From The Inner Swine Volume 13, Issue 2, June 2007
I knew a kid in high school who had as a personal philosophy of life something he called MEMO: Minimum Effort, Maximum Output. I doubt this was original to him; few kids in Jesuit schools have original ideas. Originality is beaten out of us like sin. What this philosophy boils down to is to put the least amount of work into anything while simultaneously exploiting the situation to its fullest. I don’t know what that kid’s up to these days—probably dead, like just about everyone else I went to school with, most of whom perished in hellish flames while demons cavorted around them, just as the priests predicted they would.
Me, my time is coming. And I have absolutely no doubt that no matter how long it takes for said time to come, when it does there will be several priests from my school days present, no matter how many decades they themselves may be dead by then. As a matter of fact, I may spend the rest of my life trying desperately to adopt enough orphans and endow enough schools for the blind to avoid eternal damnation, just so I won’t have to hear Father Browning tell me that I was evil, and that was why he had to fail me in Religion class back in 1987. And then he’d tear off my pants with some sort of trick magician’s move and paddle my ass for the lord.
Not that anything like that happened in my Jesuit high school. Mostly, there was emotional abuse. And some light attempted cult brainwashing.
Anyway, over the years I’ve adopted MEMO and adjusted it for my own personality, mainly by lopping off the last two letters, leaving me with a simple guide for the rest of my life: Minimum effort. It’s short and easy to remember, and it really is the easiest way to the simple life, because it immediately lops off entire categories of action and effort. If you’re seeking a simple and uncomplicated existence, after all, you can’t necessarily put much effort into things, because effort spawns complexity—you have to seek out resources, marshal those resources, organize things, and then put the work in—any one of those stages can produce unwanted complexity in your life. The devil, after all, is in the details.
As an example, let us examine the disastrous nature of my haircuts.
JEFF’S HAIRCUTS: A HORROR STORY
I have pretty uncomplicated hair, at first glance: Brown, straight, hairline relatively stable even as I sail into my decrepitude. It should be one of the easiest things for me to manage. First, it’s my hair; I should have some sort of instinctual connection with it. Second, it’s not like I have problem hair—there’s no white afro effect going on, or crazy red tangles, or shit like that: It’s completely generic in just about every way.
But, the thing about hair is that it quickly goes batshit insane whenever it’s given even the chance.
JEFF’S HAIR THROUGH THE YEARS: A MAGICAL JOURNEY
As you can see, my ‘uncomplicated’ hair is actually a nightmare of bizarreness that leaves me frequently looking like a mental patient. Oh, I could handle this via a regiment of cuts, gels, and possibly extensions, but that would quickly bring me out of the realm of Minimum Effort, thus complicating my life. The theory of Minimum Effort simply states that in order to streamline your life, get in and out of situations without unnecessary complications, and keep everything as simple as possible, you never, ever make any effort. Just take everything as it comes, let life pour over you like chocolate onto a sundae, and expend your energies on listening.
This involves three basic principles (always three; this is The Inner Swine, after all, where all of life’s mysteries can be explained in three basic somethings): never complain, never volunteer, and never confront.
Now, you also have to realize that this philosophy has nothing to do with improving your life or the world or anything like that—it’s all about simplifying. Streamlining. If you’re ambitious about any section of your life—your career, your relationships, whatever—it usually requires some effort on your part to gain advantages or achieve milestones. This can cause some messiness in your life, slowing you down on your rocket trip to death, and those of us in search of the simple life can’t have any of that.
COMPLAINING. There’s no faster way to get what you want, or complicate your life, than by simply complaining. For example, let’s say I go out to get a haircut because my ridiculous hair has once again risen in revolt. I go to Boris the barber on 28th street and for ten bucks he cuts my hair, but in the middle of the procedure I notice that he’s doing something weird with my hair, maybe leaving it long where I want it short, or for some reason giving me a beehive-style hairdo. Assuming I’m sober enough to actually notice this before it gets out of hand, I’m faced with a choice: I could complain, or I could go back to my little nap.
If I complain, I complicate my life. First, I have to make Boris understand what I’m complaining about. Then, I have to suffer through the menu of options for correcting his mistake. This could take some time, and require me thinking about something I pretty much don’t ever want to think about—my hair. This is why I go to someone named Boris the Barber—because I don’t want to think about my hair. I mean, jebus.
On the other hand, if I go back to my nap, half the time it all turns out fine anyway, and the other half, well, I don’t think my hair ever actually looks good, so it’s likely a wash. And in the mean time, I’ve left my life very uncluttered, because there’s always the chance that your complaint is going to cause ruffled feathers, and I’ll end up spending a lot of time and effort arguing with Boris about whose fault it is and how we can best solve the problem. This isn’t about being afraid to cause trouble, it’s about avoiding the unnecessary cluttering of your life.
VOLUNTEERING. Not the sort of volunteering wherein you try to make the world a better place—volunteering in the sense of offering up your time and energy to someone else. Mainly, I am thinking of your job, although it could be applied to other aspects of your life, certainly. For example, I’ve been told repeatedly that you should never allow yourself to be “not busy” at work—that you should always ask for more work when you have the spare bandwidth, otherwise your boss might actually suspect you don’t live and breathe your company’s Kool Aid. Volunteering for shit might get you a promotion or a raise, but it will also complicate your life as you take on new responsibilities and chores, and will bite you in the ass when your existing workload returns to its normal soul-flattening levels. If you have free time at work, your life is nice and simple. Keep it that way.
For example, let’s say I’m in the chair in Boris’s shop, getting my hair cut. The silence is awkward, because there is a large, heavyset man who smells of sausage touching my head. I could remain silent and pretend to nap—a magical nap where my head remains upright and I respond to Boris’s gentle nudges—or I could volunteer some conversation, step up to the plate, because we’re living in a society here. The answer is obviously the former, because volunteering for something like that would just complicate my life. Instead of a quick twenty minutes in the chair and me on my way, I’m soon embroiled in a violent argument about the former Yugoslavia. See? Do you see?
CONFRONTATION. Sometimes in life, people will do things you don’t like, sometimes out of spite, sometimes out of ignorance, or sometimes out of a complete disregard for you as a person with rights. You always have two choices in such situations: You can pitch a fit and confront the perpetrator, or you can keep quiet and get on with your life. Confrontation often gets results, because half of the time the offense was unintentional and simply alerting the person to it will resolve the issue, and in many cases even meanspirited assholes crumble in the face of an energetic defense.
The problem, of course, is that confronting people requires you to detour off your appointed schedule and path—thus complicating your life. Sure, the rewards of action can be immense, but this is not an article about defeating mine enemies and gaining mine rewards—this is about keeping your life streamlined, and confrontation absolutely fucks up your aerodynamic lines. Unless it’s a matter of real importance, it’s better to just admit that it’s just pride fuckin’ with you, and say fuck pride and move on.
Let’s assume, for example, that Boris has butchered my head and I emerge from his chair looking like some sort of monster. I could call Boris some names and demand a refund, or refuse to pay, or something like that. Or I could just shrug, give him a shitty tip, and be on my way. Why complicate your life and waste precious minutes in a vain attempt at gaining satisfaction? Just move on and relax, dammit.
As you can see, I apply these principles every day in order to sail through without anything attaching itself to me like cosmic barnacles, my chassis smooth and aerodynamic—in short, simple. Of course, as a side effect I am often sporting hair that appears to have been pasted to my head by a drunk Helper Monkey, but in order to achieve greatness, you have to be willing to look homelesscrazy now and again. I am more than willing.