creative miscellany, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, the business of books

Discussion post: The Great KonMari Book Debate

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We’ve discussed before the advantages, limitations and broader implications of Marie Kondo’s best-selling book on de-cluttering and home organization. Quite recently, I even posted pictures of my kids’ attempts to organize their dresser drawers KonMari style for the purposes of fitting everything in such a way that each item is easily visible and easy to access.

While I was impressed with the patience and skill my kids demonstrated by turning their t-shirts and underwear into an origami project, I couldn’t quite bring myself to go that far. There’s no possible way I would ever, washing two loads of laundry per day, find the motivation let alone the time to sit and fold everything into neat little triangular shapes then line them up in the drawers.

Guess what? My kids haven’t stuck to it either. They made a valiant effort worth commending, especially knowing them as I do. The method simply isn’t realistic long term, but I digress. The merits folding one’s clothing origami style isn’t what prompted this post.

This is a blog about books, and despite the overwhelmingly positive response to Kondo’s admonition that we get rid of most of our junk, one thing which has drawn consistent howls of protest is her suggestion that those following her method scale their libraries down to no more than 30 books. Being a homeschool parent as well as a voracious reader, I dismissed that nonsense out of hand. Others however, have taken the time to dissect and contemplate the underlying implications of suggesting that we purge ourselves right out having any substantial home library at all. The delightfully poetic Rachel at Bay Boxwood put it thus:

It strikes me as odd that one of the first edicts handed down by the pop-minimalist scolds is The Culling of the Books.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re hanging on to a houseful of junky or unread books and paper ephemera, then cull away, you’ll probably be glad you did – but – considering the amount of unworn clothing, abandoned craft projects, ancient canned goods, and broken everything in peoples living spaces, it just seems like there are better places to start de-cluttering and un-owning, and that perhaps once the rest of the mess is resolved the books are a collection worth keeping.

Given that beautifying living spaces is what she does, I’ll defer to her authority on that issue, and agree with it wholeheartedly.  Being given to conspiratorial imaginations complete with visions of elitist machinations in smoke-filled rooms, I am immediately wary of attempts to encourage the masses to do away with hard copies of books for different reasons.

Y’all can cancel the paddy wagon. Tongue is planted firmly in cheek, but I do consider it unwise to trap our most beloved books in digital formats which are much easier to delete or manipulate. More than that however, is that there are few things at all which spark joy, inspire thought, and disseminate wisdom than great books. I loved the wistfully exciting way Bethany Fiction said it:

Do you know what brings me joy? BOOKS! Adventures to times and places I’ll never visit in the “real” world, deep journeys into hope and heartbreak, thrilling escapades where someone won’t get out alive but I probably will, somewhat-confusing classics I had to read for school that made me a better person even if I didn’t appreciate them at the time…I love them all.

I mean, it’s great to have a few travel mementos that bring a smile every time you look at them, don’t get me wrong, but books contain whole worlds—the lives and journeys of beloved friends we’ve admired and empathized and learned from. The joy quotient is just through the roof. Libraries and bookstores spark so much joy that they might as well be actual infernos of happiness. (Is that a little Fahrenheit 451? Maybe. But you get the idea.) And if your house just happens to resemble a library or bookstore…all the better!

I really appreciate that she invoked Fahrenheit 451.

Writing for The Guardian,  Anakana Scholfield reminds us that not every book we read is going to spark joy, and sometimes this is a very good thing:

The metric of objects only “sparking joy” is deeply problematic when applied to books. The definition of joy (for the many people yelling at me on Twitter, who appear to have Konmari’d their dictionaries) is: “A feeling of great pleasure and happiness, a thing that causes joy, success or satisfaction.” This is a ludicrous suggestion for books. Literature does not exist only to provoke feelings of happiness or to placate us with its pleasure; art should also challenge and perturb us.

We live in a frantic, goal-obsessed, myopic time. Everything undertaken has to have a purpose, outcome or a destination, or it’s invalid. But art doesn’t care a noodle about your Apple watch, your fitness goals, active lifestyle, right swipes, career and surrender on black pudding. Art will be around far longer than Kondo’s books remain in print. Art exists on its own terms and untidy timeline.

As for culling one’s unread books – while that may be essential for reducing fire and tripping hazards, it is certainly not a satisfying engagement with the possibilities of literature. (Unless it’s self-help or golf, in which case, toss it.) Success is, eventually, actually reading your unread books, or at least holding on to them long enough that they have the chance to satisfy, dissatisfy or dement you. Unread books are imagined reading futures, not an indication of failure.

Some of the most rewarding books I own, beginning with my Bible, have grieved, challenged, and stretched me in the most painful yet rewarding ways. Several are worth re-reading again and again, sharing with friends, and passing along to my children and their children.

Despite my predilection for book collection, I am a fervent supporter of local libraries and encourage their patronage for books that we enjoy exploring which are, for whatever reasons, not worth retaining in our personal libraries.

The bigger takeaway from all of this is that each of us, rather than being carried away by the cultural wave of the moment, needs to use wisdom and discretion when it comes to what we own, how we spend our money, and how we decide which experts of the moment are worth listening to.The way I feel about my books is the way my husband feels about his tools. Some of the more obscure specialty tools might only be used  yearly, but when needed, they are worth every penny and whatever bit of space they occupy.

Materialism and collection of worthless clutter is expensive and causes unnecessary stress. That’s something most all agree on. How we approach Marie Kondo’s needed invitation to examine our relationship with our stuff will be as varied as each of our homes and families.

How many books in your library are you willing to part with?

 

 

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books for women, Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, personal, philosophy, Uncategorized

My Final, Personal Conclusions of The Feminine Mystique

This is a more personal exposition, but because my Feminine Mystique posts may have been a jumble of ambiguity to those who wondered what I really think, I want to break it down a bit. I have learned the hard way that nothing goes without saying anymore. Everything which follows is offered from the perspective of my Christian worldview.

The book was pretty much what I expected. Liberals are quite predictable. They identify a thing that rightly needs to be addressed, and then offer a poison pill as the answer to the problem. Having had only secondary knowledge of the book mostly presented from the perspective of devoted feminists or devoted anti-feminists, I wanted to read it for myself. I’ve learned to mistrust the assertions of rabid ideologues.

What Friedan got right: It is silly and anti-Biblical to relegate women to a domain solely related to what they produce sexually. The notion that a woman is designed by God, filled with His Spirit, endowed with gifts, and no one except husband and kids is supposed to reap the benefit is nuts. When you look at Friedan’s source material, it’s easy to see that something had gone terrible wrong. After WWII, women reverted almost to a Disney Princess existence, where all of life -including attending college!- was about snagging a husband. Then upon marriage, nothing mattered but keeping the house perfectly clean and the husband perfectly happy. I’m all for clean houses and happy husbands, but stay with me.

What Friedan got terribly wrong -and feminists today, including Christian feminists get wrong- is this notion that women were unfulfilled at home because they were excluded from the greater world, and that the way to bridge that gap was to leave their homes and go to work. WRONG!

We can be homemakers, full time housewives, and make a difference in the world through the use of our gifts and talents. I will use my life as an example. I have been at home 24 years. When our older girls were in school, I volunteered at their school two mornings a week. I taught several struggling students how to read, offered them love and encouragement, and it only cost me three hours a week. My home was not neglected. This was before we entered the glorious years of homeschooling.

A Christian friend of mine from our neighborhood taught a parenting class in the school based on the book “Boundaries with Kids” and I helped facilitate it. I was on both the PTA and the SCA.  I served in the greeter’s ministry at our church two Sunday mornings per month, and authored and published the monthly newsletter for the helps ministry.

Later, our entire family, led by my husband, served in our city’s men’s homeless shelter twice a month for over 10 years. We cooked for those men, served them, prayed with those men, and our children from earliest ages were right there with us. When our 4th and 5th children arrived, my life slowed down tremendously, but we still worked with the homeless although my role moved farther into administrative stuff through the outreach ministry until the two youngest were tall enough and coordinated enough to fill ice glasses and roll silverware. They were 4 and 6.

During the slower years, I started taking my babies with me to visit a couple of elderly widows in our subdivision, and boy did they love being able to play with my cute little babies!

Now we homeschool, but we also utilize a classical group two days a week. I teach a literature and writing class there in exchange for a tuition break. Again, no career, but I am contributing to a community. Not to worry though. My house is clean and my husband is happy.

Who in their right mind would say I hadn’t contributed to the world outside of my home? Who would claim that my contributions would have been greater if they were offered in the form of a career? Friedan certainly would, but a decent chunk of traditional Christian teachers of women might argue that I dedicated too much energy outside of my home, even though I was doing exactly as my husband directed, and even though my kids and home were well taken care of. Americans, including Christians, have almost completely abandoned the role of women as community builders. What better way to use our gifts?

This is why I get disturbed by and perturbed with people on both sides of this argument. One wants woman to abandon her home and the other wants to imprison her in it. Neither is what God intended.

Currently, I am considering classes to prepare me for what I hope is a book that serves as a much better Christian approach to femininity for a group of women who are by and large, in a very tough spot on these issues. Many of my females relations and friends, even those who love me dearly, view me as either highly privileged or very weak for situating my life so fully dependent on my husband.

You see, we don’t have these “to stay at home or not to stay at home” debates among black women. It is largely accepted that most black women cannot stay home. I want to talk about how we can change that for our daughters’ generation besides simply saying, “Marry a man of a different race!” which is basically the prescription being offered to single, childless black women right now. When I write it, I want it to be readable, hence school.

I thought it was only fair when I reviewed the book to be honest about the fact that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Acknowledging that Betty Friedan raised some very good questions isn’t to say I think her conclusions or prescriptions were correct.

 

Because I don’t.

Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, Links worth a look

Rabbit Trail Through the Deep, Deep Woods: MLK Reflections.

Rabbit trails are categorization of posts which are not directly related to reading or book reviews. I believe the post I am re-posting today is in fact, highly related to education and its evolution in the developed West. However, recognizing the controversial nature of what I am posting, I decided fair warning was in order here.

This post is being ripped and republished in its entirety from Garvey’s Ghost*. It is probably the most concise and accurate representation of the farce that took place during the March for Life over the weekend leading up to the celebration of MLK Day.

Reflections On A King Day

I haven’t written anything for King Day for a long time because generally speaking I have come to the conclusion that the people talking about King and his legacy, particularly the “I Have A Dream” speech, don’t really believe in it. Today’s meditation will be an example of this hypocrisy.

During last week’s March for Life a group of mostly white, Catholic, MAGA hat wearing students took a trip to DC to participate. At the end of the trip, while they were waiting for their school bus they were verbally accosted by some “Black Hebrew Israelites” who among other things called them the result of incest and told one black student to “Get Out”. That was a reference to the flick where white people bid on black people’s bodies in order to live longer (and in some cases fulfill alleged sexual fantasies of white women).

The student made famous by the widely circulated video said that in response they decided to do their school cheers. At that point a group of Native American people who had also been doing some sort of protest decided to move towards the boys while beating their drums. One of them got right into the face of one of the MAGA hat shod student and banged his drum directly in his face. During that time the Native American told the student to “go back to Europe”.

When news of this broke, it was the Catholic school boys who were vilified and lied on as aggressors. Media personalities, left and right piled on about how those boys were the epitome of White Supremacy being inculcated in the next generation. How they had no respect for elders, etc. ad-nausea. As a result the families have been doxxed and received death threats. Even the school buckled and threw their students under the bus rather than at minimum saying that they were investigating and had nothing to say until all the evidence was in.

It is fitting that such an event happened so close to MLK day. Because it highlights the turnabout in racial actions that has happened in America since at least late 2015. Whereas in the past it was black people trying to go about their day without being harassed we are at a point where non-whites can harass whites (particularly males) with near impunity. And of course with these being children, that is the new low. As indicated it’s not just race. Gillette recently released an advertisement that insults men (who presumably are the target customers). The APA released a paper saying that masculinity is toxic. Etcetera. Etcetera. Et…cetera.

Going back to the kids though. Some are thinking that simply being a Trump supporter or wearing a MAGA hat is insulting and indicative of bad character in and of itself. Of course this is no different than saying a black kid in a hoodie must be a criminal but that’s another topic, eh? In the video, those MAGA wearing students showed more character and restraint than the people who were against them. If that hatred of all things Trump makes one fail to notice that, then maybe the real “hater” or hate filled person is looking right at you in the mirror. Take today to think on that.

 

 

*My agreement with a blogger or commentator on one or more issues does not constitute full agreement with that blogger or commentator on all issues. Please do not assume otherwise. Thank You.

Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, joys of reading, Uncategorized

How well do you incorporate the ideas you read?

I am preparing to pre-order Cal Newport’s soon to be released Digital Minimalism. I don’t know for sure that there will be a whole lot inside that I haven’t considered at one point or another, but I like what he has to offer, and I like the idea of all of these considerations packaged into one book.

I’ve run the gamut as it relates to managing technology as a part of my life, going from way too much of it, to fasts of varying lengths, and everything in between. Even having reached what I think is a fairly balanced way of doing things (I’ll get to that in a minute), I still want to read his book.

Reading books which encourage me in the areas where I need or want to maintain improvement is vital for me. I can easily find myself getting overwhelmed or distracted by the stuff of life in ways that tempt me to resort to unhealthy or less productive ways of getting things done. By that I mean running in circles, feeling stressed, and demanding that everyone else join me in my madness so that “we get this stuff done already!” It’s a strategy, and I use that word loosely, which produces the exact opposite of what I want to accomplish.

Inspired in part by Hearth’s recent review of the book Boundaries, I thought a discussion of how books impact any changes we make might be interesting.  I’ll get the ball rolling by recounting a few of the ways books I’ve read have helped me make changes.

  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: I still struggle with this one occasionally, for reasons I explored in my original review.  I do purge quite regularly however, and the post-Christmas purge is underway right now. Usually, our -younger- children balk when I start discarding their things. However, inspired by their older sisters, who have been rather captivated my Marie Kondo’s broadcast version of her books, they’ve caught the purging bug as well. They did this without me standing over them to supervise like a drill sergeant:

konmari1

konmari2

 

  • Deep Work: I just realized that I never reviewed this book. Obviously, I’ve been influenced by the work of Cal Newport, and one of the biggest takeaways from his writing is the damaging effects of social media, particularly via use of smartphones:

“Once your brain has become accustomed to on-demand distraction, Nass discovered, it’s hard to shake the addiction even when you want to concentrate. To put this more concretely: If every moment of potential boredom in your life—say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives—is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where, like the “mental wrecks” in Nass’s research, it’s not ready for deep work—even if you regularly schedule time to practice this concentration.”

The biggest change I made to help improve my attention (scientists suspect humans are down to a highly debatable 8 seconds) and ability to be distracted is removing certain apps and notifications from my phone. After deleting Instagram and WordPress, relegating them to laptop use only (unless I am uploading content), I dramatically reduced my use of technology without having to do anything else. There is still -as always in life- some room for improvement, but I’m satisfied with the changes and the resulting uptick in productive use of my time both in work and at leisure.

  • Keto Clarity: I have never been able -for various reasons- to jump into the ketogenic lifestyle with both feet and never look back, mainly because I love fruit and baking, in that order. In fact if it wasn’t for the horror I felt at the idea of never eating apples in the fall or peaches, pears, or mangoes in the summer, I might have stuck in out. Alas, I am a tropical gal and I love my tropical fruits. I have however, once and for all accepted the reality of ditching grains from my diet. I dropped the ball over the holidays of course. In the two weeks since the new year began, the difference in my skin, eyes, sleep and appetite since cutting grains and processed sugar is -as usual- remarkable. I suppose It Starts With Food should be included here as well.
  • The Power of a Praying Wife: I used this is two ways. The first was referring it to a dear wife who could use some targeted direction in praying for a husband at a difficult time. Doing that was a good refresher for me of topics I could use to pray for my own husband. Given that he is in a transitory period right now, it was a great reminder for me.
  • Life Together and The Benedict Option: These are both books which, in different ways, highlight the importance of engaged, intimate, Christian community and how it enhances our lives. In our individualistic, increasing atomized and dysfunctional culture, these are important principles for Christians to remember.

How does your reading translate into life action or change? Does you reading translate into life action or change?

 

 

 

Christian, Els' Rabbit Trails

As Our Advent Continues…

It’s Christmas Eve and I was contemplating, inspired by the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I thought of this reality:

As annual Christmas celebrations winds down, our season of waiting for that Great Day of His Glorious Appearing continues. Our Advent continues. May these words from Isaiah 9 add meaning to your celebration.

The people who walked in darkness. have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…

Merry Christmas!

Culture, Els' Rabbit Trails, films, humor, just for fun, videos

Hallmark Christmas Cultural Caricature

I probably won’t get back to The Feminine Mystique posts before the New Year begins, but I am reading and taking copious notes. At least I was, but now I need to take an extended detour to finish preparing for the last week of the Christmas season. I want to give the posts the time and thought they deserve so I’m putting them on hold for a bit.

In the meantime, one of our daughters shared this with me this afternoon and it is just too gosh darn funny not to pass on. Before you watch this short video (2:28 total length), a few disclosures:

  • We watch a few Hallmark Christmas movies every year, have watched one so far, and will no doubt watch a couple more. I can still make fun of myself, which I think is a good thing.
  • I know it’s fluff and the corniest version of romance ever created
  • There is one off-color word used in the video.
  • SNL is not usually family friendly fare, but they nail it this time. It’s an excellent caricature.
  • This is hilarious, to me at least. Enjoy!

 

coming from where I'm from, Culture, educational, Els' Rabbit Trails, parenting, philosophy

Corrupting language and education is a political strategy.

Words, their meanings, evolution, and usage are a subject of endless interest to me. Hardly a day passes when I don’t hear or read a word used in ways that are not only incorrect, but defy the actual meaning of the word in insidious ways. The topic emerges with such frequency in conversations in our home that our 12-year-old has taken to making jokes about it at my expense. This is a story worth retelling, so I will.

I mentioned previously that we read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as a part of this semester’s literature course. The kids mostly read the book independently, but at particular intervals, we’d sit together and use the chapters as an opportunity for them to listen to me read, with appropriate intonations and emphasis so that they could fully appreciate the story and language. While I read, they also read long in their personal copies of the book. Yes, we procure three copies of every book their literature teacher assigns them.

One of the things it is important to do while studying classic books is guard against those which are slightly abridged or in which the language has been tweaked to be easier on the modern ear. I am very careful of that, and as I read a particular passage where Mark Twain referred to females as a sex, our 12-year-old stopped me and said, “Wait. My book says gender”. When I asked her to read the passage for me from her version, she smiled and said, “Nah, it says ‘sex’, I was just messing with you.” Touché, young one.

This changing of language, and the redefining of words in ways that our grandparents wouldn’t recognize is common, normal and mostly seen as harmless. For most of my life, I thought so too. That was before I came to realize that the evolution of language has not only accelerated, but has rapidly watered down the desire to think critically rather than simply emoting. Because I am short on time and also desire to leave openings for you all to fill any gaping holes in my argument, here are just a few examples of linguistic evolution that are not only frequent in occurrence but also shockingly unquestioned, even among the sharpest tools in the shed.

  • Sex, which is most accurately and classically defined as one of the two biological classifications assigned to male and female creatures, has been shifted to reference coitus or sexual intercourse and it has been replaced by the word gender, which changes male and female from biological realities to subjective identifications. Even I have to make a conscious effort to avoid the ambiguous gender when I really mean sex.
  • A matriarch is a mother who is the head of her family, household or tribe, and a patriarch is a father who is the head of his family, household, or tribe, but patriarchy is suddenly “the patriarchy, defined as a system of society or government in which men hold the power and women are abused and excluded from power. Hmmm.
  • Health insurance, rather than understood as a type of insurance coverage which  covers medical and surgical expenses for a policy holder, has now been shifted and  defined as health care, which is more accurately and classically understood to mean doing the things which maintain and improve one’s physical and mental health. Ergo, you can be perfectly healthy, doing healthful things, but without health insurance, there is no health care*. Marginalized groups have higher percentages of members without “health care”. So we should look at what it means to be marginalized.
  •  Things and people which are marginalized are treated as insignificant or peripheral, and forgotten or abused as a result. At least, that’s the correct and accurate definition of marginalize. Today however, if you are a part of a minority group, you are hereby and forever labeled as marginalized because everyone is permanently slotted into the caste to which they belonged in 1950 America. This satisfies agendas of the current power brokers in education establishments and media. Even if you enjoy whole months of designated to your celebration, and every conceivable legislative policy is amended for your protection, you must be perpetually protected and elevated in status -by force if necessary. Marginalization has its privileges. The greater the number of marginalized groups you belong to, the more you need to be protected because….
  • Intersectionality. This one is so new my browser put the squiggly red line under it, even though it is ubiquitous in academia and grievance industry propaganda. I know how it works in practice, but I’m still working out the intricacies of its use so I’ll just offer the official definition. My dictionary defines intersectionality as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” Standard application of intersectionality means that my combination of race, sex, and class, categorizes me as part of a marginalized group with no privileges at all (using the class I was born in rather than the class my zip code and husband’s career has placed us in). There’s even a rubric to tell me how marginalized I am!  I’m in a bad way, let me tell you! It sounds ridiculous, but consider that this is how the majority of Americans are being educated. Which brings me to my last word for today.
  • Education, which long, long ago was defined as an enterprise of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, form the manners and habits, and fit youths for usefulness in their future stations has now been reduced to mean to go to school*.  School has become a convenient place to check off countless arbitrary boxes for the purpose of securing corporate employment. Fitness for future stations such as citizen, volunteer, spouse, parent, mentor, clergy or even logical thinker, is no longer included in our definition of education although these are all future stations to which most people aspire. That one can attend school for a full 17 years and yet be uneducated in ways that truly matter hardly occurs to anyone before the age of 30, when the extent our ignorance rushes in like a flood.

Just a few thoughts on linguistic evolution and why we must be ever so careful of how we educate our children. The transitions of today have profound implications on not only the people they become, but the world they have to live in.

* I realize that health insurance and health care are considered strongly correlated, as are schooling and education. Rather than flippantly dismiss that with “correlation does not equal causation”, I’ll just note that often our definitions of “healthy” and “educated” are the real issues.