Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Sheltering In Place

Last summer I spent my first weeks as a quasi-retired educator doing what I called "philosophy in the garden." This involved spending a couple of hours reading Mary Midgley or John Ruskin whilst sitting on comfy chairs out back with the puppies. Sometimes I read aloud to them (which no doubt made folks who walked by in the alley wonder about my sanity; but then, they probably already do), and sometimes I just sat and enjoyed not doing anything productive.

Just this week I came across several articles and/or blog posts about leisure (the sources are recorded in the latest Cabinet post), and revisited John Hodgkinson's Brave Old World for his advice on what to do in November ("Kill Pig"), which took me back to his page on The Idler (to which I used to describe in a digital edition, but it seems to have disappeared). I'd subscribe to the print edition, except that I'm trying to winnow down my stacks of periodicals I can't bear to toss by trying to get at as many as possible online. So I'll just mosey by every once in a while, and read his books. It is, in fact, time to read the chapter on December: "Feast."

And just a couple of days ago, I wrote in the Cabinet about Maria Popova's wonderful page called Brain Pickings, in which she discusses Josef Pieper's book (1948), Leisure: The Basis of Culture. So even if I'm not now hanging about at the bottom of the garden with puppies (they're snoozing here in the study with me), I'm still philosophizing about doing very little in the traditional sense of work.

Given the state of the world at the moment, I might also seem to be hunkering down, trying to stay away from it all.  It's not just the blowing people up and the guns, although that's probably not a bad reason to stay home and out of it, but the sheer idiocy that seems to be taking over in the public sphere.  Donald Trump's ridiculous pomposity; Ben Carson's willful ignorance; everyone else's ideological shortsightedness and terror at the possibility of losing voters if they admit that climate change isn't just a communist plot. 

Thirty years ago I'd be out doing something--volunteering, teaching, trying to combat the Dark Side in imaginative ways. But now I'm not. I'm reading more, writing more, and cooking more, fighting personal battles against household food waste, mouse infestations, dreary days, and (twice a week) treading educational water by teaching and trying to prepare lessons that will engage and inspire. The Beloved Spouse has it much harder, because rather than trying to teach art history to art students, he's trying to teach students to think when they flat out don't want to. So, two years down the line, the plan is for him to retire and for us to do something more enjoyable with the rest of our lives.

And so the decision that faces us is whether to shelter in place (stay here and do the best we can in a part of the world that seems to abhor the life of the mind, but where we have a well-loved daughter and a house), or to move to somewhere, not here. I've written about the fantasies (Living In Interesting Times), but my desires ebb and flow as we weigh the possibilities. For example, for a time we were intrigued by the idea of Montana, but realized that it's too far away from either child and any family, and that we'd be more isolated than we might really want to be. So now the exploration of possibilities has moved west, to eastern Washington State, or perhaps Oregon, where we have family and friends, or even to Owens Valley, should a reasonable place show up when/if we start thinking seriously about any of this. But the ties that bind us here--all the work on the house, the proximity to other family--are pretty compelling, especially when I'm feeling particularly tired, and particularly (mentally) lazy.

This probably seems extremely trivial and self-serving in the moment. But having spent some serious time fighting the good fight, trying to help make meaningful changes, and ultimately achieving only very small victories, I think we might have earned a respite. Some of our (admittedly few) friends feel much the same way, so perhaps these sentiments really reflect a coming of (old) age, or another rite of passage. 

Or, they might simply stem from more than a week of dreary, driving rain, mud, soggy leaves, and post-Thanksgiving capitalist overload.  We did go out over the weekend--but only to buy coffee filters and have a nice lunch-time conversation after not leaving the house for six days. But we didn't participate in any of the buying frenzy that doesn't even wait for the holiday to end. Last Thursday's binge-watching of the original Star Wars films and an appropriately themed Thanksgiving meal with the Daughter, the Boyfriend, and the Dog provided a bit of an anodyne to the weather-related malaise. And that's probably reason enough to tick the "shelter" column on the decision list. By the time we can actually do anything, maybe we'll have built a strong enough argument for one or the other that the final choice won't seem nearly as onerous as it does now.