I spend a lot of time interrogating (as we used to say in the literary theory circles I frequented in a previous incarnation) my slacker life. For a couple of years, Rebecca and I played around with the idea of writing a book on Slackerhood as a Spiritual and Political Practice, but, well, real slackers don’t write books.
Several weeks ago I read “A Householder’s Guide to the Universe” by Harriet Fasenfest. Describing herself as an urban householder, Fasenfest grows — in her Portland back yard — most of the food for her family of four.
She cooks, she preserves, she composts. She dries, she cures, she’s learning to butcher. She even cans her own tuna. (I’m happy to report that she doesn’t catch it herself.)
I loved the book. Besides putting up a million quarts of tomatoes and wrecking her knees planting peas, she writes well — and is an astute and thoughtful critic of “the way we live now.”
She puts her commitment to householding “within the context of a global economic system run amok, because, if nothing else, householding defies the logic, the premise, and the status quo of that system.”
I’m too lazy to become an urban (or big town or any other sort of) householder, but I’m glad that people like Fasenfest are out there changing the world one jar of peaches at a time. Change, she believes — and I concur (on those days when I think change is possible at all) — “will come in large measure from the small, grass-roots efforts of individuals. It will come from challenging … the way the greed of the market has defined prosperity, success, and ‘the good life.’ ”
I like to think that slackers, too, defy the System and challenge the nation’s notion of prosperity, success and the good life. It’s just that instead of sweating in my tightly planted acre, I sit down — looking out over my 6-by-6-foot garden — to a meal of gorgeous tomatoes and basil that my neighbor Olivia and my farmer friends have planted, watered and harvested. And a glass or two of wine that my talented winemaker friends have generously produced for me and for all of you who are reading this column.
Inner Interrogator No. 1 tells me that living the slacker life consumes very few of the Earth’s precious resources. A quart of water and 10 minutes of heat will boil the pasta. Popping a cork? No energy at all (unless it’s the frustrating personal energy of extracting one of those awful plastic things).
I walked to the Co-op to buy both pasta and wine — and to the Farmers Market for the tomatoes and basil. No resources consumed there.
Inner Interrogator No. 2 reminds me that sometimes both pasta and wine have made their big-carbon-footprinting way from Italy, that slackerhood is pretty dependent on a lot of other folks consuming a lot of energy as well as doing a lot of hard work. She also reminds me that I’m incredibly lucky to be able to slack off: The kids are grown now, my employer didn’t outsource my job, Wall Street didn’t gobble up my savings, and B of A didn’t manipulate my mortgage.
And so goes the debate.
Most of the fiction I’ve written takes place in a contemplative women’s monastery in the Sierra Nevada. Fellow slackers. They stage a slightly different version of this debate over and over again (no wonder they’ve never appeared on the bestseller list): whether ’tis better to immerse yourself in socially and politically important work or to spend your days thinking, reading, meditating, taking care of the woman in the cabin next to you and having fun.
They’re householders, too, of course, but with 10 of them, they don’t have to spend too many hours at it. One of the nuns often says that if everyone lived this way — the slacker life — we’d have many fewer social and political problems to begin with.
“We’re fiddling,” counters another, “while Rome burns.”
It gives me a headache. My usual, cop-out conclusion: The world needs all of us, householders, workers and slackers (well, maybe not all — most of Congress, Monsanto execs, university higher administrators and Big Pharma CEOs should embrace slackerhood immediately. First do no harm.).
But right now I have to attend to the headache, and you will not, perhaps, be surprised at my remedy: late summer tomatoes and basil (with a little garlic and Yolo Press olive oil) over pasta and a big glass of red wine.
In the spirit of letting my neighbors provide, I might pour that glass from a bottle of, say, the Putah Creek tannat I’ve had in my “cellar” for a few years or Bob Marr’s hearty Cuvée Patrick. If I’m feeling extravagant, I could pick up the elegant ’06 unfiltered syrah made by Davisite Robert Traverso or the nice co-fermented, malbec-syrah-tannat ’05 Rominger West Chapman Vineyard Red made by Mark West (which is actually on sale at the Co-op right now and thus not such a splurge after all).
More extravagant than that? Maybe the Fiddlehead Oaksville Reserve made by semi-Davisite Kathy Joseph.
After all, my last PG&E bill was only $20, and someone has to help pay theirs.
With all the time and (mental) effort I expend on this issue, I could easily preserve all the tomatoes, peaches, cucumbers and corn I’d need for an entire winter. On the other hand, I’d have to drive to the Co-op for canning jars. And all that boiling water! Not only would I be using gallons of our most precious resource, but the kitchen would get so hot, I’d have to turn on the air-conditioner (a mortal sin in my household).
Easier to eat winter squash instead. (Perhaps a nice Hubbard risotto dotted with Yolo Press olives, which would taste especially wonderful accompanied by the Fitzpatrick merlot I just tried.
Merlot may be the outcast wine of the decade, but instead of the flabby fruit that merlot haters fear, this wine explodes with firm black cherry, bites you mid-palate — where it also offers you a touch of smoke — and finishes long and dry. It’s $15 — and you can buy it at Farmers Market straight from the winemaker.
We also serve who only sit and dine.
— Reach Susan Leonardi at email@example.com. Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com