What Is It That I Want?

This article about a young family’s new cabin on a nearby island in last Sunday’s style section troubled me, but I had a hard time articulating exactly why.  It’s not that these features on lovely homes built in the region must contain social critique.   And I knew that I did not want to write snarkily about this family because I want to stay focused on the structural and not on individual choices.

It’s just that on Sunday morning, I saw the figures scratched in the margins of the paper version on our kitchen counter adding up the construction costs for such a home (he who shares my daily paper knows about these things), and then there were the talks on our walk in which we totaled up the costs of the land, building, furniture, appliances  (likely something close to a million dollars, for all its “simplicity”).  I knew that my unease was not just straightforward jealously, though in these past few weeks of a major life transition of elderly, ill relatives who have no money, we’ve been increasingly conscious of those who do seem to take their wealth for granted and the deep social distance between our families and such friends and colleagues.

So on that walk on Sunday morning as we added up the land, the building materials, the two designer sofas, the commercial grade appliances, the solid black granite bathtub, and the boarding of horses, we kept asking “so what is it that we want?”.

In the end, I think that it’s the narrative of this piece that I find most troubling:  That a young woman, pregnant, heard a speaker warn against the harm of “nature deficit disorder”, and horrified, set out to create an oasis in nature where her soon-to-be-born son would thrive.

Yet clicking through the website today of the speaker that spurred her to “snag” 10 acres of land on a bucolic island, I find that his work is grounded in the vision of creating a movement toward  *all* children having ample access to nature.   This family’s (recently remodeled) main home is near one of the largest and most popular parks in the city.

So I think that I’m more clear about what I want, several days later.

I want people to own their wealth and their desire for privacy and luxury and not frame these things within narratives of saving one’s children from harm that might come to them otherwise.

When someone can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a very private second home on an island when one’s children are still very young,  I want  –for once  — for these people to say “we have been very lucky to inherit” and/or “we’re very lucky to earn so much more than others who work just as hard, and to not have student loans,  even though we’re still at early points in our careers, as so many others now do.

I know what I do not want:  Narratives in which the wealthy are held up as model parents who upon hearing of the dangers of the modern world, “go right out” to provide acres of weekend woods for their children; narratives that invite us to admire their paint colors and beautiful windows and solid black granite bathtub without asking too many questions about how it is that relatively young parents can ensure that their child has access to acres of his own private salamanders, and especially not to ask too many questions about how all children might have room to grow and thrive, as that speaker that night several years ago likely advised.

That may well be too much to ask of style writers, but not of those about whom they write.

11 thoughts on “What Is It That I Want?

  1. Will Shetterly June 18, 2014 / 5:53 pm

    I haven’t checked the article. Is the woman’s name Marie Antoinette?

  2. springbyker June 18, 2014 / 6:45 pm

    How ironic that this couple’s solution to their children’s possible “nature deficit” involves spoiling some more of that nature. Apparently they gave no thought to the resources that go into producing new appliances, furniture, etc. And where did the granite for that bathtub come from, anyway?

  3. janevangalen June 19, 2014 / 8:37 am

    Thanks for the comments Will and Springbyker. (The granite came from China, after being found online).

    I do hope that this piece comes across as more than snark. There are many decisions that I make about my own life that others could easily question. The cabin is purposefully small when others build McMansions on similar reasoning.

    I just want people to own their wealth, and for all of us to raise questions about wealth inequality enabling some of us to carve out private solutions to public problems.

    • Will Shetterly June 19, 2014 / 8:39 am

      Oh, me referring to Marie Antoinette’s farm is snark; what you said is not. This particular story is simultaneously outrageous and typical.

      • janevangalen June 19, 2014 / 8:45 am

        It is, isn’t it? Both outrageous and typical. I keep wondering if it would have bothered me so much if it had just been yet another story about someone building a weekend getaway. I don’t know.

        • Will Shetterly June 19, 2014 / 8:52 am

          Part of the reason I thought of MA’s farm is so many of us would love a cabin in the woods. But mine would look more like Thoreau’s than this woman’s. (I still haven’t had the heart to click the link, so I don’t know what it actually looks like.)

        • janevangalen June 19, 2014 / 9:25 am

          I am clear that my cabin will have wifi. Don’t judge.

          And the one is this article is lovely.

          Sent from my IPhone

        • Will Shetterly June 19, 2014 / 9:55 am

          🙂 Mine, too.

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