The Pleasure Theory

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The writer believes joy is an essential element in the health of the planet. Her husband relies on hard science. Can a marriage (or the planet) find a middle ground?

I just got the most gorgeous wedding invitation I’ve ever seen. The calligraphy on the envelope is hand-done. I know because I spilled some water on it, and it smudged. The announcement itself is on heavy stock, and has a black-and-white hand-drawn sketch of the chateau in France where the wedding will be held. I Googled and saw the hotel choices where we would stay, and I’m salivating. 

It’s not just the classiness of the event that makes me want to go. It’s that I love the kid who’s getting married. I have known him since he was a boy, and I have always loved him. I love his parents. I love his sisters, and I love his intended. Plus, I’ve never been to France.

Somehow everything we do next is affected by that bliss we are experiencing now. 

Of course I’ve never been to France. I’m married to the Energy Czar (my husband, Joel). He has told me time and again how much carbon dioxide planes emit. It’s one of his many rants. But what can I do? I can only savor the moment. 

It’s 55°, and a perfect spring sunny Sunday morning in Chilmark. The Energy Czar and I are sitting by the fire expressing our gratitude for being healthy and just, ya know, life.

Me: We are so lucky!

Joel: We are.

(Moment of reverie followed by …)

Joel (cont’d): But ya know, you burn a lot of wood.

Me: I know, and I know it’s hard for you, being the conscience of this household and the world.

Joel: The thing is, wood smoke is air pollution. It produces mercury, carbon monoxide, greenhouse gases, volatile organic compounds, and nitrogen oxides.

To say nothing of fine particulates, soot, and carbon dioxide. Probably hundreds more chemicals I don’t even know about.

Me: OK, OK, I hear you. But I have a theory. It’s not based in science, but someday science will catch up and have an equation for this.

Joel: I know. It’s your Pleasure Theory. The same one you use for sitting in the sun at high noon. So much pleasure protects you from melanoma. I’m not sure about that one.

Me: Well, yeah, it’s the same theory, but I think I can put it in better terms. You agree that everything is energy, right?

Joel: I guess. Mass can be converted into energy, and energy can be converted into mass. You look at E=mc squared, and there it is.

Me: Uh-oh, you’re doing that thing again. I don’t look at E=mc squared and think, There it is. I don’t look at E=mc squared at all. But let’s get back to my theory. The pleasure we are … well, we were getting, until you gave me the wood-burning lecture, from this cozy, warm, beautiful fire gives us energy, which we then take in and, ultimately, we will give back out. Somehow, everything we do next is affected by that bliss we are experiencing now. So I believe it’s actually canceling out any negative effects the wood is doing to us and to the planet.

Joel: I know what you’re saying.

Me: Good. So if you take away that pleasure, which I know you call indulgence, then you’ve got robots — unfeeling, emotionally inaccessible, unevolved, hollowed-out automatons walking around in rarified and purified air.

Joel: But pollution is pollution.

Me: I’m not talking about hedonistic living — only-for-our-own-gratification pleasure. I mean being responsible, loving beings, but having some soul food should not be that wrong.

Joel: I’m not saying it’s wrong. I love the fire, too. It’s just that if everyone cut back, which I know they never will, on meat because of the methane; on water waste, on driving stupid, big vehicles …

Me: Easy there, big fella. You can’t take people’s big cars away from them till they know what harm they are doing. And you can’t call the vehicles stupid, because then you’re calling the people driving them stupid. You’re just frustrated because you’ve been watching the beautiful blue ball die for all the years I’ve known you, and you’ve had it. So instead of insulting people, educate them.

Joel: That’s the thing. It’s too late. I’m afraid it’s too late.

The man sounds like a one-issue ogre. He’s not. Last week a friend of ours came over with her broken toaster. He worked on it for two hours. She could buy the Westinghouse company, but he fixed her toaster for her. He volunteers with kids at a school near where he works. Anyone who has questions about their ideas for inventions and patents, he spends time with. He’s the best, most loving grandfather. Plus, I leave my Christmas lights on day and night all year long, and I drive a Volvo, not a Prius. But whenever anyone announces their plans to fly somewhere, he is quick to tell them there are close to a hundred thousand flights in the air every day. And then he gently looks away.

A plane overhead interrupts our conversation. My husband looks up and says, with despair in his voice, “Do you realize there are close to a hundred thousand flights in the air every day? Every day, Nance. A Boeing 747 uses one gallon of fuel every second. A flight from Logan to LAX puts out about 400,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide!”

His head is in his hands now. “It’s too late. It’s just too late.”

I love this man who cares so much about the planet, and I don’t like myself for needing to travel to this fancy-schmancy celebration. 

I look at my poor man. Now is obviously not the right time. I take the gorgeous invitation and slip it inside last week’s newspaper. I can’t throw it out. Not yet, anyway.

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Nancy Aronie
Nancy Slonin Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice, a commentator for National Public Radio, and the founder of the Chilmark Writing Workshop. “I printed 500 T shirts that say ‘Ask me about thorium’ [a proposed alternative energy source], and give them out on a regular basis. But more on that another time.”

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