The Downside of Freedom

October 22, 2012 § 7 Comments

Our boys have enormous freedom to do as they please. This is by design; we have engineered it into our lives. Most mornings after chores and breakfast, they set out on some adventure or another, into the woods or down the field. Usually they do this together, although it is not infrequent that one returns before the other, complaining of a grave injustice: Fin didn’t want to pretend it was the “old days.” Rye didn’t want to pretend they were carrying a 30-30 and everyone knows you can’t hunt deer with a .22. Rye put wet wood on the fire and it went out. Fin made Rye carry the heavy backpack. Like I said, grave, grave injustices.

From a parenting perspective, there is a downside to the tremendous degree of freedom they have been afforded, and it is this: The boys seem to have developed a sense of entitlement regarding how they spend their time. In short, when the occasion calls for them to do something they’d rather not do, they are not terribly accommodating. Actually, that’s not true: What I meant to say is that in these circumstances they can be pissy little snot-nosed brats.

Penny and I talk about this a lot. Depending on our mood, and the degree to which the boys have managed to invoke our ire, our perspective on their entitlement spans a broad chasm of possible outcomes. The worst of these, we figure, is that we’ve failed them completely and they will never amount to much of anything. The best is that we are allowing them to be discerning regarding how they pass their time, and this discernment will serve them well as they go out into the world beyond a certain hillside in Cabot, VT.

I suspect the truth is probably somewhere in the middle, if only because experience has taught me that this is where truth most often lurks. They will, of course, need to learn how to accept that life is not all a bed of roses (or, to put in the context of their current passions, one extended hunting trip in the “old days,” replete with large caliber weaponry, a pack animal for the heavy lifting, and a crackling fire on which roast fresh meat). But I can’t help but think of how my own sense of entitlement over my time has shaped my life and generally (I’d like to think) for the better. I did not like school, so I walked away from it. I did not like working for others, so I chose not to. I do not like to spend a lot of time indoors, so I don’t. I want to live the way I want to live, conventions be damned.

Maybe it’s just narcissism, or it’s slightly lesser cousin, self-indulgence. Probably it’s a little of each. But damn it anyway, why is it so hard for us to remember that time is all we truly have? Why shouldn’t we choose how to pass it?

Because if we don’t, there are plenty of people who will be happy to choose for us.

The Work of the World

October 19, 2012 § 6 Comments

Late in the season, after the final crop of hay is in the barn, our neighbor grazes his cows in the hayfield abutting our southern property line. Over the past few weeks, the boys have taken to rounding up the 40 or so lumbering, cud-chewing beasts for evening milking and driving them the half mile or so across the ridgetop field and down the steep hill to the barn. They do this with no assistance from us. Our neighbor, who is 64 and recently broke ribs when he slipped and fell in the milking parlor, appreciates the help.

It is a task they approach with no small amount of enthusiasm, and I am grateful for this. Even more so, I am thankful that they have the opportunity to experience  first hand a small piece of the essential work of the world, the type of work that goes largely unacknowledged and unappreciated in contemporary America. I sometimes think there is nothing more honorable and heroic than to be engaged in this sort work.

Actually, I’m coming to always think that.


In The Money

October 16, 2012 § 8 Comments

It has been a productive summer and early fall, insomuch as productivity can be measured in outbuildings constructed, sawlogs sawn, firewood dropped, skidded, bucked, split, and stacked, kimchi made, beeves and pigs dispatched of, sausages mixed and stuffed, pasture cleared, soils amended, .22 rounds shot, blueberries harvested, mushrooms foraged, and so forth. As measured in paying work, well, not so much. I have spent less time at my desk this summer than I might have ever thought possible, and every time it seems as if I can no longer keep the ball in play, I am graced with some project or another, the paycheck for which is just enough to return to the world beyond my office windows.

Somehow, and certainly not inconsequentially, the writing of my most recent book about money and our cultural relationship to it has all but severed a long held spell I have been under for most of my adult life. Although have always been thrifty, perhaps even cheap, and although we have never gone without the basic essentials for even a day, I have nonetheless lived under a pall of worry regarding our finances. For too long I have chalked this up as an inevitable response to the uncertainty of self-employment, but now I understand that was merely a story I told myself and anyone who cared to listen. The truth is, I have often let my concerns over money lure me out of the flow of my life and keep me from becoming fully immersed in the portion of my world that is unrelated to my financial well being. I sense that I have not been alone in this regard.

That has not been the case this summer, or if it has, to a much lesser extent. Indeed, we are making and have less money than at any point in the past 15 or so years. And yet, we feel lighter and freer and nearer to our sense of what our lives should be than at any point in the past 15 or so years. Furthermore, we have noticed an interesting phenomenon: The less we think about money, the less we seem to need it. I am not yet sure of the pathways from the former to the latter, but I suspect they are pragmatic, rather than energetic or spiritual (although I can’t be sure). Because the less time I spend in pursuit of money, the more time I spend immersed in the skills and activities that cost not only cost nothing, but actually “pay” us in productive capacity. And the more I immerse myself in these skills and activities, the more I am drawn to others who share these interests, who both teach and learn from me.

All of this is not to say that we have somehow created some sort of moneyless utopian society in the rural hollows of northern Vermont. My life is still very much tied to the monetary realm, as I suspect it always will be. I guess what strikes me is that even within the context of this reality, I have a choice: I can allow money and the angst it generates to lead me by these reins. Or I can refuse to relinquish such control, and lead it.



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