Thoughts on Literature, Food, Faith and the Subversive Power of Living Small

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There are no answers here ...

I've had a slew of emails from sweet readers of this blog lately who seem to be under the impression that I've managed to figure out some answer to the ongoing question about how to live, how to live small, how to live in peace and happiness.

So I thought perhaps it was time to go on the record. I don't have any answers. I don't think there are any answers to that particular question. Like everything else that's really important in life: love, faith, art, politics -- the key term is process. It's all a process. We never actually get there. We just keep groping our way toward an elusive goal.

My brother and the Nice Girlfriend and I were discussing the whole issue of living small the other day and she just laughed at me (in a nice way) "You live larger than a lot of people I know. When you want something you just go out and buy it!" Which is true. I was hot -- I bought a swamp cooler. I needed a privacy fence and so I waited until I got an infusion of cash, then hired people to build it (instead of building it myself, or with my brother, which would have been bad because we would have had a big fight, and probably wouldn't have built a very good fence). When my powerbook died, I bought a new iMac, and I spend far more money than I probably should on books. It's all relative. Because of my good corporate job for which I get paid by California standards, I make a lot more money than most people in Montana. Hence I'm living large. However, when compared to my trust funder/yuppie friends in Bozeman who live in the big houses on the big lots in the big subdivisions (that used to be hay farms), I live small. (Quel horreur, I only have one bathroom.)

Here were the choices I made about moving here that were small: I bought an old, small-ish house in town that needed to be fixed up. Small choice #1: I wanted to recycle a house and garden that already exist instead of building a new one, because, well, I think there are plenty of houses out there already. Also, as a single chick with no kids, I don't need enormous amounts of space. Small choice #2: I wanted a house in town because the virus of the 5-20 acre "ranchette" is destroying what little is left of the West -- they impede wildlife migratory patterns, and are a blight across the land. And I didn't want to contribute to that (and I thought I'd be lonely out there all by myself). Small choice #3: I bought an inexpensive house with a mortgage I can conceivably pay off in my lifetime.

All of which means that the LivingSmall Project #1 now becomes climbing out of debt. And there's plenty of debt to climb out of -- like most Americans, I've got more credit card debt than I should, and then of course there's that hefty student loan -- getting a Phd was very expensive. But by choosing a small mortgage, and by moving to a part of the country where my money goes a little further, I'm hoping that in a few year's time, I can be debt-free. And if you don't owe money, you have many more options in life ... including writing full time.

My model in finding a home I can afford and putting down roots someplace is Gary Snyder. I studied with Snyder at UC Davis, and got to hang out with him some, and he's the happiest artist I know -- it was Snyder and Jim Houston who both told me, long ago when I was just beginning to write that the task was to find a life that will allow you to get the work done. So -- it took ten years, and a big fat dose of good luck, but I found a job that I can do remotely, that pays good money, and that leaves me time to write, and then I found a house I could afford, in a community of people who like and support me, and I seem, slowly, to be getting the work done.

And that's the only answer I might have for anyone, and of course, it's not an answer, it's a question (with an embedded quote, at that): how are you going to build the kind of life that will allow you to accomplish your "real work"?

posted by Charlotte at 7/25/2003 07:45:00 AM



It rained last night! Glorious thunderstorm about seven o'clock ... with some actual moisture content as well -- big raindrops falling on my garden. Glorious thunderstorm which cooled everything off a little, broke the relentless heat wave a tad, and has left my gardens looking perky and refreshed.

I missed thunderstorms when I was in California. There are many nice things about California, and many people like the mono-weather. It's dependable. It's reliable. You rarely have to worry about what the weather's going to do, because if it's May-October it'll be sunny and dry and if it's October-May it will probably rain. Oh, and you might have morning fog. When my grandmother moved to Burlingame in the 1930's she says her house got very dirty because she kept waiting for a rainy day to clean. And it seemed a shame to spend a perfectly beautiful day cleaning when you could be out playing golf or riding. But here, we get afternoon thunderstorms, which I love ... and since we're not actually in the mountains here in Livingston, but up on a bench sort of looking over the mountains and out toward the plains, you can see the thunderstorms coming. Then they do, and the air changes, and it just feels like everything's going to be a little bit better for a while ....

posted by Charlotte at 7/24/2003 06:44:00 AM


Heat Wave Continues

It's still hot here in Montana. Ninety-five to one hundred every day. The mornings are pretty nice still -- it's usually about 65 or 70 when I get up, and doesn't really get hot hot until about 1:00 or so, but after that, it's over. Too hot to think, too hot to move, too hot to do anything but hide in my house with my portable swamp cooler. Which I feel bad about. As a kid I was always being dragged out of whatever cool corner I'd found indoors, where I was happily reading a book, and thrown outside, having been told that it was a beautiful day and I should go out and play. (Sometimes, especially if we were at our grandmother's house the variation was "go outside and play and don't come back until it's dinner time.") So, as an adult, I've been feeling very guilty about spending so much precious summertime indoors, but it's just too hot out there to do anything. (The tomatoes like it though.)

The big solace is an afternoon dip in the river with the dogs. They've become absolutely obsessed with retrieving tennis balls, this, after years of dissing the retreive by the older of our two dogs. I think it's sibling rivalry; the puppy is maniacal, and very good at retrieving all the way -- that is, actually bringing the ball to you and not just dropping it somewhere in your general vicinity. It wasn't until the puppy came up with this skill that the older dog showed any interest, but now, toss a ball out into the current of the dropping-but-still-mighty Yellowstone, and out they both go, swimming like champs, swimming so hard their front ends rise from the water like motorboats, and after a brief scramble for the ball, the big dog usually gives it to the puppy to bring in, and then they stand there, with that maniac dog look, just waiting for you to do it again. So, in the heat of the afternoon, we've come up with a variation, which is I stand waist deep in a big eddy and throw the ball, then while they're retrieving, I take a little swim. Confuses them a bit, they're not sure what I'm doing in the water without a clear goal like a ball to retrieve, but we all get wet, and cool off, and the evenings are much much more pleasant.

posted by Charlotte at 7/21/2003 07:39:00 AM


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