Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home

It’s funny, the things you don’t notice until you’ve left a place for a while. I’ve lived in the Bay Area twice, when I was getting my Master’s Degree, and then again when I left academia and decided to get a “real job”. I liked it okay. I never really felt at home there, but it always had its charms. There were good restaurants and fabulous produce in the Farmer’s Markets, and the landscape itself was lovely. There were evenings I’d be driving home from the South Bay, and I’d come over the hill from Pleasanton, and there would be the whole bay spread out before me, gleaming in the early-evening sunshine and I’d think, yeah, this is a pretty good life.

But having been away for a couple of years, it all seems a little much. I even tried to go clothes shopping, but when it came down to it, I just didn’t care. I went to the nice mall one evening — I don’t really need much, although the nice t-shirts I like have been discontinued and the ones I have are getting a little ratty, and since I’m picky about the fabric weight, and since I’m neither tall nor particularly thin, I like a shirt with a little shape to it, so I went wandering through the mall, looking to see what’s out there this spring. And I just didn’t care. I wandered in and out of stores and suddenly it all seemed sort of dumb. I’m really trying to pay down my debt so I have more options in my life, and as I wandered through the Stanford mall, I just didn’t see anything that I wanted so badly that it should slow down my real project, which is to free myself from the financial obligations that tie me to my day job. I thought of my dad, who when he was here last spring, said that in Europe, he feels pretty satisfied with his life, but when he comes back here for a visit he can feel the huge machinery of the American consumer machine going to work on him and all of a sudden he starts wanting stuff, not anything in particular, but just more stuff. That’s how I felt in that mall, like it was all just stuff, and there wasn’t really anything I wanted.

So I went across the street to the fancy grocery store, and bought some olives, and bread, and cheese and a bottle of wine and went back to my hotel for the evening. I’d said something to my new manager about going shopping, and she couldn’t really understand why I hadn’t been into it, which only sort of added to the general sense of estrangement I wound up feeling all week.

And so, it was with enormous gratitude that I woke up this morning in my own little bed, in my own green bedroom, with the dogs and the cat and sunshine coming through my windows. It’s good to be back and meet up with Maryanne for lunch, then stop into the wine store where Deb asked how my trip had been. Its good to be back in a place small enough that we all know one another, and what’s happening in our lives. It was nice to stop into Matt’s meats for a chicken and to comiserate with Matt who grew up in Sonoma and nice Margot who I don’t know so well yet who moved here from southern California about how glad we are that we all found a home here. It’s good to be home, where there are little daffodils coming up in my yard, and where nice Susan who cleans for me, and who is also a gardener, dropped in during the week to bring in my mail and check on the tomato seedlings, and where I don’t feel like we’re all spending our time just chasing that great carrot on a stick that is the American dream of more stuff.

6 thoughts on “Home Sweet Home

  1. Have you seen the film “Off the Map,” with Joan Allen and Sam Elliott? It’s about a family that lives off the map and off the grid in the New Mexico desert. They manage on $5000 a year, gardening, bartering, and local junkyard finds. The plot thickens when an IRS agent comes calling to see why they haven’t filed returns in a few years. Anyway, the film offers an appealing image of living simply, along with breathtaking scenery.

    Unfortunately, counter to the theme of the film, it cost me $10.50 to see it in Manhattan!

    It’s a great aspiration to live as simply and self-sufficiently as possible, to try as best one can not to get completely sucked into the heartless machine of the consumer culture (no longer solely American but global). I want to read more along the lines of this theme… For example, I’m dying to read Ian McEwan’s latest, “Saturday.” I picked it up at a bookstore yesterday and read the wonderful quote from Bellow’s Herzog that prefaces the book. The quote made me absolutely seize in recognition of what’s wrong with our world to read it. So now I want to read Herzog too. But it’s a $15 Penguin paperback! (I’ll have to scour the library for it.) I may have to break down and buy the McEwan, though, because the reserve list is 20+ names long.

    Anyway, sorry for being so long-winded, but I’m sure you’re on the right track, Charlotte! It takes a lot of gumption and bravery to go against the machine, and most people who are enmeshed in it will resent you for it. So it ain’t easy. So it’s great that you’ve got supportive people in your neck of the woods who “get it.”

  2. Go for it. Live simply. It is easy once you get started. I once put myself on a full year clothes “fast”. It was amaizing how much I did not need to buy. I did it just to see if it could be done and trust me it can. I am a wicked clothes horse too. It makes you creative. There was a time when I thought that I was an under achiever, but I have NO debt and its a really good feeling.

  3. Part of the inspiration for buying this house and moving to Montana was having studied with Gary Snyder when I was at Davis. Gary bought land he could afford a million years ago, and lived close to the bone, and it bought him the freedom to write what he wanted and not have to teach until he wanted to — now that I’m in the house, and most of the real renovation has been done (well, there’s that bathroom issue to deal with), and now that my day job is becoming untenable, and now that i’m coming out of the really blinky period of my grief, I think I can buy my freedom in a year, or maybe two. And going to the Stanford Mall and not wanting anything seemed like a really promising start.

  4. I totally relate to this post. . . When I used to work in Manhattan, I used to feel the need to have new clothes! Really Expensive Haircuts! Pedicures! just because everyone else was doing it and all the STUFF was right in front of me. These days, I am much more happy with what I already have. Probably partly the influence of my husband, who is and who will always remain staunchly French, no matter how long he lives here. He’s so comfortable with the stuff he already has that I have to FORCE him to get new socks and Tshirts when the old ones get holes.

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