Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hope and Food Production

I have a problem of perspective. The house on the hill is too small for Thumbelina, but the titmouse under its eaves calls it the Taj Mahal. I took a year away from the Internet. To the titmouse, it was a monumental, life-changing experience. To the wayfarer on the road, nothing much has changed. I don't know which tale to tell.

First, I’ve been asked a few times if I’m working. I’m not. Secondly, I’ve been asked how the kids are doing. They’re fine. They’re better than fine. They’re amazing. I haven’t taken pictures in months. Here I will be a good playwright, and put the plot exposition into the opening scene: pictures stored on computers, computers stolen, pictures lost, ensuing sadness/freedom, awareness that I can admire that gorgeous life spark emanating from my kids at any time, even without the aid of technology…total lack of inspiration to take more pictures. But because I was thinking of you, dear Internet, I dusted off the camera. Results attached: uneven but heartfelt.

And how is Nick? Ask him yourself! You can friend him on Facebook. After close to two years of stalwart resistance, he finally became a Facebook convert about eight months into my experiment, when the upstairs neighbor got unsecured wireless and I took a trip to Nicaragua. I didn’t mind, really. I gave him my password and asked him to count my friend requests.

And me? What have I been doing with myself? Not much. In fact, I have been doing as little as possible. I did too much in my twenties. I’m thinking I might take this decade off.

In truth I have made a practice of stillness. It feels good. And, even if it didn’t feel good, I'm due for it. I have a lion's share of listening and learning left to do. So far my studies are inexhaustible and inexhaustibly rewarding. I tell my pen pals that I am going to Do It Yourself grad school. I’m a candidate for a DIY degree.

Don’t ask me, though, what field I’m in. Some days I'd like to reclaim the M.R.S. degree, transforming that mean joke into an open door to all the sons and daughters of our mothers. To so many of our mothers the kitchen was a fox trap, because their dreams were hung outside the home. But a generation later, as we seek ways to reclaim humanity and human connection, and resist the ubiquity of commercial enterprise, an advanced degree in home and family sounds like a lifeline.

Of course I can't take the gender out of the MRS. Gender is a real thing, and it does exist, and it is used as a tool in hands we know and hands we don't know. If I could tidy up that knot in a single line of exposition, you must believe that I would. But I can't. Instead I set it aside, still breathing, still tangled, and trace one single thread: how I as a feminist chose to reclaim my own kitchen.

In the very first days of my experiment, I was hyperaware of one activity: eating. As I broke the addiction – and yes, I do think it was an addiction – I found myself turning constantly to food – for entertainment, consolation, and as the centerpiece of social behavior. I had nothing else to do. I began to cook. Having ordered out or eaten from the grocery store deli for most of my adult life, I was just learning how. First I learned to make dinner from scratch. Then I learned to make a vegan dinner from scratch. Then I learned how to make a vegan dinner from local ingredients. In August, sitting down at a coyantura in Nicaragua, hearing an historian ask the assembled travelers on which topics we most wished for her to speak, I was surprised to hear myself saying, “agriculture and economics.” Not art, not feminism, not that sexy poet assassin who killed the first of the Somoza dictators. (And doesn’t that sound like a great story?) No, I wanted to hear about food: who grows it, who eats it, and who gets paid.

Now some of you will remember my mother. She wrote a book about this sort of thing. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention. I am paying attention now.

To some degree, following in my mother’s footsteps in this way is only an aspect of the largest accomplishment of my year without Internet. This is a slight but measurable increase in personal integrity. I left the Internet in search of authenticity. And I most certainly found it. What I found is that genuine lifestyle change is grueling and incremental. I did make changes. But other things have not changed. I did read some of the books that I have always thought I ought to read. But others I found boring and put back on the shelf. I have awakened and healed some of my broken or abandoned relationships. But others are still lost.

But the year has given me a tremendous burst in hope. Back on the Internet for one week, I see that the anger has not subsided. There is the fear. The desire to convert. The voices that are speaking but not being heard. It wears on me. I realize that beginning to take a square look at global food production – which is not a pretty picture – depends on my ability to retreat from the more fruitless aspects of ideological conflict. I have to be able to rest. I have to be able to find silence. Otherwise I will not be able to hear. I cannot constantly be on the attack. Nor can I lie back against the rope and allow myself to be pummeled. At least occasionally, I have to step out of the ring.

And in the resting, with silence, that heals and also transforms, there is this unexpected burst of hope. Change is possible. Positive change is possible. Start now. Start anywhere.

From Hafiz, "The Friend comes into my body looking for the center, unable to find it, draws a blade, strikes anywhere."

An Invitation to You

I am an Internet dweller once again. Please, come see me where I am these days, at a little place I call Church in the Canyon. I write there about faith, activism, personal integrity and our off-grid move to a yurt on an Idaho mountainside. I'm also on Facebook and Twitter.

Come see me!