In the shower, I think about luxury. Steaming-hot water, available at the turn of a knob. Warm hallways on the way to the bathroom. Morning-bright light at 11 pm. Little switches and knobs to control it all. Luxuries that we barely register as such.
Some people take a long look at my life in winter, raise their eyebrows, and say, “No fucking way.” For the people who say this, these luxuries have become inextricable from Living. Which is understandable if you don’t feel like a cat bath is enough, and you don’t have the time to heat up a watering can full of water yourself, or the gall to shower outdoors in the middle of winter (yeah, me neither actually on the outdoor winter showering, but I know people who swear by it).
But the real shock is that it took me 27 years to learn that these things were luxuries at all.
And yet I am a hedonist. I love excess. It’s just that the things I consider hedonistic and glorious are a lot different than they used to be.
Come summer the luxuries that I celebrate the loudest come into bloom. Entire days, every day, spent outside. An outdoor kitchen. An outdoor living room. An outdoor bathtub. Decadently drinking champagne in all of them.
Time, “free” time, according to those who have little of it to spend as they please, is the biggest luxury of all. And I am rolling in time. Time to sit in the sun. Time to stare at growing plants. Time to watch the magpies fight the cat in the tree next to the ping pong table again. Time to kneel in the dirt and watch the ants. Time to drink another cup of coffee with a friend. Time to sleep in. Time to write. Time to chop wood. Time to garden. Time to dumpster dive.
But except for the champagne and coffee, these things are not luxuries. Time, food, warmth, sunlight: these are the intrinsic joys of life, and they are there for us to have if we are willing to lay down most of the luxuries of this culture. These things are far more important to me than steaming-hot water and warm hallways. I can always heat up some water on the wood stove and put on a coat. This is my hedonism.
In a roundabout way I was thinking about all of this because of something my cousin read to me from a book she was reading. I don’t have the passage to quote at you, but it was about French cooking and the point was this: many French recipes are very simple (i.e. have very few ingredients), but they are not easy to make. They involve time, patience, and a bit of work. The conclusion was that this was like life, and that simple was good, that complexity and work were good.
Simple is beautiful, yet does not imply ease. It is perhaps an obvious conclusion, yet it was so articulately formulated and nail-on-the-head I wanted to clap. Though the less word-obsessed might say that “simple” can be a synonym for “easy,” at the heart of things, it is not. Easy is McDonalds. Easy is Ikea. Easy is disposable mass-produced crap that we don’t need. I do not like easy. I do not want easy. I want complex, diverse, sweaty, and muscle-fueled.
I would consider heating with wood “living simply,” though it is a lot more work than turning a thermostat knob. But behind my wood stove is an axe and a shed full of stores. Behind the knob are miles of copper cables, nuclear and coal power plants, and an industry of people needed to run them.
The price of the knob isn’t worth it though, and the price of the power bill doesn’t even begin to cover it. No, we get to pay for that one in cancer and polluted water and air. I wish everyone would choose simple over easy so that we could just get on with shutting the whole system down tomorrow. I want to see a politician run on a campaign with signs that say “Simple” and then disband the entire government upon arriving in office.
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