We took a trip to NYC because I was worried that we are were not being exposed to enough visually stimulating inputs. I want the kids to see new things, do new things, and I wanted to see the Barney’s Christmas windows. The theme was foodies. I was stressed that I was not up on Food Network enough to get the high-brow insider references. Still, the windows were gorgeous.
It’s ironic to me that Leo, the king of minimalism, just moved his family from Guam to San Francisco, and I, the queen of interestingness, moved my family from NYC to a farm. It’s ironic because the farm is forced minimalism: There are no restaurants, no stores beyond the very basics, nowhere to wear nice clothes, and traveling anywhere is difficult. It’s a sort of forced minimalism. We wear the same four outfits all week, I cook three meals a day and we eat them together, and because we don’t have a TV, we are rarely exposed to advertising, telling us we need something.
Leo, on the other hand, moved to San Francisco to give his kids more opportunities, expose his kids to more things. In the process of that, Leo needs to earn more money, he needs to keep track of a more complicated family schedule (because there’s more to do) and he deals with the inherently complicated world of living in a city full of choices.
To live on a farm, I gave up New York City, where I was already on an accidental path to minimalism. But now, on the farm, where I truly understand what minimalism is like, I know you’re not really doing it until you start worrying that your life does not have enough inputs.
I know I don’t want to live in a big city because the pressure it puts on one’s career—you always have to have a great way to make money—is not in line with me constantly adjusting my career to fit what I want from my life. Career change is very very hard with a high family burn rate. And keeping a low family burn rate is all relative. (All financial well being is relative.) The farm family burn rate is relatively zero compared to a NYC or SF family burn rate.
So we were walking down Fifth Avenue when my five-year-old announced that he has to go to the bathroom. Public bathrooms in New York are notoriously elusive. You really have to know the ins and outs to be able to find one. My son saw me struggling and he pointed to the Plaza Hotel: “I could just pee in the trees in the front yard of that building.”
We went to Trump Plaza. The line was insane, and I felt like even though it was only my first day back in NYC, I was going to get claustrophobia.
By the second day, I was done with the crowds. I couldn’t take it. So I got my son a haircut. The woman who cut my son’s hair brought her own son to work with her that day. And both boys realized they had Pokemon on their DSi’s. So they played together for an hour.
It was a New York City day that made me happy. My son made a friend, and I read magazines while they played.
So I question whether I really want interesting. Or what an interesting life means to me. Because I have only about a day’s tolerance for New York City. And the minimalism of the farm actually comes easy to me. I want nothing around me because my head is so cluttered and spinning.
Still, I worry that maybe someone like Leo won’t even talk with me if I’m not interesting. And I worry that Muriel Spark abandoned her son. Did you know that? She was such a great writer; she understands the female psyche so well. But in order to craft that life of a writer she disowned her son as an unnecessary distraction.
What is interesting to her? I’m not sure. And I’d be lying if I told you that my sons don’t distract me. They do. For example, at ABC Home I wanted to soak up all the interior design ideas that are floating around the store. So I told my son to just sit down and play his DS. “Don’t talk to anyone,” I told him.
“What if a homeless person asks me for money?”
He is fascinated by the homeless people. I think he likes that he can help a grownup.
“Don’t give money when you’re not with me,” I tell him. “And if someone wants you to go with them…”
“I know, I know,” he says, “Kick and scream and if they tell me to be quiet then I scream louder.”
So I leave him in a corner, absorbed in his DS.
And I don’t know if I’m getting ideas for what I can do with my house, or I’m getting an appreciation for the fact that really, there is very little in my house, and I like it that way.