Monday, April 30, 2012

Don't throw that away! The logic of functional retention.

I have a number of towels hanging on hooks in my bathroom that are older than my boys, and they're 16 and 19.

Not unlike my mood sometimes, these towels are frayed and tired, so thin and unabsorbent that I'm sure I can see through them in just the right light. But something has kept me hanging on, as if by throwing them out I'd be tossing away something that actually retains a utility, a function.

My attitude changed this weekend.

I got four new thick, fluffy towels, and made it a point to throw four lifeless, wilted flowers that were masquerading as towels straight in the trash. Some folks repurpose these rags in wildly creative ways, by perhaps fashioning purses or aprons or dolls, but I simply don't have the time, space or guilt that would have been required to have saved them.

It felt good, and the process of towel-tossing got me thinking.

What other almost-useless stuff do we retain, and why?

The What is fairly easy to identify. I did a bit of an unscientific poll, and asked a few folks what they keep that's obviously outlived its usefulness.

So far the list includes, but I'm sure is not limited to:

  • mascara (the most popular genus in the makeup family that's saved, so it seems)
  • every cord to every electrical device that's ever been purchased, whether that device still works or not
  • ChapStick
  • dried up markers
  • non-working pens
  • condiments in the fridge 
  • lighters that no longer light
  • old toothbrushes
  • pillows*
  • keys to unknown doors

Why we tend to keep these and many other items is as curious as what we choose to save. I'm just guessing, but I think we sometimes feel obliged to keep stuff because we see a potential future use, even if the logic behind that optimism is most likely unrealistic. That pen's ink might be dormant, or might shift into a full-use position if given a bit of time. We might be able to get one more teeny application from that thin film of ChapStick stuck at the bottom of the tube. The pillow's still comfortable. Just because a towel has seen its glory days doesn't mean it doesn't absorb something.

We all seem to have been touched by the gentle hand of innocuous hoarding. Generally not the Big Scale Intervention variety, but the intention seems strikingly similar. Whatever we choose to keep, it's probably because we think we might need it some day.

And then there are other days, like the one this weekend, when it felt so good to throw those ratty old towels away.  Next stop: junk drawer. Or maybe my purse. I've been looking for some ChapStick.

*According to, pillows are a soft, comfy warehouse for bugs, fungi and dried, ishy, scalp stuff. So it's suggested that pillows should be replaced every year or so, whether you want to or not.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Space. The final frontier.

Not unlike the last entry, I took way way more time researching this topic than it did to write about it. And the information I found was compelling. I found diagrams and psychology and data and history about office space that was completely fascinating. There was much more information than I could possibly use in one tidy blog entry. And I had dinner with friends last night that was very literally thought-provoking. One of the many topics we covered was exactly the type of spacial curiosity I'll be explaining in a very tertiary way with what's to follow below. So please expect this topic to be revisited at some point. Like my desk I'll be discussing in a moment, I consider tripping across this topic a complete score. 

It didn't take long after Connor's departure to college for me to infiltrate my world into what was, and still occasionally is, his room.

I've been working from home at my regular job for years. I'd worked in a space that was too confining, too cramped, in an area of my bedroom that was just too small.

So, like a looter who eyes the opportunity to get that big screen tv during a blackout, I leapt on the chance to expand my work space once Connor had essentially vacated his bedroom across the hall.

Let it be clear: I love my kid, and I treasure every moment he graces me with his physical presence. So his bed, his odd personal memorabilia, his bookshelf filled with Star Wars novels and other items he can't relinquish, has stayed put.

But a few months ago, I mommed up (I think I just made up a new word) and created my own Occupy Bedroom movement.

It's started slowly. First, I dragged this cool 1960s desk into his room. I found it at Goodwill for $35, which was a complete steal. I'm sure the folks at Goodwill were asking so little for this desk because it's freakishly heavy, and so so not what most people are looking for in these modern times.

So much surface area. So many drawers. Each side, as you can see, has an area that pulls out to create even more flat spaces.

Like moving from a cramped studio apartment to a luxury penthouse, it seemed my telecommuting life was complete.

But nothing, it sadly seems, is perfect.

We've established that I've found and am currently using the perfect desk.

Now, I have an issue with space.

This is the exact distance between Connor's bed and the back of my work chair.

Like I mentioned - it's a big desk. And it's the perfect chair.

Therein lies the conundrum. The Sophie's Choice of spacial dilemmas.

Interestingly, Connor may have provided the perfect solution when he paid a very welcomed visit this weekend.

He asked if he could take his bed to college next year. I couldn't say yes fast enough. In fact, I'll most likely move the bed before he needs it again.

He'll always have a place to spend the night. I'm happy that he's happy.

And I'm happy that, like him, I'll have a little space.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Stress management. A bloody mess, a calm conclusion.

I had a bit of an issue the other day when a convergence of shit hit my figurative fan, all at the same time.

I won't go into detail, but too many obstacles slid next to too many roadblocks I'd created that day; too much distraction led to too much vacancy with the present moment, and in the blink of an eye, in my self-absorbed distraction, I cut my finger.

I'll do almost anything to get out of actually looking at an unintended self-injury. But when I have to based on circumstance, an odd, dissociative, take-charge gene kicks in.

It didn't look like much of a cut at first glance. As far as I could tell without looking too long, it was relatively small, but very deep, and extremely painful. And it wouldn't stop bleeding.

I wrapped up my finger in a clean dish towel, kept working on my spinning tasks, and occasionally blurted out a nasty invective that punctuated just how much my finger continued to hurt like fire. I was worried that I actually might need a stitch or two. I was worried about infection. The thing I cut it on was kind of an unknown when it came to its origin.

When my finger was still bleeding an hour later, I was getting stressed.

I used the only weapon left in my arsenal.

I relaxed.

I sat in my favorite chair, closed my eyes, stopped thinking about my damned finger, and essentially slowed down.

My finger stopped bleeding, stopped hurting, in about five minutes.

The entire day, the moments that led up to that gushing hour, that calming conclusion, got me thinking.

How much time do I spend, how much effort do I put into spinning my wheels when that action doesn't take me anywhere? How much value is there in worry, stress, fear, anxiety, colorful epithets - all the things that eventually led me to my favorite chair?

I did more reading, more research on the worry/stress/fear connection for this entry than I've done for a long time. There's so much information, so many resources, it boggles the noggin. The connections are so clear, the information so profuse, that I couldn't narrow down data to encapsulate it in one tidy message. Not to do it justice in this one small bloggy space.

Long and short, we Americans worry too much, usually about stuff that is probably never going to happen. We get stressed about things so vast that we can't do anything about it but worry and get angry (the ugly triad of worry, fear and stress has a favorite cousin: anger). It manifests in personal, social and physical forms. And usually the objects of our worry and fear, which causes stress, might never happen, or hasn't happened yet.

This was not the case with my bleeding finger. That was real. That happened.

Then I got to thinking about the really terrible stuff that's actually happened in my life that was highly stressful, and even though I didn't think I could, I lived through it. In fact, even though in those cases my biggest fears were realized, I came out of the messy melange of terrible just that much stronger.

And I thought about all the things I've spent so much time worrying about that turned out really great in the end.

So there's an upside.

And it seems that the most valuable lesson that could be learned from those very real, awful experiences might be what I learned the other day.

I just stopped.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Seating arrangements. An update.

As you may have read in a previous entry, I stumbled across a very cool mid-century chair at a thrift store in Greeley ( I reluctantly purchased the chair for 8.99, thinking at the time that the last thing I needed was another piece of furniture.

And like the folks on that Jersey Shore show, it's obvious that the chair had a few issues.

I found a chair rehab place close to home, Ackerman Brothers, and they got moving on turning back the clock on this cool chair.

They let me know the other day that the chair was ready. So like a new pet owner who goes to the pound to pick up their dog who had recently been "fixed", I went on Thursday to pick up my new old chair.

While I was waiting, I took a peek at my original receipt, and noticed I'd been dealing with Mike A. I have a friend whose name is Mike whose last name starts with an A, so I made a little small talk and asked a guy who worked there what Mike A.'s last name was, thinking maybe he and my friend share their last name, which is also my last name, which would just be a weird and cool coincidence. He told me Mike A.'s last name was Ackerman.

So all along this very complicit chair restoration process, I'd been dealing with one of the founding fathers. Or most likely brothers.

That's pretty cool.

Mike has been as invested in my chair, its origins and its story, just as much as I have.

He came out with the chair, and I was somewhat disappointed that it hadn't been woven with the black seat belt material I'd chosen.

But he had some of the material, and showed me how they intended to attach the weave. Their idea covered up the cool center openings on all four sides, which didn't seem like what the original designers of this chair had in mind. And frankly, once I saw the seat belt material on the newly refinished chair, it just looked wrong.

So Mike and I both decided to do a little research before going any further with the project. Once I got home, I found a chair online that mirrored my chair's design. I got an email from Mike just as I was sending an email to him with what I'd found, and we both had located fairly quickly what the chair originally looked like. And it's supposed to look like the chair on the right.

The chair was the brainchild of Danish designer Hans Wegner, and although it's considered the most famous piece of Danish furniture ever, signified to be the beginning of Denmark's international design breakthrough, Wegner prosaically called it "the round one."

In design circles, this has come to be known as The Chair.

So our conundrum about what those openings on all four sides were intended for was figured out. As we both suspected, they were there for a reason. I'm so glad we kept digging for information, because the folks at Ackerman Bros. were going to weave the seat belt material over those strips. It would have looked terrible.

But now a new dilemma had surfaced. Hand-weaving the "radio weave" design would cost a bit more money than the chunk I'd already set aside for the chair.

I thought about it for a while, and figured I'd be doing Mr. Wegner a disservice by messing around with the integrity of his original design.

So I'll have to make a few seating arrangements. But this whole experience speaks to why I enjoy thrifting as a verb.

The tripping across something tossed away that has so much history, the research, the discovery, the process, is worth every penny.

I had no idea that what I'd labored over justifying buying for 8.99 would turn out to be quite this interesting.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Here's to good friends. Celebrating the value of time, loss and gain

Here's the short version of my friendship with and recent milestone update from Miriam. The long version, filled with colorful stories and decades of detail, will be retained in my noggin to tell to anyone who will listen when I'm a whole lot older and have more time. It's no easy feat to give appropriate backstory to a 30-year friendship over the course of one blog entry, but here goes:

My friend Miriam and I met in college, when we both worked for the student newspaper. We stayed connected after she decided to hit the road well before she graduated to opt for life in New York City. I lived Big City life vicariously on several visits to New York, and Miriam and I ceremoniously talked every Sunday.

Back in the late '80s, I decided to move from Denver to San Francisco. After hearing about my plan, she decided to switch coasts. So we moved there together.

Armed only with a car filled with stuff and my dog in the back seat, we moved to San Francisco without jobs or a place to live. After a rocky month or so, we'd found a house in the Sunset; I got a job as a copywriter, Miriam found work as a bartender. We settled in. 

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

We each handled the earthquake of '89 in different ways when it came to fight or flight. She stayed in San Francisco - I left.

She met a man shortly after I left, and they had a lovely daughter. They eventually moved to Portland. They bought a house. They started a life together, in a new town. 

He strayed. She got mad. They parted. 

Some folks would have hit bottom. The bottle. The rebound. Miriam hit the gym. After seeing some results and finding her feet after the dust settled, she went back to college. 

Her previous size 14/16 body became a 10, then an 8, then a 6. It didn't just happen with exercise. She became fervent about healthy eating. She started a blog about finding fitness after 40.

And last year, at the age of 48, she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in health studies with an emphasis in physical activity from Portland State University.

That's not where the story ends.

Last year, on her birthday, she marked her 48 years by walking 48,000 steps through Portland, meeting friends at bakeries along the way, celebrating every step.

Her birthday is today. This year, she ran 49,000 steps - 22 miles - as her birthday gift to herself. It took her eight hours. Five hours were actually spent running. Three hours were spent with friends, ironically eating pound cake at bakeries along a course she'd charted with careful attention to tasty detail.

When I talked with her today, she gave me the lowdown of her journey in a typical Miriam way. Not self-agrandizing, very matter-of-fact, with relevant, insightful detail. We talked in between her time at work and a birthday evening spent with her daughter. 

Where we used to have long chunks of Sundays to talk 30 years ago, now we both have shorter, more scheduled times to catch up on life without wondering what curious ears might be listening. During our chat today, she subtly suggested that I find some way to commemorate my 50th birthday next month. I know I won't be running 22 miles in five hours, but I'm still looking for some achievable marker to celebrate the beauty that is Time.

But today, I celebrate Miriam. I toast her quiet, determined, well-paced inspiration. And I gratefully acknowledge our colorful past, our rich present, our limitless futures.