I just finished reading, through bleary eyes in between the 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. teething child fusses, a book called The Quality of Life Report by Meghan Daum. It’s a story about a 30ish New York TV journalist who falls in love with “the simple life” in a small city in the American Midwest while on assignment. Thinking that she’ll become a better person, she follows a crazy impulse and moves there. Naturally she soon discovers that life is no simpler in the “country” than it is in the big city.
It was an interesting read, but it got me thinking: why is it we keep believing that somewhere out there is a ‘simple life’ or even that there once was a ‘good old days?’ This seems to be a persistent theme in our history, going right back to the cave days:
ARGH: Dis life in cave thing not easy. You gots to clean it regular and check it for bears.
MUGG: You said it brudder.
ARGH: Plus you gots to tend the fire or it go out. Then the bears check the cave for yous.
MUGG: Which is no fun.
ARGH: And da risk of getting runned over by mammoths!
MUGG: Don’t even get me started. Life was better in da trees.
ARGH: I hear ya. I hear ya.
The Greeks didn’t have it much better:
ACASTUS: By Zeus, there just aren’t enough hours in the day!
ENDRE: Slave management got you down?
ACASTUS: Yes! If it isn’t one of them needing a flogging it’s the other.
ENDRE: Don’t look at me for sympathy. I’m up to my gyros in this election. Democracy is one heck of a lot of work.
ACASTUS: And then there’s this whole Trojan War thing.
ENDRE: Yeah, that Helen. What a WMD!
ENDRE: Woman of Mass Distraction.
Or consider revolutionary France:
PIERRE: Did you see the paper today?
ROBES: Now what?
PIERRE: Marie said that if we don’t have any bread, we should eat cake!
ROBES: And which side is she on again?
PIERRE: Sacre bleu! Not ours, you nummy!
ROBES: Sorry. It’s just that it’s all so complicated now, this revolution and all. How I wish for the simpler days when kings were kings, and we peasants knew our place.
PIERRE: Serf’s up, Robes. Get with le program.
The truth is, there never really has been a simpler time. It only seems simpler because it’s all just so much history now, and we know how the story ends. This is like saying “I knew that!” when the identity of the murderer is revealed, and you’ve already had a sneak peek at the end of the mystery novel.
So what about a good ol’ days? Was there ever a golden time, when things were better, easier, more carefree? Of course there was: it’s called your childhood. Life seemed much nicer back then because while you were off playing toy trains with your cousin Eddie, your parents were sweating the details of putting dinner on the table (meatloaf or mac and cheese?), arranging for a mortgage (variable or fixed?) and dealing with office politics (do I call Bob a weenie now or wait ’til the office party?).
Plus, we tend to have selective memories of our childhoods. We remember the cool train set, but not the time cousin Eddie whacked us on the head with the caboose. Or maybe we do and that’s why we’re contemplating calling Bob a weenie, because he reminds us too much of cousin Eddie.
Whatever. The point is that, like the movie said, the grass is usually only greener… over the septic tank.