Friday, November 7, 2008

Meditations on Over-Specialization, from a Cabin on a Lake









To Piffle:
Now here I am in a beautiful cabin on Lake Temagami, and at this remove, I'm contemplating why I'm constantly stressed out and overwhelmed living at home in the city, and so utterly at peace here. I usually put it down to "oh well, it's having to work," but that's not it at all! The other night I received my work manuscript and settled down to read and write it up. And it was so easy, I realized that work has NOTHING to do with why I'm tired and frantic and miserable and depressed and harried when living in L.A. Working here is like an ecstatic dream and doesn't disturb the peace more than a ripple in the lake.





Living in remote places must have been revolutionized once you could have broadband in them. Every day since I've been here, I've spent a couple of hours in pifflechat with Menace and Vamp and Leoville and Rachel and sometimes Merdle and Ties and others - while gazing at the lake and the constantly changing sky and colors. They asked how I spend a typical day here, what the schedule was, and I said, "Well I get up around noon and go outside and look at the lake. Then I check my email. Then I make some bacon and eggs and tea. Then I go sit outside by the lake and read. Then I come back in and chat while looking at the lake. Maybe we go out for a little drive to the store. Then I take some pictures of the lake in the sunset. Then I look at my well-stocked fridge and think about toasting up a frozen Indian dinner or grilling steaks. When it's dark, I read or chat with Peter. Have toast with creamed honey and tea before tucking up in our cozy warm wood paneled bedroom with the patchwork quilt and comforters. "How can you stand the stress?" the pifflechatters asked. And this is a working vacation too! I'm relaxing by the lake today, but my weekend manuscript will be coming in a few hours. Just enough work to give me something to do!










So why is life so wonderful here and so terrible in the city? Well, for one thing, I stepped into this marvelous cabin, someone else built, organized, stocked, cleaned. I'd never be able to replicate such a home, myself...my home, though a good sized apartment near the beach in Santa Monica, is all dusty books, a heap. It can't be carpeted and painted because the books would have to be moved, which is impossible. I don't know why maintaining it badly is so much strain, while living in a beautiful cabin is so easy. I'm shopping and cooking and cleaning a little here, but just enough to be fun. It's no fun living at home. The day is a constant round of traffic, errands, and doctor's appointments. Is the answer to move someday to a cabin on a lake? I thought so at first but now I wonder. I know now I wouldn't get bored: oh no! Not with my laptop and books. I think the drawback is simply that I am not a homemaker, and could not create and maintain a home like this. I'm benefiting from the hard labor of others. I know Richard (the nice Englishman who owns the cabin) was amazed by Peter's and my unhandiness, though he politely tried to hide it. He thought it best not to even try to show us how to work the wood stove! (The weather's been in the beautiful Indian summer sixties, but snow is expected and temperatures in the 20s this weekend - it will be interesting to see the transition!) Bottom line is, Peter and I really are city people: raised in Manhattan, living in a car culture, we are over specialized to the point of uselessness. We are highly skilled at literary work, but at not much *else.* It's no wonder that our kind is dying out!








Perhaps you'll think I'm just lazy and disorganized, but I don't think so...I focus extremely intensely on my work, was able to write a scholarly biography in record time for instance, as well as many other successful projects. But we don't like doing what we're not interested in, and even though I like the *results* of living in a beautiful place, it's never been to the extent of wanting to create one. We're just life's renters, I guess...much easier to rent a cabin (or house-sit one as we are now), than to make one!








3 comments:

Ellen said...

Beautiful photos, & Diana, what congenial spirits we are. I too can't paint my house unless I were to go through enormous amounts of book moving. The bookcases have to be emptied at the top 4 shelves and pushed forward. We have 44. We had the ducts in the house cleaned and one is behind a bookcase. The books just from that one filled one couch, and it was not the biggest type we have.

And ditto on appliances. I have an email from a friend right now urging me to try this new "social" software. Even if I work out how, I'm reluctant.

Money too comes into why for us when we go away to an old Victorian house renovated like we did last year or Landmark trust place we find ourselves in a literally shinier, more modern, fresher looking and therefore more socially acceptable looking place than our house can be.

His degree was pure maths and mine pure Renaissance and 18th century. No pragmatic use there -- though much philosophic and personally deeply rewarding. He did switch to computers to make a living and I teach what goes by the name of a composition course but isn't.

Yours in authenticity,

E.M.

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