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04/12/2007 Archived Entry: "An inconvenient life"

THE GREAT GOD CONVENIENCE. How we worship at his altar.

Convenience makes us acquiesce to the SSN as a universal identifier and it will no doubt lead us, one day soon, to accept chips under our skins that do everything from let us access our medical records to open doors at the office. Convenience makes us think a mere cast of a vote is "doing something for freedom" and that "we should let the experts take charge; they know best." We go to convenience stores to buy convenience foods -- never mind that they're costly and nutritionless.

But even in its more benign manifestations, the God Convenience robs us of much that's rich in life.

My life has been damned inconvenient these last four months -- as its been four months this week since I've had wheels. It became a bit more inconvenient on Monday when I gave up my WildBlue satellite Internet service. The satellite link didn't function in the rain. Or heavy snow. Or when the wind was blowing hard. Or, presumably, when Mercury was in retrograde or Venus in the fifth house. So I disconnected and now I not only walk down the hill to town for my errand running, but I lug my computer on my back to plug into the wireless network at the library or a new wifi hot spot I helped set up at the bakery. (A perfect example of pure self-interest leading to common good.)

None of this is the least bit convenient. But damn, you know, I like it. I have loved every rainy, windy, snowy, icy day of my winter and spring on foot. I love the aromas of weeds and blossoms that I never knew existed when I was encased in the cab of the Toyota. I love watching fuel go over $3.00 a gallon again and not caring much. I love stopping and talking to friends and moving at a slower pace.

The moment Internet service disappeared from Cabin Sweet Cabin, I felt -- right along with my thoughts of OMG, how will I get this or that done? -- liberation from the endless demands of the Net's conveniences. I felt that my cabin was once again a hermitage and my hilltop once again a place of peace and solitude. No longer a place where the entire world could grab me at a moment's notice.

I thought of this the other day when I read PSM's blog entry about feeling more gratitude the less he has. I thought, Yeah, I get that. Similarly, the less convenient my life becomes, the more I experience the world's little joys.

It's not that convenience is evil. I don't mean to imply that. On the day one of my dogs has a veterinary emergency, I'll pray for some quick convenience to turn up to get us to the vet. When a 20-pound package arrived at the UPS drop-off spot, convenience looked better than a trudge up the hill (but I'm still too privacy-stubborn to give a vendor my home address). I'm finding that about once or twice a month I need something for which I have to rely on somebody's help. In those cases -- thank heaven for friends and a vet who makes house calls.

But even when I have to rely on someone else -- which I've always hated to do -- good comes of it. Someone does a favor for me and I have an obligation to them, which makes me conscious of the need to repay -- conscious of having obligations to members of my real-world community, conscious of the mutual support that community historically provided -- before convenience made us all able to do so much more for ourselves.

Convenience isn't a bad thing. It's just overrated. As a society, we've moved convenience way too far up our list of priorities. Convenience lets us overschedule ourselves, simply because we can. Convenience enables us to miss beauties that lie right in our path. Convenience fills us with a sense of rush, rush, rush so that we may not stop and chat with friends or greet the friendly little Jack Russell terrier that's new in the neighborhood. Convenience encourages us to eat nutrition-free pseudo-foods just because they're quick and easy. Convenience encourages us to skim the news, but not to think deeply.

Convenience even helps make us fat. I know. Because inconvience has helped big time to do the opposite. Walking up and down that inconvenient hill these last four months, and eating a simple diet largely based on raw nuts, fruits, and vegetables (because who the hell wants to lug cans or trudge to town on foot for fast-food dinners?), I've lost 14 pounds. The pounds came off, and the energy came up, effortlessly, even joyfully. (Yes, I've said before that I'm skinny; but oh, those middle few inches. Did they ever get out of control!) How quickly would our "national crisis of obesity" be solved if people needed to walk, and to prepare meals at home (using real food), rather than having to make a special effort to exercise or make time for dinner?

I don't know how long I'll live this way. I expect by next winter I'll get the truck running again. Maybe someday I'll have an Internet connection again. But I know right now I feel privileged and happy, rather than deprived, to do without those conveniences. I'm glad to have heat and shelter from the spring rain. Glad to have friends from whom to hitch the occasional ride. Glad to have good food and the company of dogs. But I'm equally glad for the conveniences I don't have. Because in exchange for a little inconvenience, I've gotten so many riches.

Posted by Claire @ 03:36 PM CST

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