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Spartan Over

Do the robes of Buddhist monks have pockets?

I recently read this rhetorical question online: It was a piece primarily about technology addiction and the way in which people now compulsively saddlebag themselves with gear before venturing out into the world: Cell phone? Check. PDA? Check. MP3 Player? Uh-huh. Retractable Ethernet cable? Yep. USB flash drive? Yeah, yeah, yeah. Game Boy? Christ, my back . . .

Though the question was directed mostly at information-industry workers in order to get them to more accurately chart their daily tech usage and needs, to streamline and focus, and perhaps restore some personal perspective and balance, it hit me in a more generalized way. On the same day that I read the question, I was also looking forward to beginning (read: dreading) the process of packing up all my earthly possessions (read: piles and piles of inexplicable and seemingly functionless crap) in preparation for yet another move.

“No! No! The robes of Buddhist monks do not have pockets!” I answered hours later. What’s a monk got? A bowl and a spoon, maybe. A Blackberry? A tablet PC? Not bloody likely, right? (I don’t know, they keep the crockery and cutlery in a Manhattan Portage messenger bag, or something.) Eat when you’re hungry, then wash your bowl, and so become the Buddha. Nothing there about checking your e-mail or moblogging your phonecam shots of street-art mandalas to your Web site.

And nothing at all about six boxes of CDs, 14 boxes of books, or seven million file folders full of unread must-read articles clipped from magazines or printed from the Internet; nor anything at all about the notebook pages, index cards, paper placemats and cocktail napkins full of brilliant, absolutely brilliant—though rough—ideas for hit Broadway musicals, killer sketch- comedy bits, devastatingly satirical films, funny yet humane Big Novels, innovative puppet shows (these will reinvent the form, I assure you) or multi-album concept records (Roger Waters lacked ambition).

And nothing about this thing here. This . . . what is this? Sorta looks like an egg whisk. Have I ever whisked an egg? What about this doodad? Is this a spaghetti spoon? No, look, the hole’s too wide, the noodles would slide right through. Is it something for painting? Oh, no, no, it’s for reflexology, somehow. Or, no, it’s a . . . what the hell is it? And why have I packed and moved it three freakin’ times?

I’ve got too many and too-deep pockets.

This is not even taking into account the staggering volume of stuff that accumulates in the course of a three-year-old’s life: the game preserve of stuffed animals, the vocational-center’s worth of educational toys and developmental aids, the heaps and mounds and closets-full of cute gender-loaded clothing given as gifts. (Yeah, thanks, everyone: It’s bad enough that I’ve got to fret about getting my daughter into and through college someday, now she wants to be a princess.)

But, of course, my daughter is far more centered about this stuff than I. Her (genetically attributable) aspirations toward royalty notwithstanding, she’s willing to travel pretty light; and she’s got no qualms about trashing things that no longer maintain her interest. So, I can’t hold her responsible.

No, it’s me. I’m the one who holds and hoards—superstitiously, as if somewhere in the pile I’ve unknowingly stashed the answer, some talisman, the power of which will reveal itself when—but only when—I am ready.

Among all the binder clips, the vacuum-sealing bottle stops, the 15 varieties of favorite pen, the no-thought cookbooks, the colored Post-Its, the PVC trivets, the project binders, the numbered manila folders, the universal remotes, the stacking trays, the California Closet-style “shoe solution,” somewhere in there is the tool that organizes, simplifies, streamlines everything. Somewhere in there is the item around which an orderly and successful lifestyle coheres.

Among the CDs and the articles and the books, among all the ideas—those of others and those that I’ve scribbled myself and stashed—might just be the one that makes it click. It, whatever it is. The eureka moment. The “people will buy paintings of soup cans” moment. The “I’ll make the hero an 11-year-old sorcerer” moment.

Admittedly, it’s a lot to expect of a whisk. (At least I’m pretty sure it’s a whisk.)

But the option is to live with little—to disdain quick and convenient fixes and rely on personal creativity to provide the necessities. It requires a clear-headedness and a self-reliance that I often lack when the trickster/huckster (in any one of his multifarious guises, from the self-help guru to the late-night infomercial pitchman to the efficiency expert to the futurist cybervisionary) promises exactly, exactly, what, I guess, I need, it seems. There’s one born every minute, they say.

So, I stuff my pockets—and my bookshelves and filing cabinets and dresser drawers and kitchen cabinets and media-storage bins, thinking this collage will make sense soon. Like a Magic Eye picture, it’ll take shape when I get the proper distance.

And that’s the trick: Obtaining that distance requires a lot more mobility than those overstuffed pockets will easily allow. So, ballast must be cut and tough decisions made. This time through, I’m trying to be rigorous and thorough, I’m trying to keep just the essentials: The faddish clothing, that goes first; then, the most recent bumper crop of thinly veiled and shallow roman a clefs set in the media or publishing businesses; next, the unsolicited schwag CDs that I’ve compulsively magpie’d over the years and yet left still shrink-wrapped; and just how many travel mugs does a guy need?

And this thing, with this—whaddya call ’em, like, spokes, or whatever, and this aerial kinda thing—I don’t need this thing, do I?

Do I?

—John Rodat

jrodat@metroland.net


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