She Seemed Slightly Unnerved to Discover Me in the Trash

In Oregon, the lilacs are blooming; in Ithaca it snowed two days ago. My friend Steve Froehlich told me about the snow, and added that he had been dumpster-diving in it. In response to my asking whether he’d converted to freeganism, he told me the story below. Sheryl is his wife; he himself is a Presbyterian minister, six feet tall and broad-shouldered, with a mop of reddish-brown hair and pale blue laughter-filled eyes. And Karl is a mutual friend, the perfect straight man.

“Sheryl stopped by the recycling dumpster at the apartment complex up the street yesterday morning to make a contribution on her way to work. Somehow... somehow... (talk about straining a brain to figger out)... she threw in her Garmin super watch GPS computer exercise calculator that calibrates data from her heart monitor and bicycle to create holographic charts of her workout sessions all to the accompaniment of Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto. Yes, it's expensive. Yes, she's quite attached to her little digital friend. Yes, she was undone. So, she called me from the office to explain her plight, and I immediately set out to retrieve it. It was snowing -- weird wet glooppy snowflakes that had managed to get the contents of the dumpster cold and slackered together. I saw no alternative but to get into the dumpster to look for this lost treasure. I pushed my way through cardboard and lots of other things that are not easily mistaken for paper products but were in there anyway. With the wind blowing proudly, it was like I was trapped in a windtunnel with all the trash sucked up by the wind and swirling all around me.

After an hour of unsuccessful hunting, I gave up, but not before a woman walking her dog came up to make a contribution. She seemed slightly unnerved to discover me in with the trash. When I stood up, doing my best to be cheery and nonchalant, I started to explain that we'd lost something and I was trying... but she turned and walked away before I finished -- clearly she wanted no knowledge of my presence to trouble her consciousness.


Karl is of the opinion that I now have enough chips to cash in that will last me well into next year.”

[Note to the curious: Steve went back for more systematic diving later, and after fully clearing the second corner of the dumpster, discovered the Garmin.]


Awareness and Self Awareness

In the last few weeks I've engaged in several conversations with a good friend of mine about awareness or "mindfulness." We've used these terms to name one of the goals of meditation, and we might say that we both strive to be more mindful. But one of my brothers pointed out to me that this language can be empty. While we are awake, we are conscious. To be conscious is to be aware. We are only completely unaware (if at all) when we sleep. We are mindful of something all the time.

Does being "mindful" mean being mindful of everything that there is? – or of as much of that as one can be? Or should we perhaps specify the things of which we think we ought to be mindful as often or as continuously as possible?

I am with Stephanie in advocating a greater mindfulness of the pleasures available to us. Today was my birthday, and I took a variety of pleasures: I had a sense of accomplishment; I took pleasure in the company I kept; I took gustatory pleasure (paying special attention to the smells of my food and drink); I noted with pleasure the changing colors of the sky as the sun went away; and I marked a certain freedom that I felt (linked both to the day's accomplishments and to the pleasure I took in my good company) as I walked out into the evening air.

I advocate not only knowing and noting one's pleasures, but identifying and holding onto the pleasures that one imagines, whether one aims ever to achieve them or whether they are fantasy purely. In fact, I have been keeping a kind of journal of my pleasures, specifically erotic ones. This document doesn't seem especially interesting to me now, but if I reread it in a year or more, I expect to learn myself better.


A List of Pleasures

Lately I have been thinking about pleasure, and have concluded that I do not take it into account enough in my decision-making. In large decisions, like "what should I do with my life?" I have made long strides toward discounting messiah-complex impulses like "I can't do that; it would be too much fun (and therefore selfish, and therefore immoral)." I now want to write and teach, not because I think I can save the world by doing those things (I can't, either that way or any other way) but because I love writing and teaching, and because I think they are worthwhile things to do, and, yes, because I have seen them have positive effects on people's lives.

If the term "gift" is a valid description of a thing I am good at, then being gifted involves a counterpart, a receiver. If no one read books (or blogs, or words) at all, if there were no students, writing would be much-changed, and teaching could not exist. The satisfaction of the gift, the pleasure of it, can't be separated from its being given and received. But in smaller decisions I am not yet wise in the value of pleasure; my lists of things to do for a day rarely make conscious choice for enjoyment. Certainly there are cases when something else supersedes seeking pleasure -- this is called discipline, and it is good. It leads in the end to a greater, deeper pleasure, or even to a good of a higher order than pleasure (say, justice). But in the absence of a legitimate reason to set pleasure aside, pleasure should be sought, I have now concluded, it ought to be sought. For it it is not the highest good there is, but nonetheless it is a real, and legitimate, and wonderful good.

Toward the end of seeking pleasure more intentionally, I propose a list of pleasures on this blog. If you are not a regular contributor and would like to add an item (or many), please drop me an e-mail or leave a comment, and we'll get your pleasures posted.

Today, from me, three pleasures of shape:

1. The fluid concreteness of the hand-carved olivewood elephant I got off a shelf at my grandmother's house, after she died, the night before the estate sale:

2. The two baby cactuses which have been sprouting valiantly ever since I carried them, wrapped in damp paper towels inside a yogurt cup with plastic wrap rubber-banded across its top, from Sarah Widercrantz's kitchen in Ithaca, NY, to my parents' house in Portland, Oregon:

3. The shape of a sunny, cool afternoon in a city full of tall pine trees, when nothing is urgent, and one has time to ride along on peaceful errands with a person one likes, sitting in the passenger seat and not counting minutes.