Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Cautionary Tale: the importance of living in your "sweet spot"

A few years ago, I went through a phase (some of y'all will recall this with giggles) when I decided I needed to have a farm. And a recycling center. And knit/weave/sew all our own clothing. And church butter, make cheese and go ALL little house on the prairie on my own suburban ass. There was a point at which my idealist self and my actual tolerance for noise/clutter/strict routine/manual labor were at all out war with one another, and mostly, everyone involved was losing. I remember distinctly one day in the early summer trying to herd a loose chicken back into it's cage while dragging a water hose up to the rabbit hutches with a then-baby Grace on my back, squinting up at the dozen of cloth diapers flapping in the breeze on the porch and groaning internally as I remembered I still needed to water the zucchini, potatoes and herbs....and longing to be inside with a book. One of the older girls yelled from the house, "Lark flooded the toilet again and I don't have any clean underwear!!"  I literally started sobbing right then and there.

^reality collides with vision.^
My ideals were choking the ever-loving life out of me. I think what had been envisioned was completely fulfilled living, with my conscious completely at ease and my life full of the "wholesome" wonders of outdoor working, animals and hard earned produce. It would be our own crunchy utopia/nirvana. These romanticized ideas of what it might be like to redeem my humanity through creating my own little eco-bubble were grossly mismatched to reality, however. (My close friends, Barefoot and I still laugh hysterically sometimes until I snort gin and tonic out my nose over "the summer when we all tried to be farmers".) It was, in a word,  horrible.

I tried to grin and muscle through the awkwardness, but it couldn't be helped; I hated "homesteading". So many little baby chicks died under my care, despite my earnest efforts, I don't even like to recall the trauma of it. I hated the heat, weeds, chicken-chasing, the fact that I had no time for my children (or myself, for that matter) and constant stream of poop. Oh, the blasted, ubiquitous SHIT.  In the diapers, under my nails, in bags, in the vegetable beds, in my shovel, in the chicken house, under the rabbit cage, in the kitty litter box, on my shoes and even occasionally on the floor. None of it was even mine. My mind SCREAMED for stimulation beyond constant poo exposure, or, pooxposure, if you will. I saw it when I closed my eyes in bed at night, no lie. Visions of shit danced in my head.

My happiest and best contribution to the whole fiasco was painting happy, giant sunflowers onto the beautiful chicken house Barefoot Man built me. That should have tipped me off to the fact that my skills were best elsewhere employed. 

I just stood there aghast at the fact that my own reality completely betrayed the ideals in my head. Self, meet the unbalanced, perseverating combination of extroverted-sensing driven by immature introverted intuition. 

Eventually, our neighbors complained about the smell and noise of the animals, and we gave them all to smiling farmers who were happy to take them. We were so depressed over it (so we thought) that we took off on a trip to the Grand Canyon, letting everything just go to seed, and had a wonderful time. It was a relief to not be tied down to the schedule of anything other than our own sweet selves. I felt a sickening thrill when I walked through the weedy backyard to see that everything in the garden was dead, and it was too late to plant again that year. Sheer bliss.

There's a point to all this, I swear, and here it comes:

In contrast to my abject failure at self-sustaining living, my friend Jennifer enjoys everything about gardening. She runs a project for a community garden and enjoys teaching children about growing things. Everything she touches flourishes, and she wears a broad, deeply tanned earthy smile whenever she talks about it. When we make it to the farmer's market, I enjoy buying produce from her stand and she enjoys providing it. If I had to venture a guess as to why, I'd say she draws such life from gardening because it's her gift. She's in her place of effortless life-flow when she's caring for growing plants, and it doesn't seem to spark any amount of resentment or desperation in her at all. What's more the end product is amazing. The strawberries that come out of her garden or beyond compare. They're juicy sunshine and sweetness in a bite, almost sinful. She makes playing in shit look good. Sexy, even.

Which brings me to the thought: the gift we have to offer the world already lies within us. We're likely already doing some form of it, because it comes naturally to us and brings us such unadulterated joy. I enjoy seeing children's faces light up as I give them the opportunity to discover things on their own, providing comfort to those in pain and making others smile with my thoughts. This isn't difficult for me; in fact, I think if I'm honest, it's laughably effortless! I've had to learn skills to support the expressions of these gifts, but my mind is already so drawn to them, it's not a difficult stretch. I can "run" fast and far in these areas for a long time without getting tired. Work, yes; torturous, no.

This is the point at which my intuition and global-minded tenancies go a few rounds before coming to an understanding. I (like many other bleeding hearts) have the penchant for looking at the world as a whole and identifying the areas of social structure that are causing pain and suffering or destruction, and then imagining theories of what should be done about it. Which is all well and good. The trouble, for me, comes when I confuse my "gift" to the world (understanding the problem) with the fixing of the problem, and try to offer myself up as the remedy. Negative outcomes usually ensue when I embrace this confusion, especially if that prescribed remedy is raising chickens. You have the rough equivalent of a blind prophet predicting a war, and then saddling a horse and trying to spear the enemy. Bad idea. In this scenario, usually the neighbor's cow ends up impaled.

That doesn't mean I don't do practical things about fixing The Issues. I recycle. (hooray me!) I buy a lot of clothing secondhand, for both economical and earth-related reasons. I encourage mothers while learning to breastfeed, and try to promote education of healthy attachment. I support local farmers by often buying their delicious food. I use biodegradable household products. The earth and it's inhabitants are important to me, and, as far as I can without hurting anyone, including myself, I look after it. Most importantly, probably, I try to encourage and enable  those who were born with that green thumb and pioneer moxie to do what it is they do best, and cheer them on wholeheartedly. (All this while backing slowly away from the chicken wire and power saw.)

That is, after all, my sweet spot. :)


  1. I love this! I love reading your blog :) I have been reading since your xanga days! (newmommy30214 was my name :) Anyway, I would love to hear a little bit about how you handle homeschooling. You and I have similar temperaments and our kids are almost exactly the same ages, etc- I have been struggling with homeschooling lately. We are 4 years into the process and I'm feeling a little burned out. I think alot of it is that my idealistic pictures of what homeschooling would look like isn't matching up to reality and I am discouraged. Frustrated that I don't enjoy it more than I do. Frustrated that I can't do it perfectly. Frustrated because I know how important my children's education is and I don't want to mess it up. :)

  2. I've had so many conversations about exactly that lately, Jennifer! I think it's substantial (relevant to enough people?)to dedicate a whole post to, and then we could chat out details together in the comments! Look for it early next week, and I'll look forward to the conversation!