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Living Simply

Uhhh, no, actually, I donít. Since Iíve retired, I seem to have a lot more to do than before. Most of what I have to do I want to do, itís true. Itís just that every once in a while itís too much.

I just heard, indirectly, from my granddaughter, who is newly stationed in Kuwait, serving in the U.S. Air Force. She had plenty to do before she went there, with a husband, two children, two horses and assorted other dependents. Now, she says, her days are simpler. She goes on duty at 3:00 AM. She works, sleeps and eats, and works out every day mostly because thereís nothing else to do. She carries a gun wherever she goes. She admits that thereís something to say for getting life down to basics. Over there, itís called survival.

My day yesterday was filled with frustration because some of the programs on my computer didnít work well with other programs. In one way or another, I spend most of my waking time at my computer. I write and I process photographs and I communicate with other people around the world. And I experiment sometimes with new programs that promise to make my life more interesting. Or something. The Internet is a wonderful invention, allowing me to communicate and to do research and to figure things out, all activities that I enjoy. But Iím one of millions of people using that Internet every day, and just as in any large, miscellaneous group, some of the people enjoy doing mischief. They may think of it as playing games, or making money for themselves or their employers, but mostly for me they are into mischief. So I have to protect my computer from them, using software that somebody else has invented, and that may work the way they said it would, but may not always. Life with a computer gets complicated.

I have a lot of interests, as I said. Life is so full of possibilities, even for a person on the meager income I get from Social Security. I have a growing sense that thereís not a lot of time left for doing even some of these things I like to do. Every once in a while, I think Iíd be happier if I let go of most of those things and simply focused on one at a timeósay, photography, or writing. I could use my computer, or even a much simpler one, just to record my thoughts about life or to tell stories or to write letters to people I care about.

But the Internet is so convenient! I can write my thoughts and post them on my Web site for anybody in the world to read (should anyone be interested. Actually, I have evidence that a hundred thousand people visited my Web site last year, only five or six of whom bothered to tell me so). I can write long, heartfelt letters to my loved ones scattered around the world and send them within minutes. I can ask that world a question about philosophy or economics or literature or history or just about anything I can think of, and within a very short time get an answer. I can visit other peopleís Web sites and get to know them a little better. I have a feeling that Iím connected to the world much more than I ever was when I was out there making a living.

Sometimes I look out my window at a wetland just behind my home. Itís pleasant to look at, but I havenít actually walked there and looked closely at it. Itís a distant scene, as if pasted on my window. I havenít lived with it, the way I live with my computer. It seems an enticingly simple place. Maybe, though, itís too simple. Iím not like Henry David Thoreau, who could live for two years in a hut alongside a pond and do nothing exceptówhat? Watch the sun go down?

Maybe thatís the problem. My problem. I fill up my days with things I think will entertain me or satisfy me or feed me, somehow. I may have gone too far from whatís really important, trying to find a feeling inside me that Iím really here. The more things I do, the less I feel. I get frustrated because some little piece of my life doesnít work the way I think it should. All those pieces I depend upon. Maybe if I reduced my life to simpler things. Grow a few potatoes instead of a fancy garden of perennials. Bake a loaf of bread instead of opening a box of "gourmet" frozen dinner. Walk three miles a day instead of sitting in front of a computer screen. Sit for an hour with a neighbor instead of reading a hundred email messages a day. Carve a wooden thingówhateveróinstead of trying to construct a precision attachment for my camera.

No, I donít have to go live at Walden Pondóitís surely not the place it used to be, anyway. I just need to stop, once in a while, and ask myself what Iíd do if the power grid simply went away. Simpler isnít necessarily more boring. Sitting still, feeling my body, watching my runaway thoughts without having to do anything about themóit might put all those other things into perspective.

But I have a lot of emotional investment in the things I do now. Who would I be, without my Web site or without my computer or my other gadgets? Am I busy trying to find out who I am, or trying to build an edifice so that other people will acknowledge my existence?

 

Donald Skiff, Januaary 28, 2005

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