indolence, wal-mart, the middle class, and the kitchen sink

Slow and indolent is the initial tempo marking for Samuel Barber’s Summer Music for wind quintet.  When I took my comprehensive exams in grad school, in addition to the major questions that involved a lot of writing, there was a set of short responses.  Slow and indolent was one of them.  Like a spot-check on my knowledge of the quintet literature — you either know what that refers to or you don’t, no way to b.s. your way out of it.  I knew it was a silly question, a relatively meaningless hoop to jump through, but I was still really pleased with myself for knowing the answer.

Slow and indolent might also be a pretty good descriptor for my current life.  Depending who you ask, I am the scourge of society — unemployed, overeducated, lazy, leeching off my husband, not doing anything “useful” (read: lucrative) with myself.  But I beg to differ: I am staying home, keeping things clean, getting the bills paid, running errands, and so help me, I love it.  I can go to the bank, I can go to the post office, I can grocery shop on a weekday, I can keep us in homemade granola and keep the carpet vacuumed, and I still have time to practice for the concert I have coming up.

Being at home to take care of all the stupid little day-to-day crap feels like greasing the wheels of life.  It’s kind of a revelation that if I can get these things done during business hours, I can spend my evenings with my husband.  I can spend my weekends having fun.  And my house is clean.  Of course I am sure someone will be knocking on my door any day now to revoke my feminist card, but damned if I don’t feel like I’m doing more good now than I was when I was working 12 hours a day and still not keeping up with the bills.  What I’m doing now, this is valuable work!  Over Thanksgiving I was talking with my uncle, who retired recently (my aunt is still working), and he has had a similar experience.  He’s home to take care of everything, the house is clean, the errands are run, and their evenings and weekends are their own.

This stuff matters.

At our old place, I was working and working and working and rehearsing and teaching and practicing.  We lived in a very hip neighborhood in a 100-year-old house.  We shopped at the farmer’s market and ate at hole in the wall ethnic restaurants.


We had a very serious mouse issue.  We were going deeper into debt with every passing month because my job didn’t pay enough to support us both while my husband finished school.  That house, with its quaint woodwork and original plaster walls, was always a dusty mess.

Now we rent a house.  There aren’t any hip neighborhoods in this town.  There are no ethnic restaurants.  We buy our groceries at Wal-Mart.


Now I have a dishwasher.  I have a washer and dryer.  A garage. I have yet to hear a single gunshot in this neighborhood.  And we actually stand a chance at starting to chip away at some of that debt.  It sort of flies in the face of who I thought I was, that this sort of thing should matter to me.  I’ve gone from being an avant-garde performer with tattoos and a nonprofit job helping inner-city kids, to being a small-town housewife.*  Surely socially conscious artistes don’t really care about having a dishwasher?**

The thing that has been hardest to adjust to has been shopping at Wal-Mart.  Prior to coming here, I was a Wal-Mart boycotter.  Their treatment of their employees is abysmal, they push out locally owned businesses, they exert undue influence on all sorts of other companies … you’ve all heard the arguments, I’m sure.  Anyway, when my husband first got here he told me that Wal-Mart was the only grocery store in town.  That’s not actually true — there are quite a few places to shop, as it turns out.  But Wal-Mart has the freshest produce.  Wal-Mart is the only place that carries fair-trade coffee.  Wal-Mart is the only place that carries soy milk.  Wal-Mart is the only place I can find fresh ginger, hot peppers, cilantro.  So after having tried all the other places in town, my choices seem to be as follows:

  • Shop local chains and learn to do without my snobby food.
  • Drive 30 miles one way (really!) to the next nearest place with sufficiently snobby food.
  • Suck it up and shop at Wal-Mart.

So far I’ve picked Wal-Mart.

This whole life, the house, the neighborhood, the town, it feels slightly surreal to me, like I’ve been given some kind of tourist pass to the middle class.  Like I’m going to get kicked out or something.  I walk around this house thinking, “I get to live here?”  And I can’t help but feel that it’s hubris, that we don’t really deserve it, that we’ll be found out as impostors and sent back to the pit like the mudders we really are.

But until that happens, here we are, and I’m so grateful.

* Still got the tattoos.
** Holy crap you guys, I PRESS A FREAKING BUTTON and my dishes are clean.   You’d better believe I care!

10 responses to “indolence, wal-mart, the middle class, and the kitchen sink

  1. When we moved about 3 years ago, we got a dishwasher. LOVE LOVE LOVE. I didn’t even hate doing dishes, but man does having the machine make evenings much more relaxing and fun!

  2. Port of Indecision

    If you got your feminist card yanked for enjoying not being overburdened and actually having time to enjoy your life, who would want to be a feminist? The idea of having all the housework done and errands run before the weekend rolls around and getting to actually enjoy and relax over the weekend sounds pretty damn awesome to me.

    About Walmart. I was watching some thing about Stonyfield Farms, and how they were one of the big trailblazers in the organic/sustainable farming movement. They now have a contract to supply Walmart, and they faced a lot of harsh criticism for “selling out”. But the owner/founder/whatever guy made a really good point, and he just said something along the lines of how sure, you could look at it as them giving in to corporate America and the evils of big business, or you could look at it as them bringing healthy, organic dairy to a bunch of people who wouldn’t otherwise get it. I don’t shop at Walmart and I buy as much of my food as possible locally sourced (because I’m a hippie and sustaining my local economy and supporting environmentally sound agriculture is important to me), but I really thought he had a damn good point there.

  3. It all sounds fabulous to me! (well, I would put up a fight at Wal.mart too I suppose…) There really is something to be said for having time to get and keep your life in order, and then enjoy it. The periods in my life where I have been unemployed were some of the best, and least stressful times in my life! Enjoy every minute of it!

    Oh, and I used to make my aunt run her dishwasher with just a few dishes in my honor. I grew up with one, and then didn’t have one for for half of my 20s in my first apartments. She never had one until she left her husband and rented a condo. She always felt bad using it with just the dishes of one person. So, I told her to please use it often and think of all of us out there with dish pan hands!

  4. In my book, there is nothing anti-feminist about appreciating a dishwasher and a washer/dryer in your home. I’m all for anything that makes life easier.

  5. Do you live in my brain? Up until last year I was a teacher. I lived in a very cool, urban city. I’m a lifelong feminist. I moved to a small town. I’m unemployed (although I call myself a writer rather than a housewife). I have a dishwasher for the first time in my life. Instead of going to hip little ethnic restaurants, we go for fish and chips on the weekend.

    Is it weird that I love you already?

  6. Sorry…I know that linking in the comments is a blogger faux-pas…but I was ruminating on the “feminist housewife” conundrum just last week:

  7. Aaaaah, I’m so glad you’re getting this phase, however long it lasts, to grease the wheels of life. I agree–that stuff IS important. For me, it’s extremely important–I feel VERY anxious when it’s not getting done. But even for people who are more laid back, it matters. And given that it often falls to the woman to do it in a male-female household, I think it’s extra wonderful that you get to do this and not all the breadwinning, too, for a bit.You sure have earned it. And yeah, as a fellow Walmart boycotter, I’d absolutely sacrifice my principles in those circumstances. I also agree with PoI–Walmart does bring good things to communities that would not otherwise have them, and I guess it’s really our fault for refusing to pass living wage laws while expecting things to be cheap if employees get hosed.

  8. I love that you finally have time to breathe. inhale. exhale. repeat. Your life sounded so hectic before. I’m really glad that you have this time for a slow and indolent chapter in your life. Don’t worry, the tempo will undoubtedly pick up, but for now enjoy this.
    I too am a Walmart boycutter. When Mr. A and I just started dating, we went to a benefit concert to raise funds to prevent it from coming to our city (we lost. it arrived the next year after 10 years of resisting it). I must say though, that if I were living in a town where it was the only place I could buy ginger, fair trade coffee and soy milk, heck, I’d be all over it. I hope that you can just simply acknowledge that you are a very flexible and adaptable person, instead of feeling bad about shopping at Walmart.

  9. When dh & I were first married & I moved here, I was unemployed & job hunting. I was on unemployment insurance — which I would not qualify for under the same circumstances today — which brought in a small cheque monthly. It was tight financially, and after about seven months (before the UI cheques ran out), I started temping until (after about a year) I finally landed a permanent job. And I was a little lonely — sometimes dh would be the only other person I had a real conversation with all week long.

    But I have very fond memories of the newlywed period. I loved exploring my new city and neighbourhood and being domestic. I loved having dinner waiting on the table for dh & experimenting with new recipes. I loved having all the housework done during the week so that the weekends could be free to have fun together. I loved having lots of time to read and go to the library and go to the archives to research my family tree.

    It IS valuable work, & trying to fit it all in on top of a 9-5 (or longer) job outside the home is a huge part of the stress that many women feel, I think. I say enjoy it while it lasts!

  10. I am going to echo a lot of the above sentiment. You deserve this time, you have worked your ass off for years and there is nothing wrong with enjoying your situation. You are in the moment, something we always strive to do but tend to fall short.
    As another fellow girl, I can’t imagine an alternative in your situation. It is really too bad. Maybe you can find some local growers (although I have no idea where you are) or start growing some of your own food come spring. I find it ridiculous that good, whole food is “snobby”, F that, we should all be so inclined!
    Either way I am glad you are adjusting and embracing your new digs. A garage, wow, that is a big deal!

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