January 28, 2006

I've been thinking about my keys lately. Get this. A month ago I owned three cars, each having their own key. 1989 Accord. 1990 Civic. 1985 Cabriolet. Thhrrreeee cars. The thing is, I got sick to my stomach when I owned two cars. The truth is, the multi-car insurance does nothing for me. Neither does finding a parking space when you don't have one. And paying $2.65 for gas doesn't light my fire either. Then, only a few weeks ago, I owned zero cars. Suffice to say, my keychain felt lighter. And it was at this point that I really started thinking about my keys. The more I thought about them, the more they made sense of my life in LA.

The small one (the one that looks like it was taken from the Chronicles of Narnia set) is my mailbox key. Here's the thing: I've never had a mailbox key. The only time you need a mailbox key is when there's potential for theft. And apparently, there's theft possibilities in apartment buildings. I'm not exactly sure why though. I guess it's more tempting to steal mail when the mailbox is an inch away rather than a yard over. But, believe it or not, we chose to live in the dangerous theft-potential apartments. :) I should tell you the middle bronze key fits in here nicely too. Our 270 square feet (minus bed, couch, bikes, desk, chairs and you're left with around 200 sq. feet) only requires one key. The key leads to the apartment. The apartment leads to the city. And this is exactly where we belong.

The small black key fits nicely into a lock that I bought for my bike (another dangerous thing about urban dwelling is needing a lock for your bike). I spend a handful of minutes every week on my Trek 800 bike. Last week I added 13.2 miles to the wear on the tires. This week I'll top out around 20 miles. I can go everywhere -- friends, grocery, work, restaurant, bar, bank, theatres, and the casual thrift store. I can't imagine life without a bike. Actually, I can't imagine having to get in the car to go do everything. That's why I'm proud of my little black key. It represents the city, exercise and savings at the pump.

Finally, you'll notice a rather large key in the background. It's in the back because I like to think it's the least used key. It powers on our Volkswagon Golf, which we purchased a few weeks ago to use for Kari's shrinking commute. It's the first car I've owned with less than 100,000 miles. I'm not sure this key fits as nicely into my key metaphor, but I thought you'd like to know that we're back to one car again.

Cheers to your keys, my keys and to the janitor who's ability to memorize his keys is staggering.

January 11, 2006

I'm rich. And yes, I'm talking about material posessions and bank accounts. But here's the catch: I desire simplicity, generosity and culture jamming (see previous post).

On the deeper levels...
I know I'm rich because of the period in history in which I reside. Call it luck, fortune or a blessing, there's no doubt that I benefit from living in the 21st century. I should probably add that I live in America, where war, famine and "survival living" only exist on street level. I should also add that I'm in the middle class, and I come from a middle class family where education and travel were taught and practiced. I should add too that I'm white and the only prejudice and racism I've experienced is...well, I haven't. So, really, my fortune of living in this moment of time has more to do with my parents than it does with living in 2006. The majority world wouldn't call themselves so fortunate.

On the practical levels...
*I live inside an apartment. Our 270 square feet studio is more than enough space for sleeping, cooking and working. I find it hard to believe I have a home to come back to after being outside. If it's raining, it's not a big deal. If I get dirty, I can take a shower. If I'm tired, I can go to bed without an excess of noise and polution.

**I sleep on a matress. I should add that we spent a whopping $100 for this thing to rest out heads on. I'm finding it remarkable that I don't have to sleep on the ground, or outside. I actually can sleep in a bed, equipped with pillows and blankets (I even have spare blankets in case it gets really cold). And I should add here that my enormous apartment is big enough for other pieces of furniture. When I eat, I sit at a table. When I'm reading a book, I sit on a couch. When I get dressed in the morning, I get my clothes out of a dresser.

***I eat whenever I please. Not only can I eat soup and drink water every day, I can go out to a restaurant and order food and a beer that was imported from another country. If I'm hungry, I don't wait to eat. Instead, I get up off the couch, walk eight steps to my kitchen, open a fridge (which even keeps my food cold!) and get something to fill my empty stomach. I never go hungry for more than an hour.

****I have a standard mode of transportation. Our 1985 Volkswagon allows me the freedom to go anywhere, anytime. I am free to get a job wherever I please. I can visit people. It even allows me to "get away" for a weekend in the moutains. Even that I could afford this $500 luxury is beyond me. And get this: Because I live in the city and rarely use a vehicle, I have a bike to get me around when I don't feel like walking.

*****I have an abundance of media. I have at least fifty books on my shelf that I've read and decided to keep for re-reading purposes. Books that aid my growth, make me a better person. I have a handful of DVD's that do the same thing. I have a computer that connects me to friends and family. Does it matter that, for the first time in history, I live more than five miles from my family? No, because I have a cell phone and a computer that allows me to talk, write and even chat to them whenever I please.

******I travel. After twenty-six year on earth, I've nearly matched my age to how many countries I've visited. I'm blown away by this. Not only can I get in a car and drive myself to a Baseball game 10 miles away, I can drive myself to an airport and fly across the country to see another game. If I want to visit Guatemala over Easter, I go on my computer, in my house, and book a reservation using a credit card that got me the ticket in the first place. And does it matter that, for the first time in history, I didn't grow up in the same town/village/neighborhood as my spouse? No, because I had a car and traveled to a private school where I could meet an entire new group of women from around the world who also had the ability to travel to get an education. It's absolutely astonishing when I really think about it.

*******I have more money than I need. Not only is money intricately connected to my home, furniture, food, car, media and my ability to travel - I have a savings account with extra money that's available whenever I might need it. Every year we exceed our annual cost of living. Whether it was $10,000 in Indiana or $24,000 in Los Angeles, we always have more than we need.

So my question is, now what? How can I practice greater simplicity when I have more than I need? How I can I be a culture jammer when I look so much like the culture? How can I be a voice of dissent in matters of over-consumption when I'm a consumer? Am I already doing enough or is there more to be done? These questions, along side many others, are what I'm dwelling on these days as I think about simplicity, generosity, and what it means to be fully alive in 2006, no today. Any thoughts?

January 6, 2006

Let me introduce you to Adbusters founder, Kalle Lasn. Done. Now let me introduce you to his book, Culture Jam. So far, so interesting. He speaks of America as not a diverse country but a powerful brand that is causing a global pandemic and even manipulating us into consumer obsessers who live "designer" lives. His bottom line? Our culture is headed in the wrong direction and he wants to create a movement of people who become "culture jammers." People who are dedicated to the "uncooling of America." I love that idea. He proposes a way out by uncooling consumer items, demarketing fashions and celebrities and by breaking the "media trance" of our TV-addicted age. He writes, "Our mass media dispense a kind of Huxleyan 'soma.' The most powerful narcotic in the world is the promise of belonging. And belonging is best achieved by conforming to the prescriptions of America. In this way a perverted sense of cool takes hold of the imaginations of our children. And thus a heavily manipulative corporate ethos drives our culture. Cool is indispenable--and readily, endlessly dispensed. You can get it on every corner (for the right price), though it's highly addictive and its effects are short-lived. If you're here for cool today, you'll almost certainly be back for more tomorrow."

Similar ideas and thoughts have invaded my mind over the last couple of years as I've traveled, been endlessly sickened by American "cool" and felt the pressure of acquiring certain consumer goods. And up to this point, these endless thoughts have been laying dormant in frustration. My questions began multiplying.

Does anyone else think our culture is sliding into a giant pit? How many parts of my day are involved with a corporation? What influences my decision to buy certain goods? Have I been branded myself? Is my personality and core values more a reflection of the person I was created to be or a culture obsessed with cool?

Can anyone else relate? In the middle, I think this book will touch emotions that need to be awakened by practical ideas. For too long, I have let my frustrations turn to cynicism, which of course, leads to indifference. I hope this doesn't last. So cheers to being a culture jammer in 2006. Anyone care to join?

January 1, 2006

[i rewrote this post after being utterly disapointed with the original version which, i might add, was written at five in the morning. as i rewrote, may you reread. insert smile]

After 26 years of life and experiencing consistent failure, I have serious reservations about making any sort of "goals list" as we enter 2006. I even sometimes wonder if the goals I'm writing down are actually a prophetic recording of what I won't do in a year. Often, the annual improvements in my life come unexpectedly. But despite recent goal floundering, I have lots of areas in my life where I look to be more disciplined, more refined, and more in tune with reality.

The good news is after 26 years of life, I'm finally learning that failure and shortcomings are a serious part of life. This experience only teaches me to dream more simply with an acquired sense of realism. So as long as the dreams, disciplines and areas of refinement are shouting from the inside, I'll keep writing them out in pencil, even if some goals are sooner or later erased or forgotten about.

So, in kind regards to Mr. Maxwell (John, I always think of you this time of year when I'm writing out my goals), here are some thoughts I'm having about 2006.

**I hope to see my longing for community be more fully realized this year.We made plenty of choices last year that have put us in position to finally realize our dream of doing life with our friends. We also don't plan on moving in 2006, something that has only happened in one year out of my last ten. And it seems that wherever you find deep community taking place, you find people who have been residing in one spot for some time. So I think we're in the right place, now it's time to learn the art of community. I'm finding that community at it's purest doesn't come easily. Instead it means making deliberate choices about the street you live on, the job you take and your ability to defy laziness. I sometimes wonder if television is communities greatest enemy. This year I commit again to living out true community and inviting others to share in it. There is nothing that is more deep in my guts than living this out more fully in 2006.

**I want to keep learning what it means to live in the city.I'm finding that urban dwelling is more than living near tall buildings and lots of people. It means making calculated choices involving transportation, neighbors, money, local businesses and politics. It requres a certain level of involvement and participation. I'm learning that my desire to live in the now means urban dwelling at the purest levels.

**I want to decrease in consumerism and increase in simplicity.Quite remarkably, amid all the change that has taken place over the last 24 months, the one thing that hasn't changed is my deep desire to be counter-cultural when it comes to money and my spending/saving/giving habits. More and more, I want my resources to be aligned with bringing heaven to earth. I'd like my levels of generosity to increase, even as our income increases. And with deep conviction, I don't want my life to revolve around what I have or what I want to have. I don't want to be the kind of person whose worth and confidence is tied up in having the right car, the hippest clothing or the latest gadget. So in 2006, I choose to be a voice of dissent in matters of consumerism...and I choose to rebel against my own tendencies toward upgrading.

**I want to read a broader spectrum of materials.Over the last ten years, I've read as many Christian books as anyone. And while my reading will involve Christian pieces this year, I want to broaden my reading to include issues of culture, social justice and travel. Books have always had a profound influence on my life and writing and I don't intend this year to be any different. I received four books under the tree and I'm eager to open them up:

  • Bait and Switch - Barbara Ehrenreich

  • The Working Poor - David K. Shipler

  • Culture Jam - Kalle Lasn

  • The Overworked American - Juliet B. Schor

    **I want to finish a major writing project this year.I'm currently working on a manuscript that centers around ideas of faith, evangelicalism and what it's like to feel "left behind." I'd like to think it's style is Douglas Coupland-ish. Chunks of time will be set aside each week to research, think and write. This project, along with this Blog, will be like a spiritual discipline for me in 2006.

    So as we embark on a new year, these statements and goals are what I will be dwelling on. Thanks for a great 2005 blogging year, your 700 hits a week make this worth the time. Good night...and good luck in 2006. For now, Josh

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