Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Born too late

Lately I've been feeling very discontented with my online life.  I read things like this article and I think, that's me.  Using the internet to filter down the world to only those parts that I'm comfortable with.  Or this one, reminding me of how extremely ADD the internet makes me.  I can't read through a whole article before switching to some other tab for no reason at all except that I'm already bored with the tab I'm in.  Endless hours get eaten up in front of the computer, and there's always more to read.  I always have a dozen tabs open that I really want to get to, and those tabs draw me back to the computer to "finish up" even though I have other things I should be doing.  By the time I get up, I feel listless, crammed with information I've had no opportunity to reflect on, guilty for the time I've wasted, sluggish from having spent so much time on my butt.  Why do I do this to myself?  I'm not even enjoying it!

Since I got married, I haven't fasted on the fast days of the Church.  Because I've been pregnant or nursing the whole time, I'm exempt -- which is a huge relief to me, because I am a terrible faster.  Instead, I fast from the internet.  I am more addicted to the internet than I am to food, and I figure it will be a huge sacrifice.

But the thing is, it never is.  It's not a sacrifice at all.  It's a relief.  The computer is shut and I'm free to find other things to do.  I clean the house.  I play with my kids (some ... I am still a big believer in kids entertaining themselves).  I read library books and start craft projects.  And it's great.  My days pass slower, but more enjoyably.  When I rest, I actually feel like I'm resting.  And almost any other thing I do, I end up getting tired of or bored with and feeling like moving on to the next thing.  It drives me on to do housework or knock out my to-do list.  The internet dulls that feeling of "finished" -- I am never finished.

I ended up stretching my fast a little further and staying mostly off the computer throughout the weekend.  It was great.  Why get back on at all?  Well, I did miss my friends, whom I can't see often in real life.  And I am doing book research.  But mainly because it felt like I can't actually be a human being in the 21st century and not be online a lot.  People expect it.  Still, I'd like to be more intentional about it from now on -- maybe even figure out a schedule for computer time.  Because I have to admit that my relationship with the internet is way unhealthy.

Anyway while I was offline, I was thinking about the past.  I've been studying archeology a lot lately, like I've said, and it's so neat to see all the things people can do.  Any woman of the middle ages could do all of the following: card wool, spin yarn, weave, brew, light a fire, bake, tend a garden, make cheese, pickle vegetables, make butter, and so many more things.  Sure, I can do things she couldn't: read, type, drive a car.  But it's so rare for us nowadays to do the entire thing of any job.  Maybe we can make our own clothes, but we buy the cloth.  We cook food, but we buy the ingredients.

I just have this craving to do the whole thing myself.  I like to grow food and pick it and cook it and eat it.  I dream of carding wool and spinning it and weaving it and sewing it.

John tried to get me to explain this desire of mine, because he doesn't get it at all.  Part of it is simply that I enjoy creating.  I love to create; it doesn't even matter what.  Over the years I've created dolls, puppets, paintings, novels, woven things, knit things, crochet things, food, gardens, quill pens, alcoholic beverages, photographs, poems, treehouses, and clothing.  It's satisfying in a way that nothing else is.  And I don't like to make a fancy craft out of it, buying a ton of supplies so I can do it right.  I like to improvise materials and use what I have on hand.

Part of it is a desire for independence.  I have a moral notion, something no one ever taught me, but which I guess I picked up from my upbringing, that it is more virtuous to make something than to buy it.  That it's better to be a producer than a consumer.  I loathe shopping.  I detest it.  Since I usually shop at Aldi, I find the regular grocery store a shock.  So much stuff!  So much worthless junk!  So many things you could easily make yourself!

Meanwhile, I'm sure there are people who walk the aisles thinking, "Wow.  Wonders of civilization."  I saw a video awhile back that told the story of a pencil.  How many different people's work goes into making a pencil, and what a wonderful thing it is that capitalism brings all these things together to make a pencil that no single one of us could make on our own.  It just left me thinking, "You think an individual can't make an implement to write with?  Watch me."  I wanted to give up pencils for good and fling it in the teeth of Dixon Ticonderoga.  But that would be kind of a useless gesture seeing as I use a computer that has a heck of a lot more people's work going into it, and I can't make my own computer components.

What the heck is wrong with me?  Is it the Scotch descent?  Ideals learned from Depression-era grandparents?  The constant fear of poverty?  Was I just born into the wrong era, that I can't appreciate a vast, complex economy and unlimited variety of consumer goods?

All I know is that I recently saw a documentary on replicating life in the Iron Age and I thought, "Oh, man.  That would be awesome."  I would love to live in a house I had built myself, milking cows, grinding grain in a saddle quern, and spinning wool from my sheep.  Maybe I'm idealizing.  Maybe I'm really too lazy and couldn't do all the work.  But I'm ashamed of that lazy side of myself; I'd rather do the work.

The one sticking point, though, is the loneliness.  People then lived in community.  Now we're so isolated, without our technological devices, it would be hard to keep in touch.  My next-door neighbor told me today that no one sits on their front porches anymore.  They all stay inside where the air-conditioning is.  He and I get along fine, by the way.  At first I admit I stereotyped him, because he, like most people around here, is something of a redneck.  But maybe that's the internet talking, my tendency to sort people by stereotype and then choose to associate only with those who are like me.  Maybe it opens my mind more to talk to my neighbor over the fence than it does to read a blog of another crunchy hippie Catholic mother on the other side of the world.  I just need to find ways to create community in the places where I am.

As time goes on, I find myself becoming more and more of a Luddite.  When I started using the internet, I also started making medieval clothing.  Now that we have internet on our phones, I'm dreaming of a drop spindle. 

Ah well, I never was any good at staying in style anyway.

When it comes down to it, it's not about abandoning the modern world.  It's about bringing those ancient things that I love into the present so that I can build a life that's true to who I am, that allows me to live in the modern world without letting it change me more than I'm comfortable with.


Enbrethiliel said...


What you've written about the Middle Ages reminds me of the Ingalls family. Ma could do so much!!!

As for what I can do . . . Sometimes I wonder if I can even call what I do "cooking," when I wouldn't be able to cobble together a functional oven or cook anything over an open fire. Is it even a skill if someone else did the really hard work for me? (I remember reading the part in A Secret Garden by Frances Hogdson Burnett where the children bake eggs and potatoes by burying them in the ashes under a fire. There were no instructions: Burnett probably figured that her readers would have someone around who could teach them how to do it--or that that they had already done it and knew what she was talking about. I'm so envious!)

There's a BBC series (if I remember correctly) in which a town gets to experience what it is like to eat as if they lived in certain past eras. So on "1940s Week," for instance, they get to line up with their food stamps and have their measley rations weighed out for them. The Medieval and Victorian episodes were especially interesting, inasmuch as all the food was prepared using the same techniques from those time periods. Yes, down to the butchering of the animals! I watched a few episodes and wished I lived in that town, just so I could have taken part in the show.

But without the support network of an entire town (and enthusiastic TV producers), would I go to similar extremes to eat what Michael Pollan calls "real food"? Probably not! The most I'm hoping for at this point is to have some success growing something from seed . . . or even just success not killing a plant someone else has grown. =P But if I had more confidence in my abilities, then you can bet I'd have one of those vertical gardens fit for apartment dwellers by now! I love fresh vegetables, but they're just so expensive to get from the store.

PS -- I love the link! ;-)

Sheila said...

This is why everyone should go camping once in awhile! The knowledge that you can, in fact, cook over a fire (and not just pork and beans from a can) is very confidence-boosting. I also really wish I knew how to build a shelter, so maybe that should be on my "list" of essential skills to acquire.

I always wanted to be on those shows, too. I watched some of "1900 House" about a decade ago, and I was so jealous of the people who got to do that!

You do not need confidence in your abilities. You need a flowerpot and a seed packet. Seriously, just plant stuff. Even total ignorance isn't likely to make you kill more than half of it. If 10% comes up and lives, that's free food for you, for virtually no effort. I recently read the quote, "Growing your own food is like coining your own money." Only, of course, better in every way, because what you can grow, with NO skill, is more delicious than what you can buy at the store!

If you have even a south-facing window, you have no excuse not to be gardening. Go for it.

Enbrethiliel said...


Actually, I have tried growing things from seed. Nothing ever came up . . . and the two seedlings I bought died on me. =( If I gave you a full report, I'm sure something in it would make you slap your forehead and say, "You did THAT? Why???"

But in the spirit of my "TBR Promise", I'll take your challenge in the spirit with which it was thrown down. I do know where to get pots and soil, and I still have some seeds from last time. (Can they still be used if they're about two years old?) My family has a south-facing balcony that should do. Give me a week and I'll start my "gardening diary."

Belfry Bat said...

There have been seeds that seem to have been several thousand years old and sprouted quite cheerfully; We should be suspicious of those seeds you still have, but because of the previous crop failure and not because of the intervening time.

Sheila said...

Yay! Go plant your garden! Best of luck!

Odds are, your seedlings died because they were sick when you bought them. It's very likely not anything you did... though I'd be happy to hear your play-by-play if you like.

Enbrethiliel said...


You know what? The balcony is actually facing southwest, not south, and more west than south. =P My aunt, who is home all day, said that it doesn't get much sun until mid-afternoon.

I do have an alternative window that does face south, but my pot will have to be a bit smaller than I originally thought.

Expect some blogging on this! =P

Sheila said...

They say, if you have to pick between an east window and a west window, to pick east. But south is always best if you can swing it.

Good luck and I am eager to hear how it goes.

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