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Minimalist Insight from Jacobean Drama

For my tutorial this week I wrote a paper on inheritance and legacy in Ben Jonson’s play Volpone, which is basically about a greedy guy called Volpone (Italian for “sly fox”) who takes advantage of other greedy guys by pretending to be on his death bed, accepting gifts from those hopeful to be written into his will. Writing my paper felt like a blog post on minimalism (with slightly more academic and slightly less conversational phrases)!

In conjunction with the play I read Isabella Whitney’s poem Will and Testament, a highly entertaining satire of the detailed lists of random stuff people leave behind. She chooses to leave behind things like the buildings in London and her portion of meat from the butcher’s shop every day. A recommended read for a minimalist chuckle.

The characters in Volpone seem to do nothing but chase after money and status, neglecting and even sacrificing their friends and loved ones. Their focus on obtaining stuff dominates their lives to the extent that they cannot be identified in any other way.

Don’t be a one-dimensional medieval man. Think about the value of stuff and the value of things like the literature that makes us think about the value of stuff.

Robert Herrick puts it best in his Lyric for Legacies:

GOLD I’ve none, for use or show,
Neither silver to bestow
At my death ; but this much know,
That each lyric here shall be
Of my love a legacy,
Left to all posterity.
Gentle friends, then do but please
To accept such coins as these
As my last remembrances.


reflections born from illness

I woke up this morning with an aching stomach, and not really sure what to do, I spent most of the day asleep or lying down. I spent a lot of time staring at the room around me, the view from my window, thinking thoughts I haven’t had time to think in my structured day. I paid attention to my body, trying to figure out what it needed, calling attention to how little I do this on a normal day when my stomach is happy. When I get sick I can usually pinpoint the reason why – I was dehydrated, I was too cold, I didn’t get enough sleep – and then I pay attention to these things that I should be paying attention to before it’s too late. Take care of your bodies now, they’re what we live in.

my june resolution

this will be simple. i will be brief. my resolution for june is to focus. i’m reading leo babauta’s book. while i love the ideas, i could have come up with most of them on my own. but that’s not the point – the point is that he took the time to write it down, to state the obvious instead of just assuming the obvious, and by stating it, by suggesting it, made me realize that knowing is different from doing.

focus is about single-tasking. it’s about living efficiently and deliberately. it’s about appreciating each moment and thinking carefully about how to spend time. it’s about slowing down and loving and living life more.

going veggie

i have been a vegetarian for about six weeks now.

why have i decided to be a vegetarian?

simply put: it’s healthier. i don’t like meat that much.

the added benefits?

i don’t feel guilty about eating animals, and it’s better for the environment.

however, as harsh as it sounds, one person does not make that much difference. what really counts is getting large number of people to give up meat, and that’s not part of my agenda. this choice  is for my benefit and my reasons. personally, i have a problem with animal cruelty to the extent that eating meat bothered me. does it bother me when other people eat meat? a little, but i feel hypocritical to say so since i was one of them not too long ago. it’s a personal decision and i can only speak for my own experience.

and i love it so far.

i like lambs. i don't want to eat them.

and i don't want chikens to live like this. images from "food inc." helped solidify my decision.

what were my initial concerns?

there are certain foods i could not imagine giving up – burgers, spaghetti with meat sauce, bacon and sausages for full english…but when i realized that i can substitute veggie burgers for burgers, quorn for ground beef, and veggie sausages, mushrooms, and tomatoes for bacon and sausages, this was no longer a problem.

i’m also quite the foodie and was worried about missing out on interesting gourmet options. in oxford at least, there are plenty of delicious vegetarian options that i hardly notice. in my college hall, the vegetarian dish is almost always much better than the meat one anyway (for this, i am quite fortunate), and i would opt for it even before i decided to commit to vegetarianism.

gourmet burger kitchen does amazing veggie burgers.

how do i manage to eat a balanced diet without meat?

i have done some research, including monitoring my daily intake, and was surprised to find that i have been consuming enough protein without meat without even trying to replace it. i love eggs and beans (and nutella), and eat enough every day to fulfill my daily requirement. what i lacked was actually fruits and vegetables, which are now much more incorporated into my diet. it was not difficult to start eating healthily once i became better aware of what healthy entails.

while nutritional needs vary person to person, i use this chart as a basic guideline.

defining vegetarianism

calling myself a vegetarian was sort of scary, just like calling myself a minimalist. there were periods before i decided to commit (to both) in which i shied away from the idea and didn’t even consider it. ultimately, the extent to which you are a vegetarian or a minimalist is up to you. some vegetarians eat fish, for example. now, i don’t like fish enough for that to be my exception. my initial plan was to eat meat occasionally when i wanted it – better that than keeping a few cravings from calling myself a full vegetarian – but i haven’t even wanted to do that.

where to look for help

many of my favorite bloggers are vegetarian or vegan and have shared their stories and offered advice:

leo babauta – mnmlist

angela liddon – oh she glows

alicia silverstone – the kind life

the illogical voice of reason in my head

sometimes i find myself in a rut. i can’t stop checking my email. i can’t stop browsing my bookmarks. i can’t stop sampling chocolates on my grocery shelf.

and i’ve figured out why.

when i get antsy like this i get away with it by telling myself that i’ll stop when i’m satisfied – when i’ve received an interesting email, when i’ve found an inspiring blog post, when i’ve eaten the most delicious truffle imaginable. and in such a desperate and rushed search, that satisfaction is hardly achievable. so i keep trying and keep failing.

it’s like when i’ve just awoken in the morning and my mind comes up with the most persuasive reasons to go back to sleep. illogical, but effective.

my goal is this: commit to what’s in front of me.

just sit and eat chocolate if i’m going to eat chocolate. enjoy each bite, actually taste the flavor. instead of skimming a blog post, take the time to read every word. don’t check email in the middle of it.

it is hard. but just identifying the problem is half the battle.

reflections on packing for england

my initial strategy for packing for england was to throw all of my essentials into this pile:

it made minimalist me hurt a little bit inside. even spread out, it’s a lot of stuff:

and indeed it is.

but this is significant improvement from my last two journeys here. for once i didn’t have to pay extra for overweight baggage – as it turns out i have more difficulty with weight than with space in my bag.

my strategy was to repack all the essentials from last term, but replace a few with some new items to see if i can work them in. what i forgot was how much – and what, specifically – i left behind at college.

my new goal as a minimalist student is to be as minimalist as possible here at university, but not restrict myself to the same standards at home. sometimes i get stressed wishing i could reduce my possessions until i have just enough to fit into my suitcases. instead i should take small steps. i’m not ready for that kind of minimalism. for now i will learn to survive with what i have here and live with everything i own in total.

my carry-on was much more refreshing:

new year clean out!

my goal is to declutter as much as possible before the new year. here are some areas on which i will focus

  • identifying items i no longer want to keep
  • sorting and distributing said items to permanently remove them from my house
  • organizing computer files, including iphoto
  • photographing and scanning paper clutter
  • cleaning my bathroom and vacuuming floors
  • crossing off little ‘nagging tasks’ on my to do list

i’m sure more areas will come up as i go along, but the idea is to have a cleaning marathon to start fresh on the first of january 🙂 happy new year!