Country Living Series

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Our mutiny against the bounty

Here's my WND column for this weekend, originally titled "Our Mutiny Against the Bounty."


UPDATE: Because some readers are having ongoing issues accessing the WND website, I'll start reprinting my columns here. In case I forget, just give me a kick-in-the-pants reminder.


Why I battle against easy living
Exclusive: Patrice Lewis lauds N.Y. Times piece on 'The Tyranny of Convenience'

Back in 1990, my husband and I were normal.

No really, we were. We were newlyweds living in a rental house in Sacramento. We had two dogs. We commuted on the highway. We each worked 9-to-5 jobs in respectable fields. We went to dinner every Friday night. We bought clothes in department stores. We had get-togethers with friends. We watched television. We walked our dogs around the block. We acted just like everybody else.

But this didn’t mean we liked being normal. Deep down, we wanted to be different. We didn’t want a suburban existence – we wanted to live on a farm. We didn’t want the security of an office job – we wanted to be self-employed. We didn’t want to commute on a highway – we wanted to work at home.

And most of all, we didn’t want to live with regret. We didn’t want to look at each other on our 50th anniversary and say, “If only.” If only we’d moved to the country. If only we’d raised our (future) children on a farm. If only we’d worked for ourselves.

This realization was the end of our normal existence. In 1992 we left our secure well-paying jobs, moved to a different state and embarked on a rural life. We exchanged paved streets for dirt roads. We left financial security for the financial insecurity of a home business.

From then on, our lives have been very, very different than that of our friends. Over the years, this became our new normal – and I forget that not everyone views it the same way.

I didn’t realize this until I started receiving comments from college friends on their yearly Christmas cards. While most of these fine people went on to lead productive and conventional lives as professionals in their fields, living on paved streets, we blundered away in a different direction down a dirt road (literally). During the height of our hard years, it was kind of embarrassing to meet up with these old friends and compare lives. While we struggled, they sailed. While we economized, they indulged. While we patched our old car together with spit and baling twine, they bought new.

And then the Christmas cards started arriving. “How I wish I could live like you,” said a woman, a successful attorney. “I would really love to do what you do,” said a second, a physician. “How I envy you,” said a third, a brilliant man with a Ph.D./M.D. in research biochemistry.

What were these people talking about? We were struggling to make ends meet. We were living in a shack. We were outfitting our kids in thrift store clothes and heating with wood. What was there to envy?

Some asked why we were living this way. Why did we embark on such an unconventional lifestyle? Until a week ago, all I could say is we’ve always fought against the easy suburban existence that seemed our destiny early in our marriage. But I never knew what pushed us, what drove us to embrace such a rugged do-it-yourself lifestyle … until this week.

That’s when I read a brilliant essay in the New York Times by a man named Tim Wu. Entitled “The Tyranny of Convenience,” he outlined why “convenience is the most underestimated and least understood force in the world today.”

“Convenience has the ability to make other options unthinkable,” writes Wu. “Once you have used a washing machine, laundering clothes by hand seems irrational, even if it might be cheaper.”

We’ve always labored to recapture lost skills because of our concern about what I call “the death of knowledge” – how 5,000 years of skills have been lost in just the last century due to the tyranny of convenience. On our own, we’ve learned home dairying, animal husbandry, food preservation; but it wasn’t until reading Mr. Wu’s essay that I realized we were engaged in a lifelong battle against easy living.

Wu writes:
[W]e err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear. Though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning to life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us. It would be perverse to embrace inconvenience as a general rule. But when we let convenience decide everything, we surrender too much. … As task after task becomes easier, the growing expectation of convenience exerts a pressure on everything else to be easy or get left behind. We are spoiled by immediacy and become annoyed by tasks that remain at the old level of effort and time. … Today’s cult of convenience fails to acknowledge that difficulty is a constitutive feature of human experience. Convenience is all destination and no journey. But climbing a mountain is different from taking the tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place. We are becoming people who care mainly or only about outcomes. We are at risk of making most of our life experiences a series of trolley rides.
So there you have it. For the last 25 years, my husband and I have blundered along, fighting against convenience, learning how to do things through trial and error, and enjoying every (well, almost every) minute. We raised our kids with this quirky disregard for “normalcy” as well. And in every way except financial, our lives have been immeasurably richer because of it.

“However mundane it seems now, convenience, the great liberator of humankind from labor, was a utopian ideal,” writes Wu. “By saving time and eliminating drudgery, it would create the possibility of leisure.”

But the great dark unspoken secret of leisure is this: It’s boring. It’s far better to be busy, especially by working with one’s hands.

Wu notes, “The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it?”

No. That’s why we stubbornly continue to grow a garden, milk our cows, make butter and cheese, earn a living through our woodcraft business, and teach others what we’ve learned. We will continue to mutiny against the bounty, to question what’s “normal,” and shun the tyranny of convenience.

How “convenient” is your life? And what price are you paying?

32 comments:

  1. Dear Patrice,
    Thank you for your Blog. I love reading your stuff, the 2 day meat pie is a good example of what I like about it...great description of the process along with pictures.
    Now about WND...You will remember that I recently complained about the performance of their website and at your suggestion corresponded with them about the issue. The last response from Janet F was that "we know we have a problem but unfortunately we just don't have the resources" to improve.
    I remarked before that it was too painful to go to their site by which I mean that life is too short to wait 10 minutes for the site to load and become functional. I don't know what kind of complexity is involved in all the advertising and videos on their site but they are in over their head.
    Unfortunately this poor performance reflects badly on you as a contributor. Good as your columns may be hooking up with a substandard site like WND is a loser.
    Sorry to have to be blunt but I have tried multiple times with the same results.
    God bless you and your family and hang in there!
    Pat in Alton, IL

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    1. Thank you Patrice. Great article that really hits close to the bone. For myself I recognize that I live vicariously through your hard won efforts. I have been reading your blog for quite a long time and watched as you struggled with building your garden, chasing the livestock, raising your girls all with limited resources. I rejoiced when you got a tractor and the new wood stove as signs you were winning the battle. Thanks for posting here, I for one really appreciate all you(and Don)do. Pat in Alton

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    2. No problem here getting onto WND's site. I'm using FireFox, and it came up in seconds. Not sure why you would have to wait 10 minutes.

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    3. I believe WND is experimenting with dropping all video advertising, which seems to be the biggest slow-down people are experiencing. People who previously had problems accessing the WND website might have an easier time now.

      - Patrice

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    4. Update on performance issues on WND. Finally got over my stubborn streak and downloaded the Firefox browser...went straight to WND to test and WOW...immediately came up and worked flawlessly. (I have been using Windows 10 with Internet Explorer). Mea culpa.

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  2. As for me I have no problem getting unto WND site, I click on the title of the article and voila I am there. Maybe it is the system you are on, have no clue.

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  3. It's relatively easy wishing for a certain lifestyle when one is on the outside looking in. I wonder if they would have changed their tune after spending 2 weeks during the winter with you. Kudos to your family for making the commitment. SuccotashRose

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  4. Thank you for posting your article, I can go to the site but it doesn't want to stay on and I kept having to click back and forth to even read some of the article. Some days were worse than others. So it was a joy today to read all it with ease.
    We can't chase animals any more but we still have the land and supplies if need be and we could hire help. I really miss having our own animals.
    Having some modern appliances help us get our work done. Saving energy for gardening and putting up food.

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  5. I think that is the best, or one of the best, articles you have done. Sums up my feelings perfectly. Truly a great one Patrice. --ken

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  6. I have not had any problems with the WND site but the only reason I go there is to read your articles.

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  7. I enjoy reading about your lifestyle. I'm 77 years old and was raised on a farm without electricity until I was 8 years old. It was a hard life but a good life (for a child), however, I wouldn't want to go back there.

    I also have a problem with the WND website. It refreshes frequently making it difficult to read all of the article. Thank you so much for posting your article on your site.

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  8. Patrice, I just came from church and heard a great sermon on what we fix our eyes upon. This blog post fits right in with it. Always looking for a easy and smooth life can itself be an idol. You and your family remind us of the value of hard work. Thank you.

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  9. I stopped reading your columns on the WND website because of slow loading and constant stopping and telling me that it wouldn't load because of a long script. Don't know what but I always stopped the script and it didn't help. Thank you for putting your columns here.

    kathy in Mississippi

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  10. I am silly enough to read the comments on WND. Thank you, I would much rather read your article here.

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  11. I am beginning to measure “success” by how much control I truly hold. If I am in debt, I do not have control. If I cannot do for myself, I do not have control. When one of use learns something, the other learns it. Two is one, one is none. There is no control. If you have a stack of cash but cannot < insert item here> then when the crash comes you have neither.


    You can have convenience or control. Almost never will you have both at the same time.

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  12. Bravo! My sentiments exactly. I am rowing the same boat, sweating it out, and loving the ride. People say they want to be like me, but I don't see many of them signing up. My garden and my barn are my "gym", my tanning booth, my grocery store, and at times, even my church. There's a HUGE difference between an easy life and a simple life. Give me the simple life, no matter how "hard" it may appear. It satisfies my mind, my body, and my soul.

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  13. Thanks Patrice. It's a great article. I also appreciate the reference to Wu article. We take "convenience" as our birthright in modern society, but forget what we have lost to attain it.

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  14. Patrice,
    I always enjoy your articles. We too, seem to enjoy doing things 'the hard way'. If what we do was easy, more would do it. There is a sense of freedom and satisfaction in the freedom and satisfaction of answering only to oneself. Tough times help you appreciate the comfortable times. It's called living.

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  15. I’m reminded of Robert Frost. Much like you we too “took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”

    Time caught up with us and we had to return to a life of convenience. But we have no regrets, knowing that we took that rare rural journey while we could.

    Dock Guy

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  16. Technical problems have plagued WND for a long time. The site is literally unusable to a significant percentage of web users. They obviously don't care. That makes two of us.
    Dock Guy

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  17. Hey while my husband has a 9-5 job and we have
    no pets right now, life is really hard.My
    husband is in town recoving from knee surgery
    and it has been over a month and I would not
    be living out here without help from the neighbors. I have a really bad back and they
    have kept me fill with wood. I even have problems hauling it downstairs.But I would not exchange it for the world right now.
    But in the future it may happen
    Blessings
    Debby

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  18. We've made a living on ranches for the past 20 years. Ranch jobs do not pay well. It's the lifestyle we enjoy. I do a lot of canning, my husband hunts. We have our own small cow herd we have put together over the years. We don't have a lot of money, but let me tell you, we wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything. We're not tied down to any one place. We can go where the wind blows and still be happy!

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  19. Thank you for the article, what an amazing life you have made for yourself. Just one question, if you hadn't made the choice in your younger years, would you do it again now?

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    1. In a heartbeat. The only thing I'd want is to bring along the collective learning we've accumulated over the years on how to do things.

      - Patrice

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  20. Its kinda ironic that an article that talks about the dark side of convenience, is also being used as the one to point out how inconvenient it is to read your articles on WND. HA - Miss Georgia

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    1. Perhaps you missed the greater point: A a rural and resourceful north Idaho housewife has the technical ability to reliably communicate via the internet while the city $licker$ at Goliath WND failed.
      Dock Guy

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    2. Haha. She is clever. Perhaps even my favorite blogger. - Miss Georgia

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  21. One of the greatest conveniences for parents is delegating the education and safety of their children to government indoctrination centers. They do this KNOWING DAMN WELL they are literally death traps by design.

    History has recorded time and time again the price they pay for convenience. It also recorded whom they immediately blame for the murder of their children; everyone but themselves.
    Dock Guy

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  22. When modern conveniences work, they're great, but when they fail, it's worse than never having them in the first place. There is an entire chapter in my personal history (one that I will never publish) titled "Toilet Wars".

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  23. I was truly surprised at the redirect from you WND link, I hope they get that worked out soon (I won't air my thoughts about why this has happened)

    But what a great post! It has been interesting to see the surge of interest in homesteading lately. I moderate a locally based FB homesteading group, and membership has grown exponentially in the past couple of years. I truly think more ppl are coming to the realization that convenience is NOT worth it, considering what it has done to our health (mental as well as physical), and it certainly hasn't helped our bottom line (only the rich keep getting richer)

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  24. Great article. I favorite example of convenience gone wrong is the elevator. They were built to avoid the work of walking up and down the stairs, but soon people are so out of shape they can't climb the stairs anymore. Now people are taking the stairs in order to get exercise and stay healthy. The convenience was gained, but much more was lost.

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