Dearest semi-material worldites, forgive me.

I know it’s been unspeakably long since my last post, and in the world of blog-posts, unspeakably long usually corresponds with a blog’s demise. Rest assured, I am alive and present – dealing with residual strep throat, being a mom, riding my bike, baking bread, applying for new jobs, mourning the loss of my best canine-girl, and embracing and breathing in this coy latecomer of a Toronto summer. The actual, material world has been mostly preoccupying my mind and body over the past few months, and I like it. Writing about chairs or decluttering just doesn’t compare.

In fact, interacting with this thing called the internet just doesn’t compare to the glamour and the drama, the banalities and the bullshit that make up real life. Lately, I’ve come to realize that my relationship with the internet – surfing and reading others’ personal blogs about chairs and decluttering, sure, but also meatier stuff – has felt just too much like time wasted watching TV. I haven’t had a TV for years, but the realization that the internet had taken the place of TV-watching in my life upset me.

Now here’s where I get all “I remember the olden days” on you: I’m old enough to remember adult life pre-internet and cellphone (a time, by the way, when I also had no TV). It went a little something like this.

  • I went out regularly without a 3G network connection or a cellphone. I would spend my days doing things: meeting friends at pre-planned times, or dropping in at their houses; grocery shopping; going to classes; having my teeth cleaned; working at my job; taking care of other people’s children; etc. When I returned home at the end of the day, I would check my answering machine for messages. Some days there would be several messages; other days, none. I would call my friends and family from home to catch up, if I felt like it. Sometimes they weren’t home, either.
  • I did not, and never considered, broadcasting to my friends, acquaintances, and co-workers the following information: a) what I was going to make for dinner, b) what I thought of today’s weather, c) my fervent love of Fellini films, or d) 106 photos of that overexposed, squinty afternoon at the zoo with some friends last weekend. That stuff was for those evening phone-chats – and even then, there was a tacit acknowledgement that some information might not actually be worth sharing.
  • I heard about new and interesting places to go through friends. Then I would look up their address and phone number in the phone book (or call Information to get it) and go. In fact, I heard about most things – bands, clubs, stores, good places to camp, political events, etc. – through family, friends, the newspaper, radio, and wandering around.
  • I might have a brief snatch of a song stuck in my head for days, and never be able to figure out who wrote or performed it. NEVER.

And on and on. If you’re old enough to have lived through the ’90s as an adult/young adult, you’re old enough to remember the world pre-internet. Somehow, we all got by without it: we filled our senses with information, wrote about the minutiae and heartbreaks of our daily lives in these things called “journals,” sat in parks reading books made of paper, had friendships, breakups, sex, frijoles, political awareness, employment, family, travel adventures and inspiration. We “liked” things without having to tell people we did so. We managed to construct meaningful lives for ourselves from the cobbled-together foundation of small(er) communities, random and planned encounters, and solitary moments.

I miss it, a little.

If someone had told me 20 years ago that I’d be staring at a computer screen for a minimum of 6 hours a day, I would have laughed in their faces. (Yes, because I was 18, and I Knew Better.) So my absence now is purposeful: when I realized that all this TV-watching/Internet surfing/blog-writing was taking me away from I like to think of as my real life, I took a large step away. While I appreciate that any knowledge-itch can be scratched in a millisecond with any one of several useful computing devices, and that the world is much more oystery online, most of the time these days, spending time on the interwebs just amounts to noise for me. (Karol Gajda’s piece on Signal Vs. Noise is right on the money.)

I guess I’m saying if you need me, I’ll at the park.

Posted in What is the Semi-Material World, anyway? | 1 Comment

Stay tuned…

Semi-Material World is on hiatus this week. Come back soon, ya hear? 



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Project 333, Part 3 (The Final Chapter)

Well, I made it. 3 months, 33 items of clothing.

Blue jeans/black jeans/green jeans/tan cords/black pants/striped long sleeved shirt/striped t-shirt/black long sleeved shirt/leopard print t-shirt/teal tank top/black pullover sweater/black pullover sweater/black cardigan sweater/teal sweater/grey sweatshirt/black skirt/black skirt/black leather skirt/green skirt/black boots/winter boots/brown boots/ankle boots/parka/grey wool coat/furry hat/scarf/gloves/blue dress/sweater dress/fancyish dress/black bag/gold hoop earrings.

OK, I may be exaggerating. I may have cheated…a little.

OK, fine. I totally cheated. I cheated on my perfect 33-item capsule wardrobe – the reliable, flattering, well-cut standbys that took me from business trips to book launches to the park through the 3 most frigid months of the winter – with these hussies: a couple of fancier dresses, some dangly beaded earrings, various gold necklaces (number unknown), a very large fur hat, a Russian wool scarf festooned with roses, red Newfoundland thrummed mittens, and a crazy ’70s batwing sweatshirt I love but for some reason thought I could make it through winter without wearing.

So….Project 40(ish). Or 45. Whatever. Who’s counting?

The bottom line: I was very successful in my quest to simplify my wardrobe and minimize my fashion-angst. I could get dressed on a work-morning in full zombie/snooze mode, it was so painless. My internal monologue went something like this:

Must. Get. Dressed (reaches into drawer)…something clean? (grabs closest shirt)…OK, find tights….(slips on black tights, one of three identical pairs)… pants/skirt? OK, that black (insert item here) is also clean (pulled onto lower half of body). Am I dressed? I appear to be dressed! Aaaaaah.

So that part was great.

I also saved a bunch of money. I escaped the pull of the January sale, though I recently bought 3 things  – after deeply contemplating the possibility of a potential spring-P333 venture.

Sadly, I was less successful at keeping myself entertained and looking like I normally do. I mean, look at my 33 item list above. That’s a lot of black. Also a lot of solid colours (for me, anyway). Nothing against the Perfect Capsule Wardrobe, but is it possible to look more individual and unique, more like one’s most fabulous sartorial self, during this process? Janet at The Gardener’s Cottage is a huge inspiration to me in the simplified-style department. She manages to look utterly individual and stylish while dressing out of a tiny and seemingly streamlined closet. My fantasy is a small, perfect wardrobe composed of only versatile things I want to wear every day – just, like, with sequins, fedoras and gold chains, to keep things interesting.

Bottom line #2: I’m still drawn to the idea of owning and wearing fewer items of clothing, but I need to work out which items will make me feel like a fabulous version of myself while doing it. You know, more Barbarella, less Banana Republic.

What do you think, friends? Have you figured out a way to look ridiculously awesome while keeping your closet uncluttered? I’m planning my P333 spring leap…

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An Embarrassment of Riches: The Moleskine

(An Embarrassment of Riches is a new series exploring select consumer goods that, for one reason or another, annoy the crap out of me.)

OK, I have to know: can someone tell me what’s so freaking fantastic about Moleskine notebooks? I first noticed their mention on Everett Bogue’s now infamous Far Beyond the Stars blog; my first thought was that it was hilarious that a self-proclaimed “epic” minimalist cared so much about his notebook brand. (My second thought was that E. Bogue sounded like a windbag/asshat with a huge ego and possibly a personality disorder, but that’s a discussion we don’t need to have here, as it’s been had elsewhere several times over.)

Anyway, I first noticed the Minimalist Moleskine Obsession (MMO?) in earlyish 2010, when I was greedily sucking up as much internet minimalism as I could. And – you know how these things go – once I’d noticed the MMO in a couple of places, it started popping up everywhere. Tammy Strobel‘s Rowdy Kittens. Nina Yau‘s Castles in the Air. Even the uber-minimal Leo Babauta of Zen Habits went on and on about how great Moleskines are. It was as if Moleskine notebooks were the only acceptable tools that Serious Minimalists could use to pare down their possessions to less than 76 items, lose 20 pounds, pay off their debts in one year or less, start an A-list blog, and find inner peace!

On some blogs, I noticed that the word Moleskine was even being used in place of the generic term for notebook. Example: “I take my Moleskine everywhere.” (In my mind, this is like calling all tissue Kleenex or all acetaminophine Tylenol…creepy and insidious.) I guess I should give credit to Moleskine for effectively engineering such strong brand loyalty and recognition.

So. What do Moleskines have that other notebooks do not? Are they made of magic?

From the Moleskine website:

“Moleskine® was created as a brand in 1997, bringing back to life the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, and Bruce Chatwin. A trusted and handy travel companion, “the nameless black notebook” held invaluable sketches, notes, stories, and ideas that would one day become famous paintings or the pages of beloved books.

Today, the name Moleskine encompasses a family of nomadic objects: notebooks, diaries, journals, bags, writing instruments and reading accessories, dedicated to our mobile identity. Indispensable companions to the creative professions and the imagination of our times: they are intimately tied to the digital world.”

Wait. A “reading accessory” is a nomadic object? What is a nomadic object? I speculate that Moleskine (®) doesn’t want you to think too deeply about that. I think you’re supposed to equate these so-called nomadic objects with being a more creative, free, artistic, unconventional, dominant paradigm-rejecting person.

Here’s what I think about Moleskine notebooks: I think they are pretty, nicely designed, and very, very overpriced. And like many other expensive, chic consumer goods, the Moleskine appeals to its buyer solely on the basis of its cool factor. It’s a notebook, folks. It’s got a cover, with paper inside. Actually, it’s not even made of recycled paper – a big strike in my book (no pun intended).

As Public Enemy says: don’t believe the hype.

PS: While we’re on the topic of notebooks, I’d like to plug the Ecosystem. Attractive, Moleskine-like in weight and heft, good variety of styles for writing and drawing, manufactured in the US from 100% post-consumer recycled paper. What’s not to love?

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The Surefire Way to Remember You Have Enough

Here it is:

Think of Japan.

That’s it. Don’t buy new shoes. Don’t house-hunt. Don’t go to the gym. Don’t try to lose 10 pounds. Don’t surf the net for cheap plane tickets. Don’t fantasize about how great your life would be if you could just stop working for The Man. Don’t worry about how your second junk drawer needs de-cluttering, or how your kid has too many toys.

Don’t move.

You have a computer, and you’re online whenever you please. You’re dressed, and you have more clothes in your closet for tomorrow. You have clean water to drink, hot water to bathe in, access to cheap food, and freedom to move around a bit. You probably have access to an effective mode of transportation, your kids are probably in school getting a halfway-decent education, and you love and are loved in return.

It’s nearly impossible to stayed mired in the tiny dramas and obsessions of our own abundant lives when we are exposed to the undeniable horrors of other human beings’ suffering and loss.

Isn’t our journey into a simpler and more minimalist lifestyle and mind-state truly contingent on the fact that we actually do have everything we need?

Today, don’t think about what you don’t want to have, be it a garage full of junk or mortgage debt. Think about how much you do have, and send as much as you can spare to the tragedy-stricken people of Japan.

Photo: Kyodo/Associated Press

Posted in Morbid Meanderings, What is the Semi-Material World, anyway? | 2 Comments

Object Love: Leather Club Chair

When I was 29, I was living in a rundown Victorian rental house with two friends, dating a 24 year old drummer (yeah, yeah – hindsight is 20/20), and thinking of quitting my job teaching high school English and Drama. I spent a lot of time biking around the city with my off-leash Border Collie/mutt galloping along beside me, trying to write a novel, and drinking scotch in dark divey bars. It was, in short, a free, unfocused, fuzzy period of my life, and very fun (if I recall) – but by the time my 30th birthday rolled around, I was feeling – how you say? – a little in need of some change. And despite my crappy futon and thrift shop-outfitted house, I got it into my head that I required something sophisticated and mature to furnish my new fantasy life as a sophisticated, mature 30-year-old.

Enter the Leather Club Chair (LCC).

I’d seen the LCC at the furniture store a couple of blocks from my house that winter, glistening enticingly in the window with its dark leather sheen and its solid, perfect proportions. I’d even gone so far as to go in and inquire about the price (a totally exorbitant $850, impossible at the time).

After several weeks obsessing about the chair, lusting after the chair, sketching the chair, dreaming about the chair and “accidentally” walking past the store and sitting in the chair, my parents finally took pity on me and offered to split the cost for my birthday.

It’s now been 9 years since the club chair came into my life, and it’s not going anywhere. I use it every day. The hubbo does, too. My kid uses it as a boat, a car, and a place to curl up and read with me. It’s got a few dog-scratches, yes, from the days when Sadie still jumped up on things (she’s 14 and sticks to the floor these days), and the seat cushion is definitely getting a little cracked and worn – but, like good scotch, it gets better with time.

Sophisticated AND useful, right? (Hole in stocking toe courtesy of Project 333 shopping hiatus.)

If I suddenly woke up one day with a burning desire to get rid of all my furniture, I would probably still keep my leather club chair. My attachment is mostly rational (it will last forever, it’s classic, it gets better with time), but tinged with the irrational (I’m an adult with good taste and means! Club chairs are so chic! The chair brings me good luck!).

Wait – luck?

After the LCC came into my life, things started happening. I quit my teaching job and started my own small business, moved out of the decaying Victorian I’d been complaining about for almost 5 years, and ended it with the drummer. Then I got two literary grants for works in progress. Shortly thereafter, I started dating the man who would become my husband.

Who says a piece of furniture can’t be good luck?

Posted in Object Love | 2 Comments

Project 333, Part Two (aka Taking It On The Road)

Well hello there, Semi-Material Worlders! I’m back from the land of antibiotics and stuffed nose, neti pot rinsing and wan complexion and bed. I got back on Friday, in fact, from my first business trip in more than two years. (Forty-eight hours in Ottawa, to be exact – and Ottawa in February ain’t pretty.) I’ve managed to avoid work travel for the past three years, and I really couldn’t get out of it – so off I went.

As I pulled my little rollie-suitcase-thing out from under the stairs last Wednesday, I had a revelation: this would be a real opportunity to practice my skills as a Project 333-driven, super-calm minimalist packing ninja. I would bring only what I absolutely required for two full days away from home – no more, no less. I needed to look professional for two full working days; go for a run at some point; take two plane trips; and go to my friends’ place for dinner. So what to pack?

I’m a terrible packer. Nina Yau and Francine Jay I ain’t. I grossly overestimate what I’ll need, and often convince myself that packing knee-high boots AND ankle boots AND heels for a 5-day vacation is totally necessary for fashionable fun and frolic. I bring full-sized bottles of liquid products, because I forget that I can’t, which makes bag(s) heavy, cumbersome, and all-around annoying – and they need to be checked. (Remind me to tell you about the time my best friend and I travelled to New York City to perform with two hula hoops and a bag full of glitter and tutus.) Anyway, fueled by my recent Project 333 freedom, I knew that this time was going to be different.

I open my dresser drawer and inspected its contents, feeling the start of my usual packing anxiety kicking in. Don’t think too hard, I commanded myself. You are a minimalist packing ninja.

Hmmm. I shoved a black skirt, a teal tank top, and a black wool cardigan into my little suitcase. All part of my usual Project 333 work-roster, no big deal. Deep breath. OK, what else? A pair of black tights, rolled into a tight ball. A black print dress. I can wear the dress on Friday at the conference with the cardigan. OK. So far, so good. Jeans? Yes, jeans for the plane with my grey sweatshirt today. But I don’t like wearing plane clothes twice! Planes make everything so grubby. Ech. I need more plane clothes for the return trip. Right. A pair of black leggings and a leopard-print t-shirt –  into the suitcase they went. I would wear my black knee-high boots with everything and my parka, scarf and gloves for the crappy weather. My running gear, rolled up – and I was done. Whew. Could it be that easy? I finished the task by stuffing a small cosmetic case with eyeliner, mascara, lip balm, deoderant, and two small containers of shampoo and conditioner. I sighed with satisfaction. Packing had taken me less than 5 minutes, and I had everything I need.

Except, as I discovered when I went to dress on Thursday morning, this minimalist packing ninja had forgotten to pack a couple of key items.

Like, for example, a change of underwear.*

But hadn’t I packed perfectly and precisely? I didn’t fret about which clothes to bring! I was well-dressed and light in spirit! My days of packing-woe were supposed to be behind me! 

Damn. Damn. Damn.

Yes, well. You haven’t had an anxious morning until you stand shivering in your beige hotel bathroom, frantically blow-drying your only pair of underwear on High as the clock ticks towards your 9am meeting.

‘Nuff said.

*And OK, also extra socks, facial cleanser, pajamas, and moisturizer. Yep.

Posted in Fashion | 2 Comments