24 September 2008

It's not that simple

Involuntary simplification: In June, we stored our Portland, Oregon, furniture, and took ten suitcases to Maine. By July, we'd shrunk our necessities down to six suitcases, which we brought with us here to Elektrostal. (Luckily, we were moving into a mostly furnished apartment.) Now we are leaving for six weeks in the USA to get new visas, starting tomorrow, and have compressed our requirements down to two suitcases--including gifts.
Each transfer required me to review what I believe about what I need. Diary, Bible, computer, headphones, and enough clothes to keep warm and meet social requirements. Also, passport and other essential documents. As many other books as I can stuff into my onboard bag. That's it. Well, not exactly--camera, pens,extra glasses. Every time I start this list, a few more things work their way onto it.

One of our most interesting recent (involuntary) exercises in simplification vs accumulation comes about as a result of this new apartment we moved into in late August. We are the first tenants in this apartment, part of a new building on the southwest edge of Elektrostal. Apartments in this building are individually owned; each owner decides whether to occupy it or rent it out. Clearly, the builders assume that apartment owners will customize every inch themselves, because the apartments are sold as very bare shells. The wallpaper is absolutely minimal (and already peeling off); no light fixtures are supplied, and the sinks and faucets are bare minimum.

We don't have an unlimited budget, and we also have to consider that our lease is only for a year. It's an interesting process to think through each decision: what is required for reasonable comfort and to create a hospitable home, and what can we do without? How can beauty, simplicity, and economy be reconciled? (For example: Moscow's IKEA stores are tempting because of their low prices, but I've noticed that too much IKEA stuff creates a motel-like decor.) I'd like to think that I cared about these things before, but this is the first time we've had to create a home from scratch. It's not an easy exercise, but it is definitely worthwhile.

(part two of Jon Stewart's interview)
What did September 11 change? I showed Jon Stewart's Daily Show interview with Tony Blair to one of my classes this morning. The segment was about three times as long as Stewart's usual interviews, and it provided my language students with a nice opportunity to compare American and British English. At one point, Blair says, "There was September 11, and, in my view, that changed everything." (At another point in the interview he says that September 11 changed the whole world.) I asked the students to tell me what exactly was changed by September 11. I was fascinated by the responses--one student said, "Exactly nothing," and pointed out that violence was a perennial reality among people and nations, whether we like it or not. Another student asked me where violence originates, providing me a chance to present several viewpoints, including nonviolence.

Intriguingly, Stewart mentioned that Blair is in the USA to teach a Yale course on "Faith and Globalization," so I talked about Blair's background as a Christian socialist--a political position with an honorable history in Britain, even if its US presence has usually been microscopic. All in all, lots of seeds for future conversations.

Righteous links: For some fresh material on Christians affecting culture, explore this site. ~~ Christopher Priest's "Third Horseman," on a central irony of the U.S. election campaign in a time of credit meltdown. ~~ In praise of the talking stick.

Blues from Arsen Shomakhov and Vadim Ivashchenko:


Imperfect Serenity said...

Hello, Johan. I am passing on to you two blog awards. Hope it doesn't offend your Quaker humility. I think it's just a way for bloggers to spread the word about blogs they like. You can collect the graphics on my blog. The idea is to link back to me and then nominate seven other blogs although I didn't do that many).

Hope you are well.

Johan Maurer said...

Thank you, Eileen! I'm well, although wrestling with health insurance paperwork for much of the day hasn't made me feel any better.