I’m not saying that I don’t like having a high capacity washer and dryer in my house. Don’t think for a second that I’d prefer to go down to the creek with a paddle and a bar of lye soap I made myself to beat my clothes against a rock and then wring them out by hand and hang them on a line and pray that it doesn’t rain and/or that a flock of geese doesn’t travel overhead. Nope, I am happy to be able to stick my clothes in a machine, walk away, stick them in another machine, walk away again, and then spend ten minutes folding them.
But, because it is so easy, there isn’t any excuse for not doing it. Back in the day I would only be expected to own one or two dresses, and one or both of them would usually be some variation on dirty because washing was such an ordeal. Our standards have changed along with the inventions that make standards possible. Because I have a vacuum cleaner, there shouldn’t be crunchy things on my carpet. Because I have bubbles that will scrub for me, my bathroom should be sparkly clean and smell vaguely like cleaning products at all times. And because all these things are done by machine and technology, I should also be able to hold down a job, be active in the PTO, help with the homework, work on the weekends to raise money for the Band Boosters, and stay caught up on politics, sports, and the latest television shows and novels.
I’m also not saying that I want to go back to the Victorian era, when I wouldn’t have been able to vote or show my ankles in public. But. I would kind of like those lowered expectations. Back in the day, you were only expected to do one thing. If I were an upper-middle class woman in 1890, I would have a laundress to do the laundry, a governess/nanny to deal with the children, a cook to deal with feeding my family, and a maid to keep the house clean. My time would be spent embroidering, practicing the piano, and engaging in charitable works.
I want to know how, in the scant 125 years since then, things have changed so much. Largely for the better – as a Maybe I’ll paint today I could not have been a lawyer then, certainly not a judge, and I know for certain that I would have died during the birth of my son.
It’s just that lately, the whole concept of possibility seems burdensome. If it is possible, then I should try to do it or get it or achieve it. Otherwise I’m lazy, or squandering my potential, right? That said, wasn’t it Buddha who said that desire is the root of all suffering? If things don’t exist, they can’t be desired. If you desire something you can’t get or have or achieve, then you are disappointed. If you don’t want, you aren’t disappointed.
Sometimes, when I am driving from point A to point B, I will see a little house in the middle of not much of anywhere. Sometimes I think, “why would anyone live here?” The house will be neat and tidy, but not especially luxurious, and there aren’t too many amenities within easy driving distance. Going to the movies or a concert would be a road trip. Buying anything you can’t find in the Piggly Wiggly would be an ordeal. There aren’t museums or ball fields or town greens with live music. There aren’t any restaurants that serve any food that might use the word “fusion” as a descriptor.
Other times, when I look at those little houses, I am jealous of the people who live there. I imagine the house being paid for, or the mortgage payment being negligible. I imagine the residents tending a small vegetable garden. Tomatoes in the summer, beans in the fall, winter squash. I imagine them drinking coffee every morning on the front porch watching the world wake up. Dinner is set in a crock pot. Bread is set to rise. Maybe I’ll paint today. Or build some more bookshelves for the basement. Or learn to change the oil in my own car. I could bake cupcakes for the bake sale.
There’s nothing wrong with a small life. In fact, there’s a lot right about it. If you’ve got food, clothing, shelter, and relative health, everything else is window dressing. I mean, who cares how many people buy my books. The joy was in the writing: the art of creation, no? Ok, no. I care how many books are sold. (If you want to buy them, click here and/or here.) My spirit is big enough to want to want less, but not big enough to give up personal ambition and desire. I desire to desire less, but I don’t desire less, so I suffer because of my desire.
Meditate on that.
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Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Told You…” is set to be released in the Fall of 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.