(the tomatoes, on Friday)
I think our tenants think we're a couple of self-righteous hippies. The other night, lying in bed beside an open window, an isolated fragment of conversation rang out from upstairs: "I mean, they don't even have a car". And we don't have a car. We don't have a television (just four or five monitors), or full-time jobs, or cellphones. So far, so normal (in my mind). I avoid the mall like the plague. I will happily drink alcohol in great variety, but never, ever go out on Saturday nights. I work as few hours as will pay my bills, buy my groceries, and allow me to save for tuition. I now have a giant garden. I bicycle and walk; during the Winter, when I have to, I take the bus. I read and write a lot. I use a laundry rack and a bread oven on a daily basis.
Our tenants' opinions are only the beginning (and wait until they notice that I sometimes knit). Edmonton is considered an oil town which exists largely to supply and connect the notorious Fort McMurray up North. While all of this oil means that Alberta has enjoyed a healthy economy during the past four years of recession (and I am certainly not one to complain), it seems that almost everyone who lives here--even the hipsters--are mystified that I too am not channeling all of my energy into the usual industrial pursuits. My co-workers are friendly towards my few-hours-as-possible policy, but most of them are working two or three jobs. People seem to want me to earn more, but also to spend (a lot) more. Since I do not work 40 or 60 hours a week, saying that I "can't afford" something is somehow seen as a comical, even (strangely) elitist suggestion.
May I offer a short confession, and a short defense?
Perhaps the "elitist" title is appropriate after all. The truth makes me sound like an unendurable snob, and it is this: The culture, acquisitions, and activities which I am ridiculed for avoiding? I have no interest in them.
I would rather buy black beans in bulk and make my own (damn fine) Mexican food, than eat at Tres Carnales*. I would rather spend an evening with Patrick Leigh Fermor than at a party. I would rather ride my bicycle to work than pay for a car and a gym membership. I would rather grow my own peas than buy them at the farmer's market, never mind Superstore. I would rather mix a gin and tonic at home than pay the price of half a bottle of gin at Three Boars*. Most of the time, I would rather buy yarn or fabric than clothes. Most of the time, my own food is better, making things is more fun. I'm ok, not being able to "afford" things, as long as I can read lots, put myself through university, become a better cook, own outright a fraction of a house, buy raw materials and books and acres of free time.
I would rather live cheaply than spend my twenty-second year at a minimum-wage job. It's not through lack of ambition or laziness that I have four days a week "off". Even if I only had one day off, would the money I earned amount to anything significant, when compared to the fact that I had exchanged it for hours and hours of reading, writing, exercise, sleep, cooking, making, talking, thinking? 11 dollars an hour is simply not enough to devote one's present life to serving coffee.
* Please note that I am not disparaging these establishments; they are, on the contrary, two of the best places to eat in Edmonton.