Friday, December 3, 2010

So Much More in this Provincial Life

Lady Gaga graces us with the deep philosophical lyrics in her song ‘The Fame’ that she is 'obsessively opposed to the typical'. The song is all about the great things that fame brings: liquor, nice cars, nice clothes, money, parties etc. etc. In this list, there is nothing (in the way that they are represented here) that I have found in my experience to make me happy. I would guess that these things don’t actually make anyone truly happy (and lord knows, we've all tried) but we all still believe just one more will likely be the ticket to final contentment. There is that saying that you can never get enough of the things that you don’t want. How tempting it is to pursue the same thing repeatedly hoping it will give us long term happiness even though it has failed the previous six thousand times. This has also been noted as the definition of crazy: to repeat the same action over and over expecting a different result.

Belle from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast sings much about wanting more than her provincial life. She wakes up each day to the same people, asking her the same questions, offering the same books and baking the same bread. She wants excitement. She longs for adventure in far away places. Yes, I know this is a fairy tale (one that I really enjoy watching!) but everywhere I turn my daughter at the age of 4 is being bombarded by these images of what she should strive for: physical beauty including all of its adornments and fashions, a prince to make her life meaningful and complete, and not one more minute of her boring rural town.

As my family navigates our new life with a meager income (not too little, yet not overflowing) I am finding more and more ways to make us happy without spending oodles of money. But I find myself asking: does the fact that I am trying to live off of less and be more content with what I have in front of me make me boring and typical? Does living a repetitive life mean that nothing exciting happens in my day? My experience so far has been exactly the opposite. There is never a dull day around here.

I also feel very atypical when I am out in a crowd. It is more common in our culture to buy milk in the store than it is to milk a cow, no? It is more common to know not where our food comes from than to actually have a name, a tactile memory or a date attached to its origin. It is more common to buy packaged plastic things from stores that have been made in far away places than to build a gift for someone with your own two hands. It is more common to seek solace in a vice, than to reach out to your community for support when you need it.

Somewhere along the way I also bought into the path of seeking monetary success and recognition as an effective way to avoid a mundane life. I did not grow up in a small town but I am certain that I managed to get just as bored just as quickly as any kid who looked in the wrong places for fulfillment. I beg to look again at these 'mundane' lives that come with living in a small community. Is there family living nearby ready for a quick Sunday dinner or a romp with the kids? Did folks thrive in a solid community either through their church, their schools, their regular card games? Did a mass of people gather around to assist those in their times of loss or need? Casseroles delivered to front doors for every birth, death or hard time?

The richness that follows knowing your neighbours in a provincial town is unmatched by the relationships that I have known in other places. This is not say that I did not depend greatly on others in my city lives. I needed the people I knew in different ways - for companionship, business networking and emotional support - but it seems that having money naturally forces us into autonomy. We build complete gyms in our homes, set up wide screen theatres and own media libraries, and there are computers with internet that connect us to the outside world so that we can work, shop and entertain ourselves without even getting dressed. We manage to dig up some kind of spirituality with a yoga mat and a self-help library but still find the connections to something larger a little weak.

Imagine if you actually needed your neighbour to survive? They held a piece of the puzzle that stood between you and shelter, food, or health care? I recall one evening that a neighbour came to save one of our draft horses that got colic. He had some medicine on hand that prevented her from dying when no vet could be reached. Another neighbour treated a dairy cow with electrolytes after she fell with milk fever after calving and saved her life. We have another neighbour who cuts our firewood for us. Another who bales our hay. The list goes on and on but the interdependence that we have come to rely on in our small town is not something I have ever experienced before. There is no way to place a value on these connections.

What if actually needing people for our essentials is one of the keys to being human? Without knowing this true need, the connection becomes whimsical? The trust and lasting nature of the relationship is worn too easily?

So for these reasons, I strive for a typical life. I suppose I actually am seeking a repetitive life. I long for a regular day in and day out that looks the same as the day before with the same faces, the same store-fronts, the same church, the same bread baking.

I am obsessively seeking it actually.

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