Monday, January 24, 2011

On Vacation Homes and Privilege

What a refreshing weekend. Champagne and caviar dreams and all that (although let's say, for sake of honesty, cheap Cook's champers and replace caviar with chips and salsa...and double-stuff oreos).

Drove to Westport (about three hours from Seattle) with friends Saturday morning to a really lovely vacation home owned by my pal's sister and brother-in-law. Ran into the Pacific as the sun set, made pasta, played charades. Played ukulele, barely, as drunk uke playing is like drunk sex...totally possible, but very little finesse. The house was kitted out lovingly, and we had everything we needed for a quick getaway from city life, stress, and the routinization of our weekends. I was overwhelmed by a feeling of 'I can't wait to be able to have a vacation place of my very own' and it was then that I realized why I never will.

I've grown up very 'comfortable' my whole life. This is a euphemism for well-off, which is a euphemism for rich. And rich is a euphemism for asshole, but I digress. And my family isn't rich, at least not to us anyway, but compare us to the rest of the world and we do quite well for ourselves. In any case, we always rented vacation homes growing up, and for a short while had a double-wide on a bit of lakefront on South Whidbey Island. Not exactly the height of luxury, but the fact is: We could afford it. I come from a world where it is possible to have not just one, but *two* places to spend one's time. Not everyone does. I'm not complaining about growing up well-off, I should think I know better than that. I also know to not pretend I grew up poor, oppressed or downtrodden when I didn't, which is one of the worst offenses I see amongst Liberals of a Certain Type.

What I'm getting at is that it is commonly accepted that a marker of success is being able to own as much dirt on this planet as you can. Or that you can take enough time off work to go to another place where all you do is enjoy nice things. That you own. Because you are rich. I myself wistfully imagine a place in Missoula, Montana where it's just me, a little bungalow, and the biggest, bluest sky around.

I don't need it. I don't need anything but a safe place to lay my head. And I have one. Which is more than we can say about millions of people in these United States, and so many more around the planet. I do not need more than I need. And sorting out the difference between need and want as concepts is something that we as a race must do quickly and honestly. In a society defined by its consumerism (and by obvious relationship its capitalism), we would say, 'But those people with vacation homes, they've earned it! They have every right to do with their money as they wish! They worked hard and deserve it!' and leave it at that. I disagree. For the continued existence of humanity, we cannot continue on as though winning the money game means you get to have while others have not.

Maybe if we ensured that everyone around us had adequate nutrition, healthcare and shelter, we wouldn't need to escape reality so often in the warm, cozy busom of vacation homes. I cannot fathom owning a home that lay dormant, existing solely to cater to my travel whims, while thousands are homeless every night in my very city. It may be what I want, but it is not what I need.

And as with any sweeping generalization, of *course* I'm a hypocrite. I drive a car, which is a horrible thing for the planet. I don't always buy local, which is one of the best things you can do to support your community. I don't need to use conditioner in my hair. I don't need an iphone. This is not a Matter of Principle, for me. My thoughts on vacation homes do not mean I will never take a vacation or visit the place in Westport ever again. It may be a moot point, because I will probably never be able to afford a primary home on my socialworker's salary let alone a vacation home and I'm not marrying a lawyer. But I do believe in taking stock, and realistically, the more I look at the planet, the more I realize just how screwed we are. Unless there is a huge sea-change in the way we use resources, in the way we treat the 'least of our brethren', then all the vacation homes in the world won't help escape the horrors of our own creation.

We can talk about prosperity evangelism in America some other time.

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