Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World is a practical book by Helen and Scott Nearing on the simple life. They describe how they built their stone home and fed themselves off the land. The first edition was in 1954, long before the idea of going back-to-the-land was trendy in the sixties, and before it began to seem necessary in the oil crisis of the seventies. Scott Nearing was previously an economics professor who was blacklisted for his socialist views. The couple undertook a simple lifestyle so they could continue promoting their progressive politics.
Three ideas from the book really stuck with me.
One, the idea of bread labour. The Nearings worked only four hours a day to feed themselves, and spent the other hours in activist and creative pursuits; the simple life does not have to be long days of physical labour.
Two, the mono-diet. The Nearings lived on a diet of simple staples with little variance. At first this struck me as awful — does simple have to mean boring? On reflection, it made much more sense. Our culture demands that our food be new and different daily, and we ignore the cost of dragging foods across the planet so we can have whatever we want whenever we want. This demand is more about a craving of ego than of physical appetite. Indigenous eating reconnects us with our local foods and local economy. Variety is nice, but we may appreciate more subtle nuances when we pay closer attention to our food at hand.
Three, Sunday morning music. Helen was an accomplished musician. Scott asked her why she played the music of others instead of making her own. The music industry of our day is designed for the reproduction and distribution of other people’s music. Music has to have mass appeal, and musicians have to dedicate careers to the production of material. Why not just play music for one another for entertainment? Or read to one another? Do people do this anymore?