Friday, June 26, 2009

work, the body, the soul (June 25)

I am sitting here loving a respite from the humid heat that’s been hanging like a milk soaked sponge over our heads for the last day and a half. A late afternoon thunderstorm emerged out of the humidity and pressure; dousing the 93 degree 97% humidity day with nickel size raindrops and ripping cracks of thunder that boomed lead heavy into my ribcage as I pedaled with all my might up the hill that emerges from the Huron river valley.

The rain was hot on my shoulders, but the wind chilled the wetness and sent the gladness of cool over my sweaty skin. The temperature reminded me of how present I am in the always recognizing the physicality of my own body.

Lately, I’ve really been contemplating work. The action of moving our bodies as human beings and gaining something in return—that which must be done to stay alive—work is in essence all about our survival. I am not talking about paid work. I am not talking about our jobs as the tool for survival. I think paid work (and this is stating it simply—but the idea that we make money in order to buy the things we need to survive is what the root really is) is one of the roots to all of our current woes—violence, addiction, “economic hardship”, starvation, lack of community, homelessness, individualism, the existence of the nuclear family sand the extended family, to name a few.

I’m a big Wendell Berry fan. I like his frankness and willingness to call things as he sees them even if sometimes some of his ideas might be twinged with a dose of didactic, white heterosexual man syndrome that makes me cough. I think overall he is a reasonable and very important thinker.

So, I was reading The Body and the Earth from the Unsettling of America a while back and I wept over a couple of paragraphs. I mean really cried. Of course, I had just had my wisdom teeth out. But I was numbed in the mouth, and so my tears came because of the substance behind the text. There is this whole section of the chapter where Berry is arguing that working with the earth has been conceptually turned into drudgery through the disconnection of body and soul imposed upon us by modern urban-industrial society (of course this is my simplistic weaving together of many of his much more complicated points).

The paragraphs talk about the evolution of the “hatred of bodily labor.” Berry states, “ Perhaps the trouble began when we started using animals disrespectfully: as ‘beasts’—that is, as if they had no more feeling than a machine. Perhaps the destructiveness of our use of machines was prepared in our willingness to abuse animals. That it was never necessary to abuse animals in order to use them is suggested by a passage in The Horse and the Furrow, by George Ewart Evans. He is speaking of how the medieval ox teams were worked by the plow: ‘…the ploughman at the handles, the team of oxen—yoked in pairs or four abreast—and the driver who walked alongside with his goad.” And then he says, ‘It is also worth noting that in the Welsh organization…the counterpart of the driver was termed y geilwad or the caller. He walked backwards in front of the oxen singing to them as they worked. Songs were especially composed to suit the rhythm of the oxen’s work…’”

And then I cried. Because this kind of respect and connection and interdependence in the ways we live on this planet, in the U.S. in particular, is so missing. Some of my finest days are the days full of what some might call drudgery. When K and I work in our yard and grow things together and create and build a life and cook and eat and smile into one another’s eyes and sweat deep puddles of salt, these are the days that sink into my heart and fix themselves like nails of golden memory to my brains.

While I am fortunate enough to have meaningful paid work, it still is not the work of creating a household or a community that I will come home to and build my days with. I think in this striving for constructed leisure that now rules the waking hours of so many people’s existences, we have blemished the goodness that can come from hard, physical labor that is interwoven with our very survival and our seeking of that which is beautiful, creative, and beyond our own understanding.

There is a great documentary out there called Ancient Futures: Learning from the Ladakh that is based on a book “by Helena Norberg-Hodge, has become an international grassroots best seller. Part anthropology, part uncompromising critique, it raises fundamental questions about the whole notion of progress, and serves as a source of inspiration for our own future.”

The documentary gives insight into the traditional Ladakhi people and the ways in which body and soul are still connected in their everyday lives--in their work which is their living and survival. It also demonstrates how the body/ soul dichotomy ideology of the west and the ever growing push, that comes with western ideology, toward automation, individualism, monetary wealth and “leisure” has begun to infiltrate and destroy their culture. Anyhow, I suggest checking it out.

So, what I want is to work with my hands and legs and arms and continue to help build this household and community that I am a part of and to do this well and to have the love and beauty that is grown from the people and the other creatures of this region carried on to the next generation and the next.

As Berry succinctly wraps it up, “It is possible then to believe that there is a kind of work that does not require abuse or misuse, that does not use anything for a substitute for anything else. We are working well when we use ourselves as the fellow creatures of the plants, animals and materials, and other people we are working with. Such work is unifying, healing. It brings us home from pride and despair, and places us responsibly within the human estate. It defines us as we are: not too good to work with our bodies, but too good to work poorly or joylessly or selfishly or alone.”

Monday, June 22, 2009

garden dinner

It sucks that my girl is in Scandinavia, and I am left camera-less because now you can't see my veggie garden thriving nicely next to my driveway or my new beehive quaintly tucked in the perennial bed in the back yard, or my tomato bed at the community garden that is bursting up ever taller and thicker with life.

But I can tell you what A and I had for supper which ended up being just divine. Oh, and byt he way K and I have a new roommate. A moved in with us nearly two weeks ago. A is one of our best friends. We redid our back downstairs room and now she's all set up with a robin egg blue space and gray carpet that K and I laid ourselves one long night.

A is a great roommate and we are so happy she is here with us. We worked hard in the yard this afternoon on something I cannot tell you about, and then I weeded and watered all of the garden beds--home and community--and then I picked four young turnips and four pea pods and a bunch of kale and stir fried all of it with the turnip greens in olive oil, salt, pepper, honey and sharp cheddar cheese. It was really quite tasty--sweet and sharp with a bit of spicy zest and served over whole wheat noodles.

One other big note in my life right now. In approximately 3.5 weeks I will begin a two week unpaid furlough from work and then when that is over I will begin a 3 month sabbatical from work. I cannot wait--I need a breather; a big, deep break.

On August 8, I will begin the Midwest Permaculture course in Columbiaville, MI
I'm using some of my tax return to pay for the sort of very expensive course, but I will be certified in Permaculture design when done!

Tomorrow for dinner I will munch a bunch of lettuce from the garden and wait patiently for Sunday to arrive so I can see my kk again and have my camera back.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Sleepy. should be my middle name. I am sleepy.

My baby kk is in Sweden with her aunt (it was supposed to be her 30th birthday present from her aunt but life-or trying to make a new life-and death-the death of k's uncle) got in the way, and so it took 4 and a half years past her 30th birthday for it to happen.

I am in the upper peninsula of michigan in a comfort inn after giving 4 workshops in 3 different prisons up here. We have 5 more workshops to go and 3 other prisons to hit over the next 2 days. Did I forget to mention that prisons are one of the major forms of employment up here in the Yoop?

So I have lonesomeness imprinting itself on the fabric of my moods these last few days. I am lonesome for my kk; I am lonesome for my house and my gardens; I feel lonesome for the men I am seeing in these prisons who have been removed from their communities and brought to a land that is so white and so foreign and so hard for so many of them.

Every time I leave a prison a little bit of emptiness hollows out a corner for itself in the soft, fleshy parts of my heart. Being behind those caged fences and thick doored walls brings up all kinds of feelings for me about our nasty american history and the ways in which we hurt one another and fail so miserably at taking care of one another.

However, I did see two sandhill cranes on the way to the prison and their strong brown necks brought me a moment of treasured contentment.

All of this lonesomeness, makes me yearn to create even more community and to really think about what i want to do with the rest of my life. I want to grow things and build my household. i want to work for justice by making the world around me more livable and healthy and compassionate. i'm not sure i can stare the raw suffering of so many people in the face for much longer.

with that said, i am looking forward to going home and visiting with my new bees. yes, i have a hive. my neighborhood friend gave me one. it is full up with live, humming, little pollinators. i think that bees are probably never really all that lonely.

Monday, June 8, 2009


If only I could bellow like the thunder roaring and the the sirens shrieking outside my old cat scratched screens.

If only I could shout to the heavens and ask them for relief from the dark cloud hanging on the rusty hinges of my heart.

If only...

So, really things have not been all that bad. Zoloft has given me a lift and I have become chatty cathy queen. Oh, yes, dear readers, I have been popping a pharmaceutical. I take it daily and I think it makes my tits hurt and it makes me pee a lot and I was hazy for the first three weeks and I wanted to scream that I had caved to what I had called the lies of western medicine.

But after losing the pregnancy--oh yes I was fucking pregnant which sometimes sounds so weird as it rolls off my tongue or saunters over the soft gray matter of my thoughts--all the chemistry in my brain went back to the high-anxiety state of precoming out of the closet. All late winter and spring I had panic attacks and sleeplessness and even night sweats.

Finally, more than six weeks ago, my therapist was like, "you need something to break the chemical cycle that you cannot control." And so I started the drug. Well, I got the script and then it took me two weeks to start it but I did it. And now I am kind of "normal" again. Kind of.

But work is slowly giving me the kind of anxiety that feels like 3000 bricks piled high on my chest, and I just want to say-SHUT UP WORK. I AM THUNDER. I AM SIRENS. I AM SCREAMING AT ALL THE BULLSHIT.

I love my work--the actual work--the working with people in prison and their loved ones and trying with all of our might, together, to make us all look at crime and suffering and victimization and mental illness and hurt differently. And exposing through the direct stories and testimonies of the people living behind the caged walls what prison really is like--guess what folks it hurts people and communities more than any of us will ever realize.

But, without going into too much detail--my organization is having financial trouble right now and I am tired, tired, tired of the fall out of years of dysfunction--the dysfunction before the financial dysfunction that is exacerbated by the financial woes--cascading mountains of ash all around me.

So, lovely, nearly mid June Michigan thunderstorm, I am bellowing with your voice; I am calling out to the winds to bring more rain to cover the ash of the dysfunction and the wounds within our own hearts and histories.

Stopping the melodramatic writing: I really am just screaming and hollering like crazy, loud in my head and waiting with more and more anticipation for my sabbatical which will arrive soon and very soon (more on all that later).

Monday, June 1, 2009

four wisdom teeth extracted and six movies watched

Today, I have four less teeth than I had last week. I had my wisdom teeth yanked out on thursday afternoon. I did it with only the local numbing. I have this terrible fear of being put under, so I resigned myself to being awake for the pliering, levering, drilling experience that oral surgery really is.

The pain has not been all that bad, but the tiredness that has crept up on me, because of the procedure, is something else. I have been sleeping like crazy--10 to 14 hours in a 24 hour day. My dentist had been bugging me to get them pulled for years and then I got pregnant and I got this little nagging infection like thing in my one wisdom tooth and she said, "I don't mean to say I told you so, but I told you to get them out." And then I became no longer pregnant and then k went to the dentist (the same dentist I go to) and the two of them set up my oral surgery consult and appointment and then let me know they had done so. It is all good cause in the next few months the organization I work for will be taking away our dental coverage, so I had to get them out...

I've been living on liquidy things and have been mystified at the constipating powers of codeine (I stopped taking it early saturday morning but that shit blocks up a person's intestines like you would not believe--the regular flow is almost back in order--for those of you who care).

K took me up north on Friday--she went to plant flowers and I went to heal--and I lazed around the cabin watching movies on my macbook and trying to heal and get through the haze of codeine (I am not a pill popper; I like the realm of sober very, very much). I watched 6 movies in four nights.

The movie list in best to worst order with super brief one sentence reviews:
The Wrestler (excellent; Mickey Rourke was fucking phenomenal--I think it is the best movie I've seen in a long time and the main character was real and deeply developed)
Slumdog Millionaire (visually amazing and I dug the soundtrack a hell of a lot)
Twilight (I liked it; what can I say it was fun fodder for the evening)
The Secret Life of Bees (cheesy but moving at parts and Dakota Fanning is a good little actor)
Tied for worst below
Some horrible lesbian movie that I cannot remember the real name of Running on Empty
Dreams or something like that (absolutely the worst lesbian movie I have ever seen which does not say that much about it cause you all know how bad the girl on girl movies are; I fast forwarded it through much of the shit to the girl kissing girl parts)
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (I thought is was a fucking sappy, horrible, mess of a movie. a movie that shallowly depicted the deep and complex human experience of aging, dying, and living; it was bad; real bad. The wrestler captured way more realistically and creatively the human experience of growing old and living into death.)