"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Light as a Feather

Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful,
or believe to be beautiful.
~William Morris

Beautiful and useful: my favorite china pattern
~ Chinese Legend (pastel Blue Willow with red accents) ~
which looks perfect against red silk elephants from Thailand!
Thanks Sandy S-K!

Or this exotic white / gold / silver summer bedding ensemble
from the United Arab Emirates. Thanks Vickie!


For one thing,
there is too much luggage,
and you’re truly lugging it —
you and, it seems, everyone.

What is it, that you need so badly?
Think about this.

from the poem "Logan International"
by Mary Oliver
in her book Thirst

Now, what to do about all those items that are neither beautiful nor useful? Somehow it seems that life has become a perpetual project of sorting the wheat from the chaff, trying to ~ simplify, simplify, simplify ~ by donating or throwing away. Mary Oliver's question ~ "What is it, that you need so badly?" ~ reminds me of the old Egyptian rule that you could only enter the afterworld if Osiris weighed your heart and found it to be lighter than a feather.

This ancient legend received a new twist in the 1983 Sesame Street special, Don't Eat the Pictures (which I mentioned last month on my Quotidian Blog). Cookie Monster and friends spend the night -- In a Museum! -- the Metropolitan Museum of Art -- and meet a little Egyptian prince who haunts the Temple of Dendur because he is under a spell that prevents him from joining his parents in the afterlife.

Big Bird, Mr. Snuffleupagus, and Prince Sahu
Snuffy offers Sahu a ride, and Big Bird sings a hopeful song:
"You're Gonna Be a Star"
Shining in the sky
Bright and proud, way up high.
You're gonna be a star
Somewhere in the blue
There's a spot just for you!

The moon will be there beside you
When everyone's counting sheep
A fluffy white cloud will hide you
Whenever you go to sleep

A shiny little star
Is what you're gonna be--
Just you wait and see!

You're gonna be a star
Shining in the sky
Bright and proud, way up high.
You're gonna be a star
Somewhere in the blue
There's a spot just for you!

At night when the sky is clearing
You'll talk with the other stars
I bet you'll be overhearing
What Jupiter said to Mars!

A shiny little star
Is what you're gonna be--
Just you wait and see!
Standing Before Osiris With a Heavy Heart


My heart was not lighter than feather twelve years ago, when we made the big move from Philadelphia back to Indiana (in Spring 2004). When we first moved out to Philly (from Indiana, in Spring 1993), we didn't have so much to take with us, but we managed to accumulate a lot in our eleven years there, and it couldn't all come back to the Midwest with us. When packing, I tried to put all of our belongings to the "light as a feather" test. If they failed, then they did not get to accompany us to our next life!

In preparation for that move, I bid farewell to stacks of old bedspreads and beach towels (including two big black garbage bags full to our vet, who was collecting nesting material to make snug winter beds for the pets), tons of books (some via amazon used), a couple of poorly made small bookshelves and scratched up end tables, video cassettes, Sam's outgrown clothes (previously worn by Ben), Christmas decorations (yes, I was able to part with one large shopping bag of the cheaper, plastic variety -- none of my treasures, of course), a few puzzles and games and toys that I didn't think Ben and Sam would ever play with again. One way or another, it all made its way out the door -- over to St. Peter's School (some, that I knew the little kids would like, went straight to the Pre - K; some to the basement for the next year's annual rummage sale), or to our local Goodwill equivalent -- a store called the Second Mile Center, or to the curbside -- an extremely efficient market for the transference of goods in Philadelphia.

It's true, I cried real tears over some of the special toys, like the wooden zoo that had simply never appealed to the boys, even though to me it had represented the ideal hands - on childhood experience that I dreamed of creating for them. I guess that's the hard part -- not just boxing up the stuff, but passing on the dreams in hopes that someone else will find a use for them. It wasn't easy at first, but once I got going, I felt good about the idea of not bringing so much excess baggage back to Indiana! It's always tough for a sentimental fool like me to part with my belongings but always nice to lighten the load. When we arrived in Indiana, more things had to go; despite our heavy - duty downsizing, we realized we had still brought too much.

We've now been back in Indiana for as long as were in Philadelphia (a year longer, actually), so it is definitely time for another purge. A few of my friends swear by the latest trend: Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing; but I think between William Morris ("beautiful or useful") and the Tao of Big Bird ("lighter than a feather") I have all the inspiration I need. (I have also been intrigued by Kate Bingaman-Burt's Obsessive Consumption: What Did You Buy Today? -- a kind of "pain of payment" awareness - raising project, like the practice of meticulously verifying every credit card purchase or, better yet, using cash instead of credit.)

I like what my friend Len wrote a couple of summers ago about growing lighter and lighter as he gave away his earthly goods:
I enjoyed clearing out my closets of all the clothes I haven't worn since I moved to this house three years ago: sports jackets, pants, ties, regular jackets, shoes obtained online that never fit well, the ugly, the old-fashioned, the back-up administrating garb, the inexplicable purchases. I dropped these off at the donation center and then went back to give them the bicycle. In this mood, I began clearing expired foods (making an emergency batch of tofu-tidbits just six hours away from expiring--my name is Danger!). I plan not to go beyond my house and backyard tomorrow: there is so much more to cull, clean, and clear out, now that I am in this groove.

Tabula rasa: I had to replace my old, dying cellphone; the young technician supposedly copying the contacts and calendar and other information from my old phone suddenly panicked when he saw I did not have a "cloud app." He had to make a call to someone and kept trying. After five attempts, he handed it to me in triumph and said it was perfect; he said I should have told him I had deleted my contacts! In keeping with my general cleaning and emptying, I took the blank phone as an opportunity: gone were all of the people and places I had for short-term purposes, from different places I had lived, from my administrative work. Gone were the retired, the moved, the unpleasant, and the dead. It was as if a great cleansing religious ceremony had been undertaken and my contacts now were made pure. I start from this beginning and add as needed. . . .

Plus Some Witty Facebook Responses:

Denice Laws Davies: "I felt that way after giving away my teenage record collection."

Diane Prokop: You are a brave man.

Leonard Orr: "Bravery does not enter into it. There was not much that could be done. I think the best analogy is Leopold Bloom's rising above the adversities of his life through "equanimity," before he goes to sleep at the end of Ulysses."

Diane Prokop: "I am a stranger to equanimity these days."

Andrea Livingston: "I like the idea of deleting all "unpleasant" contacts from my cellphone's memory and sending them to a "cloud" somewhere, similar to what happened in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind."

Kitti: "My favorite: 'inexplicable purchases'! I also like this list; there's just something about it that I keep returning to: 'Gone were the retired, the moved, the unpleasant, and the dead.' "

Leonard: "Separated out, it does sound idyllic (or an echo of the end of Dubliners)."

Kitti Carriker: Or the preface of Edwin Mullhouse
(see Comment below)
Here's an even better way to decrease our accumulations
and the task of ridding ourselves of them --
don't buy them in the first place!

Next Fortnightly Post
Tuesday, June 14th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading


  1. The pretend preface to one of my all - time favorite novels ever:

    from the novel _Edwin Mullhouse_
    by Steven Millhauser (1972)

    "Preface to the First Edition

    Edwin Mullhouse is dead. I shall not qualify the noun of his memory with the insolent adjectives of insufficient praise. Edwin Mullhouse is dead. He is as dead as a doornail.

    I have studied them carefully, those smug adult prefaces. With fat smiles of gratitude, fit thanks are given for services rendered and kindnesses bestowed. Long lists of names are cleverly paraded in order to assure you that the author has excellent connections and a loving heart. Let me say at once that in this instance there are none to thank to besides myself. I am not thankful to Dr. and Mrs. Mullhouse for moving away with the remains. I am not thankful to Aunt Gladys for mislaying eleven chapters. I have always done my own typing myself, using both index fingers, and I have never received any encouragement at all from anyone about anything. And so, in conclusion, I feel that grateful thanks are due to myself, without whose kind encouragement and constant interest I could never have completed my task; to myself, for my valuable assistance in a number of points, whose patience, understanding, and usefulness as a key eye-witness can never be adequately repaid, and who in a typical burst of scrupulousness wish to point out that the 'remains' mentioned above are, of course, literary remains."

  2. Wonderful and very timely. I have made several international moves and most of have them required a significant paring down of belongings. I have learned from each experience that stuff can be a burden very heavy to bear.

    I have been living in my current home for three years--the longest I have ever lived in one home in 18 years. Unfortunately, I have accumulated stuff that weighs heavily on me. However, I'm so busy tending to other things outside that the thought of sorting through it always weighs heavily on my mind. Perhaps this winter I can start the great purge of 2016?

  3. Thanks Tiffany! Here's to a Light Heart!

  4. http://www.retrojunk.com/article/show/96/dont-eat-the-pictures





  5. My friend Katy wrote: "I read your blog post about how good it feels to downsize and then I bought two plates from replacements. I think I want to continue accumulating for the same reason I want to stay in my house. If I’m serious about downsizing it just says I’m going to die in the not too distant future. I want to feel younger than I am and not plan to die soon. I know that’s not the right way to think about it but it's my gut reaction. Plus, I just really love dishes."