As of December 2019 I’ll be publishing content exclusively on my own website at https://infernalgeometry.com
The Tumblr posts worth keeping have already been moved over.
Available today at https://www.amazon.com/Infernal-Geometry-Left-Hand-Path-Magical/dp/1620558165/ref=sr_1_fkmrnull_1?keywords=infernal+geometry&qid=1558462190&s=gateway&sr=8-1-fkmrnull (as well as Barnes and Noble and other retailers big and small).
Have you been looking for a serious book that combines weird tales (HP Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, etc.), semiotics, a postmodern (but rooted in the deep past) system of operative communication, and geometry? Look no further!
After a long wait… the release date for Infernal Geometry and the Left-Hand Path is finally here. In addition to the default choice for many of ordering through Amazon, it is also available in many Barnes and Noble stores in major metro areas.
[Note: This is the first in a bit of branching out for this blog into something I had always intended to do with it; namely, interspersing various musings from my passion for linguistics. As you’ll see, this interest often intersects in various ways with my other more esoteric interests.]
Language/Culture X has Y words for Z
Did you know the Eskimos “have 50 different words for snow”? You’ve no doubt heard it in any case (with the number, in a real life game of “telephone” gone wild, slowly increasing over time). I’ve never been clear on why this seems to be most well-known the example of vocabulary supposedly run amok. Of course, it’s entirely incorrect on at least two levels.
To begin with, Eskimo is not only an inaccurate term but is now considered to be a bit on the pejorative side. Nor is it the case that generally more accurate terms, like Inuit and Yupik, should be substituted in an over-simplified search-and- replace; these are just the two best known groups of people who have inhabited the far north long enough to be considered native to the region. But this is not the main point I’m getting to.
If your culture places a particular value on highly nuanced variations of a common thing, your language will reflect this. Setting aside the tendency of Inuit and related languages to construct compound words whose length would bewilder even a German speaker, the resulting compounds can still generally be treated as variations on the root word (each component is itself a word or prefix of some kind, and understanding of the meaning of the whole can be gained from breaking it into and analyzing these components).
We do the same type of compounding in English, but it’s just that the way our language combines different words and particles to create more complex words leaves them separate (thus forming phrases instead of new standalone words). Thus we can have fluffy snow, slushy snow, snow flurries, etc. as different “names” for snow even though we parse them as just the noun snow with clarifying adjectives. If English created compound words through lengthening, we could just as easily (given different turns of the quirks of language evolution), ended up with fluffsnow, slushysnow, flursnow, frozenskystuff, etc.
Now imagine a non-English speaker from a tropical island encountering this strange weather phenomenon that they are barely familiar with, and who doesn’t know that snow can come in different ‘kinds’ like our manipulated examples – they’d likely just claim that English has (at least) four words for snow.
[As an aside, I also think there is a subtle racial component to the “Eskimos have 50 words for snow” canard. Similarly to how much of 'ancient aliens’ speculation amounts to an implication of “these 'primitive’ brown-skinned people couldn’t possibly have figured this out on their own!”, the snow vocabulary issue carries an implication of “don’t these silly people know they could just reuse a word and add adjectives like we do in 'sensible’ English?”]
English (especially American English) has more words than I can count for car (or more generally, four-wheeled street vehicle). We have sedans, coupés, SUVs, RVs, convertibles, hatchbacks, sportscars, trucks, buses, compacts, limousines, clunkers, beetles, minivans, Fords, Porsches, etc. etc. etc. If you speak a language other than English, and have a frame of reference that either doesn’t distinguish between or have an awareness of these varieties, you’d likely just translate them all as the lowest common denominator of 'car’, 'vehicle’, etc. After all, they each are types of passenger vehicles and if your primary motivation is just to get from point A to point B without having to walk, that description is sufficient enough. Languages use different names for distinctions their host cultures find meaningful, even when there is still a general category that captures the meaning sufficiently for many purposes; those distinctions are easily lost when a culture that doesn’t place the same emphasis or awareness on those categories translates them into their own language.
[You could do the same example with computers (Apple, PC, tablet, mainframe, etc.), phones (mobile, landline, flip phone, iPhone, phablet, etc.), trees (oak, ash, birch, elm, yew, pine, cedar, etc.) or with virtually any common object where sometimes you need to make a specific enough distinction between its varieties that a different word, compound or not, is appropriate].
Translation Loss in Contextualizing Iceland Magic
This same translation problem, where essential meaning is lost if the translation simplifies into a 'lowest common denominator’ word, pops up in two specific places in the study (and revitalization) of pre-Christian religion. My examples will draw primarily from northern Germanic studies, as that’s where my familiarity lies.
In Old Icelandic, there are many different terms that are often homogenized in translation to words like 'magic’ and 'witchcraft’. Non-magic using cultures tend to collapse all such terms into more broad and simplified ones, in part because they don’t grok all the distinctions and so the terms are really just synonyms for each other (rather than retaining the importance they originally had that necessitated breaking the concepts into different words).
One operation is not the equivalent of another, and thus essential meaning is lost when replacing all words in the same category with a more generic gloss. Some Old Icelandic terms that are usually translated as merely 'magic’ or 'witchcraft’ include:
galdur - from the verb gala (the 'singing’ of ravens, an animal closely connected with Óðinn). This is vocal/verbal magic, often involving runes. This is the most common specific type of magical practice mentioned in the Eddas and the sagas.
seidh - a form of ecstatic trance magic; a full discussion of its practice and etymology is beyond scope of this post
gandur - use of magical wand/staff (Tolkien borrowed from the Eddic poem Völuspá (“Prophecy of the Seeress”) the dwarf name Gandalf (“wand elf”) for his famous wizard)
fjölkynngi - means something like 'deeply skilled magic’. There’s not much information available on the particulars of this form in existing sources of the period.
fornekja - The first part, forn, means “old” (e.g., as in Forni, “the old man/one”, a byname of Óðinn). This is magic rooted in knowledge of the deep past (you must dig deeply into the roots of things in order to be fully transformed by them). The term is often translated into the generic (and thus mostly meaningless) gloss of 'witchcraft’.
Ignoring Nuance in Concepts of the Soul
The concept of the soul is greatly oversimplified in the Judeo-Christian-derived version we typically associate with it today.
The soulcraft of the Germanic peoples reveals far greater nuance, and a much better map for working with the concept. The Old Icelandic ideas and descriptions here are adapted from Edred Thorsson’s The Nine Doors of Midgard, but are well documented especially in the Icelandic forms used here. (See also his master’s thesis, published as Sigurdr: The Rites of Transformation, under his given name of Dr. Stephen E. Flowers).
There are at least eight parts of the body/soul complex in the old Icelandic phenomenology. These include:
hamr - the force that gives shape to objects, mutated by the individual human will
önd - the animating principle of the entire complex (“breath”)
hugr and minni - the cognitive and reflective faculties (from the same roots as Óðinn’s ravens Huginn and Muninn)
fylgja - the faculty for storing/transmitting individuality in a mysterious pattern throughout one’s life (and beyond). Often visualized as a contra-sexual being, or an animal form
hamingja - usually translated as a person’s innate 'luck’, or the power to cause changes within the world
(Another meaningful breakdown, usually collapsed to the oversimplified concept of 'soul’, is that of the ancient Egyptians: khat (body emanation), ren (name emanation), khabit (shadow emanation), ab (heart emanation), ba (core emanation), ka (transmigration emanation), sekhem (neter emanation), akh (star emanation). See Dr. Michael Aquino’s Mindstar for a fuller explanation).
Languages are nearly infinitely flexible things. The way that vocabulary arises, especially for commonly used or encountered objects, is driven both by the rules of the language for creating new words that 'fit’ within its phonology, and also by the distinctions that are considered meaningful. We shouldn’t be any more surprised by the ways different languages collapse and combine elements to form new concepts than we should continue to be by the fascinating multiplicity of language itself.
The release date for my book has finally been set, along with the pre-order page.
Toby Chappell is a musician and writer currently residing in Georgia. He has been enamored with the esoteric and the strange for as long as he can remember, pursuing these as gateways into unraveling the mysteries of existence and self-awareness.
Some of Toby’s interests include the connections between Starry Wisdom and the Left Hand Path, the study of how semiotics and language reflect and enhance effective thought and action, and the Northern European esoteric traditions including the Runes. Influenced by the treatment of the unusual, the esoteric, the imaginal and the mysterious by such authors as Fritz Leiber, Herman Hesse, Stefan Grabinski and H.P. Lovecraft, his quest is always to seek the deeper Mystery behind the things that capture his interest (knowing that the truth always remains partially hidden).
He is the author of the forthcoming Infernal Geometry and the Left Hand Path: The Magical System of the Nine Angles, which explores the history and development of angular magic within the early Church of Satan and then in the Temple of Set starting in 1975. Lovecraft, Pythagoras, geometry (sacred and otherwise), semiotics – all these influences and more come together in this system first outlined in “The Ceremony of the Nine Angles” (written by Michael Aquino for Anton LaVey’s 1972 book, The Satanic Rituals).
A member of the Temple of Set since 2000, Toby currently serves as the seventh Grand Master of the Order of the Trapezoid within the Temple. The Order, whose meaning and purpose reach far into the dim past, was formally consecrated as a Knighthood dedicated to the Prince of Darkness by Dr. Michael Aquino in 1982 at the Wewelsburg Castle in Westphalia, Germany. Toby has written numerous articles on Satanism, angular magic, the runes and H.P. Lovecraft in Runes, the private journal of the Order.
In the last decade he has given interviews on various magical and initiatory topics to the KHPR: The Voice of Darkness podcast, the Daimonosophy 2.0 podcast, and the Church of Mabus radio show.
Toby’s music and occult pursuits intersect in the solo projects Eyes of Ligeia (starry wisdom and ambient doom), and Misdreamt (found sounds, electo-acoustic experimentation, and apophenia). Over the last 13 years he has given various performances under the Eyes of Ligeia banner, both solo and with a group. In 2011 he created a new soundtrack for the silent film Faust (1926); this was commissioned by and performed at the German Cultural Center in Atlanta, along with other performances in the southeast and New York City.
It’s been a while since I posted anythere here, but not for lack of interest or anything worthwhile to say. I’ve had three major (public) projects that have been taking the majority of my attention over the last few months:
Finalizing the manuscript and other details for my book Infernal Geometry and the Left Hand Path: The Magical System of the Nine Angles, which now has a release date of May 21, 2019.
Preparing a very limited printed version of some of the same ideas in that book, focusing on the essential elements. That small volume, Through Angles Mirrored With Thoughts: An Introduction to Angular Magic, is now available. However, it is only (outside of special circumstances) available from my personally in face-to-face settings. This is done partially to preserve the limited nature of the text (45 copies only), and also to have it function as in integral part of a mouth-to-ear exchange about the topics in the book rather than just another book showing up on your doorstep in a small cardboard box.
Finally, I will be speaking at the International Left Hand Path Consortium in St. Louis, MO the weekend of July 13-15, 2018. My speaking topic is an overview of the subject matter of these two books.
The crucial bit is in a quote within the article: “I find for myself that my first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s; it’s always what I’ve already heard about the subject, always the conventional wisdom.”
The Big Dipper was known to the Egyptians as the Thigh of the Bull, or simply the Seven Stars, and was very closely associated with the god Set; Bata began as a farmer tending to cows, and one of his final remanifestations was into that of a bull, followed by being reborn as a pharaoh and then a god who is a form of Set.
The Seven Stars, or more specifically an area just behind them called Re Sataue, are known in the Egyptian Book of the Dead as the Habitation that is Hidden. In one of oldest versions of that book the deceased, after surviving certain ordeals, then exclaims: “I have entered into the Habitation that is Hidden, and I hold converse with Set.” This further demonstrates the importance of the star cult to the afterlife at that time.
In another instance of the 19th and 20th Dynasty obsession with stellar symbolism made into action, there is a papyrus from that period commonly referred to as the Cairo Calendar. Its name in hieroglyphics can be rendered as “An introduction to the beginning of infinity and the end of eternity”. Originally interpreted only as a guide to lucky and unlucky days, recent academic research (by High Priestess Emeritus Patty Hardy) has demonstrated that it also describes a complex and detailed timekeeping system based on the rising and setting times for certain stars at specific times of year. Each marker is described as the “going forth” of the god or goddess associated with that star, further reinforcing the symbolic aspects of associating the rites and attributes of what one does on earth with what goes on in the sky above, and for providing the individual with a means to read and shape his or her destiny.
A key concept in the Starry Wisdom of the Egyptians is the word s'ba.
The word s'ba can be translated as star, door, or to teach. Why this curious complex of meanings? Those of you familiar with Egyptian soul lore may recognize the word ba, often rendered simply as “soul” but more precisely understood to be the individual’s enduring sense of self-awareness. Reading the word s'ba as “to impart a ba” makes the significance of “to teach” evident.
The door or gate is a familiar theme in the occult, and also the stories of Lovecraft, acting as links between the conventional reality recognized by society, and other realms of possibility. Gates must be transcended, often at great cost, in order to gain access to knowledge not available in any other way. The bridge between the cosmic and the earthbound is represented in the Mythos by Nyarlathotep, himself the true identity of the Haunter of the Dark, who is summoned from the stars via the Shining Trapezohedron. As the story says, combining the different meanings of the word s'ba: “These people say the Shining Trapezohedron shows them heaven & other worlds, & that the Haunter of the Dark tells them secrets in some way.”
The symbolism attached to the patterns of the night sky, the constellations and asterisms, are a means of encoding learning and myth, and spurring new insights into the workings of the cosmos and how the Self relates to it. Since the 1960s and the computer analysis done on the alignments of Stonehenge by Dr. Gerald Hawkins of Boston University, many of our previously accepted timelines of human development have been challenged in a new field called archeo-astronomy. This in turn reinforces the idea that the more we understand the cosmos and humanity’s place within it, and how and when certain insights were gained in our intellectual history, the more opportunity there is for applying the insights gained from study of the heavens to one’s own development and understanding.
There is an inherent power that comes from being able to advise rulers and predict celestial events through careful study of the cycles that govern human behavior.
The ancient and likely original black art of astrology provided a means of applying knowledge held only by an elite. Eclipses and other seemingly irregular events are often predictable, and knowledge of them can be made to serve the purposes of those in power, but often more information than is available through casual observation is required. Precise record keeping, and the ability to encode and interpret knowledge, is also a necessity.
The astrologer who wielded this knowledge would have held a great deal of behind the scenes influence. The astrologer applying this understanding to his own purposes would have personal power unavailable even to the rulers he served.
One of the earliest civilations that applied Starry Wisdom that touched all facets of its society was that of Egypt. It is well-known that the Egyptians tracked the year’s first heliacal rising of Sirius, when after a 70 day absence it reappears in the east just prior to sunrise. This event was both the beginning of their new year and the harbinger of the critically necessary annual flooding of the Nile. But like much of Egyptian history and mythology, the connections go far deeper.
As far back as the 2nd Dynasty (beginning ca. 2900 BCE), a foundation laying ceremony called the Stretching of the Cord is recorded. The pharaoh, assisted by Seshat, the goddess of temple records, brings the cosmic order as derived from the stars down to earth to be reflected in the orientation of the temple being built. Seshat was normally depicted wearing a leopard hide, the spots of which were associated with the stars of the night sky.
Compare this aspect of the pharaoh as the agent of the gods on earth, the bridge between the worlds, to Lovecraft’s writings on the role of Nyarlhathotep:
“And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet.”
The 19th and 20th Dynasties (spanning 200 years beginning ca. 1300 BCE), were those dominated by royal families who were loyal to the god Set. The pharaohs of these dynasties were especially interested in Starry Wisdom: one of the defining features of the funerary practices of the Setian dynasties is that of the astronomical ceiling, of which the most famous of those still intact is from the tomb of Seti I.
The astronomical ceilings functioned as maps for the pharaoh’s akh, or active essence, to become a star and find its way to its place in the heavens as one of the neteru (that is, the gods). This transformation is also told of in a story that dates from the time of Seti II, called “The Tale of Two Brothers”. In this tale, a farmer named Bata undergoes a series of ordeals and metamorphoses which culminate in his transformation into a star in the Big Dipper.
My path to the Temple of Set could be summed up as: Teenage metalhead in the Deep South discovers Satanism, and imagines his favorite bands are really in league with the Prince of Darkness. Later finds out that for 99.99% of them it’s just a marketing gimmick, but thinks there might be something to this Satan thing anyway. Eventually discovers the truth is much deeper and stranger than he ever imagined.
Like many others, I first heard of the Temple because of the Aquinos’ appearance on the Oprah Satanism exposé in 1988 (I was 14 at the time). I had recently read an excerpt from The Truth About Witchcraft Today, recounting Hans Holzer’s encounter with the Church of Satan. I was fascinated by the description of Satanism as something more viable and honorable than the caricature which was prevalent then.
So when I saw this very logical and sincere sounding man with odd eyebrows on TV (along with his captivating and equally grounded wife), I had already been introduced to the idea of Satanism as a noble pursuit and was able to absorb what they were saying, while observing how they ripped apart the nonsense that was being presented by others as fact. While I remembered seeing these people take a stand for the truth, I didn’t actually remember the name “Temple
of Set” and it was years later before I realized that was who I had seen.
In my college years, after exploring and rejecting various forms of paganism and purely philosophical approaches, and coming to see Satanism as a metaphysical dead end, in the early days of the World Wide Web I read about the Temple on a website comparing various Satanic organizations. Of all the organizations I read about there, the Temple’s material seemed the least ludicrous and made the most sense.
In my college years, after exploring and rejecting various forms of paganism and purely philosophical approaches, and coming to see Satanism as a metaphysical dead end, I read about the Temple on a website in the early days of the World Wide Web. Of all the organizations I read about there, the Temple’s material seemed the least ludicrous and made the most sense.
While it would be another three or four years before I joined, my exposure to the Temple then framed a lot of my explorations during that interlude as I learned how to make myself into someone who could actually benefit from being a part of the Temple, even though actually joining it was not initially my goal.
I’m not ready to reveal all of the details yet (and some details are not yet settled, like publication date), but I will have a book – my first! – coming out sometime in 2018.
The book will cover the history and practice of angular magic – a unique approach to magic pioneered by Anton LaVey and further developed by Michael Aquino, Stephen Flowers, and others. Angular magic takes influence from the fiction of H.P. Lovecraft and related writers, the “Command to Look” of photographer William Mortensen, the number mysticism of Pythagoras, and their manifestations through Anton LaVey’s Law of the Trapezoid. These ideas and techniques have continued to be refined through the work of the Order of the Trapezoid in the Temple of Set, even though they have rarely been publicly discussed until now.
This will be published by a major publisher of high quality, scholarly esoteric books, which I’ll reveal once the info is available on their website (the contract has already been signed, the fully marked up manuscript has been submitted, etc. so it’s official and definitely happening, but just not ready to announce).
Many assume the Left Hand Path attraction to ‘darkness’ to be merely aversion to daylight and to ordinary socialization. In contrast, think about the incredible courage it took to go off by oneself and just gaze at the stars instead of remaining in the safety of light, shelter, and other humans. Further, consider the idea that much could be learned by the study of patterns in the sky and their reflection in human thought and behavior; this shows something critical about the individual, self-aware pysche and its cultivation. This takes the LHP beyond merely focusing on being the “other”, but now into the realm of the transcendent.
In the Right Hand Path religions – the religions of the day side – all creation is considered to spring from a single cosmic figure often represented by or closely connected to the sun. A critical distinction between the Paths of the Right and the Left is mirrored in this solar/stellar dichotomy.
The Right Hand Path takes its cues from the sun, which defines the times, orders human life, dominates agriculture, and functions as the prototype for cosmic order in its regularity.
The Left Hand Path in contrast is stellar. The night sky becomes an entrance not a barrier, allowing one to see multiple points of light – and to be aware of others present but hidden due to ever increasing distance. Many of these points of light are themselves suns, scattered throughout the sky, many if not most with entire planetary systems orbiting them. The individual is symbolized by this – after all, every man and every woman is a star. The Self is a gravitational center of worlds; not one, like our sun, but many. Such a worldview encompassing this plurality grants liberty to its fellow beings that cannot exist in a solar worldview.
The individual, self-aware, self-evolving psyche functions as a prism: these experiences of the objective world are transformed, reshaped into a diverse range of structures of understanding, such as scientific thought, myth, religion. The study of this in turn leads to thinking of the night sky as a mirror in which the psyche sees itself. The stars are not only “out there”, but interior reflection allows us to see ourselves in them.
Observation of the patterns in the night sky has been with humanity since its dawn. This was illustrated quite effectively by Arthur C. Clarke in the novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, in which a curious ape nicknamed “Moonwatcher” gazes at the moon in wonder, and this curiosity makes him one of the more successful subjects of an experiment at transforming that latent intelligence of these creatures into something more as they make the next evolutionary leap forward. This leap is connected to the later evolution of the astronaut David Bowman, as those who dare to aspire to what can be glimpsed through the night sky are transmuted by the profound experience.
This is the first in a series of posts about Starry Wisdom and the Left Hand Path. They are derived from notes from my talk at International Left Hand Path Consortium in Atlanta in 2016.
In these posts I will be writing about Starry Wisdom, elements of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories drawn from his experiences as an amateur astronomer, and the relation of both of these to the Left Hand Path.
The connection between Starry Wisdom and the Left Hand Path derives from the way that cosmology shapes and reflects human thought. This connection is necessary for the transcendent forms of the Left Hand Path that focus on the capacity of the individual for self-directed, mindful evolution.
The phrase “Starry Wisdom” itself comes from H.P. Lovecraft, in the short story “The Haunter of the Dark”. In this story the ‘disliked and unorthodox’ Starry Wisdom Sect use a many-angled scrying stone to contact an entity who fears the light and originates from beyond the visible stars.
Starry Wisdom is the study of the night sky’s effect on individuals, from the deep past and the formation of uniquely human intelligence and self-awareness, to the present where symbolism related to the movements of the heavens is implicit in much of religion, philosophy and other concerns about humanity’s place within the cosmos.
This is a few months old, but is an important review of my latest CD as Eyes of Ligeia. It captures both what I was attempting to create musically, but even more importantly has some good insights into the subject matter and aesthetic that recognize it as a coherent work of art that is far more than the sum of its parts.
After a long absence of blogging with any regularity, I’m getting back into the habit while at the same time concentrating my various interests in one location.
Beyond just the origins of this blog in sharing my adventures in minimalism, expect it now to cover a wide variety of topics, including music (mine and others), turning over various obscure stones in the realm of the esoteric, and perhaps some writing about my interest in linguistics and its implications in consciousness and thought.
I woke up one morning, took an unbiased look around my room, and realized that you’d be hard pressed to recognize me as much of a minimalist based on its appearance alone.
While it’s still true that basically everything I own (excluding necessarily large items like bed, bookcase, and desk) would all fit in my car, there are surely more things that could still be discarded. . That’s certainly a lot less physical baggage than most people, but I still like there is too much clutter.
Some of it comes from lack of a convenient yet unobtrusive place to keep clothes I’m planning to wear again. I definitely need a better place for organizing (ultimately filing out of sight or discarding) new papers that come into my life; there are still some important things that require the death of trees despite my best efforts.
I suppose there comes that point in any aspiring minimalist’s life where he/she feels like a fraud, like they’ve accepted that new thing into their space that will prove to be the tipping point. (Or worse yet, that their actions don’t match their words, which is always an uncomfortable feeling when you have the brutal self-honest to recognize it).
While I definitely like having fewer things to keep up with, store, and maintain, it’s always been about more than just the physical possessions. I still don’t subscribe to any particular number of belongings that should be a rigid maximum, I just try to be honest about the true necessity of what I do decide to keep and more importantly try to make sure that I have made an actual decision on what does stay.
(Next post… minimalist stress management, a topic dear to me of late in the wake of a workload increase due to staffing shortages at my IT job)
I have had much success with David Allen’s system Getting Things Done (GTD) as a framework for managing tasks, todos, and goals. While one could argue whether a focus on goals is itself a viable approach, I have no problem reconciling goal tracking with a minimalist lifestyle (especially if backed by a suitably simple yet flexible system).
GTD boils down to a few core techniques:
Built on these basic premises, GTD is very powerful and flexible, and encourages you to pick the best tools for the job (and not necessarily one tool that does it all).
I’ve tried many different iOS apps and approaches over the years, and have found that far too many of them are either too complicated (too many buttons/menus/etc. needed to do simple things), implicitly dictate too rigid an approach to workflow, or both.
I have finally arrived at a system of fast loading, simple apps that eschew bells and whistles.
This means they:
In short, they provide powerful and flexible building blocks that let me build my own workflow.
Vesper is what I use for brief notes and tracking todo lists. It is a very fast and responsive app (I can can open the app and find or add a new note very quickly). Navigation is quick and natural-feeling, with simple gestures rather than buttons and menus.
With Vesper’s succinct tagging system, I can tag todo items with their context (@home, @work), project name (+ServersToInstall, +SystemStandards), or any other relevant tag. Vesper takes into account the @ and + when sorting the tag list, so all contexts are sorted before all project names before everything else.
Most todo items are a note title and nothing other than the needed tags; if additional notes need to be added to a todo item, they can just be added under the already existing title. This ability to treat todos as just specific types of notes is crucial to getting the most out of Vesper as note keeper and todo tracker combined.
The relative priority of todos is based on the ordering of the notes, which can be changed just by tapping a dragging notes in the notes list. Vesper subtly encourages archiving over deleting (archiving is just a gesture in the notes list, whereas deleting requires an extra couple of choices to select the option from the sharing menu of all places). When you think about it though, archiving notes conceptually no different from marking a todo item complete, so this confluence of notes and todos is only reinforced.
The lack of syncing is something lots of people have made a big deal out of (and I’m convinced there will be some type of syncing eventually in Vesper, if only to keep notes up to date on all your iOS devices). It can still backup to iCloud, which isn’t quite syncing since that doesn’t expose notes elsewhere for editing (like a webapp, or a Dropbox folder). Given some sort of syncing that allows editing elsewhere than my iPhone, I could potentially move the longer notes I keep in PlainText [see below], although a couple of my longer notes in PlainText did slow down Vesper when pasted in, further driving home point that Vesper is intended for smaller notes).
As I mentioned above, PlainText is the app I use for longer notes. PlainText syncs a folder (and all its subfolders and text files) with Dropbox, so I can also open the same notes with vim on my Mac. This is the essence of flexibility, since it leverages natural feeling directory structures to organize notes, and can access/modify same data both on a computer and remotely with native apps.
I am perfectly happen with using the builtin calendar (synced with Google Calendar). The calendar is used for meetings and tracking dates that are important to me (remembering birthdays and other significant events). I use it to see a week view, and agenda view, which are typically all I really need. Not only that it facilitates keeping track of other calendars that have been shared with me (my household is very busy, with lots to keep up with about who is where and when). Contrary to the recommendations of GTD, the one thing I do not keep with on an actual calendar are dated todos (or tasks that need to be done at specific times); for that I use Task by 1Button (formerly Nuage Touch).
Task is used for reminders (a task to do on a specific date and/or time), and recurring tasks, and anything I want to be nagged about. David Allen suggests with GTD that a calendar should be used for anything with a specific date or time; one issue with that is that unless you religiously check that nothing slipped, events are gone from focus once their date or time is past. Task will remind you if you don’t mark something completed or deleted (and can even be configured to automatically move an item to today). The badge on the icon indicates how many things are marked as due today, so at my first glance at my phone in the morning I know if there is anything outstanding.
Everything in Task must have a date, and there is not really a way to track contexts/tags/projects. While is somewhat limiting for a task management app, what it really ends up being is an approach to picking a few specific features and doing them well. As should be obvious by now, I don’t mind using different apps for different specialized purposes when managing things must be done or otherwise kept track of; I’ve seen what happens when you try to do everything with just one app and it isn’t pretty! (There is much complexity that simple tasks, which should be the majority of what need to be tracked, require too much work; it’s far simpler and more pleasurable to use when an app can just get out of your way)
For recurring tasks in Task, I just manually roll the task to the next due date. This works out well, since it isn’t easy to formulate a rule for many things I need (last Friday prior to or equal to 15th of month, next to last day of month, third Wednesday of each month, etc.) To provide such functions would have complicated the app greatly, and ruined the beautiful simplicity that is Task.
It has been quite a while since I’ve posted… and during that time I’ve spent a lot of time struggling to maintain the simpler, less cluttered life I had finally attained.
I have discovered that maintaining an existence with fewer attachments, possessions, and commitments is a different beast from acquiring one.
There are a couple of reasons I’ve been thinking about this more lately.
I’m preparing to move again, not just within Atlanta but actually for the first time in 20 years moving out of Atlanta and its ever-increasing metro area.
I felt like I had run out of things to teach about simplifying life, because my experience had been more focused on the slimming down instead of the maintaining. After a year of so of trial and error since I was last trying to declutter my physical and metaphysical selves, I’m getting back on track and beginning to make sense of the different challenges.
So, as it did the first time, my pursuit will begin with a deep assessment of the things I have, the obligations I’ve taken on, and ways that I can get by with less. Then comes the trickier part of keeping it all as simple as I can make it… to that end, my intention is to begin blogging a short entry at least once a week reflecting on some way that I kept my life, workspace, and home uncomplicated when it easily could have become moreso. Taking that constant, even if only brief, inventory and reflection will do lots of good for firming up in my practices and thoughts a way to maintain this as a long-term lifestyle.
I’m currently on a business trip in Boston, arriving Monday afternoon and leaving Saturday afternoon.
I have one laptop backpack with the stuff that normally goes along with it (iPad, a physical book, the minimum of necessary cables), and one normal-size backpack with my clothes for the week. That’s it.
Here’s how I did it, and why…
Of course, the physical aspect of traveling light has many benefits. But what of the less tangible benefits?
Shedding all the extra stuff to lug around and worry about lets me focus on the real purpose of my trip: the conference I am attending, and my own wandering-around time. (Not to mention, letting me think about how next time I could manage to travel with just one bag!)
I’d like to leave you with a link to a post on Leo Baubata’s Mnmlist blog that was particularly inspirational in how I approached this trip.
Sometimes simplicity takes a lot of work.
I have been working off and on for some time now, as the inspiration strikes me, on a new Misdreamt CD.
As much as love to listen to and create complicated music, with lots of odd time signatures and dense arrangements, I am trying something different this time around. It’s always a challenge to find a new way to represent your essential voice, to create music that sounds like my music yet not sounding like anything I’ve done before.
This time, I am taking a more minimalist approach, but this doesn’t mean I’m trying to evoke the music of such luminaries as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, John Adams, and La Monte Young.
This music will on the surface seem to be very repetitive, composed mainly of guitar and drums, but enough listens will hopefully reveal that there is an intricacy especially in the connection between the various parts.
What I mean by minimalism in this context is I am avoiding overdubs and excessive multi-tracking, and allowing the parts to develop over time without any particular regard for timing. A single part will be given as much room to breathe as possible, instead of crowding it in with other parts. In theory, this CD should be able to be recorded on a four-track….
I’ve long been an advocate of creating music as a form of diary keeping. If you’re really making music for your own reasons, and not answering to any one else’s sensibilities or expectations, the music will be a reflection of who you are at that point in time. (One’s personality and psyche should be coherent enough to have a certain constancy to it, but still leave enough room for self-directed evolution in the parts that are not as permanent as they at first appear).
So, since I’m in a place now where I’m trying to do as much as I can with as little as I actually need, I certainly hope that music that emerges from this time period will reflect that as well.
Music should take as much effort to truly understand as the person behind it. I don’t care that much for shallow music on either end of the headphones.
As I have been reevaluating many things in life, and pushing much that is unnecessary to the side, over the last 6 months I decided I had had enough of the costs and excessive features of my ‘luxury’ car that served mainly to distract attention from being in the moment while driving. Not only that, the car just didn’t reflect who I was or wanted to be seen as anymore.
When everything in a car is controlled by a computer, the user/driver is tacitly (sometimes even explicitly) encouraged to give up control and just let the computer do what it has been programmed to think is best. Being less engaged with the actual mechanical aspects of driving makes for a driver that is lulled into complacency, who has little to keep him aware. If you’re trying to multitask in the car (texting, driving, talking to passengers, fiddling with the radio, eating breakfast) this is a godsend. But there are few places where a human’s fundamental inability to multitask well is more dangerous. The ease of automating as much as possible (“don’t worry, the computer will take care of that for you”) works against you in ways most people don’t realize.
I drove manual transmissions exclusively for about twelve years prior to buying my previous car. Almost since the beginning I found myself longing for a manual transmission again. Not only does driving 'stick’ give a finer degree of control, but changing the gears manually requires that you be more aware. The actual shifting of the gears is driven by muscle memory, but that mechanical connection to the actual outcome of one’s actions in the car makes driving a more conscious experience. Since driving requires more focus, it is less tempting to do many extraneous things that ultimately only distract you from safe driving.
Needing to think about such things as the lights, the windshield wipers, even the climate controls, does wonders for ensuring that you’re paying attention to the fact you’re in a 3000 pound piece of metal moving at 70 MPH. I am actually more aware of what other drivers are doing and other environmental factors when the car forces me to do some of what others might want to automate.
The Gurdjieffian inner robot that wants to lull us all to sleep has to remain aware of itself.
I have finally bottomed out for now on the number of possessions and attachments that I feel I actually need.
Since October, I have:
shed most of my possessions, keeping only what I really need (and going as digital as possible with books, movies, and music)
downsized my car to one easier and cheaper to maintain, and more in line with my current lifestyle
From time to time I find that I need something that I used to own. This doesn’t mean I made the wrong decision, merely that I actually know what I need now instead of keeping something ‘just in case’. (“Just in case” is the leading cause of clutter).
Since I live in a house with three other people, the odds are pretty good that someone else will have what I need. The number of things I personally need to own has gotten much more in tune with the reality of my current living situation.
You don’t really know what you need until you have next to nothing. Now I can begin to reacquire possessions, attachments and commitments as they manifest as actual Needs.
I’m not averse to owning things, belonging to formal or informal organizations, or making commitments. I just don’t want them to be a burden instead of a benefit.
I expect that many things I pushed away in the last year will slowly start to come back to me. And this time my relation to them will be different, because I have reconnected with the reasons for needing them in the first place.
Over the last year, my efforts to transform my living spaces have been a reflection of my own path of change pushed on me from both within and beyond myself. During this time, I was literally living in a side room in a friend’s basement, with the rest of my possessions stored in the main basement. I have since shed the vast majority of what I moved into her house with (inspired by, but transcending, preparing to move somewhere else a month ago). I took that impulse of “Why do I have all this stuff?” everyone has at such times, and turned it into a true transformative process as I simplified not just the Stuff in my life but other aspects as well.
The metaphor has become reality, and I have thought often about the metaphorical basement for insight into how to change my life.
The basement is often that place in the house where you put the things you don’t want to deal with. When you’re cleaning the house, it’s the last place you’ll consider tidying up; since no one goes down there unless they have to it’s usually easier just to pretend it isn’t there so cleaning it up is a waste of time anyway.
The catch is, the things that are in your basement matter, and they need not just to be organized, but decluttered and carefully pruned.
There are many emotions attached to the things we possess. They all have memories, associations, pieces of your self image.
If you want to find your self as more than just a reflection of the things you’ve stashed away, you have to transfer the memories of all the pieces of Stuff evoke to somewhere else without losing that sense of permanence you thought you were getting by keeping all your treasured possessions in the first place.
As you bring back the memories and associations of the physical objects you’re shedding, do whatever is appropriate to capture what they meant: take a picture, write it down, think about it while meditating or taking a walk. How has the associated experience shaped you? Do they bring back feelings you wish you had forgotten?
Do you realize you never really processed the emotions that were connected to the object’s original purpose in your life?
But realize that the object doesn’t hold the memories; you do, and now that you’ve brought them back you can shed the Dumbo’s Feather that you used to remember them. If they are worth remembering again, be sure to capture a simple reminder and reclaim the space in your basement and your life.
And if you can’t remember why you have it, you almost certainly don’t need it.
I am now officially moved as of December 4th.
And I discovered I still had way more stuff than I thought I did.
I’ve donated, sold or given away most of the things that are neither difficult to part with nor still necessary given my current needs and wants. I’m not going to ditch anything yet solely for the sake of reducing the count; if I need it or am genuinely attached to it, I’ll keep it (for now).
The next bit of work is to go through the last couple of boxes, where I’m sure I’ll find a few things that can be let go of, then to archive a few boxes for six months and then see if I actually miss anything in them. At that point, I’ll take an inventory… I know I’m not at 100 things yet but I bet I’m not that far away.
This is a good time for reflecting on what I’ve gotten out of this process other than reducing the complexity of my recent move (which is a huge benefit in and of itself).
I have had a major shift in attitude about how freely to spend money on things, and what is ‘necessary’ vs. clever marketing
I have much greater focus and satisfaction in my personal areas, especially at home; I no longer feel the need to clean up all the time, or overwhelmed at the amount of stuff staring me in the face
Consideration of other habits of over-consumption: how much and what kind of food I eat, planning to downgrade my car quite a bit when the financial opportunity is there, simplifying how I use desk space (both on the physical desk and on the computer desktop), seeing hoarding digital stuff to be as much of a problem as hoarding physical stuff
Hearing from friends and family who have at least considered what I am saying about simplification, even if they ultimately reject it; their questions and comments help me refine my own thoughts about this even further.
Over the last month, since I decided to move and began to cull my physical possessions in earnest, I have given away or sold about 90% of my possessions in terms of number of items (CDs, DVDs, and books inflate that overall number quite a bit, of course).
In terms of volume, I am nearing but not quite at my goal of being able to move everything I own in one trip each of a car and a pickup truck. The only reason I need even a pickup truck is because of my bed.
I wasn’t completely expecting the biggest benefit I’d feel after all this: relief. This is not just relief at no longer having to pack or move all this stuff. This is the relief of feeling less owned by the things in my life, of having to care for them by finding a place to put them and time to use them lest they feel superfluous. It is the relief of knowing they have been placed into hands of people who might actually use them. It is the relief of not having to clean up after them. It will be the relief of finally having an uncluttered space again where I can concentrate on creating music instead of dodging all the stuff on the floor, the desk, the shelves.
After I have shed everything that I can or am willing to part with for now (which could actually be as early as tomorrow), I will count up my possessions and see where I stand in terms of the 100 Thing Challenge
I have never intended to shoot for a hundred things as a specific goal, but the basic idea of trimming everything that isn’t truly essential is a worthy one. Once I have made a count, I may decide that 100 or some other particular number is attainable. I’m pretty sure I won’t get that close to Leo Baubata of Zen Habits and Mnmlist.com: he is down to 43(!) things, which you can read about at https://mnmlist.com/50-things/
Even before I began to trim down my Stuff in earnest, I had been uncomfortable with how my material possessions gained a non-trivial increase in number at Christmas time. Having been fairly well-off financially as an adult, I had become used to simply buying something if I wanted it or needed it.
So, gift lists had by and large become exercises in scraping the bottom of the barrel of things I had considered acquiring but never considered important enough to invest my own money in.
Luckily, the religious overtones of my family’s Christmas celebrations were passing at best. In fact, the celebrations were a pretty classic product of the invention of the modern American Christmas from the 40s and 50s. Christmas was a time for showing your family’s prosperity, of celebrating consumerist excess, and showing the mean old Great Depression and Hitler’s ghost that you were no longer in their grip.
You showed someone (especially children) how much you loved them by how many toys you could buy them.
Needless to say, I don’t agree with that mindset at all.
At this point in my life I’d much rather spend time with family I haven’t seen as much as I’d like this past year, enjoy the good food and drink that often doesn’t make an appearance at any other time, and go along with the general leisure the accompanies the holiday season.
Why should anything else be necessary?
I began this post thinking I would touch on many points about the inability of a ton of presents to make us happy, but my Partner already did a better job of that than I could do (with pictures too!). Be sure to read her recent blog post as a companion to this one: https://elizebethjoy.tumblr.com/post/12797395887/the-power-of-presents
The need for trimming down the unnecessary possessions in life is a problem of privilege. The notion that one can, and more importantly has the opportunity to, accumulate too much stuff is only really possible in a consumerist society. But, not everyone within such a society has to hold the same values and goals.
I’m not anti-consumerist; I believe strongly in personal responsibility and choice (if you want to fill your basement and garage with so much stuff you can’t use them for their intended purposes, you should be allowed to, but should also own up to the consequences of those choices). I am however making choices for myself that will necessitate a long term change in attitude.
One of the biggest advantages I have is the move toward digital media for my music, books, and movies. I’m trying to avoid just trading shelf space for bits, on the other hand; there are still limits to how many things are really needed, even digitally. In an afternoon I can download more public domain ebooks than I could read in five lifetimes… so I choose not to do it. The same of course applies to music and movies; digitized hoarding is still hoarding.
The more I get rid of, the easier it becomes. This is most apparent with books: for the longest time, I’ve been one of those people whose bookshelves overflow with books on a variety of the subject which interest me. A few years ago, I strayed into acquiring books I wanted to read, but never actually got around to, and so a well-stocked bookcase turned into a needlessly cluttered bookcase taunting me for having more books than time. This process of shedding has helped with focusing on what books I truly need to own physical copies of versus borrowing or digitizing.
I spend a lot of time around a 2.5 year old, and observing her approach to ‘owning’ things has been fairly illuminating. Pretty much anything she has ever used, she considers to be to hers, and when her 4 year old sister (or anyone else) dares to touch something that has deemed 'hers’ she is not at all shy about letting you know it. Part of her way of defining her presence in the world is through her possessions.
So, a key element to dealing with the emotions of letting go of Things is divorcing one’s self image from its material aspects. I am no less a music lover because I gave away most of my CDs, I’m no less a successful person because I downsized my living space. In fact, I have more time to do the things that really make me who I am because I have fewer possessions to distract or to clutter my space (and much less guilt about needing to tidy up a bit, too!).
As I’ve worked to shed my life of the unnecessary (especially in terms of physical objects), I’ve been wrestling with how to apply that outside the space that is easiest for me to control (my living space).
Like other aspects of this quest, this is still a work in progress, but I have decided on and am in the process of implementing various ideas for my work environment as well.
At least among IT people (and I suspect this is more widely applicable, too), work environments tend to become extremely cluttered with cables, computers and related equipment, little knicknacks to ‘personalize’ your cube/office, food items (usually of the unhealthy variety), and books. Oh lordy, the books.
When I started, these were the inhabitants of my desk, all within my view field all the time:
In addition, there is a bookshelf with a couple of shelves of books (only a few of which are mine personally, most are books bought by work that have been semi-permanently relocated to my space for convenience), a shelf with vitamins/fiber capsules/tea bags/disposable bowls/oatmeal, a shelf with office supplies that are in here because I’m too lazy to walk to the supply room.
Even with all this, my office is big enough that it still doesn’t really feel cluttered, but surely there could be less stuff around. My main interest here is in improving my work habits, by making my work area more appealing and removing things that interfere with my focus.
This all started to come together a couple of weeks ago, when I was on a self-imposed hiatus from my office. The air conditioner unit that cools my office and the three adjacent has been on the fritz lately: it blows 24/7 without ever shutting off, and some mornings it has been as low as 58 degrees in my office when I arrive in the morning (why couldn’t it have been this way when it was 98 outside?). After a while of begging for a laptop for completely unrelated reasons, I had finally gotten a hand-me-down Macbook Air. I decided the temperature and even more importantly the noise from the howling wind were too much in my office and took the laptop to begin working from an empty cubicle in a part of our floor less influenced by Siberia for its climate needs.
But then I realized the Air was not going to cut it as a telecommuting machine. It was fine for taking notes, light web browsing, etc., but not nearly big enough for fast enough to do all the things I typically needed to do throughout the day. I originally wanted the Air for its ultra-portability, not thinking I’d ever need to seriously work from the thing. So, a little more horse trading with the boss and I agreed to try out a 17" Macbook Pro, which was the only other laptop available at the moment.
And I fell in love with working from it.
This got me seriously thinking about whether working from a laptop as my main workstation was feasible (as a couple of others in my group have done for some time). So I decided to try it out that way for a while.
What I found was that with a lot less going on around me (keep in mind I was used to spreading stuff out on a 27" and 24" screen), I stayed on task a lot better, and felt much less tempted to keep multiple things going on at once just because I could spread them out well enough to see them all. Plus, this has the added benefit of freeing up a ton of desk space.
I even started to play with the notion that I usually didn’t need a dedicated office as a space to work from, that now I could less tied to space and more focused on the work than the immediate environment. (Not to mention the advantages of not having people coming in my door all the time!). I don’t know yet if completely abandonding a dedicated work space will be allowed much less beneficial in the long run, but I’ve mentioned the idea to the Boss and not had it shot down out of hand so we’ll see how it goes.
Working from the laptop eliminates many of the cables I had to use before, but can’t get rid of all them. Many of these cables (iPhone cable, I’m looking at you!) are duplicates of duplicates of duplicates (after years of being an iPod/iPhone/iPad user, I have more of those cables than I can count). Now at the end of each day, I pack up the laptop itself plus the power cable and the iPhone cable, as well as unplug the ethernet cable and USB cable for my backup hardrive. There’s a certain Zen-like simplicity to this, the modern equivalent to 'leave no trace’ camping that I enjoy as well. Putting everything in its place and leaving a completely clean desk to start from each morning is more satisfying than I would have imagined.