Camping with Ancient Philosophers

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The journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. So says the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu, and who am I to argue with him?

Well, nobody. But I manage to confound this proverb in ways that would make the venerable Lao spin his mustaches.

I take that single step a thousand times over and never get further than my front door.

Any guesses as to how many diets I have begun? Calculate how many days in three plus decades and you’ll be close.
Maybe you’d like to see the knitting project I’ve undertaken with a single row of stitches, pulled out and started over. And over. And over.
The weekly house cleaning schedule has been attempted and abandoned partial week after partial week for most of my married life.

‘How do people get to this clandestine Archipelago?’
Will I ever find out?
It would mean reading all 682 pages of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s masterpiece “The Gulag Archipelago” (received in 11th grade when I was going to change the world one teardrop at a time).
Does it count to read that first sentence 682 times?

We-as-in-I resolve each New Year to do that savings program where you put aside a dollar for each week of the year. By Christmas there is extra money to spoil grandchildren. One dollar on week one is no problem. Coming up with thirty dollars to add on week 30 makes me long for those single-digit weeks of January. So I take the mere $28 in my purse and use it for pizza night and give up the entire project, comforting myself that I will try again next year.

Good intentions, great resolutions, magnificent goals.
They begin with one refused donut, one saved dollar, one important book.
However, an unconsumed pastry, a buck in the pot and “Vanity Fair” on the night stand do not
make me healthy, wealthy or wise.

What I need, and what I propose, are way stations on this journey of a thousand miles. I could camp out each night at the spot I’ve progressed to with my single step. Instead of heading back to my comfy bed with stout-hearted but never realized ambitions to take two hundred steps tomorrow, I will spend the first night on my front doorstep.

The next morning when I wake up, maybe once again I’ll refuse the French cruller, even though I couldn’t resist the cheesecake at dinner last night. At least I am not taking two steps back.

Monday washday is under my belt but in the past I never conquered Tuesday ironing to get to Wednesday cleaning. By Saturday I face a household of streaked windows and rapidly proliferating dust bunnies, and the doggone laundry is piling up again. (I realize few people will relate to my desire to iron. As my then-college son once said “Wrinkled is the new pressed”).

The point is that those of us who struggle to make progress also struggle with our failure to progress in a perfectly predetermined pattern.
If we fail at one point we fail at it all, give up and go to bed with a pack of Oreos, because a few more crumbs and another set of dirty sheets will never be noticed.

How about instead I camp out beside those stacks of clean laundry—or better yet the folded clean laundry? My first step the next day might be an organized drawer or even, because the sky is the limit, a color coded closet.

(This wasn’t intended to be a how-to post but Prudes are bossy and can’t help giving advice.)

I haven’t been wildly successful at that dollar saving scheme but when I throw loose change in a jar and leave it there because it is too heavy for my purse, by December I dump it into Tupperware, take it to the bank and get a nice little bounce to my holiday budget.

I might have trouble getting past the first sentence or paragraph or chapter of a book everyone swears I need to read. And while not every classic is for every person, some things—think coffee, blue jeans and sneakers—deserve my effort. I needn’t consume “War and Peace” in one sitting. Maybe I’ll try to read it consecutively, and cumulatively.

Old Lao was on to something here.
Let’s take a thousand mile journey, my friends.
Let’s get there a step at a time. One after another after another.
Let’s meet at the roadside campground tonight. I’ll bring the hotdogs.

6 thoughts on “Camping with Ancient Philosophers

  1. I’m with you, Prude! Well, not with War and Peace. And probably not with a hot dog. Certainly not with ironing. But the part about one step at a time, and another, and hm. Camping. Sorry. I don’t do camping anymore. Mosquitoes, long treks to the hole in the outhouse bench, bear… BUT–yes, I get the point, and I love how you nailed it. Mustn’t be discouraged. Must keep taking that next step, not go back and take the first one over and over and over. That’s what marching bands call “marking time.” It has a purpose for marching bands. But not so much for life! Thanks, Prude. I needed that.

  2. All four of my guys wonder why I feel I must iron… their clothes, haha! Cheers for not continually starting over, for small progress, and trying to let go of perfectionism!

  3. My mother used to iron everything — not just the obvious stuff, like shirts and blouses and dresses, but dish towels, bed sheets, pillowcases, my dad’s underwear, my dad’s handkerchiefs (of which he had hundreds), etc. When I was a youngster, she did her best to teach me how to iron all those things, but although she may have succeeded at the how, she failed at the why.

    After I’d been married a short time, my mother was horrified to learn that I didn’t iron my husband’s dress shirts. I said, “Mom, they’re all permanent press,” but for some reason her horror was unabated.She was probably wondering why my husband didn’t divorce me and find someone more domestically competent.

    • Women under the age of ‘ripe old’ who iron are slim pickings. Had your husband even wanted to dump you for an Iron Maiden I doubt he could have found one. (I am highly entertained picturing myself ironing my husband’s Hanes)

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