I’m sitting here at my table with my laptop just a skosh to the right so there’s room for my Late July organic soda crackers, and a tiny Smithsonian Institution-replica plate of majolica ware with a generous wedge of raw milk Bleiki AlpKase on it.
The crackers are nothing special; I just had a craving flung on me for soda crackers, something I haven’t eaten for years.Certified organic, pesticide-free, vegan, kosher and with no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. About twice as expensive as regular soda crackers; still, pretty cheap.
The cheese I chose won over the smoked raw sheep’s Pecorino Romano and the Amish Smokehaus Bleu and the Rosemary–encrusted Asiago by virtue of the fact that it was already open.The cheeses are $15 to $22 per pound, but small bits.
The AlpKase is specialty cheese produced from cows that foraged on an alpine meadow above a certain altitude. They were milked on the alp; the cheese was made and aged on the alp in order to satisfy the standards required by the Swiss for this kind of cheese. It has a firm texture, and the outside rind has a flavor on the palate of musty sand from the natural cave-like aging cellar.
The crackers and cheese accompanied a small bowl of butter beans with small-batch smoked veggies—onions, peppers and corn—to create succotash. It was simple and spectacular.
Funny how mold, fungus, bugs and bacteria create specialty foods in some cases, and the appearance of poverty in quite another.
Antiques and Yesterday’s Prices
My laptop rests on an antique drafting table with tarnished brass adjustment knobs. Close-at-hand, a 1938 Universal Dictionary from Oxford on it, is another antique; this one is a small Shaker-style table, obviously old and hand-made. The nearby cedar chest that supports my plants was someone’s high school project from 1930, Ralph Glopen by name. In impeccable shape, it is sturdy and beautiful. It is lined with newspapers from 1935, advertising ground beef for 14 cents a pound, and Camels or Lucky Strikes for $1.30 per pack. Imagine cigarettes being almost ten times as expensive as beef!
How Much is Enough?
Where do fancy cheeses, antiques, rotten food, and yesteryear’s prices intersect? Lest you think I am well-to-do, be assured I am comfortable, but nowhere near wealthy. Unless you compare me to some other poorer part of the world, or certain invisible segments of the American population, I have a shockingly Spartan lifestyle.
But I ask myself, How much is enough? I ask with resentment, when looking at the super-rich, or the super-ostentatious. Really. What is it about shiny, fast cars? What’s wrong with a bedroom and bathroom for every body in the house, with maybe a spare “powder-room” for guests?
I wonder carefully, when it seems there’s not enough to go around. How little can I get by on? I’ve seen transient people with all of their belongings in a backpack, in robust health. My answer is, A lot less than I have.
Lately, I have asked it curiously of myself, wondering what amount is enough to allow me to be satisfied, happy with my portion. And the place I trip is when I think about being uncomfortable–like getting rid of power tools, then having to work harder to accomplish something. Oh, I do love comfort.
Less, Less, Less
I am drowning in my stuff. It anchors me, indeed feeling like I can’t move because of all the things I need to dispose of first. I feel a responsibility to my belongings. I like a lot of my things, that’s why I own them. I enjoy beautiful things, sometimes expensive things.
But the things I like best are not beautiful or expensive, necessarily. They are useful, and sturdy, durable for the long haul. And the minimalist journey I have begun is an ancient idea dressed in nascent apparel.
The less I have, the easier to travel. The lighter my load, the more joyous and free I feel. And the idea of ‘becoming’ is drawing me like metal filings to a magnet. All these wonderful items I accumulated have not made me happy. Because things don’t make people happy. If we aren’t happy without things, we won’t be happy with them.
Long ago, I was broke. When I got out of that economic situation, I began acquiring all the “stuff” I had never had.
But I was also poor, a spiritual condition that I did not recognize, that could not be remedied by things: not by relationships, collections, or experiences. The blessing is in the midst of the realization that I am bankrupt without a purpose, poverty-stricken unless I am giving without fear or resentment.
I pause and ask myself, Is this really true? And the answer comes back, gaining in clarity: I am about to find out.
“What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think…It is easy in the world to live after the people’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who, in the midst of the crowd, keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson