This afternoon I poured myself a glass of a lovely white wine. Then I just sat.
First I sat in the newly finished screen porch contemplating the bank of ferns behind Mo Saoirse Hermitage. When it got too chilly I came inside and slipped into a big bentwood rocker that has a view out the south windows.
A few stalks of Crocosmia Lucifer were beginning to open their exotic flame-red blooms. Beyond them lies my 1/4-acre park-to-be, which is about halfway done and is now pastoral and pleasant after seven years of fitful labors.
I so seldom do this, just sit. Even in my almost monkish life, too long a moment of (intended) peace and up I get to answer the call of electronics, housework, or a dog who can always think of better occupations for me.
The tiny chemical enhancement of a single glass wine, sipped slowly, enables me to sit still and tunes me in to the peace that lies all around. It opens my mind to the flow of ideas. For a writer and a hermit, wine can be a valuable tool.
Still, no doubt about it, wine is also an indulgence.
My favorite variety (Gewurtztraminer, if you’re interested) can be had at the local grocery store for a reasonable $9 a bottle. I buy it there and it’s okay. But a winery a short hour’s drive away makes (or made, that’s part of the story) a Gewurtztraminer that costs three times as much. And their version is the nectar of the gods.
You know me; $27 bottles of wine aren’t in my budget. Never have been. Never will be. The very thought gives me the guilts and shudders. It reminds me how much more sensible it would be to spend that money on drywall or driveway gravel.
But I make this very limited exception.
Once every three months, I drive to the winery and pick up two bottles. Four times a year, a neighbor and I grab our little cloth wine bags and trek to this local wonderland of tasting rooms and gourmet shop and restaurant and gardens. We indulge not only in the wine, but in a no-holds-barred restaurant lunch, complete with glasses of wine, very Pacific Northwesty meals, rich dessert, and sometimes extras to consume later.
We have so much fun. Then I return home and place my next three months of indulgences on the wine rack.
It’s easy to get judgmental about other people’s indulgences. An indulgence is a priority. And precisely because it’s someone else’s priority, it may seem misplaced to us.
Sometimes we’re right. Back in my heaviest dog-rescue days I regularly had to deal with a woman who produced repeated litters of sick, dying puppies and kittens. She “couldn’t afford” to spay or neuter. She “couldn’t afford” vaccinations or worming. Yet she smoked like one of Blake’s dark, satanic mills and sported bright, fresh tats on her arms.
Yeah, some priorities really are screwed up. But sometimes an indulgence we might not agree with is perfectly right for the other person.
I once got a bit antsy with a friend who enjoyed expensive designer clothes and handbags, indulgences whose worth completely escapes me. My friend pointed out, “I have plenty of money. I’m not going into debt for them. I enjoy them. So what’s your problem?”
Practical shooters may scoff at $10,000 engraved European shotguns. Mutt rescuers may scorn those who pay $2,500 for designer dogs. Wives may resent train-nerd husbands who take over entire basements for elaborate tunnels and mountains and villages and tracks. Husbands may howl over the waste of money when their wives go downtown for spa days.
Puritanical moralists may decry any indulgences — but you can bet they’ve got a few of their own, even though they keep them hidden away. Remember Bill Bennett, the political mucky-muck who was so into moralizing that he wrote a bestseller called The Book of Virtues? Yep, that Bill Bennett — the guy with $2 million in gambling losses. But when found out he said pretty much what my designer-loving friend did. And he was right, even though he was still a despicable hypocrite.
Truth: reasonable indulgences are good for us. They give us a little part of life that’s ours alone and remind us of what we’re living (and sometimes fighting) for.
More often we deny ourselves. We have plenty of — good! — reasons to self-deny. For our children. For future savings. For necessities. For charity. For preparedness. For whatever. We don’t indulge.
I’m not knocking that. Those folks who just indulge away without hesitation have got problems — problems they too often unthinkingly lay off upon us.
But to indulge precisely because we’re those people who are always thinking of 10 years from now, or somebody else’s welfare, or the need to keep our pantry stocks up … that, of course, is a different matter. We know how to put the brakes on overindulgence; in fact, we may know it a little too well.
Do you have an indulgence — for treats or travel or hobbies or luxury or pursuit of happiness — that you’ve been reluctant (or perhaps, until now, unable) to give into?
The other day I had an odd sense of being outside, watching myself. This wasn’t an out-of-body experience; just a sensation accompanying a thought. The thought was “strolling calmly toward Armageddon.”
And that’s what I saw myself doing, both in a literal image of me advancing casually toward a vista red skies and chaos, and also in thought. And I, blessedly, am not alone.
We are on the brink of something so bad, of times so hard, that only those among us who saw the battles and devastation of WWII will be able to comprehend.
If worse comes to worst, even most of our elders who made it through Great Depression won’t have seen times like the ones we’re going to see if we live long enough. Gods help our children and grandchildren. Gods help us preserve remnants of philosophy and science and literature and civility and beauty before the Dark Age descends.
We are witnessing the deliberate destruction of Western Civilization. The “rough beast” of sheer willfully destructive self-indulgence is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born (and again, I’m not talking about mere riots, which are American business-as-usual, but about the culmination of a long anti-rational, anti-individual, anti-propertarian, anti-freedom process). Yet we can be calm.
Are we (many of us anyhow) not already as prepared as we’re going to be?
Are we not panicking now because, if we were ever going to panic, it was done and over long ago?
Have we not seen this era coming all our lives?
So here we are, in solemn, reasoned calm, on the road to cultural, financial, spiritual, political, and perhaps physical Armageddon.
We do not wish trouble. We will avoid it if at all possible. But if it comes to us (and it will surely come to our friends and relatives), we will not flinch.
We may be apprehensive — hell, terrified! But we exist as this calm center amid the chaos. This center in which we already know our duty to ourselves, our loves, and our freedoms. We already have open eyes and educated brains. We have done all we can. And we may not be ready (lord knows I’m not). But we are as ready as we can possibly be, and on that steady reality we stand.
A couple of posts ago, Jeff Allen posted a comment with a remarkable (and lesser known) quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
I won’t repeat the quote here, but I recommend you go read it, take it to heart, and keep it where you can reference it. It’s Solzhenitsyn’s list of things an honorable person would (or would not) do to shrug off political lies and remain true to principles even under crushing pressure. Solzhenitsyn and his honorable contemporaries faced far worse than most of us ever have. How hard it must have been to stand on those principles in the Soviet Union. How hard it must have been even to write those words.
But when it comes down to it, that list represents only the personal beginning of principled people need to do in times like these.
What heavy tasks we have ahead of us. What far heavier tasks our children and grandchildren will likely bear.
Solzhenitsyn’s list is formidable. The future looks hellish. It’s up to us to face whatever comes with honor, courage, and a principled yet flexible commitment to freedom.
And all that is precisely why we need those reasonable indulgences — and why this is an exceptionally good time to embrace them.
These may be the last wondrous months or years that we have, and prudent indulgences are small reminders that our lives are our own property, that we can always direct our own fates (even if only in some small way), and that life has pleasures in it.
When Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution ,” she was mostly talking about mindset. If your revolutionaries are grim, they’re going to make a grim, gray future. But as she herself later explained, she was also talking about “… freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” And that includes the ability to embrace and enjoy those things that bring small delight (and big reminders) to our lives — indulgences.
We may have to do many things we never imagined having to do, but we will always have these small but vital reminders of what freedom means, and what enhances life.
Anyhow, if you don’t indulge now, you might regret not having done it, once you reach the future.
Over the years I’d probably had fewer than 12 bottles of that holy Gewurtztraminer from the winery. Then they stopped making it. I don’t know why. I whined, I cajoled, I pleaded. But I’m just one voice. They stopped.
A friend bought the last seven bottles for me and wanted to do even more. But seven was it. Most of those bottles are still waiting on the wine rack. They’ll be the last.
I rest here on a gray summer’s day and I celebrate. I hold beauty in my eyes and contentment in my heart.
Do I fear for the future? Oh bloody hell yes I do. But in this moment my time, spirit, and mind belong solely to me.