Practical Minimalism: Things Can Lead to Experiences

Shelfie

Experiences are better than things, but a thing can lead to experiences.

The minimalistic creed that experiences are always better than things is untrue, for I say it depends on the experience (and the thing).  

The experience of going to the library was okay, but the experience of a book I buy and read multiple times is better. Since Covid, I have subscribed to Amazon Kindle Unlimited for me and have added many more books to my daughter’s physical library.

The experience of shopping for a new phone was a hassle, but using that phone to group text my friends for a girls’ night out, promote my Instagram poetry, or play Scrabble is better; buying a new TV was forgettable, but having a 42″ screen where my husband and I watch Wheel of Fortune is better. We bond over skewering Pat for some of the !@#$ he says and the contestants for the bad calls they make. 

The experience of going to the Pensacola Interstate Fair was all right (I make better, and cleaner, fair food at home), but I’ve had just as much fun playing with my daughter in the big blow-up pool (a “thing”) in our backyard.

Some experiences have sucked (like revisiting the Italian restaurant where my husband and I used to go when we met ten years ago), where my time would’ve been better spent watching the current Holiday Baking Championship.

However, some experiences have been wonderful. Sometimes, the simplest experiences are best, such as having a meal at Chick-Fil-A with my family (before Covid), meeting friends for drinks and tacos (or one-on-one for coffee), reading a new bedtime story, playing board games, singing Christmas carols, trying a new baking recipe (will be making my first savory cheesecake next week), making Christmas placemats (a laminator is a must for any homeschooling classroom), creating unique Christmas cards via TouchNotes for some of my friends, and so forth. 

Experiences like these are what life is made of, and most of them aren’t Facebook or Instagram picture-worthy.  

There’s a great quote in the movie Tully, in which Tully tells Marlo (a married mother of three young children who seems to be struggling with the baby blues) that she hasn’t failed but has made her biggest dream come true: “That sameness that you despise, that’s your gift to them [Marlo’s children]. Waking up every day and doing the same things for them over and over. You are boring. Your marriage is boring. Your house is boring, but that’s … incredible! That’s a big dream, to grow up and be dull and constant, and then raise your kids in that circle of safety.”

You don’t have to experience something new every day because every day in and of itself is an experience. My best experiences haven’t always included pictures but are in the stories I tell and the memories I share.

When my job situation often changed (the nature of being a student worker), with my husband and I moving every two or three years (you have to go where you can afford to live), I found myself in a constant state of anxiety. However, we are finally reaching a level of homeostasis that feels an awful lot like contentment (not to be confused with complacency). 

I love my life as it is, which doesn’t mean that I don’t want more; I am just working towards being more. I tell my daughter in homeschool: The more you know, the more you can do, and the richer your life will be, for the more you will be able to do for yourself and others.

I remember a motivational speaker once saying that the two things that make us happiest are helping others and creating something. This Christmas season, I have been fortunate enough to do both. I would also say that staying connected to friends and family (in-person, if possible, or via telephone, not text) is the third part of that, for being giving of your time is the greatest gift.

” … remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Family Christmas parties, Dirty Santa, and the art of regifting

Shrimper

Every year, my husband’s family has a Dirty Santa Christmas party. There’s the pepperoni bread that all the teenagers love, the Bisquick sausage and cheese balls that are like savory truffles, and the peanut butter balls that take an insane amount of powdered sugar to make. When my husband’s aunt was alive, it was an Italian feast, even though she was from Maine and of French heritage. (My husband’s father, however, was Italian.)  

I don’t even bring food anymore because there is so damn much, and there are always too many desserts.

My brother-in-law (BIL) works for a liquor distributor, so there’s always plenty of boozea must-have for any holiday gathering where you’re seeing people you only see once a year and only because you happen to be related. 

As an introvert with social anxiety that I happen to hide very well (unless I’m around someone I think is hot or who I swear is laughing at me on the inside, which is sometimes the same person), I’m not a fan of parties with lots of people I don’t know well. It’s emotionally exhausting, but my six-year-old daughter is an excellent buffer.    

As I am not friends with any of my husband’s family on Facebook, and my husband ditched his account last year, we’re like the black sheep (my husband likes to call himself the stray sheep) of his family; in my family, I’m like the golden fleece, so think what you will about that!  

I cannot compete with my husband’s successful sisters, whose careers have been established for years, while I’m just figuring things out. Their kids are either grown or practically grown, whereas my daughter is in the first grade, and I am working on my bachelor’s degree at 38. I guess my husband and I are both late bloomers.  

So, “Dirty Santa” is always my favorite part of the party. I don’t have to mill around and mingle, as we are all sitting in a circle, opening presents. Honestly, gift giving is a lot more fun when it doesn’t cost anything, and it’s all in fun—when you don’t give a rip about what you’re going to get because you already know it’s probably going to suck.

The year I was into couponing, I tossed some Maxi pads (with wings; it isn’t an angel in need if it doesn’t have wings) in a gently used gift bag. That might have been the year I threw in a Bing Crosby CD in which he dreamily crooned about white Christmases (what the hell is wrong with a green Christmas where we don’t have to worry about dying in a blizzard?). So yes, sanitary napkins + Bing = a hard candy Christmas. 

Another year, I gave away some DVDs when a lot of the same movies I could just DVR (I will never, however, ever part with my Wings and I Love Lucy collection). Last year, I threw in some unused candles (from my candle collecting days), and this year, there’s “The Shrimper”a running gag that’s been passed around my husband’s family for years. I don’t mind getting stuck with it, as I am the queen of regifting. Most of the gifts probably end up donated or regifted anyway; I am not spending money on a nice gift so I can get a bobo present. A good third of Dirty Santa gifts were left behind last year, which, to me, shows a complete lack of regard for the hosts, who have to figure out how to (probably) dispose of them.

Since I have run out of things to regift (ain’t minimalism great?), I thank God for “The Shrimper,” as it’s recurrence keeps another item out of the landfill.

5 Ways I’ve Used Minimalism to Improve my Writing

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My Instagram posts

Instagram: Poetry Unfiltered

Every Saturday and Sunday, I publish a “Post-It-sized” poem on Instagram. I used to feel that I had to make each poem “pop” with the use of filters until I realized that such was unnecessary. I could feel the seconds being wasted, trying to come up with just the right filter, so I started screenshotting my poem with my phone via Google Docs and publishing it as is with the hashtag #nofilter. I realized there is a certain beauty in stark white and bold black. Coming up with appropriate hashtags take enough of my time.

Images are (Almost) Everything

Because I blog a minimum of twice weekly, it helps to recycle images, especially with my recurring features: Micropoetry Mondays and Fiction Fridays. For Monday, if my theme is “The Lighter Side” or “Opposites,” I use the same graphic; eventually, I will design my own logo for Micropoetry Monday, so I can ditch the stock photography all together (I’ve already scrubbed my blog of most of it). Because Fiction Fridays are all excerpts from my book or poetry based on it, I use the same graphic. Even when it comes to LinkedIn, rather than using a stock photo, I use my business card in basic black and plain white (without my personal address or telephone number) and an eye-grabbing headline. However, since I’ve discovered the Medium Daily Digest’s publishing platform (https://medium.com/), which is lot more attractive than LinkedIn’s (and not about boring corporate culture), I use an abstract photo—usually a close-up of something loosely related to the quotation I paste over it.  (And my quotes are always original.  There is enough recycled content out there.)

Strunk and White + Stephen King = Needful words

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style is one grammar book that changed my writing (and maybe my life). It is what I call a hornbook for all writers. I applied its principles to my writing when I worked for my community college newspaper for several semesters, which helped me with conciseness (though I would still try to sneak in the Oxford comma). In On Writing by Stephen King, King says to “Kill your darlings”; I say you have to kill your characters (meaning the alphabet kind). Writing also helped me chuck 99% of my adverbs; nothing beats “he said” or “she said.” You want those dialogue tags to be invisible. I credit these two books and my experience as a student reporter in helping me get the job as a clarity editor for Grammarly.

Social media < Writing, Editing, Submitting

When I started my blog in October 2013, I thought I had to be as omnipresent as possible when it came to social media, but, after an incredible amount of spam I received on Twitter and people following just to get a follow, I ditched it and Pinterest, too. Facebook, Instagram, Goodreads, and LinkedIn is enough for me. (Often, what I post in one place gets posted in another). What time I used to spend trying to brand myself on all those social media accounts I could be spending building my vocabulary, submitting to actual publications, etc. I don’t have time to engage with all my followers — I need readers who aren’t writers. After more than three years of posting my Wednesday and Poem-a-Day prompts (in April and November) for Writer’s Digest on their blog and mine, I realized it was time for me to move on, which simplified my writing life even more. I needed content I could write ahead of time, so I could schedule it to publish on my blog at a later date. 

Submissions: Kitchen-Sink Theory Does Not Apply

I used to think I had to flood the market with submissions rather than focus on a handful of publishers. Targeting your publications gives you time to read and study them; submission guidelines alone will not provide intuition into what the editors are looking for. I have since discovered that my work would not be considered literary, so most small presses would not be a good fit; I have a better shot at larger publishers because of their more mainstream content. If I pick up a journal and don’t “get” any of the poems, then it’s the wrong publication for me; if I pick up a magazine and don’t enjoy any of the stories, then it’s not a good fit for my writing. This keeps me from being overwhelmed with reading material.

Book Review: The Girl Before

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This book was absolutely unputdownable.  It also had a strange effect on me:  It put me into decluttering mode, bigtime, and I’m already a minimalist (which is not about having nothing but about having just the right amount).  The Girl Before made me think of all the clutter in my life, including the clutter inside my head as well as virtual clutter.  

The questionnaire scattered throughout was a novel idea (no pun intended)–a nice change from opening a chapter with a quote that someone else said.

Here is just a glimpse of the great writing in The Girl Before (p. 170):  Sometimes I have a sense that this house–our relationship in it, with it, with each other–is like a palimpsest or a pentimento, that however much we try to overpaint Emma Matthews, she keeps tiptoeing back; a faint image, an enigmatic smile, stealing its way into the corner of the frame.

Any book that gets me to learn a new word must have something going for it.  

I found it interesting that there were no quotation marks in Emma’s story, and even more surprising that it look me halfway through the book to notice this.  Is this a UK thing? I remember reading Harlequin Presents (a long time ago, so don’t judge) when apostrophes were used instead of quotations.  I am curious what the symbolism was concerning this.

Edward Monkford (what a pretentious name) evokes an image of Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead; other goodreads reviewers have said Christian Grey (I’ve seen the movies but never read the books and don’t care to).  His crazy house rules were fascinating–like the technology that controlled the house was fascinating. The concept that a house can change the way you live–actually help you live a better life–was fascinating, but Monkford himself was not.  He was a pig–just a well-spoken, better-dressed, affluent pig. (I guess you really can put lipstick on a pig, if you got enough to smear it with.)  

The women, Emma (THEN) and Jane (NOW), are both incredibly stupid because they think with their sex and not their brains.  Emma seemed like a closet hoarder who called her paramour “Daddy” (ew) and liked angry sex (even when the anger was directed at her).  She was a freak (yet we are told that she has charm). 

Compared to her, Jane was milquetoast.

Even though the women were not portrayed positively, it’s fairly realistic as a lot of women choose to have babies with losers (because they don’t need a man and think their sons and daughters don’t need a father).  Sometimes, they even marry these losers and put them above their children. It’s incredible how many male inmates (who are in prison for murdering women) get fan letters from women–women they’ve never even met.  

I never knew whether Emma’s last story was for real but it doesn’t matter.  THEN & NOW were both enjoyable.

But, back to Monkford:  A lot of women like egotistical, controlling men because they see it as take-charge masculinity.  Monkford is one of those ruthless corporate types who is also a temperamental artist (an explosive combination) who would blow up a perfectly decent development that would provide affordable housing to families if it had his name on it, but there was something about the aesthetics (just like the idealistic, anti-hero Roark) that didn’t align with his vision.  Furthermore, Monkford uses women until he uses them up (after all, he finds them so easily). He is incapable of love, for he can’t even love his own, imperfect kin. He likes his women damaged (and in the beginning anew stage), so he can turn them into blank canvases he can manipulate. His structures may be beautiful, but I didn’t get the impression they were very green.  All that extra, empty space has to be heated and cooled.

Monkford was such a commanding presence in the book that the other male characters barely registered.

The ending was weak, but the journey was so intriguing, the destination didn’t matter (it just knocked off a star).  It had the mysterious feel of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which I appreciated, but the nightshades of Gone Girl came out of the blue, for there was a turn in one of the character’s motives that wasn’t led up to or hinted at in any way.  I understand the author doesn’t want the reader to figure out everything too soon–in case the reader loses interest, but if the writing’s good, your reader won’t; a well-written story always trumps a twist ending.  What’s more, when the true villain is revealed, it’s anticlimactic, for it seemed I found out at the same time the author did.  

Jane could’ve used a little more to wrap up her story but then we’re introduced to Astrid, and the story stops (and, I’m sure, begins again there).  I did, however, like the tie-in to the title in the last part of her story. Nicely done!  

Besides being unputdownable, The Girl Before has immense readability.  

One gripe that has nothing to do with the book:  I don’t like authors going by different names.  What is the point of this? Are they not allowed to cross genres with the same name?  There is another author who does this, and I find it irritating.  

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/28016509-the-girl-before

The Accidental Environmentalist

Mrs. Gladys Georgana Green lived in the poor house—
just under the poverty line.
She wore her shoes till they lost their soles,
her hand-me-down clothes till they became careworn,
after which she would tear them into strips
for the rag rugs that scattered her floors.
Her margarine tubs were repurposed as Tupperware
and often filled with potato cookies at Christmastime
for the less-fortunate children.
All her furniture had come to her secondhand,
sometimes even thirdhand,
and she was grateful to get it from those who had
cared for their property so well.
Her electronics were outdated,
and her desktop computer was a dinosaur near extinction,
but they worked well enough to suit her needs.
She was not a minimalist by choice—
she’d never been privileged enough to make that choice,
for it had always been made for her.
Yet this frugal way of living had become a part of her,
for she saw the wisdom in making things last.

On Thanksgiving Day,
when she was minding her own damn business,
enjoying her weekly indulgence of Salisbury steak,
and her holiday slice of pumpkin pie that had her name on it
(in whipped cream, no less),
some whippersnapper in a Greenpeace shirt
started filming this “cow killer”
with his brand-new iPhone.

Being more going-of-age than coming-of-age,
she’d had enough of these people and their hypocritical crapola,
and so, with a spry little sprint,
she confronted this little mockumentary maker,
this propagandist punk,
and rammed her paper straw where it never meant to go.

Doubling up: Maximizing your writing, and more

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So I am getting ready to start summer schoolanother semester of work-study, a class I don’t care about, and Intermediate Algebra, which is very scary indeed.  I made a D in it about 15 years ago, and I allowed my fear of failurethat I wasn’t smart enough to finish collegekeep me from finishing.

Like Buddy Sorrell on The Dick Van Dyke Show, who could make a joke out of any word (including “milk bath”), I can write a poem on the spot about any word, but algebra has always been the bane of my educational existence.

Except this time, I am so close, with only a handful of credits left before I can work as a copy writer somewhere in the medical field.

This time, I will have access to free, on-campus and virtual tutors.

This time, I will have a few hours a day at work to focus on this class I will never use again, but will help me get to wherever I am goingthat place called Career Contentment. I don’t know where that is yet, for I am still following the map, but I have a pretty good idea of what I will be doing when I get there.

My time is more limited than ever now, so I’ve decided to cut most of my weekend posting (I’d just had enough of dealing with self-inflicted “homework” first thing in the morning).  The one exception is a single #SundayInspiration Instagram post (see bottom) with what I hope will be considered “thinking outside the candy box” (https://www.instagram.com/sarahleastories/?hl=en).

I’d forgotten I even had an account until a recent Facebook friend followed me, and I thought, well, I do have one of those phones now, and I can take a shot of virtually the same thing (which will help establish my “theme”).  I’d tried Pinterest, but it’s more for consumers than creators, and I like the cleaner, sleeker look of Instagram.  Pinterest also seems like it’s more for crafters than writers or photographers.  Furthermore, Instagram seems much more personal, more real.  It has a freshness Pinterest does not.

Streamlining your writing process is a form of minimalism, and it can help you focus on the more important aspects of writing (like improving your craft and getting paid).  It’s good to have a social media presence (any publisher expects this if you’re unknown), but the thing that will get you noticed is submitting, submitting, and submitting [quality] work.

Instead, I will be posting two writing “workshops” (basically, writing tips) the first and third Mondays of the month, and two book reviews the second and fourth Mondays (as I will be dropping the Micropoetry Monday segments at the end of the year).  The latter will help me read more (as I’ve been reading poetry this semester, mostly), and the workshops are bits I post on my Facebook author page, so they’re already “baked in.”

This is one way of maximizing your writing.  To come up with brand new content for every social network isn’t worth it, because chances are, your friends, fans, and followers won’t catch your post on every network anyway, so it won’t seem like you’re repeating yourself.

One Instagram post a week is much more doable than six a week on Twitterthat’s too much time taken away from submitting.  LinkedIn is limited, because it’s what I call “businessy-boring.”  I rarely write a post specifically for the network but if something I write works on there as well as my blog, I’ll post the whole piece on there (as people hate being redirected to another site).

LinkedIn is basically Facebook-lite, complete with memes.  All too often, I see “connections” sharing someone else’s quotation.  Have an original thought in your head, for goodness sakes!  It doesn’t do anything for your brand, only the person’s you are quoting.  Though I haven’t been guilty of posting such things, I have been guilty of sharing them.

For me, it’s all about creating content.  The only new blog post I have to create is on Wednesdaysthe Writer’s Digest poetry prompt.  Fridays are taken care of, because the posts are based on my novel, rewritten in verse form (which I’ve decided to make a separate, promotional chapbook out of called Mormons on the Beach).

I plan on spending the writing part of my weekends writing new work, editing existing work, and submitting to publications.  I haven’t been doing enough of that lately, but then when I come home from work and school, my daughter’s just gotten off the bus and I only have about about three hours with her till it’s time for her to go to bed.  I need that time with her as much as she needs my attention.  If I didn’t have her, I’d be spending too much time clacking at my keyboard, my eyes glazed by the glow.

Social media has its place, but it should be used wisely and sparingly.  Though Twitter is the equivalent of a bathroom wall, it isn’t a complete waste of time, as one of my friends hooked up with a local philanthropist through it who self-published her book; I got a guest blogging gig.

As for WordPress, don’t waste time reblogging (people never return the favor), unless you’re reblogging your own guest post.  Don’t waste valuable real estate on your blog with someone else’s work.  Again, this is elevating their brand, not yours.

What’s more, it’s one thing to use stock photos on your blog (I balked for the longest time, but I’m just a fair photographer with a lousy camera), but photography is Instagram’s focus (pun intended).  Strive for authenticity.

The moral of this post:  Write, edit, and submitthat’s the real work.  That social media stuff is a hobby.  A blog is the best of both worldsa hybrid, of sorts.  Someday, I hope it will make me money (either directly or indirectly), but in the meantime, I’m having lots of fun doing it.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #389; Theme: Improvement

Improvement (is an inside job)

It starts with the self
Minimalism and mindfulness
Productivity over busyness
Recursive reading
Occupational happiness
Variety of experiences
Eat well, pray often, love the one you’re with
Making time, taking time
Endless intellectual curiosity
Not afraid to say no
Thank you, please, and I’m sorry

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 389

Micropoetry Monday: Love Story

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Making Love to the Max
She saw the American world as a stewardess,
the European one as a Navy officer,
but when she saw Max,
she saw the entire world.

She was minimalist,
in her not-so-little-black dress;
he was a maximumist,
in his double-breasted,
3-piece suit,
& together,
they made 2.

Red, white, & blue had turned his heart purple
his eyesight dim, his limb
nonexistent;
but he came home to a child
whose future been fighting for.

She was shampoo,
for she cleaned him up,
He was conditioner,
for he softened her,
tho’ they spent their nights
getting tangled and dirty.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith
She loved crosswords,
he, word searches,
& together,
they found the clues to the mystery
that was their unsolvable life.

Book Review: The Laws of Subtraction

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To be fair, I didn’t finish this book (which is why it gets one star). I was only able to finish the Introduction (which was promising), and most of the first chapter. When Mr. May talked about design (and I’m not even a design major, much less an artist), I was engaged, but as soon as he started talking about cars, I could feel myself enter outer space.

I like to say that “Brevity is literary minimalism”; Mr. May broke his own rule by using the phrase “shrug our shoulders” (xii)–what else would one shrug?

I was actually looking for a book on minimalism (not the art, but the lifestyle), and this book just seemed to go on and on about other things. I must say, the title was clever, but the six simple rules he comes up with don’t make a lot of sense to me, such as “Doing something isn’t always better than doing nothing”. (One could replace “doing nothing” with “doing something else”.) That said, I did like his “better with less” (xiii) adage (in conjuction with, but not opposed to, “more with less”). Another quote I liked was “The ability to use patterns to create meaningful relationships from seemingly unrelated elements is a uniquely human attribute and the hallmark of creativity” (12). This has to be one of Glenn Beck’s favorite quotes.

However, he lost me when he said, “If I could figure out how to get this particular portfolio of insight and inspiration into your head with an affordable form of magic that removes the written word entirely, I would” (xv). A writer wishing the abolition of the written word? I don’t think so. Not enough people read now.

I do believe that “what isn’t there” is as important as “what is there”. We always talk about the need for plenty of white space in writing or “reading between the lines”.

I tried to read a few of the contributors, but couldn’t get into those either. This book might’ve made a good series of heavily truncated blog posts, but that’s about it.

Writer’s Digest Wednesday Poetry Prompt #377; Theme: An Unsuitable (blank) for (blank)

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An Unsuitable Cure for The Sickness That Is Your Life

It’s investing in yourself,
rather than next year’s Christmas.
It’s making daily goals,
rather than New Year’s resolutions.
It’s sticky note reminders
on your fridge,
your bathroom mirror.
It’s enjoying the moment,
not living for the next.
It’s eating less,
and drinking more (water).
It’s not trying to like foods
you never will.
It’s exercising for the endorphins
alone.

It’s making more out of less,
less out of the not-so-best.
It’s creating more,
consuming less.
It’s replacing T-O-Y-S
with T-I-M-E.
It’s making time,
not finding it.

It’s about living,
not just living to record.
It’s beating your own record,
not someone else’s.
It’s making a life,
while making a living.
It’s working for a purpose,
not just a paycheck.
It’s showing up,
and showing up ten minutes early.
It’s beating your own drum,
and marching to it in a way
that other people want to follow you.
It’s not redefining yourself,
but realizing yourself.
It’s losing yourself in the service of others,
only to find yourself.

It’s not worrying,
but being productive while not worrying,
till the time comes when you should worry,
or realized you never had to at all.
It’s rewriting our internal dialogue,
so that when someone asks
who the hell do you think you are,
you will know the answer.
It’s using sarcasm and wit properly.
It’s finding the truth in fiction,
the poetry in the everyday.
It’s spirituality with morality,
not religion with rules.
It’s believing in yourself,
but more in the One who
created you.
It’s not about believing in others,
but in the One who sent them.
It’s knowing that prayer always comforts
the one who prays,
if not the prayed for.
It’s not love without limits,
but limitless love.
It’s belief in life everlasting.

It’s loving those you are with;
it’s talking to those around you.
It’s putting the cashier,
the bagger,
the clerk,
before the call,
before the text.
You will miss out on less.
It’s being a friend,
but not without reciprocity
of contact.
It’s being careful
with confidences.
It’s knowing if your spouse
asked you again,
the answer would be the same.

It’s using stress as fuel,
not as a furnace,
and it’s never,
ever
ending it,
but sometimes
it can be
simply
letting it end.

http://www.writersdigest.com/whats-new/wednesday-poetry-prompts-377