A cabin in the woods

Right now I am sitting in a bar. Sitting in a bar could mean many things, of course. I have occupied bars in Switzerland, Shanghai and Chicago where laptop computers would be highly out of place, but, as the dozen or so people who follow this blog know, I am not in just any bar. I am in the bar tabac in a town called Fitou in a part of France called Languedoc-Roussillon.

The village is quaint, charming, picturesque, bucolic. Pick your adjective for French villages and it applies to Fitou.

The bar tabac in Fitou, conveniently, is an establishment that is open every evening, serves cheap wine and potato chips, and has wi-fi. It also happens to be the only place in Fitou to go in the evening if you just want to get out of your apartment. I love being in Fitou but I also need to get out of my apartment now and then. There is the pizzeria across the street but I am on a budget and it is far easier to justify four euros for two-thirds of a bottle of wine, which occupies me for two hours, than it is to justify eight euros for a pizza. I also don’t know if the pizzeria has wi-fi. In the bar tabac I am, as they say, all good.

Here is my view right now in the bar tabac.

An hour or so ago I was looking at my Facebook page, or wall, or whatever it’s called. A friend—a real one, not just the Facebook kind—shared this quote by someone called Elaine St. James:

So, contrary to what some may believe, simplifying is not about retreating to a cabin in the woods and leading a dull, inactive existence. Rather, cutting back your hectic work pace gives you the opportunity to make sure that you’re doing work you love….Simplifying will also help you create the balance you’re seeking in your work life, your family life, and your personal life…You’ll learn how to achieve the success you want without stress and overwork.

I didn’t know who Elaine St. James was or is. I just looked her up and I still don’t know who she was or is. (If the answer isn’t above the fold on the first page of Google search results you’re out of luck.) What I do know about Elaine St. James is that I have a problem with her view of simplification.

It is hardly a revelation that most of us live unbalanced lives. If we work a lot we wish we didn’t. If we don’t work we wish we did. If we work AND have a family, we long for time off…sometimes from both.

“Simplifying will…help you create the balance you’re seeking…”

Pardon me but what…the…fuck…

Simplification is cliché. It’s cliché like “Don’t worry, be happy” is cliché. But my biggest beef with Ms. St. James is her assumption that “retreating to a cabin in the woods” means a “dull, inactive existence.” Or that going to the cabin in the first place constitutes retreat. How dare she?

I have a cabin in the woods. I have it because I told the man I love and who loves me that I needed to have a cabin in the woods, and he believed me and supported me. I built it for myself by getting on a plane and flying to France and renting a little apartment.

I’m in the minority. No question about that. Most people don’t know what their cabin in the woods is, or don’t have significant people in their lives who help them build their cabin in the woods. I’m lucky on both counts.

But to draw a line from my cabin to a dull existence is wrong and offensive. What goes on in my head when I’m in my cabin is far from dull. In fact it’s just the opposite. Having the cabin not only allows me not to be dull, it nourishes my mind and soul, and that’s about the most exciting thing I can imagine.

Now, it could very well be that Elaine St. James is a nice lady who takes in stray animals and who washes her hands after she uses the toilet. I have no idea about her except what I read in that quote. But I have trouble with that.

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