The lap of luxury

Before Christmas I received an email from someone who seemed to be quite angry with my whole “new agrarian” idea. I won’t embarrass him by quoting extensively (it wasn’t a particularly nice email), but he made this point:

All the agrarians I know… became agrarian so that they could get away from “luxuries”.

Apparently he believes, based on various things I’ve said around here, that I indulge in too many luxuries and am therefore not worthy of the term “agrarian.”

Wednesday night a windstorm knocked our power out, and I got to thinking: What’s a luxury?

We Dare Defend Our Rights

Read enough history and you find yourself crowded by the dead. They mill about as palpable as the living, and more numerous. Stoop to retrieve a slobbery tennis ball and assailed by the recollection that your yard was once a great plantation you may rise to find yourself surrounded by toiling slaves whose worksongs are insufficiently energetic for their driver. Hiking past a grave you may see a dead woman seated on her grave, her face like a hologram appearing old or young depending on the angle, and her legs accordingly decrepit or dangling childishly. Mention this to others and you will be regarded as the boy in the movie who claims to see ghosts or hear poltergeists, and to be fair, there may be only the finest line between historical awareness and otherworldly madness: either way, you see things that aren’t there.

New Year’s wishes

So I wrote this and published this, and then, defying the traditional New Year’s resolution to be more organized, forgot to publish it. But now it’s relevant again, so with a little updating, here it is with best wishes for 2007.

Darrin McMahon writes in today’s the 12.29.2005 New York Times that you can’t just decide to be happy. He notes that happiness as a commendable and morally acceptable end in itself is a concept invented only in the past few centuries and cites the 19th-century philosophers Thomas Carlyle and John Stuart Mill on the subject — now there’s research to back them up, but really, Mill’s common sense could be more common without the blessing of social science:

Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.

In the spirit of Mill and the ever-cranky Carlyle (and with an eye toward looking back fondly on the 300th birthday of Benjamin Franklin, whose memory moves me to one-liner homilies), I will not tell you to have a happy 2006 2007 but instead offer the following wishes.