Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A "Dirty" Book Worth Reading

The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball. Read my review here: http://www.alimentumjournal.com/the-dirty-life.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Loving (All) Life?

The Green has come to get us.

Know what I mean? I stand on our deck and see a lawn that's enjoyed day after day of rain and no mower; deciduous trees that are singing a cappella the only way they know how: in color. Emerald, lime, forest-hued. The green is taking over! And in our busy lives, we let it.

Sometimes, I feel like our busyness grows thick stalks of discontent: social malnourishment. And yes: we let it happen. I am part of this relentless Greek chorus. Saying "no" to socially constructed norms takes too much energy. Changing is painful or difficult. We forget what is human. We forget what is Awesome in the original context of the word.

I've been quiet on this blog for the past couple of months because of my own hectic life-weight as I finish my MFA in creative writing and start answering the question that stubbornly waits behind most conversations: "What are you planning to do when you graduate?"

For artists, this question is troubling. After all, shouldn't my answer just be, "I'm going to create something"?

In many ways, we still live in a culture that distrusts a woman who's not sure she wants to be a mother, and I've learned to nod and smile when folks hint that Now, I can start a family. And we live in a world that expects that I'll get a raise or a full-time job when I add another degree to my CV, so I've also learned to be honest only with select folks. People who know me well also know that I question the ethics of two middle-to-upper-class partners bringing home full paychecks when taxes go towards so much destruction (the U.S. has a bigger military budget than most of our allies and enemies combined), and when so many folks within our own borders can't afford their basic needs.

I don't want more stuff: I want more life.

I keep dreaming about a purpose outside of full-time academia. This is a big switch for me, one that's been growing for years. I love teaching...but I don't love many of the layers involved in higher education's potential evolution. A desperate green, in many ways, has come to get us--and it shows. Money, elitism, injustice. Just like peace, violence comes in many forms.

For a few months now, I've been attending "Farm Church." Every Tuesday, a small group of people (and one elderly dog and several attention-hungry cats) gather in a local farmhouse living room for mass. A potluck follows (what I call "real" communion), or walks around the farm, which houses an intentional community and grows produce for local food banks. This place and the people drawn to it-- imperfect but striding forward--give me hope. And yes, the color most associated with hope? Green.

The Good Earth Farm from dan krauss on Vimeo.

I come from a family and culture of farmers, yet I'm distanced from asking things (other than metaphors, student minds, and song lyrics) to grow. When did this deep disconnect happen? It's a question many contemporary Mennonite families ask from time to time. As Di Brandt writes when considering how to be a "good" Mennonite woman and, at the same time, a poet immersed in the complex greater world: "How can I be both and not fly apart?"

How can I be an American and a pacifist and not fly apart? How can I crave individualism as much as community and not fly apart?

Today, when my heart was heaviest, it helped to remember the pockets of "green" around me. I did not celebrate the murder of bin Laden, a man taught to hate, educated in destruction. My tax dollars, after all, helped this to happen. If you grow terrorism, the crop keeps coming back.

There are other ways to cultivate.

When my grandpa was drafted into WWII, he joined Civilian Public Service, where he parachuted from planes into forest fires in the American West, one of 300 C.O. smokejumpers. He left his farm work to quietly wage peace, unpaid and without parades when he came home. It was an inviting adventure, yes, but choosing life--all life-- was at the root of his identity and faith. Today, we're lucky to hear a peace sermon, even in an historic "peace church." How many Christians (me included) keep Jesus securely on the cross--or in some distant heaven--in order to (sub)consciously ignore his radical life example, his teachings of love and reconciliation?

I often wonder what it would take for our current wars to end or for our dependence on force to shift. For now, I want my daily choices to reflect a call towards life. I can't stop a war on my own. But I can change my life to walk towards peacemaking, perhaps only one gentle nudge at a time.

"I feel our souls all need band-aids right now, but we don't even know it," a friend wrote to me earlier today. We are flying apart...We are flying apart...

Maybe tomorrow, we can stop to catch our breath, can connect to the life--and lives--around us. Beyond us. Maybe it's as simple as learning your neighbor's name. Or bending down to loose a dandelion from your driveway. Any start will do. Any start at all. I believe in a peace that has a vast tiara of roots, even on days when one murderer boasts that (s)he's killed another murderer first.

What are we going to do next? Which way will we reach with more than a little rain?

To see photos of my grandpa and other Wayne Co. Mennonite men in WWII Civilian Public Service, visit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/peaspoet/sets/72157626333228805/with/5601580909/

Friday, February 18, 2011

False Spring

Figure 1.1
February 17. 65 degrees in SE Ohio. Our minds shift to "April" "earth," "skirts." We check lawns for daffodils-in-the-making, our laundry remembering how to flap. No one checks the 10-day forecast. We don't want to know.

Figure 1.2
On my way to play piano for a college ballet class, I spot a sunflower the size of my palm on the sidewalk ahead. Escaped from a bouquet? I think, excited, Or a sign that spring's settled in? I reach down to be its rescue--find out it's plastic. The rest of my day feels the same.

Figure 1.3
A college town openly displays its secrets, especially when snow finally melts. Crushed green glass and leopard bikini briefs, abandoned; an open pizza box with a necklace inside; cigarette butts, the tail-ends of conversations never finished. This time of year, the ground can reflect us.

Figure 1.4
For seven weeks, I gently build up to two questions, give my college students hard homework: What does it mean to be a writer in a time of war?, What would you ask a soldier if you could ask anything? Only half the class shows up to answer. I come home and pull the covers over my head, just another bulb.

Figure 1.5
The full moon pulls out dreams like silk pajamas from open drawers. For weeks, my sleep's been filled with characters in plain dress, actors in bonnets or suspenders pretending to be something they're not. I am the one who calls them out, reveals their false identities. Exact accusations from these dreams: "Who's your bishop?," "What have you given up?," "What's your favorite cheese?" The question I get most often about my upbringing: "What makes you different from me?" Sometimes, it also feels like accusation.

Figure 1.5a
Last night, I was going to build a house on the edge of my grandpa's farm--but in the dream, I didn't recognize the land. I wake up frightened.

Figure 1.6
The wind stirs up more questions, allergies, afternoons under the covers. How long can a Mennonite last without community?, Have the squirrels eaten all the daffodil bulbs?, Could my students spend a whole day in silence? Could I?, Who will shake our lives gently, tell us, 'Shhhh--You've just been dreaming'?

Figure 1.7
Even Thoreau kept secrets hidden by the louder things he said, had his mother do his laundry. The wind blows our socks from the clothesline and into the woods. The president gives a speech. We forget what we're funding. It's too warm to care. I may never know what my students have learned from me.

Figure 1.8
Accepting the shape of one life takes practice. Remember asking for someone to help you trace the outline of your body on a sheet of torn-off paper? Did you recognize yourself as only border? I swear, just now, I smelled what the garden could be.

(Photo by Nico Nelson on Flickr)