I almost gave up last night. I looked around at all the dishes to be washed (pretty near every dish in the house), the enormous expanse of lawn to be mowed, the garden that’s still half-empty and now full of grass to be hoed thanks to constant rain, and I wavered in my basic, “life is sweet” philosophy.
I don’t want to be all, woe is me!, but solo living can be a lot more hard work than joy a lot of the time. Despite the American mantra of independence and pulling-up-bootstraps and all, I’m pretty sure people weren’t meant to live alone.
It certainly furthers the consumer culture and the economy it’s built on if every person lives in their own house or apartment and buys one of everything because we don’t know or trust our neighbors enough to ask for or lend tools or watch a show or make music or otherwise entertain each other in whatever way floats our boat, but that kind of lifestyle also makes it necessary to work more hours to buy all that stuff or hire people to do things we don’t have time to do.
And it squeezes out free time for–oh, I don’t know–maybe pleasure? Enjoyment? Intentionality? Appreciation? Contemplation? Play? Have we lost sight of the necessity for those things? The necessity of sitting down to enjoy the lawn after it’s mowed or the garden after it’s hoed instead of simply collapsing in an exhausted heap and then dragging oneself up to move onto the next daunting task?
Since I have made my life about good, fresh, healthy, local food, I also have to wonder how this solitary, harried lifestyle affects people’s ability to provide that kind of food to their friends, family, and community. How many times have you heard older folks–people who have a huge wealth of food preparation and preservation skills to share–say, “well, you know, it’s just us now, so it doesn’t seem worthwhile to plant that big garden or put up all that food.”
Many younger people are so busy just trying to find enough wage-hours to pay rent and utilities and gas while schlepping the kids (if they have them) to practice or play dates and squeezing in housework between to think much ahead about their food supply.
I know that last summer, with an imminent move and the realization that H wouldn’t be around nearly so much, I kind of lost steam for putting by massive amounts of food. If it’s just me…
Of course, I still cook and can and preserve, but I’ve been doing it on a much smaller scale, knowing that I have only myself to feed most of the time, and M part of the time, and he’s not especially fond of many things I typically preserve. Oh, and all that prep and cleanup while trying to make the current meal (more dishes to wash!) in the craziness of cramped countertops.
I can understand why a lot of people–even those with plenty of skill–throw up their hands and exclaim, why bother? Do I even have time to think about this? To care?
Last night, I found myself praying for an able-bodied housemate (and at that point a complete stranger off the street would have seemed momentarily reasonable) to take just a little of the load off–to help mow the lawn, do the dishes, mop the floor, fold the laundry, clip and wash the greens for dinner, hoe the garden (OK–I’d happily do the hoeing).
Communal living has its own special problems, but I’d guess almost anyone who has been the sole breadwinner, housekeeper, and child-raiser of a household can appreciate (in their limited moments of free-thought-time) the beauty of, say, a farm collective or the Hutterite way of living.
I got out of my funk in the usual way–by tackling tasks head on. M, who is a little guy, was able to help in a few different ways–bringing laundry up from the basement, laying down the rugs in the kitchen, and even helping push the mower on the last stretch.
The whole backyard finally cut, I prepared a late dinner-after-dinner salad of fresh-clipped arugula from the raised beds along with shredded local chicken and sliced local radishes. OK, I made two. And I ate both, since M wanted his leftover (homemade!) mac n’ cheese from lunch.
Eating that kind of fresh, nutritious food makes the work worthwhile. And since I roasted the chicken a few days ago, it wasn’t that hard to put together. The cold beer helped, too.
In the morning, making coffee in a relatively clean kitchen (still had the dinner-after-dinner dishes to do) and looking out over the neatly mowed backyard made the rest of the weekend’s tasks seem feasible. Even though the lawn seems to have grown half an inch overnight.
Having been through this cycle of exhaustion and despair more times than I can count, I know it’ll come on again. And it makes the conversations with friends and colleagues about building intentional communities and work-sharing arrangements seem that much more appealing.
And urgent. I may be only just-shy-of-thirty-eight, but I’m not getting younger, and it doesn’t seem like the workload is getting less.
I’ll be going out to work in my other garden this afternoon–a space graciously donated by farm friends–and I’ll bring some food for collectively-prepared meal. It’ll be faster and more pleasant to get done what needs doing out there with all of us working together, and the meal will be about what’s good rather than what one person can manage on top of everything else.
But first, I’ll go out and tend the vegetable garden here and mow the front yard, too. The day is brighter (and getting warmer) after hoeing the first few planted rows free of weeds and seeing the tomatoes come out of their rainy, cool weather funk and the first few shoots of corn emerging–already!
As I was working–the dog lounging nearby in the shade–a neighbor lady the age of my grandparents (had I still any living) drove by and chided in a benevolent, grandmotherly way, “do a good job, now!” and we chatted about the lovely weather. Based on her waving, smiling, and checking things out most times she drives by, I think it makes her happy to see me out there gardening.
I know it makes me happy.