There’s no greater gift involving time than creating the kind of life that allows you not to predicate how you use your time on the impact of that use on your ability to make the money you require for living your life as you see fit. In short, the more time you can give yourself, the better you are going to feel. That is, as long as there are other people in your life important enough to you to give them some of your time as well. If you can give yourself more time than the amount you need to make a living in order to meet the cost of necessities, you are on the road to heaven on earth. The problem, of course, is how to “make” such time. (side thought: what do make time out of?)
Many pretend that philosophy is the solution, often the same people who really don’t need to worry about these things, because they have the money to do, more or less, as they please. More often than not the common wisdom is the only philosophy that works universally is “make your life simpler.” Dispense with possessions, except the precious few. Reduce your obligations, in number, if not in magnitude. Eat less. Drink less. Consume less electricity, water, natural gas. Eschew the use of vehicles that are fueled by carbon-based fluids, solids or gases.
This is obviously horse shit, except for the lives of those who have embraced a monastic life within the confines of their chosen religion, and they happen to have a vast garden of food they maintain year round in a temperate climate.
Outside of criminal behavior, there is no custom, there is no set of tasks, that, in the aggregate can be termed simple, however basic and uncomplicated any one of them may be in the particular. Those I know who espouse, if not embrace (a smaller number), the “simple” life in the sense I am attempting to define it, spend most of their time engaged in tasks in pursuit of such a regime. Aside from the observation that one should embrace his or her spouse once in awhile, especially if you actually mean it, I would say, there is no simplicity to their lives at all. Not from the outside. Rather, given the theme of this essay, the more important consideration is the extent to which they devote time to themselves in a way they see not only fit, but they experience as pleasurable also. The fairy tale they tell themselves, and the majority of their friends, about simplicity is not only besides the point, but harmless. It’s not worth the time – aside from observing it and commenting upon it in public – to consider its obvious and pertinent internal inconsistency. If it is not a fairy tale, but told, nevertheless, in hypocrisy or perversity, well, you have some interesting friends, and you should spend more time with them observing their behavior. Unless, as I say, it’s criminal, in which case, be prepared, in sticking around, to accept the consequences of association.
This is inspired by a spot inventory of the contents of the small pad of paper I carry in my left hip pocket. I have used them for years now (the first of the current series starts January 27 2002; they have 80 leaves that measure 4.1 x 5.8 inches [the odd dimensions derive from the fact that I effect the use of specific brand of “carnet,” French for notebook: it’s a Rhodia Bloc #13, with a bright orange cover, scored to allow folding the front cover over the binding; each leaf is covered with a grid of ruled squares, five to the inch horizontally and vertically]). I write, usually on only one side of each leaf, and each is perforated, so the pad serves the purpose as well of a repository of any needed scrap notes. I record everything here: bits of conversations, ideas large and small, drafts of essays and stories, shopping lists, to-do items, and, for three years, the names of all the oncology specialists treating my wife, her medications, appointments, etc. At the time of the account that follows, I had just started my tenth of these notebooks. This method has outlasted every system (e.g. Filofax, Day-Runner), gadget (PDA), device (Apple Newton computer), on which I have spent thousands of dollars over a 30 year professional career. The notes from which the following is copied says "Transcribed 2005 February 6." I leave the significance, never mind the meaning, of this, if any, to my future literary executors and scholars. Of which I have no doubt there will be an army.
[There are] chores, monthly house payments, auto maintenance, and the workplace
[the] the classic representation of the artist as monomaniacal with disorderly studio, paint-spattered clothes, unwashed, [eating] makeshift meals, etc.
Just below this entry is the self-stick tracking number ID from the Express Mail pack I sent to Fleet Bank Repetitive Funds Transfer Unit.
This is a typical chore for me. We have to send money, in euros, to our French checking account with the bank that holds the mortgage on our maison de village in Provence, so that our mortgage and mortgage insurance can be automatically paid on the tenth of each month. There are also the usual utility bills, which in France are paid bi-monthly, except for water and sewer, which, as here, are semi-annual.
Woe betide however if you miss a payment, especially if you have arranged, as we have for most of these bills, automatic payment. Miss one payment and the service is cut off. It’s happened with the phone and the water. Once is enough to teach you never to have it happen again. And even an anguished artist will be sufficiently bestirred not to allow this daily need to be interrupted.
Of course, the French are masters at circumventing the system, even in the eventuality of a service cut-off. For example, when I told a French acquaintance about the temporary water shortage chez nous (once we discovered it after a hiatus of several months) he told me that, if needed, he has the special square-headed socket wrench used by the Water Service both to turn on and off your supply (under a cover in the pavement, in our case, in the alley just next to the maison).
Perhaps characteristically, I am somehow more inspired in France, and even in the absence of my usual inspirational mood-altering nostrums, am capable of prodigious amounts of work, including a great deal of the content of bertha magazine. This was true of visits to St.John USVI where, alas, I have no property, but where a very good friend, indeed, resides and where I have been a not quite frequent enough guest. My duties in France are not unlike those at home, as I must still track the course of household expenses and pay the bills. The car is a rental, but needs, perhaps even more than at home, the ministrations that all automobiles require to keep running (or at least a steady eye on its condition and the level of fluids, especially its most precious, the petrol) because the maison is in the middle of nowhere, with about seven or eight kilometers (4½-5 miles) to the nearest gas station. Naturally, it’s open on its own schedule as well.
Further, there are the usual standard responsibilities to assume, preparing every meal not eaten out, with the accompanying kitchen cleanup. The never-ending chores, few and far between it is true, but always, somehow disruptive. There are, as well, the chores that fall into the category of feathering-one’s-nest. These include the delicate task of furnishing and decorating a house from the bare walls—the condition in which we received it from the previous owner.
The latter set of tasks is particularly tricky in France as it is the custom to strip one’s former house as one vacates it of all property, save what is “permanently” attached to the wall, floor, or ceiling. This does not include light fixtures (there were but two, a wall sconce on the third floor, and a storm fixture on the outside wall of the house overlooking the roof terrace enclosing a yellow “insect-repelling” bulb). Even mirrors were stripped from bathroom walls. It was our good fortune to have all the appliances bestowed upon us by the previous owner: an upper-middle-class matron, wife of a successful Marseille lawyer, who was abandoning the house for one they were building closer to the coast and which, presumably, the old appliances did not suit.
It satisfied this would-be artist’s sensibility (and pocketbook) that the left appliances included a Godin range, the cream of the French crop. Our model (with two electric burner, two gas, and an electric grill top, plus two ovens, with built-in rotisserie motors) is a little long in the tooth, though the latest versions of it, little altered in terms of convenience, and in some sense even of design, sells in the United States at “select” outlets for as much as $8,000, depending on the configuration. I’d have to sell a lot of photographs to pay for that.
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