mass Christmas Eve visits, always wielding an oversized toy for Gavin and wine for the grownups. He also remembers Gavin’s February birthday, when I recall waving down the driveway to him while in labor, panting, “we’re off to the hospital, finally!”

This year’s thank yous don’t feel like obligations. They feel like a meditation on the many blessings that surround us, in the form of people who genuinely care. I guess I’ve got Aunt Norma’s and Mom’s appreciative genes, a gift I treasure more than any other.

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