Life as an Alternative I [Chapter 5].
[Note: Please see the 1996 Preface for an explanation of the unusual pagination.]
Copyright Notice: Copyright © 1972 by Bantam Books, Inc.; Copyright © 1996 by Nicholas Johnson. All rights reserved. This book may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any medium known now or in the future. Provided, however, that permission is hereby granted to distribute this book under the following conditions: (1) that it is distributed in its entirety, including this copyright notice and 1996 Preface, (2) that no charge is exacted, or revenue received, directly or indirectly, by anyone in connection with the transfer, and (3) as a matter of courtesy and information, that the author be informed, simultaneously with the distribution, of any distribution to more than one person or posting for availability on the Internet, Web, or publicly available directory. Any other use requires the prior permission of the author: Nicholas Johnson, email@example.com, postal: Box 1876, Iowa City IA 52244-1876, U.S.A.
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The true business of people should be to . . . think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.
We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
“Woodstock,” Copyright © 1969 by Siquomb Publishing Corp.
All rights reserved. Used by permission of Warner Bros. Music.
When I was a kid, I figured like everyone else does that the more money I had, the more things I’d possess and the happier I’d be. Well, I was lucky. I obtained the material things when I was relatively young. And it didn’t take long to figure out what a ridiculous goal that was.
I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.
-Henry David Thoreau
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Life as an Alternative I [Chapter 5]
“Okay, what’s the alternative?” you ask.
How about life? How about trying to find out what you would do, and be, and think, and create if there wasn’t some corporation trying to sell you on doing it all their way?
But how would you go about that?
It soon became obvious that if I was going to criticize television for not offering alternative life styles, I was going to have to be able to find the answer to that question. So I set about it.
I think experience is useful to understanding. When I was trying to understand the problems of creative artists in television, I got an 8-mm camera and tried to make some films; I tried writing some poetry and songs and playing the guitar. When the FCC was involved in evaluating questions of journalistic freedom, I watched and talked to the radio and television reporters themselves as well as listening to the formal presentations of their lawyers.
As with any inquiry, a search for alternative life styles can best be begun by identifying, segregating, examining, and experiencing the most basic components of the subject. In this case, the subject was life. Whether or not you permanently leave the city to live in the woods, a natural environment is a good place to sort out the basics of living. I have always enjoyed hiking and camping anyway, and the West Virginia mountains seemed the best setting for my new odyssey.
For two weeks in August, 1970, my boys — Sherman, age nine, and Gregory, age six — and I lived on some isolated forested land in the mountains of West Virginia. The only radio station we could hear was WELD in Fisher, West Virginia — a town about ten
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And now a man came up and asked him, “Master, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” “Good?” said Jesus. “Why do you ask me about that? One alone is good. But if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” . . . The young man answered, “I have kept all these. Where do I still fall short?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to go the whole way, go, sell your possessions, and give to the poor, and then you will have riches in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away with a heavy heart; for he was a man of great wealth.
Economically the successes achieved in the working out of the Vermont project far outweighed the failures. First and foremost, our idea of a subsistence homestead economy proved easy of realization. In exchange for a few months per year of carefully planned bread labor, we were able to provide ourselves with the bulk of our year’s food. A few weeks of work furnished our house fuel. Another few weeks provided the needed repairs and replacements on buildings, tools and equipment.
-Helen and Scott Nearing
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miles away with a population of twenty-five or thirty. Bordering the town was the somewhat larger community of Moorefield, where we did our shopping. But we were five miles down a state highway from Moorefield and another five miles up a barely passable rocky mountain road that forded a stream twenty times on its way to our wilderness campsite. So we were pretty much on our own.
Because we had never owned much in the way of elaborate camping gear, because it had been a while since we had done this kind of camping, and because I have never really been leisurely or organized enough to plan carefully what I am going to take, we wound up starting life from scratch in a number of respects. For example, we began getting water by dipping tin cups into the stream and pouring the water into an old gallon milk container. One day I saw a washbasin and bucket in the Moorefield hardware store and suddenly realized the washbasin could be used for dipping water much more efficiently into the bucket. It was almost as if I had invented both objects then and there.
We did a lot of our own food gathering (including the discovery of friendly and generous Farmer Mathias on the top of our mountain), cooking, washing, minor mending, health care, and fire building. We also constructed a very grand outhouse as a tangible token of our appreciation to our friends, Susan and Jerry Inman, whose land it was. We walked through the mountains and played in the streams and watched the sky and talked a lot. I also took the time to relax, and think, and write in a journal — especially at night, when the moon was full and my boys were asleep.
Out of this West Virginia experience came a num-
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When we depend less on industrially produced consumer goods, we can live in quiet places. Our bodies become vigorous; we discover the serenity of living with the rhythms of the earth. We cease oppressing one another.
-Alicia Bay Laurel
Biologically, each member of the human family possesses inborn differences based on his brain structure and on his vast mosaic of endocrine glands — in fact, on every aspect of his physical being. Each of us has a distinctive set of drives — for physical activity, for food, for sexual expression, for power. Each one has his own mind qualities: abilities, ways of thinking, and patterns of mental conditions. Each one has his own emotional setup and his leanings toward music and art in its various forms, including literature. All these leanings are subject to change and development, but there is certainly no mass movement toward uniformity. No one ever “recovers” from the fact that he was born an individual.
-Roger J. Williams
For my panacea . . . let me
have a draught of undiluted
-Henry David Thoreau
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ber of significant insights for me. I’ll try to explain the philosophy that emerged, and why I think it came out of that setting.
I don’t think it’s enough simply to tell someone: “Be yourself.” It’s not bad as a two-word philosophy, but it’s not much help as a guide. In order to be yourself you have to be by yourself. And I don’t mean simply alone. You can’t be alone in a big city; there’s your car, and the architecture, and the radio and television, and your clothes, and the packaged foods all that stuff that keeps getting in the way of whatever you might be if it weren’t there.
To be by yourself you have to experience, at least briefly and as closely as is possible, the conditions under which you would have lived two thousand, or twenty thousand, years ago. You started there, because the history of man, as most of us think of it, started there. And you are, among other things, the embodiment of man — the current end product of human evolution. If you are ever to understand where you’re at, you have to know where you began.
Try to think through and meditate on your thousands of years of civilization. For most of those years you will live a nomadic or agrarian existence. What are the first things you need, I mean really need? Love? Air? Water? Food? Clothing? Shelter? In about that order? At what point in your development will you try to fashion utensils or furniture of some kind out of wood or stone? When do you start a garden? When will you domesticate animals for their milk or meat or transportation? In what ways do you start bringing aesthetic pleasure into your life — an artistic touch to an object, or a little music? Do you develop a religion?
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Every little boy ought to hear the bluebirds singing in the early autumn Look up and see the grey goose winging
. . .
But how you gonna hear a bluebird in a noisy old town How you gonna see a grey goose with all the smog, fog and smoke Keep the goose from coming around
. . .
How you gonna dig in the sidewalks of a dirty dirty town How you gonna fish in a babbling brook when there ain’t nothing but cement around How you gonna hear a bluebird when all you hear is noisy cars, trucks and buses going round.
“What Every Little Boy Ought to Know,” by R. Self.
Copyright © 1970 by Cedarwood Publishing Co., Inc.
To be totally intelligent would be
to be half stupid, you’ve got
to feel half of it to see
if it’s any good.
In regard to the inorganic universe, I see our relation rather like that of a sculptor. No sculptor whom I have ever spoken to thinks of enforcing his forms on nature. He thinks: “I lay bare, I realize in stone, a form that is latently there.”
-W. H. Auden
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My boys and I didn’t set out to go through this experience; it just kind of evolved as I thought about it. Actually, I think it would be a worthwhile thing to try to structure in modest ways and use as an educational experience for a high-school or college class — or curriculum. We had brought some objects with us, which we used — -such as the tin cup and gallon milk container I mentioned. But seeing the pail and washbowl was as if I’d invented them myself, and the experience provided an insight into what it must be like for people at any time to see the relationship between newly discovered objects and a problem at hand. We dug a small pit for waste dishwater, not because we’d read the Boy Scout manual, but because the campsite was beginning to get a little muddy after a couple of days. We piled up stones to sit on because it was more comfortable than sitting on the dirt. The point is, building a life for yourself in this trial-and-error, learning-by-experience fashion gives you a much greater sense of self than simply moving into a fully equipped suburban house, accepting what’s there, and buying what’s not after a television commercial has urged you to do so.
As a record along the way, I write in a journal. My journal is bound, so that I’ll take it more seriously and won’t lose the pages. (I formerly jotted notes on sheets of yellow pads.) It’s not a diary. It’s a sketchbook: furniture designs, speech drafts, silly thoughts, serious reflections, and drawings, all mixed together as life is — or should be. It’s my personal equivalent of mankind’s museums and libraries. It’s a tangible record of the balance in my life. It makes me see better and take life with both more seriousness and more whimsey. I like it.
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Draw near to Nature. . . .Try, like some first human being, to say what you see and experience and love and lose. . . .Seek those [themes] which your own everyday life offers you; describe your sorrows and desires, passing thoughts and the belief in some sort of beauty — describe all these with loving, quiet, humble sincerity, and use, to express yourself, the things in your environment, the images from your dreams, and the objects of your memory.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
I’m livin’ a life I can’t slow down, ‘cept with a song. And I wanna know how the people made it without big corporations, And I wanna feel how the people lived when life was slow.
-Margaret Lewis and Mira Smith
We simply propose that our social and economic ideal be that society which gives the maximum opportunity for each person in it to realize himself, to develop and use his potentialities and to labor as a human being of dignity giving to and receiving from his fellow men.
The man who . . . abandons all pride
of possession . . . reaches the goal of peace
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If you are to personally experience the process of civilization it can’t be by a fill-in-the-dots approach. You don’t just do the equivalent of going into the chemistry lab and following what the lab manual says, step-by-step. That’s what’s wrong with most cookbooks, in my judgment. They tell you how to make a given dish exactly. If you’re lucky you can repeat the recipe later and the same thing will happen. But you don’t know why or how it happened, or the process by which the originator came up with that combination, or how you might come up with something similarly delightful. (I generally read all the recipes utilizing the ingredients I have at hand and then do my own thing — being careful to record precisely what I am doing in my journal in case it accidentally turns out to be edible.)
So you start asking yourself with some regularity, “Why am I doing it this way?” “Do I really need this particular object in my life?” Once you have been through this process you can be yourself. You know who you are and why you have selected each of your possessions. You have internalized the history of civilization; you know the reasons for what you do and why you do it — not just intellectually, but within the core of your soul and the marrow of your bones. They are your reasons, worked out of your life, and recorded in your book.
Prior to my West Virginia experience most of my professional life had been just that, a professional life — using such skills as I picked up along the way to do the kinds of things that lawyers, professors, and public officials do. That’s an important part of life, I think. Most grown men and women need to have the
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I’ve got everything a man could ever need I’ve got dreams to dream and songs to sing in the morning I’ve got hands to hold my baby child and eyes to watch my woman smile I’ve got everything a man could ever need
I must help myself out from twilight and sleep . . . exert myself to arouse and shape half-grown and half-dead facilities in myself, if I am not in the end to escape into a sad resignation . . ..
Much unhappiness and many suicides can be traced to misguided desire to be something other than one’s self. Each of us as an individual has the problem of finding his way through life as best he can. Knowing one’s self as a distinctive individual should be an important goal of education; it will help pave the road each of us travels in his pursuit of happiness.
-Roger J. Williams
For one human being to love another: that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks, the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Money can’t buy love, money can’t buy love It can buy a whole lot of stuff but money can’t buy love
“Money Can’t Buy Love,” by Betty Craig.
Copyright © 1970 by Cedarwood Publishing Co., Inc.
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sense that they are capable of, and are involved in, productivity that is paid for or otherwise generally recognized as valuable to society. The problem, of course, is that it is too easy for such activities to consume virtually all of your intellectual, emotional, and physical energy — as they had for me.
As I thought about the other basic elements of life, I began by asking, “If I were to plan an ideal day, what would it contain?”
Most fundamental, I suppose, is love. Each of us has had different feelings and relationships we have thought of as love. Sexuality can be an important part of it. Each of us means something a little different by it. But we would probably all agree that love is a great deal more than adulation or infatuation, a temporary soporific for loneliness, or lust.
To love another, to share, to want to give of oneself, to simultaneously study and experience life, another person, yourself, and a relationship, is surely one of the most exhilarating, volatile, and satisfying of human conditions.
There’s very little more I should or need contribute to the thousands of volumes, poems, and songs on that subject.
Contemplation of some kind has been considered fundamental by man throughout the ages. I decided to include it as another basic element. It can be religion, philosophy, mythology, yoga, or whatever makes sense for you. But we have to have some time when we think beyond our hangnails and hangovers and the daily routine to a somewhat more meaningful view of life.
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Boy: If I use Listerine every day I get the girl, right? Friend: Unless she gets you first. Boy: Yeah, right.
-a television commercial
People who talk about “America’s spiritual crisis” see TV as a symbol.
But no matter how much one discounts the failures of religion, he must in the end come back to the moral teachers for the guidance needed. The United States at this time does not require a new church; it does require the insights which Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism have nurtured, and it is from such insights that the new spiritual agreement will evolve.
-James A. Michener
A mediocre person moderately gifted . . . exercising the gift in his own sincere and humble way . . . is ipso facto a more cultured individual than a person of brilliant endowments who has acquainted himself in a general way with all the “best” that has been thought and felt and done, but who has never succeeded in bringing any portion of his range of interests into direct relation with his volitional self, with the innermost shrine of his personality.
-Edward A. Sapir
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Personal analysis is a related activity. Psychiatrists or counseling services or encounter groups are one way to do it. But thinking, writing in a journal, or regularly talking with a trusted friend are other ways to achieve related benefits. Most of us could do with a little more knowledge about why we tick the way we do.
Creative expression is especially important. The opportunity to be creative — personally, not professionally — as well as to be exposed to beauty and the best creativity of others, is essential to individual growth. This is one of television’s greatest sins. It fails to expose us to the best that man has to offer. It says, “Television and artistic creativity are for professionals like us. They are not something you should even dream of doing for yourself.” It almost never shows us how we can experience our own artistic creativity in our daily lives. And it renders us passive during time we could be spending in personal growth.
Regular contact with nature is a necessary reminder of the whole earth system from which we came, in which we live, and to which we will return. Living in the woods may or may not be the best way to keep in touch with our origins. But it is a decidedly impractical way for that 90 percent of the American people who live in cities. I considered, and fairly quickly rejected, the thought of commuting to Washington from West Virginia. But I have made a special effort to live near a park or wilderness area with which I can have daily contact, to plant flowers and vegetables outside my apartment windows, and to keep some bird feeders filled. You can keep plants in your home and office. Have a picnic lunch in a downtown park. Look at the sky. Walk in the rain.
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I am sorry For the men of these times. They Talk of nothing interesting And have no ambition and Die without ever being Aware of the music of verse
-Ou Yang Hsiu
We have fallen out of nature and hang suspended in space.
One would think from the talk of men that riches and poverty were a great matter; and our civilization mainly respects It. But the Indians say that they do not think the white man, with his brow of care, always toiling, afraid of heat and cold, and keeping within doors, has any advantage of them. The permanent interest of every man is never to be in a false position, but to have the weight of Nature to back him in all that he does.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind.
-Henry David Thoreau
The perfect Sage . . . is content to give up extravagant comforts . . . and thus to set the nation an example of returning to simplicity.
-The Book of Tao
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Camping in the mountains for two weeks also reaffirmed my latent but basic commitment to the psychic values of simplicity. You not only can get along with substantially fewer “things” when camping in the woods, but you actually enjoy life more because it is not so cluttered with objects. The experience gave me a way of thinking about simplicity, objects, and natural living that I had not had before. And it impressed upon me, for perhaps the first time, a sense of the interrelated totality of “life-support activities” — another basic element of life.
By life-support activities I mean the provision of those things that are necessary to sustain our physical life: food, clothing, shelter, transportation, and so forth. These are the kinds of activities that I became most fully aware of in the woods because I had to, and because they can be most easily comprehended when reduced to basics.
In an industrialized urban environment, it is easy to forget that human life still is, as it was originally, sustained by certain basic functions. I think some participation in the support of your life is essential to a sense of fulfillment. And yet, I used to give almost no attention to these kinds of activities. Food simply appeared on my dinner table ready to be eaten. The house I lived in was purchased, not built by me. It was warmed or cooled by some equipment in the basement that I knew very little about and was tended to by repairmen when necessary. Clothing was something I found in closets and dresser drawers and was cleaned and mended by my wife, the maid, or a cleaning establishment. Transportation was provided by the municipal bus system for commuting and by FCC drivers during
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The Indian’s salmon spearing is a culturally higher type of activity than that of the telephone girl or mill hand simply because there is normally no sense of spiritual frustration during its prosecution, no feeling of subservience to tyrannous yet largely inchoate demands, because it works in naturally with all the rest of the Indian’s activities instead of standing out as a desert patch of merely economic effort in the whole of life.
-Edward A. Sappier
With no intermediaries, such as supermarkets and banks, there is a direct relationship between work and survival. It is thus possible for even the most repetitive jobs such as washing dishes or sawing wood to be spiritually rewarding.
A specter is stalking in our midst whom only a few see with clarity. It is not the old ghost of communism or fascism. It is a new specter: a completely mechanized society, devoted to maximal material output and consumption, directed by computers; and in this social process, man himself is being transformed into a part of the total machine, well fed and entertained, yet passive, unalive, and with little feeling.
When art becomes inseparable from daily living — the way a woman prepares a meal, speaks to her children, decorates her home, makes love, laughs — there is no “art,” for all life is artistic.
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the day. At my office, I was surrounded not only by machines — copying machines, electric typewriters, dictating machines — but also by people paid to operate them for me, answer my telephone, and bring me coffee.
In short, I had taken very nearly all of my life-support activities — my life — and cut them up into bits and pieces that I parceled out to individuals, corporations, and machines around me. This was extraordinarily efficient in one sense; that is, I was working at perhaps 98 percent of the level of professional production of which I am capable. But I concluded that it was bad for life, for I was living only a small percentage of my ultimate capacity to live.
A number of things happen to us when we avoid participation in our life-support activities: we get less physical activity than we need, we tend to detach ourselves psychologically from the real world, and we begin to internalize our society’s prejudice that thinkers and administrators are engaged in a higher form of enterprise than others. This is bound to affect the traditional relationship between a husband and wife, and it has provided bitter fuel to the current women’s movement.
Consider this scene. The husband comes home, kisses his wife, tells her now nice she looks, accepts a drink from her, and begins sharing the events of the day: the deals he’s closed, the important people he’s talked or lunched with, the papers he’s published, the television show he’s done, or what not. He then reads the evening paper while the meal is put on the table, eats with the family, compliments his wife on the dinner, retires to watch television or do some more paper
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By Art Buchwald
A week ago Sunday, New York City had a black out which caused all nine television stations in the area to go out for several hours. This created tremendous crises in families all over the New York area, and proved that TV plays a much greater role in people’s lives than anyone can imagine.
For example, when the TV went off in the Bufkins’ house in Forest Hills, Long Island, panic set in. First, Bufkins thought it was his set in the living room, so he rushed into his bedroom and turned on that set: Nothing.
The phone rang and Mrs. Bufkins heard her sister in Manhattan tell her that there was a blackout.
She hung up and said to her husband, “It isn’t your set. Something’s happened to the top of the Empire State building.”
Bufkins stopped and said, “Who are you?”
“I’m your wife, Edith.”
“Oh,” Bufkins said. “Then I suppose those kids in there are mine.”
“That’s right,” Mrs. Bufkins said. “If you ever got out of that armchair in front of the TV set, you’d know who we were.”
“Boy, they’ve really grown,” Bufkins said, looking at his son and daughter. “How old are they now?”
“Thirteen and fourteen,” Mrs. Bufkins replied.
“I’ll be darned. Hi, kids.”
“Who’s he?” Bufkins’ son Henry asked.
“It’s your father,” Mrs. Bufkins said.
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work, and comes out long enough to read the children a story before bed. An idyllic scene? Admittedly it’s better than most. But look at what the husband is saying to his wife (and children) by his actions: physical exertion and life-support activities are not something he values, or considers worthy of his participation. He cannot comprehend what is involved in such activities; his appreciation (if his verbiage comes through as sincere at all) is obviously for something very peripheral to his consciousness, his values, and his life.
In fact, actual participation in life-support activities is not even enough by itself. Take the husband who helps out around the house — perhaps with some of the heavy cleaning or by occasionally doing the dishes. Notice the different attitudes he can bring to it: (1) He can do it begrudgingly, complaining all the time. If so, his work is not likely to be of very good quality — and besides, who needs it? (2) He can do it absent-mindedly; he doesn’t complain (even under his breath), but he’s not really into it either. (3) Or he can do it in order to be fair (“We both share the work around our house.”). Even this husband, I would contend, is missing the point — and contributing to unnecessary distance between himself and his wife and his life. For he is still saying, by his words and his actions, that the work he is doing is something in the nature of a nuisance that must be removed, a temporary interruption in an otherwise pleasant day. His joy, his fulfillment, his worth as a human being, continue to come from what he does at the office or by way of hobbies.
Once a husband and wife begin to share a common appreciation of the physical, psychological, and spiritual values of participating in their own life-support activi-
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“I’m pleased to meetcha,” Bufkins’ daughter Mary said shyly.
There was an embarrassed silence all around.
“Look,” said Bufkins finally. “I know I haven’t been much of a father, but now that the TV’s out I’d like to make it up to you.”
“How?” asked Henry.
“Well, let’s just talk,” Bufkins said. “That’s the best way to get to know each other.”
“What do you want to talk about?” Mary asked.
“Well, for starters, what school do you go to?”
“We go to Forest Hills high school,” Henry said.
“What do you know?” Bufkins said. “You’re both in high school.”
There was a dead silence.
“What do you do?” Mary asked.
“I’m an accountant,” Bufkins said.
“I thought you were a car salesman,” Mrs. Bufkins said in surprise.
“That was two years ago. Didn’t I tell you I changed jobs?” Bufkins said.
“No, you didn’t. You haven’t told me anything for two years.”
“Yup. I’m doing quite well too,” Bufkins said.
“Then why am I working in a department store?” Mrs. Bufkins demanded.
“Oh, are you still working in a department store? If I had known that, I would have told you you could quit last year. You should have mentioned it,” Bufkins said.
There was more dead silence.
Finally Henry said, “Hey, you want to hear me play the guitar?”
“I’ll be darned. You know how to play the guitar? Say, didn’t I have a daughter who played the guitar?”
“That was Susie,” Mrs. Bufkins said.
# p. 75 #
ties, they have entered into a new dimension of their lives — as individuals and as a couple. They do not even need to do the same things. A husband who keeps the garage in a semblance of order can recognize a tidy kitchen when he sees one; and when he compliments his wife on the fact, it conveys much more than when the same words are genuinely spoken by a man who never lifts a finger around the house. If a man has tended the garden, he can appreciate the jars of fruits and vegetables — canned by his wife — with a depth of understanding otherwise impossible. If he has worked in leather he can more fully appreciate what she has sewn from cloth.
The central criterion is a committed participation in life-support activities growing out of a recognition of their essential contribution to a full and happy human life. If a husband can truly internalize these attitudes, he will be more fulfilled as a whole person in a society that is increasingly emphasizing smaller and smaller bits of him as his valuable “specialization.” Equally, or more important, he can then communicate to his wife — by his actions — a genuine appreciation of her worth and a participation in her world and her life.
Nor are these shared understandings limited to a husband and wife. If you do your own simple electric wiring around the house, you begin to have a much greater appreciation for the worth of an auto mechanic who has skill and pride in his work. If you type, you begin to develop more appreciation for a secretary who can turn out clean fast copy.
Now I’m not proposing that you do everything for yourself. For one thing, you cannot trace everything back to first elements. You can build your own furni-
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“Where is she?”
“She got married a year ago, just about the time you were watching the World Series.”
“How about that?” Bufkins said, very pleased. “You know, I hope they don’t fix the antenna for another couple hours. There’s nothing like a blackout for a man to really get to know his family.”
-The Washington Post
Copyright 1971 by Art Buchwald
Eskimo, for example, don’t put art into their environment: they treat the environment itself as art form.
Life-as-art is taken for granted by preliterate peoples, many of whom have no word for “art.” Among the Naskapi, hunting is a holy occupation in which artists engage. Sioux walk-in-a-sacred-manner when on a buffalo hunt. The Balinese say, “We like to do all things beautifully.”
I wanted to live somewhere where I could hike and hunt. . . . I had five small children growing up next to a big sinful city. I didn’t really like labor relations . . . . I’ve met wonderful people here who hold very simple, unimportant jobs. I got a little arrogant when I was at United.
-a former United Air Lines labor relations executive
Lives based on having are less free than lives based either on doing or on being.
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ture. But are you going to saw your own boards from your own trees? Must you make your own nails? Even the most deeply committed do-it-yourselfers reach some accommodation with civilization.
In the second place, you simply don’t have time to do it all. To raise and can all your own fruits and vegetables, for example, would take substantially more time per year than most people are prepared to give to it — especially if you are also personally constructing your own house, weaving your own material, making your own clothes, and walking everywhere.
In the third place, there are a lot of conveniences of urbanized life that are there anyway that you might as well use. They can save you time you might rather spend in more satisfying ways. There’s no point in cooking in your fireplace every night — or on your corporate cookout charcoal grill — if you have a gas or electric range sitting in your kitchen.
But you can try to do a little bit of all your life-support activities and a substantial amount of whichever one or two of them appeal to you and make the most practical sense for you. I have taken to tending a simple garden, preparing my own simple foods, doing some modest mending of clothes, and providing my own transportation by bicycle. You can find the activities that fit best into your own life pattern.