These days, a lot of my fantasies come down to living a more productive, sustainable life at home. I dream of a small house on a few acres of land, with large gardens and a chicken coop in the back. Inside, there’s a fireplace and comfortable couches with lots of blankets on which to read, write, knit, and play the guitar. There’s a spinning wheel and sewing machine in the corner – sometimes I even wonder about a weaving loom. In the kitchen, homegrown herbs are hanging from the ceiling, bread is rising on the stove, pickles are fermenting on the shelf, homemade jams and jellies are lined up in the pantry, and gingerbeer and sourdough starters are sitting on the counter next to glass jars of home grown sprouts. While I certainly don’t think I can do everything, I picture making some of our clothing, entertaining ourselves through music and storytelling, and producing as much of what we eat as possible. What I think this really comes down to is that, in my head, I imagine a life that’s based on a really tangible, material kind of productivity. I envision a home that’s filled with work that is at least somewhat pleasant and feels worthwhile because it meets real needs in a concrete way.
The reality, however, doesn’t quite work like this, at least not right now. Although I work largely from home, I need to be on campus at least three days a week. On days when I’m not there, I’m usually prepping for class, grading papers, applying for jobs, or researching and writing articles. That’s not a complaint – I think my work is interesting and there are lots of things that I enjoy about it. It does keep me busy enough that I’m often exhausted at the end of the day, though. Knitting, sewing, writing, and playing guitar are often off the table at this point, and reading seems to be the activity that’s most manageable when i need rest. The garden has fallen to the wayside more times than I’d like to admit. And there are nights when it’s challenging enough just to make dinner, let alone keep the kitchen clean, bake bread, tend starters, rinse sprouts, and all of the other things that would need doing to keep up the level of productivity and homemade food that I envision.
I’ve reached a point where I’ve come to terms with at least some of the discrepancies between the fantasy and the reality. I’ve had a good hard look at what’s possible right now, and I keep reevaluating as I go and my situation changes. Practically speaking, there’s only so much I can do. Keeping my job is pretty important since it pays the bills, so I need to work around its demands. Whatever else I do has to fit around this keystone, and sometimes the need to work is simply going to have to take priority over things I’d rather be doing. There are, after all, only so many hours in the day and so many things that can be done out of a 750 square foot apartment with a bit of grass outside.
This is largely where the “if not here” idea came from (although it was also heavily influenced by Sharon Astyk’s “adapting in place”). I could put off trying to do everything I want until I have the time and the land and the house and the kitchen and the garden and everything else that exists in my fantasy life. However, I deeply believe that these are things that are worth doing now, even if things aren’t as ideal as they are in my head. But even more importantly, they’re things that I can still do now, just maybe not to the degree that I’d like. I may not make bread every day, but I can probably manage once a week. I may not make everything we wear, but I can slowly work on a cowl, some gloves, or a pair of socks. I may not produce everything we eat, but I can cook most of our meals and rinse the odd batch of sprouts or feed a sourdough starter when I have a few minutes here and there. I may not be a fantastic guitar player, but I can practice a favourite song every now and again.
When I was working on my dissertation, I was often reminded that “the perfect is the enemy of the good”. I think this idea applied equally well here. I can’t do everything I want now, but I can do some of it, and that’s still a pretty powerful thing. There’s no need to wait until I’m in the ideal situation. I can make this situation more ideal by doing the things that I want to be doing to the best of my ability right now. And, as each step gets easier and faster, it becomes possible to add in something new every so often. I probably won’t ever get to the point where I can take care of all of our needs, and I believe that being completely sustainable is, at best, very difficult. But for now, I can do what I can in the situation we’re in and work towards graducally building the life that I want, whether that’s on some land in the country or here in my little apartment.