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! 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
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
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,
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?