on minimalism

We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.

We work with being
but non-being is what we use.

Tao Te Ching, trans. Stephen Mitchell

But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself.
-George Orwell, 1984

Helvetica has almost like a perfect balance of push and pull in its letters. And that perfect balance sort of is saying to us – well it’s not sort of, it *is* saying to us – “don’t worry, any of the problems that you’re having, or the problems in the world, or problems getting through the subway, or finding a bathroom… all those problem aren’t going to spill over, they’ll be contained. And in fact, maybe they don’t exist.”
-Leslie Savan, quoted in Helvetica

After I remove the ice pack I use a deep pore cleanser lotion. In the shower I use a water activated gel cleanser, then a honey almond body scrub, and on the face an exfoliating gel scrub.
American Psycho


Dear readers,

The struggle is indeed finished.

After three short years, in essence, my laptop sucks. Sure, it does the normal things a laptop can do, like allow me to plug in external hard drives, connect to wifi networks, hold a battery charge, and so forth. But let’s face it: I can’t keep all that many programs open, I can’t upgrade to MacOS Lion, and the thing plainly would like to either break or melt in the next six months.

But the laptop isn’t my only problem. Yesterday, I couldn’t print an exam for my students because the only way to connect to a printer at my school involves logging in to an ancient computer, possibly still running Prodigy and AOL, using Windows XP. Even if you finally manage to open a browser, it’s such an ancient version of Internet Explorer that the thing balks at opening a Google document.

I’m not even going to start on the issue of the cafeteria line where you have to serve yourself potato chips with tongs, and the chips are placed at the front of all the meal options, so an enormous line clots up during lunch as each person moves each individual potato chip with the one pair of tongs. Like I said, I’m not going to even discuss that. But let’s just say that it sort of resembled scientists manipulating radioactive plutonium with giant robot arms from behind protective glass.

I’m fighting back.

I’ve synchronized my files with Dropbox and iDisk and iCloud (beta) and the Amazon Cloud Drive. I’ve cleaned up my writing space and made it distraction-free. (Literally, as I type this, I’m just looking at greyish type on a pale grey screen, nothing else.) I’ve synced my notes via Evernote. I’ve partitioned my applications using Spaces. I’ve standardized all my fonts with Helvetica.

I’ve stopped capitalizing things, except when it’s absolutely necessary. I can read webpages with everything but the text vacuumed away via Instapaper. I have sixty books for the Kindle, Amazon’s new wireless reading device that just got even better and uses Whispersync technology, which I think they copyrighted or patented or something.

My tumblr feeds are on Flipbook. bit.ly shortens my links and automatically copies them.

I’ve obtained an iPad and synced all of my social networking sites so that when I update Twitter it also updates Facebook, and so that I don’t have to log in, and all my chat windows are open all the time in everything. I get push notifications.

Google Voice sorts my calls. I have eight cards in my wallet, total, including my CVS discount card and my MBTA “Charlie Card,” and exactly eight pens, including five highlighters. When I highlight something, I create a little legend at the bottom of the page, explaining what I’ve highlighted. My students turn in their assignments via email, and I sort the assignments into folders and subfolders to keep my inbox clear.

I don’t bother with separate drawers for clothing, because every different type of clothing goes on a separate shelf. My music plays through my wireless router.

Everyone I know is sorted via address books and Google+, divided by circles, and perpetually freshened with updates from all sorts of vaguely interacting clouds. My apps are in folders, like slices of fruit kept white with lemon juice, and rationed into Ziploc bags.


In one sense, all of this works really, really well. The test I wrote on “distraction-free software” was, honestly, clearer and fairer. I stopped owing my friend an email, because I succeeded in writing him back yesterday. I listened to the new Bon Iver album and finally started moving again through Friday Night Lights, Season 4. Heck, I’m even blogging.

In another sense, it is so strange, so cold — polar, actually, despite the reality of the terrible New England summer heat.

I stopped short of buying OmmWriter for the computer or iPad. This is a new “distraction-free” environment that dots your writing landscape with barren, snowbound trees, and that plays tinkling ambient white noise in the background. Because it’s not enough to have a white page — apparently you need minor distractions like trees to keep away major distractions like incoming email. (It goes without saying that leaves on the trees would be totally jumping the shark. OmmWriter should not be construed as an endorsement of actual photosynthesis.)

I remember watching Derrida and finding him so emotionally void, as though he somehow was writing one book of philosophy after another out of what really amounted to a desire to be left alone. He didn’t really care what people thought of his work. He’d agreed to be the subject of a documentary, but he didn’t have much to say to the camera. When you are typing on a persistently blank page, which only exists virtually and is in fact designed to be swept clean back into whiteness, the paper itself actually yearns for erasure. It yearns to be complete, synchronized, sent successfully, and filed away into the clouds, so that the screen can be alone with the flavorless cursor.

The cursor, in a steady respiration, continues — for longer than one would imagine — to blink.


It struck him as curious that he could run at all on feet so frozen that he could not feel them when they struck the earth and took the weight of his body. He seemed to himself to skim along above the surface and to have no connection with the earth. Somewhere he had once seen a winged Mercury, and he wondered if Mercury felt as he felt when skimming over the earth.
-Jack London, “To Build A Fire”