What Do We Really Need?

October 30, 2009 at 6:33 pm (By Amba)

Serious question, provoked by moving and discovering with dismay — disgust — how much stuff, junk, crap we still have.

If the fire had consumed it all or I’d just walked away and let it be steamshoveled into a dumpster, some precious souvenirs would have been lost.  But those few gems are embedded in a rubble of unmatched gloves, staples to fit lost staplers, multiple winter coats in a climate that never needs them, cheap purses, clothes that stopped fitting J a decade ago, books just for books’ sake, unread back issues of The New Yorker, Christmas labels for an obsolete address …

Every move is an opportunity to throw stuff out, yet somehow there never seems to be less of it; there never seems to be little enough.  What would be little enough?

Our volunteer friend from hospice wrote a memoir for his family which he titled I Wish You Enough. In the dedication he explains that the concept

has a special meaning to me and other Swedish-speaking people because of the word lagom.  To my knowledge there is no one-word translation in other European languages for lagom.  The best corresponding phrases would be “just enough,” “just right,” “just adequate,” or “just sufficient.”  Lagom implies that we do not need an abundance or oversupply of anything.  “Just enough (lagom) is best” is a very popular philosophy in Sweden.

What do we really need?  What is the bare minimum we could live with?

I thought of the Buddhist monk who has taken vows of poverty and owns nothing but his robe and a begging bowl, perhaps disposable palm-leaf sandals, a staff that doubles for self-defense, and perhaps a mala or rosary as an aid to recitation of sutras.  Of course to subsist with only a bowl presupposes the existence of a whole society with pots, ladles, and food to put in them.

I asked the question on Twitter:

amba12 What do we really really need? Help me make a list. A bowl, a spoon…well, let’s say a mess kit. 2 pr pants, 2 shirts, 2 undies…a Kindle?

(Moving will do this to you:  I’m warming to the idea of having all your books in something the size of one book, and being able to delete the ones that have proven themselves inessential by pressing a button, instead of by lugging them in a cardboard box to a thrift sale.)

Got some provocative answers:

BXGD A knife, a bit of rope, and no fear.

chickelit NEEDS: intangibles: negotiating/bargaining skills; tangibles: clothes on our back, good health.

RuthAnneAdams Mother Theresa had a cardigan sweater, sandals, a well-worn Rosary. I should be so blessed to die with so little.

(She who dies with the fewest toys, wins?)

Michael_Haz A shot glass, a wineglass, a corkscrew. All belong on the list.

This in turn has provoked afterthoughts and branching conversations, which you can follow at the links above:  Ruth Anne disagrees that good health is a sine qua non; Michael provides confirmatory examples — Stephen Hawking, late John Paul II.  The question ramifies:  a kidney dialysis machine could be essential if it is keeping a great light burning.

I still maintain that I want one change of clothes (one to wear while I wash the other), a mess kit (a cup, a bowl, a plate/pan, a knife, fork, and spoon), a notebook and a pen.

(Michael, the cup will double as a wineglass.  I’ll depend on the existence of a whole society with bottles and corkscrews.  I bought a bottle of wine the other night and then realized that I haven’t yet rescued my corkscrew.  But guess what?  It has a screw cap.)

Please have at it.

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Flowcharts for Religion & Sex

October 29, 2009 at 11:54 am (By Randy)


(Creator: Holy Taco)

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I’ll Know What I Think When I See What I Say.

October 27, 2009 at 4:48 am (By Amba)

4 A.M.

“I want to shoot myself.”


“I’m a failure in life.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m a failure in life.”

“A failure to do what?  What’s success in life?

“What do you mean?  Make a lot of money?

“You think most ‘successful’ people could have done what you did?”

“What did I do?”

“Rose from the ashes, again and again.

“You’ve inspired a lot of people.  More than you know.

“You’re one of a kind.”

But this is old, reheated soup.

. . .

” . . . Don’t be so conventional!”

“What does that mean, conventional?”

“Like everybody else.

“Do you think the universe cares about the standards of some primates dressed in suits standing on their hind legs?

“The universe only cares if you got a glimpse of it.”

“Got a what?”

“Got a glimpse of it.  Got your head above water enough to catch a glimpse of it.”

. . .

(Smiling) “What makes me feel good is . . .

“In spite of . . .”

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Lend a Hand if You Can

October 26, 2009 at 8:51 pm (By Randy)

As we have read, our friend Annie has been struggling with the devastating fire that left her and Jacques homeless and J. temporarily in the hospice. They now have temporary housing of a sorts. Some might argue she took J. out too early, but Annie will answer that she saw him quickly deteriorating despite the hospice providing care as fine as can be obtained in an institutional setting. Nothing can replace the one-on-one care and activity found at home.

As is typical with her, Annie buried her request for some small help in the middle of the comments section of the video post on the fire. I was thinking it ought be front-paged:

Annie could use some help. Without a landline for the time being, she has to buy time for the GoPhone she was only using for emergencies. This is a budget buster for someone whose budget had absolutely no room for error. We all know that more phone time is unlikely to be her only unexpected expense.

The best way to help is to drop something via Annie’s hat link to her PayPal account on Ambivablog. It looks like this:


It is on the left side of Ambivablog, under the 74% addicted to internet graphic. Click on it and the PayPal page will open. (Sorry, I can’t replicate it here, as it creates a session ID which times out). They don’t have a minimum (or a maximum) and anything anyone gives will be the most effective, and appreciated, donation made this year, even if not tax-deductible!

Thanks in advance to all of you!

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“Love is Interchangeable With Time.”

October 26, 2009 at 1:26 am (By Amba)

Said Moshé Feldenkrais.  (I think I have his words right.)  What you love, you find time for.  As our friend Chris told me this morning.  And then proceeded to demonstrate.

She came over late this morning, kindly bringing coffee, coffee filters, and milk, which, when she asked, was what I’d said I most urgently needed.  (Animals and addictions must be fed first.)  She offered to stay with J while I went shopping for necessities that couldn’t wait another day.  But then we wound up talking for a while, and then it was too late for me to go shopping because she had a chance to meet her favorite person in the world to go to the state fair.  She said she’d keep in touch and would come back this evening to sit with J while I went to an internet café to finish my work, because I haven’t so far been able to pirate or borrow a connection.  She, also kindly, took some laundry to do for us, because the landlord here has been so frantic moving fire refugees into not-quite-ready apartments that they haven’t put a washer and dryer in here yet.

Never heard from Chris again.

I’m not complaining.  She was wonderful to do as much as she did.  I’m observing that it is best to be thankful for what people do give you (above all, of their time) and not to expect more, even when more is promised.  In fact, it is best to be aware that people’s “eyes are bigger than their stomach” when it comes to offering help — help that costs time — and that they may offer more than they can actually give without resentment if they then keep their word and guilt (with its attendant resentment) if they break it.  (I imagine that Chris never called to tell me she wasn’t coming because she felt bad about not coming.)

In my experience, especially my recent experience (and it’s a signal experience of older people), you can’t expect or ask very much of people unless a) they’re in love with you, or b) they need something from you.  Which are somewhat the same thing, except that in the latter case they’re in love with something else that they think you can serve.  (Editors get a lot of this kind of bank-shot love.)

I was originally going to say “unless they’re your parent, your child, or are in love with you, or need something from you,” but I had to reconsider even the former as simply a subset of the latter.  How many parents wait in vain for their grown children to throw them a scrap of time — until the children need some money or a place to crash rent-free for a while?  Generally speaking, parents are in love with their children but children are in need of their parents, not in love with them,  except very early and too late.  Now that’s a nice epigram, but it’s too neat to be true.  “Parents are in love with their children but children aren’t in love with their parents” holds true in much of modern American culture, where children and young people have the power.  In traditional European culture, adults, even old adults, had the power, and children were much more likely to be in lifelong love with their parents.  But there are also plenty of cases anywhere in the world where the expected “natural” love fails completely on one side or the other of that bond.  So much for generalizations.

In case it wasn’t obvious, all of the above is IRL.  It’s different OL.  Isn’t it?  Or is it?

I’ve received, and also organized and transmitted, incredible help from people online.  I’m not sure how much time it costs us to do this.  Some, for sure.  But physical time still is — is more than ever — one of the scarcest and costliest goods we possess, and therefore we reserve it for a very few.  It has to do with the fact that a body can’t be in more than one place at a time.  But a mind can.  The time we spend online actually costs us far more than we know (LOL), but it doesn’t feel like it.  It feels light, like flying around in dreams, without a body.  (Is cyberspace all we can know of heaven? or a preview?)  Clearly, we love this feeling and devote a lot of time to it.  It gives us an intoxicating sense of power.  It multiplies our knowing and our loving beyond what is physically possible, the way money multiplies our doing beyond what we can do with two arms and one shovel.  It’s not surprising that these two forms of broadband shorthand go together, and that (even though still discriminatingly and sparingly) we can more easily help online friends with money than real-life friends with time.

It’s particularly ironic to be mulling over this just as several of my online friends have literally given me gifts of time — cellphone minutes —  in the form of money!  They say time is money.  But old Feldenkrais said time is love.  I think he was much more on the money.

If short, catchy communications in advertising and the media are called “sound bites” (who remembers that that was the original term, not “sound bytes”?), maybe what we give each other online are “love bites”?

The only trouble with this online community is that if the plug is pulled, it disappears like a dream.

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J’s Star Turn . . . UPDATED

October 24, 2009 at 9:56 am (By Amba)

As “elderly man in wheelchair rescued from apartment blaze.” Even in this brief clip he looks too robust for the role. But he is definitely upstaged by the blaze. (Very sorry to upstage Whitey, a much happier sight.  And sorry for the clunky, patience-trying video.  That’s “NO sprinkler system” at the bottom.)

Vodpod videos no longer available.

UPDATE: This newspaper photo explains a lot.  It explains why the news video confusingly showed you a building swathed in flames, and then a relatively intact façade with a ruined roof:  these were back and front views, of course.  It explains why, after we were awakened by the pounding and yelling, I looked out our bedroom window and saw the trees and grass bathed in a horrific Halloween-orange light.  It explains why I looked over our back porch railing and saw a dark window directly to the left of us and then a burning railing beyond that.  And it explains why we had time to get out.  The white arrow points to our bedroom window.


The intact window between ours and the devastation is that of our neighbors directly across the entryway, whose apartment, probably the mirror image of ours, was almost gutted — except for the bedroom.  Our back porch, leading off our living room, was to the left of our bedroom from this perspective and is out of the frame of this picture; theirs — the one I saw burning — would have been to the right of their bedroom, and is gone.  The indentation between the two upper stories above our respective bedrooms corresponds to the entryway and stairwell in front, which acted as a firebreak.  The fire had leapt it and was going to work on the top floor directly above us when it was put out.

more about “J’s Star Turn . . . “, posted with vodpod

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Meet Whitey

October 23, 2009 at 9:31 pm (By Randy)


This stray cat heard me filling my cats’ bowl at 5:00 AM one morning about 5 weeks ago and came rushing up the back hill meowing. When I brought a handful of food out to him, he wanted attention as much as the food, alternately purring up a storm as he was petted and scarfing down the food. Two cups later, he was full but had not had enough attention.

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Thoughts on Fire

October 23, 2009 at 6:36 am (By Amba)

(To be added to as time and sanity permit)

Fire is the ultimate home invader.

If you ever hear the intent, grinding crackle of fire coming for you, you’ll never forget it.  It sounds like a giant, unstoppable rotary saw or wood chipper chewing through matter and shelter.  Pure appetite, stupid as a shark.

The reeling, glass-shattering barroom brawl between the bad guys and the good guys — fire and water — does almost as much damage as fire, unchecked.  There’s something left, but there might as well not be.  Collateral damage.

Fire is like a skunk:  its musk clings to everything long after your encounter with it.

When your house is on fire, is one of the first things you think of your cellphone charger?  Me neither.  Yet it is one of the first things you’re going to need.

The only thing that seems like even more of an unnatural affront than the shortness of human (canine, feline) life is the shortness of battery life.  Whoever lets lets the human race off that short leash is going to be a culture hero in the league of Prometheus.

A writer will write about anything, like fire will eat anything.

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October 20, 2009 at 11:26 am (By Amba)

If you’ve been worrying about us, you can stop.  The hospice doctor came this morning (the only nonpsychotic person I’ve ever met besides us, once upon a time, who has 14, count ’em, 14 indoor cats!!) and she feels fine about recommending that J continue to be on hospice.  She sees that we need the help, but more importantly from a bureaucratic, cost-saving standpoint, based mostly on her questions to me and my uncontrived answers, I think he met the central criterion, which is (sadly) decline over time — almost a “goes without saying” with his illness.

It’s an enormous relief.  I really feared the re-isolation most.  And being love-bombed with free Depends ain’t bad, either.

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The Four Horsemen of the Apocadebt

October 19, 2009 at 11:47 pm (By Rodjean)

I devoted today to seminars connected with the annual meeting of the National Conference of Bankruptcy Judges, a group designed to bring the bankruptcy bar and judges together. The first panel discussion of the morning was entitled “Obamanomics.” Guest Panelist , former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith, discussed America’s current financial dilemma (including the coming Medicare/Social Security crises) with two bankruptcy professors, a judge, and an economics professor. What struck me were Smith’s remarks. From our current debt situation, he suggested there were four possible responses: (1) continue to solve troubled industries with GM and Chrysler-like infusions of cash, tilting the potential bailouts away from secured creditors, towards favored constituencies; (2) continue bailouts without raising taxes, thereby debasing the currency; (3) raise taxes sharply to cover the cost of entitlements; or (4) renege on the generational social compact which formed the underpinnings of Social Security and Medicare.

Smith made the point that option 1 will quickly erode foreign confidence in US investments. Note, as a matter of policy, the traditional legal expectations of secured investors are thwarted for the benefit of a favored political constituency. Foreign investors favor the US because the rule of law operates here. If political considerations trump the expectations of secured investors, the US will become just another banana republic in the eyes of foreign investors, and our current economic difficulties will be a fond memory.

Option 2 reaches the same result through inflation. The investor gets his money back, but he is paid in devalued dollars because of our profligacy, so foreign investment shuts down.

Option 3 is politically challenging. Moreover, seriously raising taxes would dampen economic activity in an already compromised market.

Option 4 is probably politically impossible, but some measure of repositioning benefits might occur.

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