Monday, July 16, 2018

A Few Small Repairs

As I indicated at the conclusion of my last post, I did some sewing. Nothing elaborate; merely the replacement of buttons. I wrestled with the lingering ire and suspicion that the buttons broke the way they did to eke out more sales out of whatever brand loyalty the manufacturer cobbled together. (Yes, I regret to admit, the shorts were all the same brand.)

Conspiracies aside, there is a chance the heat of the dryer had compromised the plastic over time to accelerate the buttons to their ignominious pop when I tried to fasten my shorts on. The dryer, of course, stands as a reminder of how our supposed conveniences accelerate us down our paths a bit less mindfully and with little of what we could have accomplished actually done during our abundant, freed up time.

These shorts are relatively new to me. They have not been worn as often over the years as my T-shirts, a few of which are over 20 years old and become a little harder to part with as collars and cuffs fray away. There is a comfort in the older objects that will surrender a bit more of themselves with each washing. The shorts, despite my inclination to denigrate or doubt them for their buttons, probably earned a bit of fondness that is best summed up by this quote from Nicholson Baker in his meandering, observant vignette of a novel, Room Temperature:

"in repairing the object you really ended up loving it more, because you now knew its eagerness to be reassembled, and in running a fingertip over its surface you alone could feel its many cracks -- a bond stronger than mere possession." (p. 29)

While the texture of the shorts, plural, betrays nothing of their wear and age, there is a random attack of black thread at the waist that is only visible to me whenever I put the shorts on now, not to mention an extra snugness thanks to the buttons each being a  few millimetres from where their ancestors were. There may be something about a fondness or eagerness upon repair. A few of the pairs had been ignored since last year or even the year before. Whether it was my disdain for button-conspiracies or being too busy to sew merits a response best moulinexed with the admission that it was a bit of both.

There is a fondness for the things we repair and that may be a chicken and egg scenario, but it does not matter which came first - the fondness or the repair. I think of the shattered plastic containers for (game of) Risk armies that were taped together to ensure that each player's pieces were not lost. The ongoing maintenance of bicycles foster an ever-deepening fondness that comes with looking after a piece of equipment that contributes so innocuously to our fitness, our efficiency and perhaps our sanity as well. There may even be a similar attachment formed to film cameras because of the ritual with replacing each roll of film after it has been shot, and ensure that the freshly shot roll is looked after properly until it is developed.

There is something in the competence of making a repair, in demonstrating a small mastery that we do not really have to develop in this day that makes us fonder of those objects the require attention. In some cases it is something that is idealized. For instance with certain sports, namely hockey and baseball, there is a certain romance associated with the athlete's tending of his or her equipment. You can easily recall the slow motion montage of the pre-game build-up. It is, in some instances, the very thing that attracts people to certain sports or positions like catcher or goaltender.

Apart from the irritating buttons, how often are we prompted to simply dispose of something when it is past an arbitrary best before date? Bic products, of course, embody that mindset. There is little about those products that invite repair or fondness of any sort simply due to the constant churn of them. When I have been turned away by shoe repairmen who have told me that a shoe cannot be repaired because of the way they were made in the first place. I had a similar flicker of frustration when the thread passed straight through a pair of madras shorts as I tried to stitch a button on a back pocket.

The detachment that comes when technology and efficiency eliminate the opportunity to maintain, repair, change the film or (thankfully, still required) pump your tires goes unnoticed. Ultimately this move away from repair -- and I haven't even excavated the familiar lament of "it costs as much to get it fixed as it does to but a new one" -- fosters an ongoing churn of detached accumulation and disposal that raises questions about why we have so much stuff that we potentially may not like.

What are we actually paying for and accumulating?

And we exactly do we have so many recycled-reusable shopping bags?

Friday, July 13, 2018


As I write and read more about wabi-sabi, my aspiration to complete a larger piece -- I'll admit it, a book -- incites its own inner dialogue. Much of what I have read on wabi-sabi stops short to settle on wabi-sabi's potential influence on interior design - earthier materials, flaws for the sake of flaws and a litany that morphs into a white-noise yadda-yadda-yadda that prompts a snarky tone on my part that does not do the topic justice. (See?) In recent months there has also been a certain faddishness surrounding the wabi-sabi which has misrepresented it. I have wanted to take a certain defensive position to clarify what it really is but ultimately find it quixotic.

The thing that I've wanted to articulate about wabi-sabi is that, beyond merely being a visual
aesthetic, it is a moral one, a call for a commitment to integrity and an acknowledgement of truth. In the current political environment, the need for morality, sincerity and humility in the face of the current bluster has never been more pronounced and discouraging. The wisdom we need is so close at hand, but our collective laziness and our individual despairs have muted and immobilized far too many of us. Donald Trump is the very walking antithesis of wabi-sabi and he casts a tangential shadow on so many thoughts, no matter how hard we try to stay positive, but there continue to be people asserting their discomfort and an odd sloth of intellect and deed to keep us on the bleakest path.

We do not work to change things as much as we work to keep things the same.

On a night when I wonder if writing about my obsession with this particular aesthetic, admittedly self-conscious about the possibility that I am appropriating it for myself to make a pointed argument against things I don't like because... because they just aren't right or they simply piss me off, is going to make any difference for me or for anyone who would deign to read this.

There is every possibility that I would better use my time tonight by sewing buttons back on shorts that I've been unable to wear, communing (even at a distance) with a trusted friend, reading a book or zoning out in front of the television I will attempt to drift away from the snark and frustration and plead the wabi-sabi case.

Earlier this week, I came across the following quote from Richard R. Powell's Wabi Sabi Simple, "we do not work to change things as much as we work to keep things the same." (p. 26) His book is one of the more in-depth and wide-ranging discussions of wabi-sabi and there may be the slightest chance that he has dented my literary ambitions this week, or at least help divert them.

It is true, though. Populist politicians have been put in power to turn the clock back, regardless of the massive paroxysms they may prompt as dubious supremacies prevail over diversity, inclusion and equality. It leaves me with the feeling that the pendulum has not only swung too far, but that it has broken as well. Technology may have amplified hatred a little to well, a deft tweaking of algorithm has provided a solid foundation for the regression that is being so willingly sought.

I could rail and rail about the absence of integrity, the willful blindness and hypocrisy of those who simply want their way at the expense of a remote possibility of being right about the facts or the fundamental ways that people ought to treat one another. It takes a lot of energy to summon up a perspective on this that would bend an ear or change a mind.

But there is so much that we have lost in the name of the delusion of control.

Just think of the seasons. We have done so much to defy the challenges they pose. Whether it is central heating or air conditioning or the elaborate extents we go to ensure that food supplies are as diverse as possible year-round. I am fond of my furnace in the winter and I'm not sure what accommodations I would make to get through a cold winter without one. Part of me knows that the adjustments we have made to ease our way through the winter have allowed us to escape the nuances of the season. Perhaps it is a time to curl up with your family a little more intimately, to slow down with a stack of books and reflect on what has passed and what is on offer in the year ahead. It could be a time to truly set the table to commit to resolutions and prepare for the challenge of keeping them. Or is it the heat of summer that brings the lethargy to stop with a pile of books. Probably not, there are things to be done to get us through the winter.

There is an affluence that has freed us from these cycles and it is not just financial one technological as well. We have been able to assume we are less dependent on one another or our environment and the notions of community coming together are rare, quaint and less practiced than they were during past generations. We heed the most poignant or urgent calls to support one another, but we are not as mindful of the people around us. We are responsive to one another only when the need is made most explicitly clear and, granted, may be that has always been the case.

Distinct seasons, that we are not insulated from, made us wiser and more attuned with nature and with one another and our senses. Whether it is the sharper tang of seasonal, local strawberries, the cooler tones of autumnal light that, or the song of birds that come to our attention as the months drift by. Beyond those seasons are those of life and the efforts we make to hide those. The elixirs to ensure that hair remains on our scalps or thwarts the passage of time with one tone or another. These indicate how we are compelled by the flattening of the seasons and the denial of time's passing to hurry ourselves in the name of keeping up, getting ahead or some other unattainable goal. What's it all worth though if we are not ourselves, truly our authentic, comfortable-in-our-own-skins selves?

A pause in the name of our own authenticity, to ensure we have our bearings, to breath, to laugh, to cry, to share, to bond and to accommodate a bit more reality will slow us down, and perhaps recalibrate the pendulum to a slower, more moderate cycle. Rather than striving to conform to some unattainable, foul-tasting normal we would be better served by enlightening ourselves with expectations of our own. They could be expectations that come from a strong sense of integrity accompanied by a deep self-knowledge. That honest would be freeing despite the abandon we might assume with a lack of integrity. There could also be the expectations that come with an expansion of our understanding. We could become more adept at marking the passing of the seasons each year or in our lives. There is a possibility for harmony with the pause we make to listen within and beyond.

I have to tend to my buttons.