Monday, 8 May 2017

Toomas Karmo: Theological and Practical Lessons from a Household Move

Quality assessment: 

On the 5-point scale current in Estonia, and surely in nearby nations, and familiar to observers of the academic arrangements of the late, unlamented, Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (applying the easy and lax standards Kmo deploys in his grubby imaginary "Aleksandr Stepanovitsh Popovi nimeline sangarliku raadio instituut" (the "Alexandr Stepanovitch Popov Institute of Heroic Radio") and his grubby imaginary "Nikolai Ivanovitsh Lobatshevski nimeline sotsalitsliku matemaatika instituut" (the "Nicolai Ivanovich Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics") - where, on the lax and easy grading philosophy of the twin Institutes, 1/5 is "epic fail", 2/5 is "failure not so disastrous as to be epic", 3/5 is "mediocre pass", 4/5 is "good", and 5/5 is "excellent"): 3/5. Justification: Kmo, despite being under some time pressures from his household move, was able to blog in reasonable detail (while skimping a little) and (under his "p.q.0", "p.q.1", "p.q.2" version-tracking formalism) to fit in some polishing.

Revision history:
  • 20170511T2005Z/version 1.3.0: Kmo added contact particulars for his successful handyman team. He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, improvements over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.3.1, 1.3.2, 1.3.3, ... .
  • 20170510T1758Z/version 1.2.0: Kmo downgraded his quality assessment from 4/5 to 3/5, and slightly expanded his discussion of the Henley poem. He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, improvements over the coming 48 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.2.1, 1.2.2, 1.2.3, ... .
  • 20170509T0027Z/version 1.1.0: Kmo added some key remarks on poet Henley and the theology of suffering (with the far-from-stoic Agony in the Garden, as narrated in the Gospels). He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, improvements over the coming 96 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.1.1, 1.1.2, 1.1.3, ... .
  • 20170509T0001Z/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded a moderately polished version. He reserved the right to make tiny, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, improvements over the coming 96 hours, as here-undocumented versions 1.0.1, 1.0.2, 1.0.3, ... .

[CAUTION: A bug in the blogger server-side software has in some past weeks shown a propensity to insert inappropriate whitespace at some points in some of my posted essays. If a screen seems to end in empty space, keep scrolling down. The end of the posting is not reached until the usual blogger "Posted by Toomas (Tom) Karmo at" appears. - The blogger software has also shown a propensity to generate HTML that is formatted in different ways on different client-side browsers, perhaps with some browsers not correctly reading in the entirety of the "Cascading Style Sheets" which on many Web servers control the browser placement of margins, sidebars, and the like. If you suspect "Cascading Style Sheets" problems in your particular browser, be patient: it is probable that while some content has been shoved into some odd place (for instance, down to the bottom of your browser, where it ought to appear in the right-hand margin), all the server content has been pushed down into your browser in some place or other. - Finally, there may be blogger vagaries, outside my control, in font sizing or interlinear spacing. - Anyone inclined to help with trouble-shooting, or to offer other kinds of technical advice, is welcome to write me via]

0. Preamble

On 2017-03-20, my kindly landlord since 2006 mid-November told me of his intention to sell his house. In the wake of his grave news, I have had to change apartments. The move, which took place in the last week of 2017 April and the first two days of 2017 May, proved perhaps twice as hard as anticipated, even though it was confined to my own immediate Richmond Hill neighbourhood, and so in theory should have been straightforward. 

Tonight I resume blogging, even while continuing to live in the "New Home" amid (diminishing) piles of unopened boxes. Burdened as I still am, I shall have to be rather rapid tonight. I do hope next week to start my anticipated postings on the analytical philosophy of perception and action, being by then perhaps under less emotional pressure. Tonight I document a few lessons, both theological and practical, from my experience. In doing so, I seek to help those of my readers who may some day be facing analogous logistical challenges. 

1. Theological Lessons from This Experience of Moving

1.1 A Lesson: We Are Not the “Captains of Our Souls”

The poet William Ernest Henley (1849-1903) has served Truth by articulating an erroneous position vividly. It is helpful that there are people who serve Truth in this backhanded way. With mistakes rendered vivid, Truth itself becomes clearer. - As for poets, so too for politicians, and even on occasion for physicists. We can be grateful, for instance, to Mr Donald Trump for helping highlight the virtues of liberal democracy, or to the eighteenth-century defenders of "Caloric Fluid" for helping highlight the energy concept in thermodynamics. (Heat, the profs say nowadays, is "Energy", not a "Fluid"; and they insist that "Energy", or in these Special Relativity days "Mass-Energy", is a conserved quantity, with waste energy-in-the-form-of-heat appearing again and again, so as to keep the joule-counts balanced.) 

Henley's sole celebrated poem, "Invictus", is available in various places on the Web, with some variations in such things as punctuation and capitalization. Here I will use the styling at

Out of the night that covers me,
    Black as the pit from pole to pole, 
I thank whatever gods may be
    For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
    I have not winced nor cried aloud. 
Under the bludgeonings of chance
    My head is bloody, but unbowed. 

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
    Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
    Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
    How charged with punishments the scroll, 
I am the master of my fate,
    I am the captain of my soul. 

What is wrong here is the assumption of self-sufficiency. The assumption is especially dramatic, and especially misconceived, in a person suffering, as Henley suffered, from a debilitating tuberculosis in the bones, culminating in an outright amputation. 

Many people who have been in, or have even witnessed, serious trouble - medical, financial, legal, interpersonal, whatever - realize that we are not the "captains" of our souls. To take first the medical point, at the level of brute physiology: we do not on the whole get to decide how long, or at what level of health, we are going to live. Health, however responsible we are for guarding it, is in the last analysis like farming. On farms, people exert their limited muscular strength and limited managerial ability to the utmost - harrowing and planting and fertilizing and hoeing; and additionally studying the markets, and negotiating, and borrowing, and repaying, and in here in Canada filling out the federal-support forms and buying the provincial crop insurance. In the end, however, having done at both tractor and desk what little lies in their power, farmers must trust all to the whims of sunshine, storm, and Commerce. 

To this medical point Henley would reply that we are "captains" of our souls not in the sense of choosing our level of bodily health, but in the sense of choosing the attitude with which we face our various medical challenges. Nevertheless, Henley does err, in a subtle way. Even our mental resilience, including the attitudes with which we are able to face medical adversity, is not fully under our control, however responsible we may be for safeguarding it. A stoic temperament (in this regard Henley appears stronger than the average person) is a gift of Providence, no less than good vision or good lungs are. 

The true theology of life is captured not by Henley, but in the Gospel accounts of the Agony in the Garden, as crucifixion approaches - "Thy will, not mine, be done," prayed in tones authentically human, and far from stoic.  On a correct theology, our life is received as a gift, or as something loaned - received, at any rate, on terms which do not make our human ego sovereign. 

It is a little like the child, poorly brought up, who was heard to refer to "my house": "At my house, I have such-and-such a thing." The "my" sounds a wrong note here. A child who thinks in such ego-centred categories - without, that is, using the more normal "at our house" or "at my Mum's and Dad's house" - might be headed for an eventual career in some cut-throat branch of either politics or business.     

I was reminded of this aspect of life, so vividly (and therefore so helpfully) misrepresented by William Ernest Henley, at least three or four times during my move. 

There was - to cite just one example - the matter of the Second Mover. 

Having researched vendors with seeming diligence (mainly on that appropriate resort of the networked poor, Kijiji), I sent various e-mails and follow-up v-mails to three or four or five or so small companies or lone workers. In the end, finding anyone at all, in my envisaged low-budget sector of the household-removals market, was not easy. What was above all needed was a handyman, as opposed to a removals specialist - someone with a mere cargo van, for such details as the municipal disposal of recyclable garbage. (I myself lack the vision and the hand-eye coordination to be able to drive safely.) I would have been quite without a handyman at various mission-critical moments, except that an appropriate person responded to a v-mail to which he was not really obliged to respond. As I recall it, my voice message had said, in essence, "I had thought a day or two ago that I would need a handyman, but now it appears that I do not: please therefore ignore my Kijiji e-mail asking for your services." It therefore was, as I interpret it, sheer Providence that this kindly vendor did take the trouble to reply, asking how things were now going, and exploring the possibility that he might after all now prove useful. 

1.2 A Lesson: We Are Not Enriched by Chattels

I have already quoted Jerome K. Jerome's 1889 Three Men in a Boat on 2016-09-19 or 2016-09-20 (under the heading "Extract from Victorian Humourist Jerome K. Jerome, on Sorrow"), and on 2016-10-17 or 2016-10-18 (under the heading "Victorian Humourist Jerome K. Jerome on Deep Time and Eventual Japanese Tourists"), and on 2017-03-06 or 2017-03-07 (under the heading “Practicalities of Deutsche Sprachlehre”). Tonight it is again time to quote him. 

My present excerpt comes from near the beginning of his narrative. The author, and his friends Harris and George, have decided to venture up the Thames in a tent-coverable boat. The venturesome three are at this early point (in "Chapter III") planning their baggage. Tonight I quote, with a few cuts marked "/.../", from the convenient Three Men in a Boat upload at

The first list we made out had to be discarded. It was clear that the upper reaches of the Thames would not allow of the navigation of a boat sufficiently large to take the things we had set down as indispensable /.../

George said: "You know we are on a wrong track altogether. We must not think of the things we could do with, but only of the things that we can't do without." George comes out really quite sensible at times. You'd be surprised. I call that downright wisdom, not merely as regards the present case, but with reference to our trip up the river of life, generally. How many people, on that voyage, load up the boat till it is ever in danger of swamping with a store of foolish things which they think essential to the pleasure and comfort of the trip, but which are really only useless lumber.

It is lumber, man – all lumber! Throw it overboard. It makes the boat so heavy to pull, you nearly faint at the oars. /.../

Throw the lumber over, man! Let your boat of life be light, packed with only what you need – a homely home and simple pleasures, one or two friends, worth the name, someone to love and someone to love you, a cat, a dog, and a pipe or two, enough to eat and enough to wear, and a little more than enough to drink; for thirst is a dangerous thing. You will find the boat easier to pull then, and it will not be so liable to upset, and it will not matter so much if it does upset; good, plain merchandise will stand water. /.../

How much superfluous material I had to discard, and may over the coming weeks and months have to continue discarding, as my hoped-for Really Big Move, to Estonia in 2018, starts looming larger! It suffices tonight to pull out a small handful of examples, from a list that would perhaps run into the hundreds if compiled  properly: 
  • two inkjet printers, at least one of them decades old, and both in uncertain working order, and perhaps both now problematic in their interfacing (maybe talking through the dreaded old RS-232 or RS-232-C port? - whoever finally invented USB, which as a no-fuss interconnection standard has displaced RS-232  and "COM1" and "COM2" and their Byzantine ilk, is a Benefactor of Humanity, akin to James Clerk Maxwell and Oliver Heaviside in physics-of-radio, or to Richard Stallman - - in software engineering, or to W.E. Gladstone and M.S. Gorbachev in Realpolitik)
  • the circa-1996 or circa-1998 RedHat Linux installation packages (but I am glad that I had not, so far as I can now see, gone to the fanatical extreme of archiving the stack of around twenty floppies from which I first installed Linux, in the "Slackware" distribution, in August or September of 1995)
  • the pile of circa-1998 Linux magazines
  • the cassette tapes of classical music (but I did, as Providence would allow it, manage in my pre-move sorting to rescue a cassette tape of an interview with Soviet-Estonian dissident Tiit Madisson, whom I met in Chicago after his 1987 or 1988 expulsion from the Union; this might be the only surviving audio documentation of his Chicago visit)
  • the superfluous kitchen wares (for instance, the two plastic devices for getting all possible juice out of lemons - devices in my case moot, since I too poor to be easily able to justify the expense of lemons) 

2. Three Practical Lessons from This Experience of Moving

(1) Create and secure a “recovery centre”. I slipped up, by remembering to create the thing, but omitting to secure it. The "recovery centre" is where one secretes mission-critical items, such as cellular-phone charger, clean underwear, tin opener, soup bowl, soup spoon, box of loose black tea, vitamin pills, and marking pens. I have learned the hard way that even where movers are diligent, and even where the "recovery centre" has been pointed out to them, they are liable in their zeal to transfer a few things out of it into the General Load. In my case, I cannot blame the movers. It would have been enough for me to put up some paper tag, in the style "MOVERS PLSE DONT TOUCH!!", and then to put all my mission-critical items (duly bagged) into one single cardboard box. 

(2) Approach moving companies (removals specialists) with caution. A Superintendent-team worker at a York Region apartment block tells me he has seen more than one case of outright extortion, with some little old lady left weeping in his foyer. The scam is worked as follows: a down payment is taken; the victim is induced to sign some paper (and at this stage the victim might not carefully read, or at any rate might not properly digest, what has been so hastily signed);  the goods are loaded; and then some unexpectedly high supplementary fee is demanded before unloading (perhaps with the fatal paper now cited, as an unexpectedly onerous, and eminently enforceable, contract). 

In my own case, things went better. I describe my experience in rather neutral terms, laying out both the good and the not-so-good, without much commentary: 

  • The Big Truck was promised for about 14:00 EDT, and yet it arrived at around 19:00 or 19:30, with many an updating phone call from the booking office (an office perhaps in Montreal, rather than in Toronto). - The delay allowed me time to upgrade my packing from a deplorable condition into a respectable condition. 
  • The Big Truck team comprised two men, both in good physical shape. 
  • The Big Truck was clean inside. 
  • It was at all points made adequately clear to me that cash was going to be the only acceptable means of making the two requisite payments (the start-of-job deposit, to a value of 400 CAD, and the moderately larger end-of-job payment, at unloading). 
  • The senior in the two-man team was kindly and efficient, spoke excellent English, and was equipped both with safety footwear and with a duly functional text-message link to his booking office. 
  • The junior had Spanish, but spoke none of my own languages. He was working his first day with the firm. He was not (at any rate not yet?) supplied with safety footwear. 
  • I was charged for four Big Truck hours, although in reality we worked for just eight or ten or so minutes over three hours. This was an unexpected charge of perhaps 90 CAD. 
  • The Big Truck team leader indicated that he would levy the contractually agreed charge for overweight items only in respect of six or so items, where the actual  count of overweight items (he said, I think truthfully) had proven higher. 
  • Because the junior team member had to catch public transit by 23:30 from downtown Toronto, it was not possible for the Big Truck team to finish its job in one evening. My storage locker, agreed upon as part of the move in my various preliminary discussions with the booking office, was in the event left unvisited. Further, I had to carry most of my belongings down the basement stairs into my new home unaided, lugging them solo from where they had in haste been deposited on the adjoining lawn - except that the three really awkward things  (the desk, the miniature "bar-sized" fridge, and the filled two-drawer filing cabinet), along with a small number of easier things, did get hastily moved downstairs by the two-man team. 
  • The Big Truck team, and its booking office, and I all agreed amicably that there would be no need for a follow-on operation, to take care of what had been neglected in the evening's haste. 
In the end, it seemed to me that this operation, with its mix of merits and demerits, deserved a passing grade - something of a "5" or "4" or "3" on the old Soviet five-point academic system, as opposed to a smoke-pours-from-yer-ears "2" or a totally-lose-yer-kewl-as-in Chernobyl "1". If (so I reason, in awarding a score higher than the failing "2") you want kid-glove treatment, you call Allied Van Lines or United Van Lines or some similar big-name mover, and you pay accordingly. I was consequently happy enough to forgo the York Regional Police number I had kept on a notations-board neck pendant, as a precaution against things sinking to the unacceptable level of "2" or "1". 

(3) Where possible, use local-handyman teams, as opposed to removals specialists. As I noted above, I almost failed to connect effectively with a pertinent local handyman team - leaving a voice message saying that their services would not, in my final analysis, be needed, when in fact a few days later their services proved to be very much needed. My advice to others would now be to try avoiding Big Truck companies, and to search for handymen a little more creatively than I, even in my seeming diligence, did. I think I had made the mistake of using Google or Kijiji with terms like "mover". As I now realize after the event, it suffices to search under "handyman". Anyone who can install a kitchen cabinet or some drywall, as a handyman can, is liable to be able to carry boxes, and even to be able to help his client lug a desk, a bar fridge, and a filing cabinet. 

The lack of a big vehicle is no obstacle. A handyman is liable to be willing to hire, on the strength of his own driver's licence, some appropriate Big Truck approximation, for instance a U-Haul "Cube Van". This might be enough to take such items (a desk?) from a modest home as will not fit into a modestly sized handyman van. 

When I wrote the initial versions of the current blog posting, I unfortunately did not have the contact particulars of my chosen handyman team handy. Now, however, I do have them handy, and I add them with the team leader's consent: Mr Dave Pauwels, Markham;; 416-774-8510. Mr Pauwels works on weekdays in university administration, but (as I have found to my satisfaction) is very available evenings and weekends. He remarks to me now, in e-mail:  "I'm not much of a handyman, really, but I know how to get things moved from one place to another! Specializing in kid-glove scratched antiques or damaged walls."

[This is the end of the current blog posting.] 

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