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.