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I am reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable Miracle. It’s the sort of book oaty crunchy self — minus platform four inch heels (no leather, of course), a trip to Vegas or two and that spackling knife I use to cobble on my layers of (cruelty free, of course) makeup — would normally read, but I haven’t had time. I read Skinny Bitch (my choice), Fast Food Nation (book group choice), and The Cubed Foot Gardener (a mania passed from my father to my decidedly NOT oaty crunchy husband, who knew?) and I knew all I needed to know, and I haven’t looked back.

But this book has looked at me from my library’s shelves, making me feel guilty, since last year or so, when one of my book groups chose it for this year– same group that chose Fast Food Nation, although alarmist prose about our food supply is far from our stock in trade, I promise. We’re more into obscure, often unreadable works of great modern literature. For real. Anyway.  Now my mom’s been talking about it and lo and behold, it’s our selection for September.  When she sent me the list of where I’ll find her after she departs this earth, and possibly my lost twins too, I checked the calendar for said book group and got me a copy.

I remember about ten years ago someone really cool, someone I looked up to, asked me if I liked Barbara Kingsolver. I’d only read The Bean Trees and maybe Pigs in Heaven at that point. Both of them seemed rich in intent, but I was already sick of the Oprah Book thing– Marginalized-And-Impoverished is cool.  Been there, done that.  It’s not cool, and I don’t want, nor do I wish on anyone, nor do I want any longer to read about, the struggle to find individuality and follow my star or live a Great Life from– due to the blessing in disguise that I find myself on– the outskirts of societal norms of community or material wellbeing. Not unless it’s by someone like, say, Frederick Douglass or James Still or Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Thanks anyway.

Kingsolver’s work seemed sort of like, you know, to Louise Erdrich what Isabel Allende is to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. God, I am a snob, for somone who hasn’t yet managed to write a book, right? Don’t tell anyone that I LOVED The House of the Spirits when I read it in high school, until I read Cien Anos de Soledad in college.

Then years later I read Poisonwood Bible and was just blown away. I loved Prodigal Summer too, but more for the richness of biology and ecology than for the overall gripping tension and frankness of Poisonwood Bible. I’d misjudged, or she just wasn’t there yet, maybe, when I’d last read her.

Animal Vegetable Miracle is, for some reason, making my eyes fill with tears every so often. Maybe it’s because I’m depleted emotionally and physically from a near-lethal combination of the depression that lingers after the last of the fairy dust evaporates and your feet finally touch the ground again a week after you return from Las Vegas, and the horrible GI bug my little girl brought home from her new kindergarten. I mean, I thought I was heartbroken to see her suffering from it. I’m even more heartbroken to BE suffering from it, let me tell you– not just it, that passed (so to speak) pretty fast, but the relentless fatigue that lingers. I’m especially ticked since I am a handwashing FREAK — though never with antibacterials, mind you — and I never get sick.

Anyway, weakened state or not, I am sickened to read things I already knew in my gut. We have lost, or never had, our own foodways. Corporations can rob us of the genetic diversity that is the fine line between us– as an entire race, not just those poor starving heathen babies in Africa and India– and starvation. I grew up with parents and grandparents who grew tomatoes and strawberries in the garden or picked blueberries or crabapples or stuck maple trees with spiles in earliest spring and boiled down syrup on the wood stove or went to the orchard down the road for bushels of peaches in season to put up for the winter. Pulling those icy sweet peaches out of the deep freezer on the back porch in the middle of winter– that was like owning and eating frozen sunshine, just as rare, precious and delightful. (At Granny’s we also had a stack of commercial and virtually nutrient-free white bread and a stick of hydrogenated magarine on the table at every meal, but that’s beside the point). 

My mother’s been saying lately that the reason food from her parents’ garden tasted so much better than any since is not fickle nostalgia or any sort of superiority of growing method, but simply that the soil was different.  All those wonderful memories that today we simply cannot touch– local food, in a nutshell.  We’re trying, here in the subdivision, in our own small way, with raised beds we can barely keep up with– commercial mushroom compost in His, compost from our kitchen vegetable scraps mixed with dirt off our own lot in Hers, a sort of Lowes vs. Scott County WT grow-off. We’ve had some delicious tomatoes and flavorful jalapenos, and I treasure the photos I have from last year of my vegetable-hating four year old standing out back in her panties (li’l Courtney Love), deep in concentration, shelling and eating peas straight off the vine. Finally, finally… pictorial evidence that I’ve done something right. Although sadly the peas didn’t make this year.

So the latest passage that made me cry was her mention of Leigh Van Valen’s Red Queen Effect. “In this place it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place.” That is *exactly* how I feel right now. For Kingsolver it’s a principle of survival– evolve or die, whether you are a predator fox, its rabbit prey, or the bacteria evolving superstrains immune to our antibiotics and antibacterials. For me it is– I am sick, and before I got sick I wasn’t doing too good with standing still, much less getting any where. My house was already a mess, the huge yard that gives me such pride and joy is a foot tall and in danger of being overrun by trees and shrubs that needed to be pruned desperately a month ago, my job is about to overwhelm me and I have a terrible attitude, I haven’t laid hands on a quilt or a scrapbook or even put photos up on flickr in weeks, I pour out all my creativity and patience at work and what little I have left I use to pull love and nurture out of my ass for my little girl. I leave work early to get the rest I couldn’t get yesterday when I was really in the throes of this thing because I had to go to work, and my husband says, and you’re going to sleep, right? And I say no, I am going to mow. (But then it rained, and lay down ‘just for a minute’ to chat with him after work and passed out, and so spent the evening in bed, in a nightmarish place between awake and too tired to really get up and do anything, so I slept as he directed but I still feel like shit.)  

It came to me the other day… I work in a library and I never, ever read something just for fun. What the hell is this? In the words of the immortal David Wilson in one of his immortal (and regular) episodes “Sumpun ain’t right.”

And now Kingsolver tells me. I thought I was doing so good, me and my vegan raised bed gardening righteousness. She tells me “We now depend… on a few corn and soybean strains for the majority of calories (both animal and vegetable) eaten by US citzens. Our addiction to just two crops has made us the fattest people who’ve ever lived, dining just a few pathogens away from famine.”

So all that soymilk and tofu I consume and feed my family (don’t worry, they all eat meat and dairy, I’m the only vegan freak)… could be gone in an instant, right? Maybe my vegan body armor isn’t all that after all? Well eat up, me hearties, cause when the famine hits we’re going to need our massive obesity to survive on til we figure something out. You people who have slimmed down through diet and working out– you’ve got it all wrong. Hell, I’m going back to Big Macs and Edwards’ key lime pies. Where’s that 30 pounds I lost?

Meanwhile, I’m so damn tired. I think I’m just going to sit down and let life pass me by for a bit, cause I just don’t have the strength to run or to evolve right now.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

superconnected

My other mania was making brightly colored tissue roses. I couldn’t stop for days after shaky baby’s party. I was working out the trauma of all the crafts we didn’t do at her party because I was so disorganized. But somehow shutup or I’ll stack you, accordion pleat you, wrap you with a chenille pipe cleaner, and fluff you doesn’t sound as funny as shutup or I’ll frost you.

“when you’re finished with the mop then you can stop
and look at what you’ve done the plateau’s clean,
no dirt to be seen and the work it took was fun
well the many hands began to scan around for the next
plateau some said it was greenland some said
mexico others decided it was nowhere except for
where they stood but those were all just guesses,
wouldn’t help you if they could”

Meat Puppets Plateau

I rediscovered the Meat Puppets because I was trying to explain to my husband that he looks like Curt Kirkwood when he just lets his hair get all long and raggy and goes unshaved. He really does, too. Kinda.

Staring at photos of longhaired, five o’clock shadowed Curt Kirkwood, preferably in a pink gingham dress, was my greatest comfort during a particularly uhappy moment in my romantic life twelve or so years ago. And at almost fifty he’s still pretty damn delicious. And he’s in Austin, where all good rockers go when they die (oh or Nashville, not sure which is better, Austin by a hair, though Steely Dan had been working out of Nashville for a while, and Bon Jovi’s there now right???). And lo and behold! They just put out a new album! And Curt is spewing his abrasive, probably aspbergers, nobody’s going to impose their agenda on me language– yum.

Anyway.

Top down is just not me.

For a long time I’ve been trying to get on top of my life by doing the Flylady thing– flylady.net, you know. I have tried so hard to impose easy, one-size-fits-all, brief, doable routines on my life that could be accomplished in a small amount of work each day, as opposed to either major disgusting house or major housework misery all day on a weekend day, which I just refuse to do, routines which would make it all come together with a minimum of misery, angst and resentment.

Don’t get me wrong– it has helped. A lot. I throw away a lot of crap, and then I no longer have to organize, put away, or dust it. I try to go by the handle everything once rule- go ahead and decide if it’s junk mail or important and file it, whether in the circular file or the important file, right away instead of having to touch it once when I get it out of the mail box and again weeks later when I finally get around to organizing the mail pile. I keep certain surfaces clear or easy to clear so that they can be easily and quickly disinfected often so I don’t have to get out the flamethrower because I haven’t cleaned them since last year. My house is in much better shape (at least I think it is???) than it was before Flylady.

But as a general rule, no matter how well it works, no matter how much sense it makes, top down is just not me.

There was a study in the late 70’s-early 80’s about programming styles of boys and girls using logo. In a nutshell, probably the nutshell of warped memory because I haven’t looked at the thing in twelve years, the study differentiated boys and girls like so. The boys decided what they wanted to do and then attempted to cram the reality of the programming language into the desired result– top down. The girls looked at the reality of the programming language and used that as a jumping off point to create from there– bottom up.

I see this in my life every day. Husbands relax after work (imposing desired result, regardless of reality all around them) while wives bust their asses, becoming resentful and too tired for sex, parenting, housecleaning, working full time (embracing external reality and starting at the bottom). As my brother says, men just don’t have that take on too much gene.

Managers strive to bring together reality and top down desired result, attempting to encapsulate and convey the desired outcome to staff, who relax and don’t concern themselves with the desired outcome because they aren’t paid to and they just want to deal with their own little fiefdom. My best friend’s husband keeps putting glass in the city recycle bin because it makes no sense to him that they don’t recycle glass. I don’t guess I’ll ever be a process engineer or computer programmer, but my husband can’t build a fire for shit or string a kite that will actually fly. I can, as I demonstrated beautifully on cold, clear, windy Easter night after his kite kept diving earthward and his knots popped off.

When I load the dishwasher the dishes almost always come out sparkling. My husband loads the dishwasher chock full, even though when he does that half the dishes come out dirty. He says, I refuse to be held hostage by my dishwasher.

Held hostage by your dishwasher?

How about tuned in to reality so that you can be effective, so that your kite will fly and your fire will burn?

Is my friend’s husband’s stubborn refusal to embrace the recycling reality a stupid refusal to see reality, or a thoughtful protest? I mean, it truly is wrong that our city does not recycle glass.

Some see at what is and ask why. Others see what isn’t and ask why not?

Or something.

This is a very, very basic difference. It would be unproductive to say one approach is better than the other. Even if bottom up is better (and I believe, know, that it is), never, ever the twain shall meet. I can knock my head against my husband’s reality all day long but it will only piss us both off– me because he isn’t doing it ’right’ and him because I am criticising him.

Sometimes top down is even useful. I find that at work, dealing with the folks I supervise, top down is sometimes needed or else anarchy will prevail. Anarchy isn’t such a bad thing… unless it is accompanied by people forgetting why we’re there and failing/just not bothering to serve the folks whose tax dollars pay our salaries. So, sometimes I do have to go all top down on ’em.

But at home…

It just came over me Monday when I was off and home alone.

This constant attempt to impose routine, and the consequent unhappiness because I can’t/don’t want to do it and so my life is still in disorder because I failed to tick off the items on my to do list, isn’t helping. It just isn’t.

I’m knocking my head against some basic realities.

I’m struggling to find the right simile or metaphor for this. I haven’t yet, sorry.

These realities are just not going anywhere. We have so much time and so much money. We have certain needs– food, sleep, shelter, transportation, paycheck, emotional and physical and social comforts. My husband sees things a certain way. All of these are realities I can knock my forehead against until it bleeds. I stretch and stretch, trying to manage both ends. At the front end I impose a top down strategy involving lots of proactive things like buying in bulk and routine– and still find myself stuck on the other end, out of money and out of energy, with needs unmet.

I can make running up the slide a way of life if I want to. And I have.

The endless to do list, the daily and weekly attempts to finally game the system, hit the sweet spot, make routine work for me, just wear me out and make me feel like a failure.

So it came to me Monday to try something different.

How about just being where I am and paying tender attention to that particular thing? How about setting down all the balls I am just barely managing to juggle — work, home, my own mental and physical health, parenting, marriage– and giving whatever single thing I am doing my full attention.

Instead of doing fifteen minutes in each room in the house, changing rooms each time the timer goes off, how about cleaning the kitchen for a while, as long as I want, and then going into my room and cleaning there as long as I want?

How about going to bed when I’m tired?

How about being off ADD meds which help me be supermom and just being scattered me for a while?

I gave this a shot Monday. I felt like I was in some kind of superconnected state. I say this because healing school work is the only thing I can compare it to. I was flowing through my day, and it was sweet. It made me nervous, like the first time without training wheels or water wings… but I am convinced of the essential rightness of it.

Those realities were still there… I could stop any time I wanted and try to claw my way up the flinty perpendicular bank of that flow– not enough time, not enough money, day slipping by, have to go back to work tomorrow, must be proactive, must impose routine, must go work on my budget and short and long range forecasts and plans, must accomplish this and this and this in order to create this outcome, must convince husband to save time and aggravation by finally succumbing to the reality of our dishwasher, or our dogs or child or… but why?

I might even make some progress scrambling up the bank. But all those loose ends would still be waving sweetly at me in the breeze– my failure at top down, my reality at bottom up… scrambling up the bank would probably just make my fingers bleed.

I thought, you know, this shit is all going to be there. Why don’t I just do what I want to do right now, and later I’ll probably want to do something else, and it will all get done, or it will still be there.

I didn’t check email. I didn’t budget. I didn’t create a list or calendar of things that must be done on or by certain days in order for my life to work out. I was just … there. I did some dishes. I folded some laundry. I did some writing. I printed some photos. I did some reading. I ate. I just was.

I’m not describing it very well. It really was a moment of zen, though. I haven’t had one this big since I read Haruki Murakami’s Windup Bird Chronicle. Not that I can remember anyway. It’s so funny how a truly useful paradigm shift just sneaks up on you slowly and silently.

One more listen to Plateau… who needs action when you’ve got words?

Good night!

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