The Roundup for August 13-19, 2018 Edition

The Wall by Christopher Parsons

I have a long history of ‘dating’ furniture and other adornments for my home before buying them. Before buying my coffee table, as an example, I spent about 4-5 months looking at coffee tables all across the city I live in. I wanted to get a sense of different styles, sizes, materials, and prices before deciding on the piece that I ended up purchasing. The same is true of almost all other major pieces of furniture and electronics that I own. In effect, I spent a lot of time searching for beautifully designed and highly functional items.

For the past three or four weeks, I’m been looking to get a single statement piece for a chair in my living room. I’m in a small space and, as a result, I’m going to see the given accent piece multiple times a day: I want each viewing to be enjoyable. Several weeks ago, I’d found the pillow that I knew was perfect for the chair but held off purchasing it to evaluate other options and explore more possibilities. Before choosing something that was going to reside with me for years I wanted to be certain there wasn’t anything else that was superior or competitive.

When I went to get that perfect pillow this weekend…it was sold out. Limited run, so unless I can find it second hand I’m going to have to just continue the search. Which is fine; there will be another accent piece that will fit that chair. But I’m going to regret not moving more quickly on it for a while.

I think that, when done by ‘normal’ people, the pickiness I personify is probably what drives a lot of minimalist homes. I think of people like Steve Jobs, who famously refused to purchase furniture that didn’t appeal to his design aesthetics. And in watching, and listening to, people who live ‘minimalist’ lives a key element of their very being focuses on neither wanting a lot of things nor wanting ugly things; that which they own should bring joy to their lives, and that which wouldn’t bring joy should be eschewed so they can concentrate on that which is joyful.

There are lots of reasons why people abstain from minimalism. But at least one is likely linked to being taught that it’s not ‘right’ to live in semi-furnished environments: you should be filling your home with all the pieces that society designates as ‘normal’ as soon as you move in. The actual ability to furnish homes so quickly, and frankly so cheaply, is made possible both because of low credit rates and ‘fast’ furniture: think budget IKEA pieces and other stores’ furniture that looks beautiful…until scratched to reveal the particle board (or other cheap materials) underneath. Forty or fifty years ago it wasn’t strange for people to sometimes wait years before they acquired all of the furniture for their home, much of which was well built and could be passed along to another generation.

Minimalism, contra to that past era, is arguably less about passing things along to the next generation.1 But it is about waiting, patiently, until the right pieces are available at the right time. And to find a piece of furniture you need to spend time looking: it’s not as simple as walking into any store’s showroom and picking up the pieces that you want. Minimalism involves caring about what is coming into a home and proactively being involved in genuinely looking for furniture, accents, or other things you will be living with for years to come. And that very act of slowing down and acting deliberately is what makes the hunt for pieces that come into my home both meditative and frustrating. Meditative because it forces me to slow down and move more deliberately and carefully. Frustrating because I’ve become so used to getting whatever I want, as soon as I want it. Minimalism is, in some ways, a call back to a past that isn’t that long ago, and certainly isn’t lost forever.


While I’m still keeping my stuff in Apple Notes — a problem I had with the app functionally being unresponsive was addressed a few point updates ago — I remain tempted to switch things over to Bear so I can work in Markdown. Michael Tsui has a nice summary of how to transfer notes out of Apple’s product. The caveat is that there’s no way to export attachments, which makes this export method a non-starter for me, personally.


Inspiring Quotation of the Week

Your art comes from your community. You must attend to your community.

  • Ann Patchett

Great Photography Shots

Unlike every other week, I only have a single photo this week, from Peter Baumgarten. His photo is amazing. But what was even more inspiring to me was his discussion of what went into making the photo: shots like this are the result of a bunch of work and a dash of luck!

Music I’m Digging

  • Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova – Once (Music from the Motion Picture) // It’s been years since I listened to the tracks on this album and, to this date, there are several that strike right at my heart. The movie itself was excellent and largely made so because of the music; if you’re looking for a series of songs about the rise, lingering, and collapse of love, then this is an album for you.

Neat Podcast Episodes

  • The Documentary – Neighborhood: We Might As Well Be Finnish // An overview of both the political situation that Finland finds itself in, today, as aggression from Russia increases as well as a history lesson of the challenges Finland has undergone over the past two centuries. This podcast helped me learn a bit more about the political history of a country that I was otherwise pretty ignorant about.
  • The Documentary: Norway’s Silent Scandal // What happens when a BBC journalist intrudes into the relatively sleepy country of Norway? On the one hand, you learn a lot about the issue of child protective services taking children away from their parents with disturbing regularity. On the other, you learn just how unwanted foreign journalists are when they apply their journalistic interests to situations that might receive less, or different, attention from domestic journalists.
  • The Documentary – Not Making Babies in South Korea // In this episode, the BBC examines the social and gender reasons for the startlingly low birth rates in South Korea — women are currently expected to have 1.05 children in their lives. In an unsurprising spoiler, the higher costs of child rearing, the challenges women face at work when wanting to become mothers, and failure to shift domestic norms around distributions of domestic and professional labour are all linked to the country’s low birth rate.
  • Dear Sugars – Talking About Privilege // Two different kinds of privilege are discussed in this episode: male privilege associated with expectations that women take a man’s last name upon marriage, and male white privilege, where the man refuses to meaningfully engage with his African American partner’s racial identity. In both cases it felt like the men had fundamentally failed to engage with their partners as full partners in their life journey; in neither case, it seems, did the men recognize that the difficulties and questions their partners had identified needed to be genuinely worked through together. The problems, in effect, weren’t recognized as ‘group’ problems — save that they affected both parties — and were instead problems that the women needed to fix. This style of contemplating difference and challenges in interpersonal relations strikes me as a poor way of building strong and robust relationships which, to my mind, are predicated principally on open communication.
  • Clerks! (Part I) and Clerks! (Part II) // I had no idea what, in precise detail, law clerks for the Supreme Court of Canada did on a regular basis. I knew the basics — they helped with writing legal memos/briefs, argued with their Justices’, etc — but not the history of clerking in Canada, the rationale to increase the numbers of clerks assigned to each Justice, nor the breadth of activities that clerks are sometimes tasked to accomplish. I found it interesting that, in the assessment of past clerks, those who would benefit from the experience are likely those who move into academia or the non-profit sections, whereas those who shift into corporate practices are less likely to benefit from their year in Ottawa.

Good Reads for the Week

  • When Self-Care Turns into Self-Sabotage // Wilding provides a good assessment of the kinds of self-care exercises we undertake, and which are counterproductive, as opposed to those which tend to be more challenging and active, and which also satisfy our existential needs. Central to the ‘good self-care’ activities is a mindfulness that accompanies an activity: they aren’t retreats from the world, per se, but are designed towards developing ways to build emotional, social, and physical resiliency in the face of stressors.
  • AP Exclusive: Google tracks your movements, like it or not // Another damning indictment of Google’s anti-privacy activities.
  • Bribes, Backdoor Deals, and Pay to Play: How Bad Rosé Took Over // A good take on the bad practice of companies trying to buy their way onto prestige wine lists. I’d never considered this as part of how wine lists were chosen but it makes me that much more curious about how, and why, restaurants’ lists are produced.
  • The Unlikely Activists Who Took On Silicon Valley — and Won // Confessore’s article outlines, in depth, just how California’s newest privacy legislation was crafted and passed. Perhaps more importantly, it showcases how dedicated small sets of individuals can come together to press for political change when they are opposed by incredibly well-resourced companies.
  • In Pakistan’s Financial Crisis, an Opening for Chinese Lawfare // China is aggressively expanding its foreign influence. From building space bases in Argentina to creating and arming new islands in the South China Sea to engaging in hostile loan practices, they are behaving exactly like a rising power ‘should’. They are also trying to push, pull, or drag other countries to shift off the US dollar as their trading currency; if they can woo key US allies, such as Pakistan, it will merely continue to speak of the rising global dominance of China, and especially in their close region of influence.

Cool Things

  • Anthropocene looks to be an incredible movie about the sheer impact that humanity has on the Earth, and the broader implications it has for understanding ourselves and where we live.

Footnotes

  1. Indeed, there is a fundamental issues of being unable to find people who will inherit actual possessions; when we all have our own homes filled with furniture, why would we want out parents’? And even if we did, where would we put it?