Tempering Minimalism with Gratitude

Katie pointed out an article on HuffPost, about a couple that had to move in with the wife’s parents. The point of the article was, presumably, how rough things are out in the world today. The number of younger people moving back in with their parents was cited. But Katie was incensed. While there was a not to how grateful they were that the retired parents could take them in, the root cause of the situation is what made my wife furious. It got me thinking about tempering minimalism with gratitude, or maybe the other way around.

This couple wasn’t blindsided by a sour economy. No one was unexpectedly laid off. They didn’t lose their apartment because of lost income, or the landlord jacking up the rent. Their situation was 100% the result of their own actions. The author of the article might try to argue that it wasn’t, but let’s look at the facts.

The husband was close to graduating with a Ph.D. They assumed that meant job offers would be pouring in. Based on that assumption, they did not renew the lease on the apartment they could currently afford. She describes it as “crumbling”, but it was a roof over their heads with a door that locks. Even though neither of them had anything lined up, she gave notice at her place of employment. They had no savings to fall back on. Then he got no job offers, the lease ran out, she left her job, and they didn’t have anywhere to go or the means to go there.

Tempering Minimalism with Gratitude

I think that the heart of genuine gratitude begins with acknowledging that the universe owes you nothing. Anything good, anything of value, that you manage to acquire should be cherished. Tempering minimalism with gratitude means appreciating what you have, rather than fretting over what you don’t. Sometimes that requires you to give thanks for things you don’t want, but still desperately need. Like, you know, the crappy apartment or the job you absolutely hate.

That doesn’t mean you should hold onto things “just in case”. It does mean that maybe you shouldn’t put the old bed out on the curb and sleep on the floor if you don’t have to. Maybe wait until you get the new bed. Don’t quit the job you hate unless you have some savings that allow you to take a risk, or already have another jo lined up. Don’t decide you’re not renewing the lease until you know you have another place to live.

There are people who end up in these situations, not by their own choices. We have little control over our lives already. Why relinquish the agency we do have not to take a risk on a solid plan, but to hopes, dreams, and wishes? I don’t think the couple in the article would have made the choices they did if they had considered all of the possible consequences, and held any genuine gratitude for what they had rather than longing for what they didn’t.

Trial By Media: The Exploitation of True Crime

Even though it came out nearly a year ago, I finally got around to watching Trial By Media on Netflix. Katie consumes true crime shows like popcorn. I have a harder time with them. The genre is exploitative almost by definition. Even the most conscientious documentarian ends up leaning into lurid details and wild speculation. This is, after all, the age of eyeballs over ethics. Getting more views is of greater importance than maintaining journalistic integrity.

One thing that bothers me about crime documentary films and series is the obvious manipulation. The makers are more interested in telling a good story, even if it’s not accurate, then in presenting the facts. Things are twisted to lead you to a conclusion. They omit select facts. They use dramatic music. Scenes edit or misrepresent testimony. Most viewers aren’t going to take a few minutes to fact check something they’re watching for entertainment purposes.

Trial By Media

It’s the same thing the media does when covering criminal cases. That’s the focus of Trial By Media. The series is about the high-profile cases that changed the way crimes are covered. In nearly every case, the media leans into the most unsavory details. They report rumors as fact. They engage in rampant speculation. In return, they get big ratings.  Inevitably, their exploitation turns around and bites them on the ass.

The repercussions of the media’s manipulation of public opinion for their own gain are sometime horrific. False information harms innocent people, and conclusions reinforce negative stereotypes. Still, it’s enjoyable when there is some backlash or comeuppance. It’s what sets this series above many others.

I do wish they’d spend a little more time explaining the changes that happened as a result of these cases. I do understand that they’re trying to cram some complex and nuanced events into an hour, but if the point to is show the deleterious effects of trial by media, then they should really punch the aftermath.

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Berin Kinsman


Minimalism: A Year Into the Pandemic

This week’s episode of The Minimalists podcast covers emergency preparedness. The show did its job and got me thinking. It’s a year into the pandemic. I’ve taken it for granted that minimalism has allowed Katie and I to weather this situation with aplomb.

We didn’t panic-buy or hoard early on, but we did stock up. It wasn’t because we feared shortages. I think we made reasoned decisions intended to cut down our exposure. After making 3 trips in 3 days, we shifted from going to the grocery store twice a week to once every two weeks. We could do that because we stocked up on non-perishables like flour, sugar, rice, dried beans, and coffee. If there was a situation where the shops were forced to be closed, or one of us got sick and we couldn’t go out, we’d still be able to eat.

As the year has gone on and things have become safer, we’ve gone back to twice-weekly trips. The big shift has been in the times and days we go. With masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer at the ready, we go to the shops when we know the least number of other customers will be there.

Being self-employed helped. Nothing changed drastically for us. Katie shifted from teaching and selling art to just making and selling art. We are lucky to have maintained a steady income. The reason we can be self-employed is because we live a minimalist lifestyle, and don’t have a lot of overhead that forces us to work corporate jobs.

Because we work from home, we’re used to staying in. It’s not unusual for one or both of us to throw ourselves into a project and not leave the apartment for days at a time. So we threw ourselves into projects. We saw this as an opportunity, not some punishment or act of oppression. Again, it’s an example of minimalism at work. Long ago we got into the habit of consolidating trips, and going out less, so we could spend more time engaged in uninterrupted creativity.

Minimalism: A Year Into the Pandemic

As a creative cook, we haven’t missed going out to eat. I can make most of the things we love. Our eating habits have shifted, but not because of lockdown. I still cook a big lunch, both to give us an enjoyable break in the middle of the day and to allow me another means of creative expression. Breakfast and dinner have become simple meals, usually bread, cheese, and fruit or hummus, pita, and raw vegetables.

Early in the pandemic I began daily blogging. After several months I realized that was bad for my mental health. I was spending too much time worrying about “what if” and not being present. The worry was affecting my ability to work. I didn’t need that, so I got rid of it to make more space for other things, like gratifying projects and better peace of mind.

I don’t want this to come across as a flex. There are people that are struggling with isolation, loss of work, and lack of income. I do want to express gratitude that we are so self-sufficient, and that we’ve been able to carry on fairly normally for the past year. I have to give all credit to the years spent cultivating a minimalist mindset, though. It’s given us the tools to deal with lockdown and isolation without serious negative impacts.

Bad Faith, Free Speech: Outrage Over Imagined Rights

Several years ago I began pulling away from a friend. It was after the A&E network suspended Phil Robertson, one of the stars of Duck Dynasty, from that show. Robertson had done an interview with GQ where he equated homosexuality to bestiality. After issuing a statement that Robertson’s views did not reflect the opinions of A&E, and reaffirming their support of the LGBT community, they sacked him.

My friend tweeted, “Whatever happened to free speech?”

Two years later this repeated. Walmart banned sales of the Confederate battle flag and anything containing its image. This extended to Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia. Models of the iconic car the General Lee, which has the flag painted across its roof, were removed from shelves.

My friend went on a tear about First Amendment rights.

About That

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment of the United States Constitution

Show me where Congress passed a law saying A&E had to kick Phil Robertson off the show. That never happened. Show me where the government rushed in, confiscated all of the copies of CQ featuring the interview, and burned them. It didn’t happen. The interview is still up on GQ’s website; I linked to it earlier in this essay. First Amendment rights have not been violated.

A&E reversed their suspension of Robertson a week later. It was moot anyway, because the new season featuring Robertson was already in the can and the network stated that they would air those episodes. The reason for the suspension was free publicity. A charitable reading of the situation is that it allowed A&E to making it clear they did not support their star’s homophobic opinions.

Similarly, show me where Federal agents stormed Walmart and seized everything with a Confederate battle flag on it. Present to me the order issued by a government agency requiring Walmart to remove said flag. Never happened.

You can buy Dukes of Hazzard memorabilia on Walmart’s website, including models of the General Lee. They’re offered by third-party sellers, not Walmart itself, but a lot of people won’t see the distinction. It should be noted that none of the merch I found showed the Confederate battle flag. All shots of the car were low and from the size, avoiding views of the roof.

Bad Faith, Free Speech, and Manufactured Outrage

The same friend also supported the notion that businesses should be able to refuse service to LGBT people. No bakery should have to make a cake for a same-sex wedding, nor should a photographer be compelled to capture it for posterity. He was also good with the outcome of Burwell v Hobby Lobby, and supported the idea that Chik-Fil-A should be able to donate money to whatever organization they please. The rationale is that they are businesses and should set their own policies.

I’m not going to try to go into how those cases are different from Robertson and Walmart. It would be more productive for me to run head first at a cinder block wall. Getting this out of my system is already wasting valuable time that I could be spending on more important things.

My point, of course, is that A&E is a business. Walmart is a business. They decide what content they provide. Where said content is deemed harmful, it’s gone. When the person providing the content is problematic, they’re out. Period.

Bad Faith, Free Speech and Imagined Rights

Of course this post isn’t about my former friend, or things that transpired many years ago. It’s about Simon & Schuster deciding not to publish Senator Josh Hawley’s book. It’s about Twitter finally enforcing its own terms of service and permanently banning a certain high-profile individual. More to the point, it’s about people claiming that this is a violation of free speech. Hawley was claiming, on Twitter and elsewhere, that Simon & Schuster had violated his First Amendment rights. Seditionists are crying about censorship.

Everyone wants rights. No one wants responsibilities. Unfortunately freedom of speech does not include freedom from consequences. Nor does it entitle you to a platform. It does not provide protections for an individual’s sense of entitlement.

Twitter went so far as to include the two Tweets that instigated that guy’s ban in the explanation of their decision. You can see what he put out into the ether. Hawley’s free to shop his book around to another publisher, to self-publish it, or to release it online for free. There is nothing preventing them from spewing their opinions; they just can’t do so on venues that have chosen not to support their messaging.

Bad Faith, Free Speech, Shut Up

Playing the victim when held accountable is tiring. Arguing that not allowing them to have their way is unfair to the point of violating their rights is tired. Get over it. Learn how to comport yourself in a civil manner, and this won’t happen. Figure out how to get along with other people, and not advocate for stripping people of their rights, and this won’t happen. Educate yourself as to what your actual rights are, and how to exercise them, and this won’t happen.

Stop acting in bad faith, and you won’t have to worry about free speech. Until then, just shut up.

2021: A Preface

When an author writes a preface, they’re seeking to create context. You’ll better understand what you’re about to read, they feel, if you get to peek behind the curtain first. Often they’ll explain what inspired them to write the piece. They’ll take you on the journey of writing it, and the struggles they overcame to get it published. The idea is to help you to appreciate the book more, because you’ve witnessed the story of its creation.

This is my preface for 2021.

In this New Year I’m motivated to be aggressively optimistic. I want to be kinder, both to other people and to myself. My inspiration is to find more joy, and creativity, and wonderful people that keep the world spinning. But I’m willing to be a hard son-of-a-bitch in relation to any obstacles between me and where I want to be. Everything that comes after this needs to be seen in that context.

At the start of 2020 I set SMART goals for myself. Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. By April I had to abandon all of them. Everything in the world went completely off the rails. Like many people I went into a holding pattern, waiting for something to happen. It was impossible to make decisions, because there were too many unknowns. What if I decide to do this, but then that happens? The lowest common denominator, in terms of taking action, became survival.

I’m tired of living in a perpetual state of fear and uncertainty. Waiting for other people to take action or fulfill promises is exhausting. No, I don’t know what the state of things is going to be next year, or next month, or next week. There are still things that I can do now. I can write, and build relationships, and make plans based around the few stable situations that exist and the most likely scenarios for the future. Said plans need to be based on utility and flexibility.

As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, where you are, with what you have.”

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions, but in these times I can’t believe in SMART goals either. What I have instead are ambition, a sense of direction, and sheer force of will. I know what I want to accomplish in 2021, and all of my efforts will be focused on that. Because I don’t know what lies ahead, I can’t set deadlines. Parameters of individual projects might change. I can do as much as I can each day, on any given day, with the determination to get there eventually.

This is my preface to 2021. This is me, asserting myself as the author of my own life. I may not be able to control events, but I can persevere in spite of them. What I can control are my own actions in response to whatever comes next. This new year could turn out to be even harder than 2020 in a lot of ways, but I refuse to allow it to run over me