Clutter and Memories

Inspired by Erin of Unclutterer, I want to write about preserving memories versus decluttering.

I would wager that in many people’s spaces, memory preservation makes up the majority of infrequently-used things. Photo albums, old pieces of writing, or as my mom called them, “scrapbook material”. Not only is it infrequently used, but it also has some of the strongest sentimental attachment of any type of object. That makes it even more confusing to consider when you’re Getting Rid of Stuff.

In my recent zealous decluttering, I got rid of a whole file cabinet full of old papers dating all the way back to kindergarten. The tragedy of lost memories, you might think! But the pieces of paper are not the memories; those are in your head. If it’s photos you’re talking about, you can digitize the important ones, then get rid of the hard copies. If it’s dusty old papers, ask why you’re hanging onto them anyway. Will anyone read them in the future, or will they just be recycled at some point? The physical and mental space taken up by all those scraps outweighed for me the value of looking at them at some point in the future.

Furthermore, there is something powerful to be said for living in the present, and shrugging off the restraints of the past. You don’t have to be escaping a painful personal history to find value in distancing yourself from reminders of who you were in the past. Diminishing the influence of the past allows you to focus on the present and the future, which lends itself to mindfulness and hope.

So, while there are certain things it is important to hold on to (especially significant items), keeping reams of documentation of your past self can do more harm than good.

What we have

I would like to feel thankful more often. I think thankfulness is a quick route to happiness (because if you’re truly thankful, how can you avoid feeling happy?), and thus I really enjoyed seeing this quote on The Happiness Project:

“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; but remember that what you now have was once among the things only hoped for.”

May we all remember that today.

Oh Bernie.

The big news story for the day is of course Bernie Madoff’s trial. I think the anger and vitriol directed at him by his victims is somewhat grotesque. They’re perfectly justified in being upset, of course he deserves the punishment he’s going to get, but the victims should really direct their ire at themselves. It is just plain stupid investing to neglect diversification, no matter how seemingly secure and lucrative. And really, these people made millions of dollars somehow. You would think they would know what to do with it. While it’s sure to be a controversial assertion, I would even suggest that perhaps the victims even deserved to lose their money.

Madoff deserves to go to jail. He blatantly and knowingly stole millions of dollars. But the fact that he acknowledged his crime during testimony today, acknowledged his wrongdoing and laid the truth bare before the agents of justice, that made me respect him a little bit more. He expressed remorse, in what seemed to me to be quite honest language. He gave the reason for his monster Ponzi scheme as a driving desire to meet the expectations of his investors. Is that not something we can all understand? A desire to meet the expectations of those who put trust in us? I feel slightly sorry for him. And yet he deserves the punishment he will get, there is no question.

I don’t really have a point, except that we should avoid thoughtlessly assimillating the victims’ anger, and exercise compassion for all parties involved. Criminals are people too.

Conventional Wisdom and Obama

Inspired by this post by Paul Krugman about the economic platitudes in Obama’s inaugural address, I had a thought about conventional wisdom.

Krugman suggests that waiting for conventional wisdom (it’s assumed by wonky types that that refers specifically to the DC political establishment & the media) to arrive at the truth is a recipe for ineffective government. I agree. Instead, what should be done is to mold the conventional wisdom toward where one wants it to be. I think the political right has been working toward this goal for years now, training young conservatives to be “pundits”, appearing on talk shows all over the media spectrum in order to forward their worldview more than anyone else, and thus have the largest influence on conventional wisdom.

I think the Obama administration can counter this by utilizing the ideal of transparency to send lots of White House spokespeople out to make efforts. The problem with that, though, is the seeming independence of conservative pundits, compared to the obvious and unavoidable spokesmanship of the White House representatives. Hmm.

Regardless, the main point still stands. Obama cannot hope to succeed in his grand necessities while following conventional wisdom. He must lead the conventional wisdom.

Barack Obama’s inauguration

Barack Obama’s inauguration as our next president is a cause for great celebration. Three decades of conservative dominance, not to mention eight years of corruption and abuse of power, have finally been voted out by the American people. Our first black president will be the most popular president to enter office in the history of our country.

But, as Obama reminds us, there is a vast amount of work to do, an enormous weight of problems to solve. He will get panicked advice from all quarters about economic, energy, and foreign policy issues. Even though I believe Obama himself is a genuinely pragmatic progressive, we have to raise our own voices to make sure that the most repeated, loudest advice he receives points him toward effective, progressive solutions to our country’s problems, rather than the same overcautious corporate payoffs the political establishment is so fond of.

This is no time for relinquishing our political agency. Tuesday, January 20th is a day for celebration. Wednesday, January 21st, is the beginning of a new era, one in which we must help our beloved new president guide this teetering country toward stability. In the words of Barack Obama himself: we know the battle ahead will be long, but remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can withstand the power of millions of voices calling for change.

Vincent Ludwig and Khan.

Ricardo Montalban died this morning. He was 88. Most people knew him from Fantasy Island or The Wrath of Khan, and I never saw the former and enjoyed the latter, but I really knew him for Leslie Nielsen’s The Naked Gun, which I watched over and over again when I was in high school (“I think anyone…can be anassasseen”). Fantastic slapstic and mildly absurdist humor. And OJ Simpson’s in it to boot. Good stuff.

Anyway he’s dead. There’s an obit in the New York Times today for him. One line bothers me, though; a quote from his friend and publicist David Brokaw:

the actor was ”exactly how you’d imagine him to be” off camera. ”What you saw on the screen and on television and on talk shows, this very courtly, modest, dignified individual, that’s exactly who he was,”

I think that sorta sucks. I mean, yay for being courtly and modest and dignified, all fantastic qualities, but really? He was exactly who you’d imagine him to be? I much prefer regular surprises when I’m finding out who a person is, rather than for them to be exactly how I’d expect. Much more interesting that way.

Anyway, it’s sad when people die, moreso when you have some emotional connection to them or their works. I accept death’s inevitability more than most people, and I had some mild emotional connection to some of Montalban’s work. Hope his kith and kin are managing as well as they can.