Sunday, November 29, 2009

Turning around a Fail

Well, I'm three months into my "year of deconsumption" and I'm 1 for 3. I started out strong with my full month of no alcohol - but, the last two months have been pretty weak. Part of the issue might be that a year is a long time to stay focused on anything. Also, I think that some of the months I chose were either redundant or off message. So, I'm consolidating a little bit. See my new schedule on the right. I'll be back at the end of December to preview January.

Monday, November 9, 2009

November already

Well, as you can probably tell - October's decluttering did not go too well. I packed up a box of books that's still in my room - that's about it. And so far, volunteering in November hasn't gone much better. These two months have been difficult mostly because they are rather tangential to the overall point of this blog, which is "deconsumption".

But, today I found a site which might help out with November. It's Maryland Volunteer Centers - a site which has links to various volunteer links around the state. On the Baltimore site I was able to search by zip code and activity type (environment, healthy community, arts & culture etc).

Here are some of the positions that interest me the most:

1) Research Assistant/Data Entry for Baltimore Health Department - It involves conducting surveys and data entry. Don't know how interesting it would be - but, I would like to be more involved with community health. Although I work in the health field I don't work with directly with community health departments in large cities.

2) Serving meals and/or mentoring at "Our daily bread" center - I might start with serving meals just to check it out and then look into mentoring. The volunteering I've done with South Baltimore Learning Center has been very fulfilling. I've been working with Willie for over a year now and I'd like to do more of the same kind of work.

Anybody have other suggestions?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Clutter update

"So, how's your clutter free month coming along?" my wife asked this morning sarcastically.
Eyeing my box of books that I had plucked from the book case, but had yet to get rid of, I did what most husbands do in this situation - I pretended I hadn't heard her.

The contrast between the great success of my alcohol-free month of September and my "clutter-free" month of October is pretty depressing. The problem is that it's hard to define success in this case. It's very subjective.
Here is my list so far:
1) Get rid of books I probably won't read again
2) Get rid of clothes I never wear
3) Put CD's into album
4) Figure out what to do with random running parafinalia (trophies, medals, numbers) that I don't need
5) Get rid of random electronics that I don't use
6) Organize my bills and miscelanious records
7) Empty out my box that's supposed to be for mail, but gets filled with other random stuff
8) Get rid of stuff in closet that I don't use

So far I'm part way through with #1 and we're a week into October. It's just kind of overwhelming. And although I understand that I would probably be better off without clutter - I just have a hard time changing my habits in this area. I could blame my mom - who had a sign on her desk at home that said "an empty desk is a sign of an empty mind." But, that would be unfair and cruel. Or I could blame it on my college roomates - who pushed me into feeling even more comfortable living in filth. Or even my wife - who admitidly isn't focused in that area either. But, any of those excuses are copouts. This is my issue and I need to figure out how to change my perspective. Not that I want to become some anti-social misfit - who says things like "cleanliness is next to godliness". I just want to simplify my life by de-cluttering my surroundings.

My inspiration for including this month as a part of my year of deconsumption came from a chapter from the book "Roads to Quoz" by William Least Heat-Moon. The chapter in question is about an older woman living in the desert of New Mexico. Heat-Moon had met her through letters she had written him about some of his previous books. She was interesting enough that he decided he needed to head out to meet her. His description of her 117-foot square living quarters (a trailer) made me realize how our penchent for collecting meaningless stuff is a major part of the reason that we are such energy hogs. Everything in her trailer had a purpose that helped her to live. She had lots of interests - was well read etc - but, she didn't collect things.

It struck me as very Budhist in a way. The focus on the breath in mediation or yoga is important, because it helps us to let go of attachment. Many eastern religions view attachment as the reason that we suffer in this world. Let go of attachment, as you let go of the air in your lungs, and you'll be much healthier in the end. This philosophy is an important part of the purpose of my year of deconsumption. Not only is it important for us to consume less for the planet - but, it also makes us healthier to consume less.

So, now that I've reminded myself why I included this month it's time to get back to work. If any of you have suggestions - or stories of how you de-cluttered your life I'd love to hear about it to further inspire me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It's all about control

From the moment that we arrive into this cold world - we try to control it. We cry out as we're ripped from the warm safe place that we've known as home. As we mature we come to understand that we have very limited control over the outside world. At times we even lose control of ourselves. We have needs, desires, urges - but, we learn that we're better off in the long run if we suppress these primal forces. Acceptance by society requires it.
As described in an earlier post - alcohol depresses the activity of our nervous system. But, it seems to impair some parts of our personality more than others. Our super-ego, that part of us that attempts to act with perfect morality - and opposes the id, seems to be more affected. This isn't true at low or moderate levels - but, at high levels of alcohol consumption many people become violent or lecherous. We make bad decisions, say stupid things, put ourselves and others in risky positions. To me, this is the great evil of alcohol.
But, it's also probably the reason why people over indulge as well. Most of our day is spent at work - where we must constantly control what we say and do. We might want to tell somebody off, but maybe they're our boss - and we just have to say "all right, whatever you say sir." Alcohol gives us the opportunity to shed that pesky super-ego - to give our id whatever it wants.
Over the last month I haven't actually felt much of a physical change. My running hasn't greatly improved - I haven't lost any weight really. But that doesn't mean that I don't see any value in my experiment. It's probably happened at more of an unconcious level, but I think that I've had to find healthier ways to deal with the world. Chemically pressing the "off" button was no longer an option.
So, next is clutter. More on that in a few days.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Why we like it

Why does this seemingly innocent molecule have such a strong pull over humanity? Why has a chain of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen been given the title by Homer Simpson as "the cause of, and solution to, all of life's problems"? The short answer is that alcohol (ethanol being the form we normally ingest) is a depressent.
Despite the fact you might think that humans are mostly lazy beings who need our morning coffee to be able to accomplish anything - many people actually have the opposite problem. They can't sleep because of stress, or can't concentrate because they're over stimulated, or sometimes might be incapacitated because of pain. What all these situations have in common is that we would feel better if the activity of our nervous system was somehow inhibited. Depressents do this very well.
Specifically alcohol affects the gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors - which are responsible for neuronal excitability throughout the nervous system (stolen from wikipedia). It's no accident that alcohol is used widely in social situations. Most of us have some social inhibition that alcohol helps to remove. One phrase I learned in Germany was "Es gibt worter im bier" (there are words in beer). I can tell you that it's even more true when learning a new language.
Of course the problem is when we go overboard. More on that in my next post.

For an update - believe it or not I'm actually still on the wagon. And actually the longer I go the easier it gets. Although don't let that make you think that I won't look forward to my first beer (probably the night after I run the Army 10 miler).

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Tai Chi principle of finding balance

When I was living in Ann Arbor I decided to take a Tai Chi class. Although I can't remember any of the movements - one philosophical part of the practice has stayed with me.

An important part of Tai Chi movements is to find balance - at the end of each series one normally finds one self in a very solid and balanced position. Tai Chi is a form of martial arts - so, the purpose of all this balance is to make sure you don't end up on your back. The principle that is found in all series of movements is that to get to a place of balance in a particular position you must first step beyond that place or even sometimes go the opposite direction.

When I first told Kendra about this year of deconsumption - her first reaction was "why do you have to be so extreme about it?" The point of being extreme is not that I expect to give up all these things - but, rather that I will hopefully come to a place of more balance when it's all over. And to do so I need to step a little beyond of where I hope to finish.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The First Month: Alcohol

I've been thinking about doing this for quite awhile. I'm not running quite as many miles as I was while training for Boston - so, I thought it would be important to do a better job on reducing calories. Also, in certain doses alcohol is toxic (duhhh) - so, I've been thinking that I need to at least try to see if completely removing alcohol will make a difference.

After nine days here is what I've found - I'm probably a little too dependent on alcohol as a stress reliever. Most disturbing was a dream I had where I failed to make it the whole month. Apparently there is a part of my subconcious that is fairly dependent.

Also interesting has been the reaction of my friends and family. Most of them think that I'm going a little far. They know my love of good beer and wonder why I would want to do that to myself. Some other people don't understand why this is a big deal at all.

In my next post I'm going to write about why some of our bodies crave something that seems to be so bad for it. I'm also going to summarize the effects of alcohol on our body.