Here’s to a cleaner design, and to more regular posting. There’s probably going to be less cooking and gardening around here in the future (if only because after eight seasons in this house, I sort of feel like I’ve written just about everything one can about my garden, and about what I’m eating for dinner) and more writing about books, and politics and economics.
One of the things I can’t seem to get out of my head is Shannon Hayes book, Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. I wrote about it for BookSlut in last month’s column The Revolution Starts Here, and then the Bookslut herself, Jessa, wrote about it in her Smart Set column this month: The Home Front. One of the things I found fascinating about Jessa’s column is how different Hayes’ ideas look to someone a decade and a half younger than I am. I’m old enough to remember the hippies of the 1970s, the back to the land movement, and to have seen both of those not as a joke, but as a possible way of life. In college I hung out with oddball types who were leading canoe trips and trying to figure out how to support themselves without ever having to come in from the woods. In other words, I’m old enough to have come of age before Ronald Reagan, when the world still held out some hope that making money and buying stuff wasn’t the ultimate project to which one could devote one’s life (although I also haven’t forgiven Bill Clinton for repealing Glass-Steagall and allowing the banks and Wall Street to gamble our economy in to ruin). I liked Hayes’ book a lot, and I loved the portraits of so many people trying to figure out how to live richly without buying into the fear-based money economy, the one that wants to keep us on the hamster wheel forever, always chasing that thing that is just out of reach.
But I have to say, a lot of it didn’t seem that radical to me. Anyone my age who wanted to be an artist or who never wanted to come in from the woods knew that they were never going to make much money. I like to say that I moved to Livingston because of Gary Snyder, who showed us all in grad school, by his example, that if you bought a place to live that you could afford to pay off, then you had a huge amount of personal and artistic freedom. One of the things I find the most touching in Hayes’ account, is how torn she felt between the path that academic success opened up for her, and the lived experience of that life. She’s smart and got herself scholarships and, like I did, went all the way to the PhD. — only to discover that the life that opened up for her was going to require sacrifices in her personal life that she wasn’t able to make. I know that feeling.
It’s unsettling to feel out of the mainstream. I’ve gotten more comfortable with it as I’ve gotten older, partly because I’m old enough now that I sort of know what my life is, I’m past that point where you’re always worried about what you’re going to be when you grow up. And I don’t know that I’d be as sanguine about it if I lived someplace more “normal” — if I was surrounded by subdivisions and shopping malls and all the stuff that I fled when I left California (where I was very lonely, in part because I didn’t care about any of that stuff). I do know that it’s folks like Shannon Hayes (and Jessa and everyone else out here blogging about how to live closer to the ground) who are asking the right questions, who are finally starting to crack the buy-buy-buy ethos that have caused us, over the past several decades, to run ourselves into the ground.