Variety is the Spit of Life 1

When she was a child, our daughter Adrian and her female cousins loved to spend the night with their Gran, my Mom. Every time they did, they ate the same food, slept on the same pallet on the same spot in Gran’s bedroom, watched the same movies (Sarah Plain and Tall and Anne of Green Gables), and ate the same breakfast the next morning. We marveled that they found this monotony pleasant. Why didn’t they get tired of it?

I didn’t realize it as a young adult parent, but I am beginning to grasp in my mid-50s what my mother and my child knew instinctively: variety isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. The modern industrial economy has sold us a bill of goods, and if we ever peek behind the curtain we will realize it.

I write about this now because we traveled away from the farm to our suburban home, and I missed my cup of tea yesterday morning. It is my routine – and you already know I am nothing if not a creature of routine – to fix Amanda’s coffee and my tea and bring them to her in bed, where we start the morning slowly by planning the day’s work and play, and generally catching up on who needs to do what.

We still have a good bit of food in the pantry, and Amanda collects tea with gusto, so I foolishly assumed I would be able to find the makings for a good cup of tea somewhere. I found saffron tea, spice tea, green tea, and “afternoon” tea. I don’t know what that last one is, but I can assure you that what it is not is good plain tea.

Our modern growth-obsessed economy needs us to buy and buy and keep buying, even when our souls long for nothing more than for us to do good work, to eat good food, and to spend time with those we love. So it has become important that we convince ourselves that we don’t need just good, plain tea. We need 16 varieties of tea. It’s not enough to have a good pair of shoes, or even three. We need 25. Perish the thought that we should relax at the same place where we vacationed last year. We must see something new! It would be utterly unthinkable, of course, to remain at home and read a good book. How boring.

As peak oil arrives and economic growth disappears, we will see these multiple choices disappear, and many of us will be unable to cope. We will assume that what we are experiencing is just a bump in the road, and we will search for someone to blame for it so we can get rid of them and get things back to “normal.” But “normal” is going to be a shrinking economy, failing employers, disappearing jobs, increasing energy costs, higher food costs, and many, many fewer choices.

Life is going to be harder in the decades to come. We’re about to find out, though, that this doesn’t necessarily mean we will be less happy. We may find the blistering clarity of this age we are entering (“How can I get fresh water?” “Where can we stay warm and dry?” “Where can we find a few more calories of food?”) to bring a fresh tingle of life lived on the edge. Our ancestors lived this way, and it’s the way we evolved. We may actually find it pleasant, with or without saffron tea.

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One thought on “Variety is the Spit of Life

  • chuck till

    The overly diversified goods that we consume per cues from Madison Avenue also fill our houses and our landfills. Recently I’ve been systematically discarding excess stuff from the house. Feels good.

    FYI, I buy from, an excellent mail-order source.