Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Finding the Reasons

I hope you, my faithful readers, whether you are in New York City or on a farm somewhere, don't fool yourself thinking it's easy or romantic to get home after 8 hours of mind-numbing (but reasonably purposeful) work only to load up firewood into a cold, black, sooty furnace that makes the house smell of slightly rotten baked beans, with a pile of dishes accumulated after 2 days of home-cooked, from-scratch meals, in a kitchen stacked high with vegetables calling me to freeze, brine, or bury them in sawdust. All I want to do when i get home is load up the wood into the stove and sit next to it on the floor with the cat in my lap, in the little halo of its sunspot, drifting in and out of thoughts as the cat and I wait for the warmth to seep in. Sometimes, in the rare moment when I let myself sit like this by the stove - when the thoughts of long to-do lists don't drive me into the kitchen or the shed (after dark), and when loneliness doesn't rouse me to show up unannounced at a friend's door - It all does seem very wonderful and peaceful.

On days when I come home happy and motivated, doing the tasks I love to do, alone, with the hum of the radio in the background, is the simple joy of my life. It is my bread and butter. It doesn't matter that the sun is down and that I've spent 8 hours on someone else's dream.

But on nights like last night, I come home exhausted, incapable of comprehending how, after 8 hours of work, anyone can do anything other than sit with a friend, talk, sigh, and otherwise escape the incessant barrage of thoughts. On these nights the little things I love doing become huge tasks. I don't think we were meant to be solitary creatures. I know i wasn't. I love the time to myself when my thoughts are happy and calm - the decadence of calm and joy when my thoughts haven't been run to exhaustion by the endless project of daily tedium. As much as I love those nights, there are countless nights on which i would happily give it all up for a large-screen TV and enough money to consume my thoughts into submission.

But this project of mine - it's about something inherently different than consumption that drowns out the constant buzzing of my thoughts, the endless self-exploration of my life. As I listen to the steady hum of NPR, I find myself almost believing that the goal of the recession is to get back to the riches and gluttony from which we fumbled into this recession to begin with. Even as environmental groups say that the decrease of consumption is better to our precariously balanced world than rampant wealth. But we're not happy in this recession - even if less is the answer. Less of everything - less wealth, less money, less shopping, less opportunity to still our constantly-fretting minds. We've learned to still our minds with means outside of ourselves - with things we can purchase. Of course we need to still our minds. 8, 10, 15 hours a day of working on someone else's riches can't teach us to enjoy our own company. it's too exhausting, to daunting a task to come home from work, cook, clean, and then put up with our fretting about tomorrow, or next year, or heaven forbid, the tragedy that our lovely world is in. After a day like that - with all of the world to worry about, how do we just sit by the fire and enjoy the calm? We don't know how to anymore. It is too quiets. our thoughts feast on the demons of solitude and silence.

This project of mine, the small, self-contained and self-sustained life of homesteading - as unromantic as it is to admit - is basically a project of finding joy and peace in something other than financial wealth and consumption. To be completely blunt - it is a project of joyful, successful poverty. because what I love so much is doing the small things - and though it's not popular to admit it, I don't love homesteading tasks because they're green, or because they're philosophically fulfilling, but simply because they're what I love doing. Just as people make a career of what they love, I want to find a way to make my life focus around what I love. The only way to do all the things I love doing is to work less - and since the kind of things I do replace work, by providing directly for my needs in lieu of money, that's do-able - if I'm willing to admit to myself the very real trade-off: since I'm no trust-fund baby, working less means being paid less and consuming less. it means spending more time with people and with my thoughts and less time with new things, tv, fashion, magazines, tomatoes in winter, traveling, and stores. The project in this is to find the joy in it. The possibility of success in investing in my own idea of what it means to be happy. And to find a way, somehow, to be at peace in the tedium of daily tasks and work - to be at peace in my own thoughts in the silence of these tasks which occupy hands and hearts, but leave the brain to its humming.

Most of all, I have to learn to be comfortable with not having to apologize for choosing a lifestyle that is either difficult to understand or comes across as moralizing. I don't want my lifestyle to be moralizing. Or make people uncomfortable. I just want it to be how I live. And I hope that someone else enjoys it too, learns from it, and maybe takes part in making this world a bit saner, a bit greener, and more joyful.

(apple cider recipe will be the next blog post - I left it at home by mistake)

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