Yesterday was the first official day of my spring break. And while teachers often gripe about our working conditions, the amount of vacation time we have in comparison to most American adults is a nice benefit. Sunday, I had undertaken a bit of an impromptu pub crawl with one of my very best friends who I hadn’t seen in a couple of months, so I took the benefit of Monday off to take a long, loping run down the greenway while the rest of the world went to work.
It would be easy to say the rest of my spring break would be one of sloth and gluttony, but the truth is I have quite an extensive list of tasks around the house I need to finish. Some are mundane–patching holes in walls, looking for leaks in the roof–while are others are a bit more ambitious, most notably planting trees and building a seating area for the backyard fire pit. As I jogged down the silent, greenway with Juno, my trusty companion astride, I kept coming back to a conversation I had with my friend the previous day, somewhere in the walk between watering holes–the hatred of home ownership.
Don’t get me wrong. There are lots of benefits to having your own slice of property in the world. But for all the benefits we work for, there is always something to be paid on the other end. For all pleasure we accrue, there is often some corresponding discomfort. As I ran, I pondered all the time and money that goes into the upkeep of a home, and how many weekends I would rather be hiking, camping, kayaking, reading, doing nothing–anything where domestic work becomes the top priority.
In the documentary “Happy,” a group in Holland has a communal living facility, where everyone has small apartments and the larger areas–kitchens, yard spaces, living rooms–are maintained by everyone. By contrast, everyone on my street has their own kitchen, heater, yard to mow, etc., etc. I thought about this a lot as I had to go into my crawl space multiple times this winter to get my heater to work. Individual home ownership is certainly one of the planks of the American Dream, and we would be hard pressed to conform to such a lack of privacy and autonomy. Having your own home is the ability to define yourself, however large your square footage may be. On the other hand, that freedom comes with the ultimate responsibility of fixing anything that goes wrong and being responsible for anything that doesn’t reach perfection.
It reminds me of that existentialist view of freedom, that we are ultimately responsible for our own fate and definition. Clearly, that freedom is an amazing opportunity, but it is also an amazing responsibility. And when I think of this in the form of a domestic “to do” list, I often think of a conclusion that Terrance McKenna once reached, that existentialism is the diseased and natural outgrowth of a society that is further and further atomized, that encourages us to see ourselves as individuals with individual, competing, and disparate desires rather than cultivating our common, communal needs. But such is the life of the middle class American. Having bought the home, we now have an obligation for its upkeep, and that obligation is what often occupies our minds. As E.M. Forster once quipped, “My Wood makes me feel heavy.”
All this sounds like first-world problems, I guess. Certainly having a half-acre and a roof over my head is a great blessing that many in the world would feel wealthy beyond their dreams if they had it. As with the vacation, I feel grateful that on a Tuesday morning, I’m sitting idly in my yard, my well-fed dog sleeping by my side, a laptop in my lap, blogging about philosophical musings. In a bit, I’ll get breakfast and catch up on my watching of House of Cards. Life is certainly good, even if I didn’t get this posted right after the run, distracted by the chores of the day. On the other hand, I think of something I read in the meditations of Marcus Aurelius recently. He spoke of knowing the divine light within as the most important knowledge, and that all knowledge of what your neighbors are doing or other such minutiae serves to distract from that knowledge. And so, all planning and scheming can be a distraction from this knowledge. Such is the balance I strive for today: to never be overwhelmed by the myriad tasks that they become all I concern myself with. And that even as I work this week to improve my home, the knowledge of the light within centers every breath that I take and release in my labors.
Okay enough of that. I’ve got some Frank Underwood to watch, and these trees aren’t gonna plant themselves.
…and happy birthday to my good friend Koji. Sushi for dinner tonight!!!