I look out from a porch and watch the fresh leaves of a Napa Valley vineyard roll under the California sun in the green tide. Later, as the scorched sun sets on the west coast, my friends and I help visitors try our own wine creations. I offer you table-length sausage boards with delicatessen meat and cheese wheels.
Other days, I’m on the Rhode Island shore helping run a small bed and breakfast cottage. Throughout the day, between greeting customers at the door, I bake fresh goods for their free meals and change sheets.
As soon as the clock strikes 4 p.m., I swap my living overalls for a bathing suit and run to the nearest beach to swim in the golden hour. Then I spend my nights working on a passion project like writing the next great American novel.
The simple life is also a map to nowhere.
In reality, I wake up in my nursery in the suburbs of Miami, Florida. As a recent college graduate, most days are a great way to apply for remote work positions, type from my laptop, and take walks around my block. I’m only seconds from Napa or Rhode Island from the walk between my bedroom and kitchen; in the moments I close my eyes in the shower; in the minutes just before I fall asleep.
During my daydreams, I imagine giving up the career I studied for and starting over. It’s comforting to think about all the paths our life could hypothetically take – to get back to the “basics”. And recently, more and more people are expressing the same wish.
Cottage core communities have entered the mainstream – loosely defined as an aesthetic centered around the culture of living on a western farm or cottage. Thousands responded to a man who shared his experience on Twitter of being laid off and starting a new life in Provincetown for the summer. My friends and I lamented our jealousy and awe, packed together. I was like, “Wow, someone actually did it.”
In the months leading up to March and beyond, my friends and I dreamed of swapping an office job to do art, be in contact with nature or even run a small B&B. We are witnessing a pandemic that is forcing unemployment to hit record levels (14.7 percent in April), global bans, physical distancing and rising deaths. And the reality of American employment coincides with long hours and the potential to be laid off at any time.
My friends and I, all 20 years old, have already tried to deal with joining a workforce plagued by stagnant and low wages. Our theoretical dreams all longed for a return to the idea of a “simple life”. We dream of what it could be like to trade the speed of the city for a slower pace. to lay down the technology and instead feel dirt; doing a job surrounded by people and personal interactions.
But when those dreams begin to overtake day-to-day functioning and obsessive rumination sets in, that habit can potentially take an unhealthy turn. It can affect a person’s ability to be healthier and can often be linked to more important mental health problems, such as depression.
in the Longing for lessKyle Chayka, a book examining minimalism as a way of life, sums up the essence of the hunt for that ideal. He writes: “We look everywhere for instructions on how to live, only to be confronted with the fundamental ignorance of the world. And so we turn to a new kind of control, like minimalism, only to be infected with suspicion that it is also unreal, a map for no territory. ”
The desire for a simple life can differ in its aesthetics from minimalism. A quick search currently reveals millions of articles on “how to live a simple life in a modern world,” but “the simple life” is also a map to nowhere.
The attraction of escapism, at least for me, is the attraction of controlling a small piece of my existence …
We can romanticize these lifestyles in our minds: living on the land, owning a small business, or farming. But as one Cottagecore told TikToker, “If you want to live a simple life, you have to be kind of very, very financially free.” In order to spend your days baking, foraging, or barring in your own vineyard, you must have the financial freedom to venture into such ventures in the first place. Without this privilege, the reality of these images begins to reveal itself.
Romanticized western agriculture is the same industry that exploits migrant workers and indigenous land. We gloss over the groundbreaking work it takes to run a small business like a bed and breakfast or bookstore, or even customer harassment of bartenders. In the end, you can’t escape the reality of American life – whether you live in a small town in Maine or in the heart of Los Angeles.
In all honesty, these dreams never felt “right” to me because I knew I couldn’t make them come true. Neither could I make it into this idealized picture of a refuge that I have created in my head. Knowing that my fantasies are repeating the damage I want to avoid ruins my ability to look at them as I wish.
Spending too much time fleeing instead of just living wasn’t good for me either. When I realized that I was not only dreaming about my Napa Valley vineyard, but also about every worst-case scenario for the following week, it was pretty clear that by focusing on this was a way to avoid daily anxiety Moments of uninterrupted illusion.
Because while our daydreams of escaping the everyday life of capitalism in order to start over are about escape, it is of course also about control. The attraction of escapism, at least for me, is to control a small piece of my existence and watch everything else slip out of my hands.
I may not be able to control a deteriorating climate, but I can take care of my hypothetical garden and make my own compost. I may not be able to escape the demands of work, but I can find a job that gives me room to breathe and that connects me with my surroundings and my community. I may not even be able to change my own circumstances, but for a little while I can immerse myself in these escape bags that bring me hope and peace.
The Cottagecore Reddit group has a list of activities to take part in that suit the lifestyle. Some of my favorites are “Pick Flowers”, “Dance Silly to Songs” or “Take a Long Walk followed by a Huge Lunch.” This is what I am trying to give myself time to do more now.
I started logging out for the day and making earrings out of polymer clay. I spend hours rolling, sculpting, and sculpting it. I put them in little baggies and send them to my friends. I wonder if they prefer dangling rainbows or round studs. For a moment my mind forgets all of the very things I’ve been trying to escape all along.
Maybe I don’t have to be in Napa Valley or Rhode Island to catch my breath. The map took me exactly where I am.
Paola de Varona is a freelance writer on culture and identity. You can read more about her latest music obsessions on twitter.