A Journey Into Declutterization: Part Two

The other day I was thinking about all the domain names I've owned and the futility of the entire process... Paying money for this thing that can't possibly be maintained ad infinitum. In 2008 I had this idea for a blog called soft focus (rather: sftfcs, because I was being cute with the nomenclature) that was going to be an outlet for whatever was on my mind. Kind of like I'm doing with this space. I'd forgotten about it for a long time, but when I went searching on the Internet Archive I found a few blog posts that I wrote around that time. One was called "A Journey Into Declutterization: Part One."

From the bits and pieces of memory I have from that period of time, this post makes a lot of sense. I was twenty-five. I had recently left rehab. ("Soft focus" was a term one of my counselors used regularly.) I was emotionally molting. It's not surprising that I wanted to shed a lot of what I'd built up around myself to that point, and the idea of "minimalism" seemed as good a credo as any to hang my hat on as any.

Several weeks ago I'd made a note connecting the dots of George Carlin's "A Place for My Stuff" bit and emotional minimalism. I thought this was a new thought. Turns out, I already had it about ten years earlier. I made some fine points worth carrying forward in that article, about being "dissatisfied with the way I’ve been living - continually trying to find my happiness in external stuff," and "[upgrading] my life by downsizing and simplifying," and "as my personal cleansing commenced it became evident that it’s a tough realization to find out that the things I once placed so much emphasis in no longer reflect what I want in life"... But there was one line that made the most sense to me, speaking of "a goal with which I can no longer identify." Looking at those couple words and letting them rest is big.

A goal with which I can no longer identify...

Simplicity and downsizing have been on my mind lately, though the focus has been not what I've surrounded myself by, but what's in my head. I was listening to this podcast that posed a process, "like decluttering my house and getting rid of stuff and simplifying my life," instead "simplifying your heart and your attachments and your judgements." Damn, that's heavy.

Pivoting a little...
"It’s not that it’s bad to seek knowledge, but the idea is that if we’re just only seeking knowledge, if we’re just only looking for method, and if we’re only looking for this encyclopedic collection of technique and tools and what have you… Does the knowledge seeking enhance your knowing and harmony or wisdom...? I know a lot of people who knowledge seek as a way of weaponizing knowledge, separating themselves, [and] creating hierarchy."
Think back to how much I've weaponized information for protection? Identity signaling as a defense mechanism: If you think I'm some type of person... If I think I'm some type of person... Then acceptance? Then safety? I don't know, but it feels like I've armed myself with knowledge "about" a hell of a lot of stuff without really knowing much at all about any of it as a means of bridging gaps between myself and other people.

It's weird, feeling like I'm just starting to ask questions of myself that it (now) seems like other people my age should have asked themselves long ago. Should is a dangerous word. Does staying connected to the endless torrent of information and "content" enhance my life? How much longer can I continue identity shopping before I'll look back with regret that I never slowed down long enough to feel who I was?

This Ron Gallo song has the line, "Talking talking. Never listening. Always elsewhere. Searching searching." From the time I wrote about declutterization when I was twenty-five, so much of my aim has been focused on a wayward target. It's not so much about any possessions I have or haven't amassed/divested myself of, and it's probably not about filtering out the valuable life-affirming information from the information firehose, either. It's not this, putting these words out into the world as if doing so "helps me process" them or relates remotely at all to any long-term resonance they're likely to maintain within me. Simplifying isn't about making all of this much more complicated than it needs to be in order to sort out "the answer." It's about none of this being up to me, whoever that might be today. It's about letting go again.

Harpeth River State Park (Kingston Springs, TN)

Photos taken November 21, 2018 at Harpeth River State Park in Kingston Springs, TN.

Always Elsewhere

Tired. Dissatisfied. Lacking. Needing. Sleep. But what would all this look like if—upon waking up—the problem was fixed? What if that thing that was out of reach was now in hand? What then? What would life look like in the presence of occupied achievement? What happens in that space, feeling what's real... What then? What happens when the flag is captured? Victory? Will there be a celebration? Will you feel like a winner? How will you sustain winning? How will you resist impermanence? The drive, the drive, the drive... to Achieve, to Achieve, to Achieve.

Who Are You? Point To It!

Walking bundles of habit, I think I read somewhere. That's what we are. I get up, hit my knees, give thanks, meditate, and stretch... all figuratively speaking, of course. Many of my habits are aspirational. Some of them, at least. The others have an anaconda lock on me, constricting me slowly before I'm too light headed to realize I'm in da belly of da beast. LOL. It's a hypnotic tango with my dance partners, with fear and self-doubt mirroring my movement each time I get a craving or feel alone or start running on capital e Empty. I mean, I'm good, but if that one thing happened I'd be doing way better. Oh, man, if that one woman said that one thing or she came over and we hung out and connected like I imagine we would, I'd be great. Then I'd be alright. Alright? Hell, I'd be better than alright! Then I'd be free, y'know? That would make it all worthwhile, all the other stuff that I do that I'm not sure makes me Me. Like, I know I'm not me when I'm slaving the wage, which is what I've had to do to get by, right? I'm just trying to make sure I've got some security, but next year I'm really going to focus on being me again. Then I'll return to the things that "feed" me, but I can't do that right now because that's just not where things are at. It's like that saying I just made up: I've got to get a few more ducks in a row, then the ducks will be in a row. As for who I am though? Well, at least I know who I have the potential to become. To become. To become.

Something Wrong

The feeling is so strange, the organic and artisanal refuge communicating a message that there's goodness to be had here. I'm good because I'm here. So are you. But why? We're here, doing good for ourselves, at this place that tells us it's the kind of place for people who care about enhancing their well being. People who are mindful. People who deserve it. At that other place people just shop for food. That place doesn't smell the way that good places smell. Actually, it doesn't smell like much at all. This place smells of lavender soaps, bulk organic quinoa, fresh produce, and herbal mustache waxes. Paying more is a byproduct of treating yourself to a better life, with better scents. We're not buying products here, and maybe that's why the feeling is so strange. We're buying everything we're being sold.

Gimme Noise

I remember an old blog post I wrote somewhere in 2008 when I first caught some of Jay Smooth's Ill Doctrine videos. I can't find it, but I'm sure there was little to it beyond: 1) Jay's great; and 2) I'm a fan. Sometime this past week I saw a link to this Columbia Journalism Review profile piece, "The Complicated Philosophy of Jay Smooth," linked from kottke.org (the blog, not the Twitter page, but the Twitter page is where they keep an archived list of links shared on the blog), and today I read the article. It's well written, weaving the righteous figure's private and public lives together in a story that portrays Jay as someone attempting his best to live by virtuous means. Good enough.

When I finished the article there was just something empty about it. I couldn't place it, and I'm still not sure I can now. It wasn't the article, just the process. What did I get from it? When Jay's on, he's one of the better social critics I can think of. I like his videos but haven't really followed him much since Ferguson. (That time feels so distant, yet so present.) The point is, I appreciate him, but I'm not sure what the value is in reading the article. I gained some history into the man's background, but I didn't need it, and knowing the things I read doesn't particularly endear me any more or less to him. But I wasn't thinking about him with that feeling that followed, just this sort of thing. These articles, all of this...

In the time where my mind needs something to focus on, while being entirely unable or unwilling to focus on my school work, I've been working on a process of dusting off old blog posts from around the web and republishing them here. Like it's a scrapbook or something. There are a bunch of reasons why I told myself there was value in doing this, but I think I'm going to find something interesting that I don't anticipate learning once it's done. 

The first thing is the volume: I've been blogging now, off and on, for about fourteen years. In that time I've had several blogs that lasted a while—CultureBully.com, ChrisDeLine.com—and a whole bunch that came and went pretty quickly—RecoveryNashville.comVillin.net, FairlyTrill.com, BelievedToBeSeen.com, LegacySwag.com, DiscoFiesta.net, and sftfcs.com, with a several Tumblr and Blogger sites thrown in there, as well. Not a single one of those websites is still online. Some domains were sold, a couple redirect here, and the others abandoned outright. I could have paid for hosting and renewed domains, I suppose, to keep websites online. But where does that end? When do you stop?

Elsewhere, there is a great deal of "content" I've produced for websites that no longer exist on other people/company's sites. Dozens of episodes of a podcast I contributed to are no longer available to listen to and a couple of appearances on Huffington Post's HuffPost Live network are gone without a trace (which are just a few of the several years worth of original content that is no longer available online, as best I can surmise). Beyond that, a few websites I contributed over the years are no longer online (a Nashville music blog BreakOnACloud.com, The Smoking Section, and Brite Revolution, to name a few.

For about a year, I wrote for the Minneapolis Village Voice outlet, City Pages, which included a daily news column called "Gimme News" which was featured on their "Gimme Noise" music-centric blog. Gimme Noise is no more, absorbed back into the larger body of the brand's website (a brand which has been sold... twice... since 2008), and the several hundred articles and blog posts I wrote have been run through several site redesigns, leaving them barely indexed, largely unformatted, and buried deep in their archives (which is inarguably where they belong: buried). 

It was announced this month that flickr will be reconfiguring its platform, rightly setting a cap for its "free" users to 1000 photos. It was the right thing to do, both from a business and community perspective, and the only reason I re-signed up for flickr in January (which, I think, was probably my second or third time around on the platform) was because they essentially offered unlimited uploads for free. I'm not a "user" of the service in any other sense that I used their services. I'll be transitioning those photos from my account (which I've started doing) in the next year, or so, before they vanish, too.

I've followed kottke.org for years, as many of the links, articles, and videos shared on the blog are interesting to me. I like the general aesthetic of it. It's progressive-leaning. It's interesting. And it's safe. Very little I come across there challenges who I am as a person or confronts me with ideas, concepts, or ideologies I disagree with. That's not what the site is, for me. It's the kind of site that shares a link to a profile piece of a social media critic who I respect. If I read it, and like it, I might remember I was introduced to this great article because of kottke.org. If I read it, and don't like it, I might recall that kottke.org was looking out and connected me to that bland article about that guy I like. Even if I don't read it, if I acknowledge the article by reading about it on the blog or bookmarking it to return to, doing so will probably reinforce that kottke.org is a safe place for me to find articles that bend toward my interests.

So much of what I've written isn't very memorable. The majority of the articles and blog posts certainly don't deserve the respect I'm paying them by bringing them back to life here. Respect is the wrong word, probably. I have an idea of what my intention might have been at the time I spent time on them the first time, and in reflecting on that I'm learning about how little value there is in the "thing." It was almost always process. Maybe that's what I'm doing: Tuning into the process. What is all of this that I've dedicated so much time to over the years? The most "valuable" article I ever wrote was a review of one of Eminem's albums which garnered a couple hundred thousand pageviews. But I can't tell you a goddamn thing about that article or the album, in hindsight. I can tell you about how those BreakOnACloud.com posts contributed to creating my own "Nashville music blog" a few years later, which led me to an email exchange with someone I'm still trying to reckon with. I can manufacture "process" with the best of 'em.

There's not a logical thread that winds through all of this, but that's where my thinking is right now, and I want to just get that thought, itself, down here. The value of recording it seems just as important as the value of recognizing that I'm not getting much out of reading profile pieces. I don't really know that I ever fucking did. There's a freedom in accepting how impermanent all of this is—writing, blogging, putting it all out there if only to potentially gain from the process, before Google no longer wishes to host millions of free blogs online and folds the very platform that I'm using at this particular moment to publish these particular words. And if process if where honest value might reside, maybe returning to the same online time-wasters to reinforce my own cultural sensibilities under the guise of expanding my understanding of the world (whose world, and which part of it?) is opening up a window to questions more important than those that can be answered by a professional link-hawker.

Stepping Stones

The first photos here were taken in March 2017, with the brick patio project running from May 2018 into November 2018. Essentially, I finished the project last week, when I brushed out and set a layer of cement sand across the patio to lock it, but I'll return to the back yard in the Spring to build out some raised plant beds. 

I took the job on as I tend to do with big jobs: Without much of a plan and no idea how to accomplish my goal. And once I got going it quickly became overwhelming. There was an unanticipated volume and density to the roots that needed to be excavated from the surface layer of the ground, for example. I transported the entirety of the gravel base and the bricks into the yard by hand using five gallon buckets, pounding down the remaining tilled dirt and gravel before using a rubber mallet to install each brick, one at a time. It was a lot.

I'm sure there's some fantastic metaphor at work here for how the year has gone, but I'm just glad it's done. Every so often it's nice to reach a finish line.