luxury, ease

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.

0 Comments on “luxury, ease

  1. No. If we all choose to do our heating with wood (even only basic, low-level) the planet will be turned into a wasteland faster than we do anyway. Energy from water, wind and sun may solve this problem, burning wood not.

  2. gegenglueck: The population at the size it is now would certainly not be able to heat with wood without lots of terrible pollution, yes. But no where here do I say I think the entire world should heat with wood. (Though I can see how it could be assumed that I am implying that. However, I don’t believe that there is any one “right” solution or way to live simply, or way to live at all. Here I am always talking about the way I go about my life, because this is a personal-story-based blog. What I would very much like to see is a general cultural shift toward living “simple,” instead of trying to throw even more technology at every “problem” caused by an over-teched world in the first place.)

    Perhaps you are right about the water/sun energy. But as a follow up, energy from sun/water/wind to run what? Collected how? I am assuming the problem you refer to solving is the problem of pollution. I feel that solar panels, for example, are a deceptively “green” way to collect energy, deceptive because the processes needed to manufacture the panels (mining metals, transporting materials with oil, etc) are so poisonous. When I talk of “living simply” and say that I wish the world would consciously decide to go in that direction now, I talk of changing a lot of the culture’s habits. Like that we need all of the energy we currently use, or have a right to fuck up the planet to use it.

  3. “The thing you learn with Potage Parmentier is that “simple” is not exactly the same as “easy.” It had never occurred to me that there was a difference until [we] sat down on our couch… and took our first slurps of Julia Child’s potato soup. Certainly I had made easier dinners.. Ordering pizza and getting drunk on Stoli gimlets while waiting for it to arrive, that was another favorite.. [insert long section on how to make Potage Parmentier, only four ingredients but like three hours].. this life we had going for ourselves.. felt like the opposite of Potage Parmentier. It was easy enough to keep on with the soul-sucking jobs; at least it saved having to make a choice. But how much longer could I take such an easy life? Quicksand was easy. Hell, death was easy.. Maybe I needed to make like a potato.. be a part of something that was not easy, just simple.” – Julie Powell

  4. Ooo! Thanks Tara. I was secretly hoping you’d post that quote once you read the post. Actually, I should have just gotten a hold of you to get it before posting this. But you know how that is. The time difference is not our friend.

  5. What a great post! I love your thoughts. Sometimes I feel so foolish writing about life and claiming how good simplicity is. Because really, in developed countries we are far from living with less and creating lives of simplicity when you look at the rest of the world.

  6. Katie: Thanks! Glad you got a chance to come over and read this, I quite admire your blog. Good point about the rest of the world. I think we have a lot to learn still… 🙂

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