The Music That Will Bring Me Back Here

This summer has been a lucky one, as far as music goes. Three of my favorite artists have dropped new albums, and they all have their share of genius. In May, Mary Lambert released Bold, a rock-band follow-up to her brilliant debut. Jason Isbell released The Nashville Sound in June, but I was busy, and I’m just now listening to many of the most tender and introspective tracks. Josh Ritter just last week released Gathering, a slower-paced, more reflective offering than 2015’s Sermon on the Rocks.

These are the songs that will bring me back to my Baltimore summer, this hazy, humid interstice during which I am both lonely and not lonely, employed but rarely accountable for how I spend my time, living in community and in a tiny bubble of my own. I’m learning important things about how to be a person, and this music is both a lens and a mirror-frame for that long, tiresome, necessary process. Of course, it’s not just the latest releases that I’m listening to. I have very little music on my phone, which has the unintended, but happy, consequence of helping shape a pretty coherent soundtrack for the summer. Here’s what I listen to while bouncing joyfully over potholes and revving up hills while my heart leaps ahead:

  • Secrets, Mary Lambert, good for late-night drives and early-morning bike rides, both
  • The Essential Mary Chapin Carpenter — although it also brings me back to my bike trip over the Smokies with Eric, which may remain my best and only bike vacation forever
  • The Oh Hellos’ self-titled EP
  • Hozier’s self-titled hit album
  • Southeastern by Jason Isbell, which has accompanied the entire ridiculous peregrination from my last days in Burlington to here

But in the kitchen, it’s Lori McKenna, the Weepies, Angel Haze and the three new albums. I’ve also been listening to Clipping, who I first heard a few weeks ago, like every other This American Life fan in the country. I’m in the kitchen a lot, but it’s not that I’m cooking again; I very rarely cook right now, for a host of reasons, only some of which I know. But I do wash the dishes, clean the fridge, and perform a variety of other tasks that I have come to realize are spiritual in nature — at least for me, this wayward flower child so often enraged by the senselessness of civilized life. I have been neglecting these spiritual duties, so it’s no wonder I’ve been feeling adrift. Composting is hard in the city of rats. Cleaning is hard in a collective house where only a few of us seem to care. It’s easier to let it go, be satisfied feeding myself, put the recycling in the bin and call it a day, but it’s been eroding my purposefulness over time.

I realized this all of a sudden a couple of days ago when I found myself fighting back tears while trying to explain to Matt why I don’t make jam right now. I didn’t actually know why I don’t make jam right now, and I don’t know now, but I do know that not being in the kitchen deprives me of a pretty essential part of life that I call religious in my head and self-correct to spiritual. It’s something about the combination of ritual, satisfaction, and necessity. I came back to my collective armed with a little bit more knowledge about who I am and what I need, and I cleaned our fairly disgusting fridge and sorted everything into humans, hens, rabbits, and compost. No trash. ❤

Thinking Ahead

I’ve decided I need to start writing more because someday I may wish to write my memoirs. One of the perks of belonging to a relatively rare identity category is that it gives me a pretty good sales angle on any memoir I actually write. Obviously, some of the necessary recording is going to have to be private, but some of it can meanwhile do double-duty as a life update. For the curious: Baltimore is fine. I’ve been feeling a little gray around the edges. I’m not cut out to work on contract full time, and that may be my primary problem. The perks of being a flex-hours contractor are considerable — I’ve visited the intentional community I belong to four times this summer, which is kind of a big deal considering it’s 430 miles away; Matt and I get as much time together as we want; I can go to meetings any time of day, step up to say “I’ve got that” when something needs done, and take full advantage of the weather, whatever it is.

But they’re not outweighing the difficulty of making my own schedule all day every day. So I’m applying for in-person jobs again. Some of them are exciting! One at the aquarium introducing critters to visitors — I feel like that’s a legit “all my experience has been leading to this job” job, but it’s only ~14 hours a week, so I’d be keeping those side-gigs strong, too. One at a call center “telling people about benefits they already have and don’t use” — possibly a scam, but promising-sounding. And one as a lab tech — which, yes, is a very exciting opportunity. Go ahead and mail me a hat, but I’m not eating the whole thing unless I go to grad school.

Anyway, I’m super excited about all three. I was also excited about a book warehouse job, but it’s in Halethorpe, which is just too far away. I still don’t know what I want to do (until/in addition to the draft horse dream). Is that famous lawyer glut over yet? No? Well, I’ll be over here with the horseshoe crabs.

In other career-related news, Act 166 is causing a shortage of qualified early childhood teachers in Vermont, and some truly excellent centers are running below capacity because they can’t find anyone who’s certified. This is what you get when you value education over experience, y’all. (Here’s the Cliff’s Notes: the VT legislature recently approved Act 166, which is pretty cool because it provides funding for 350 hours/year for kids 3-5 to go to preschool, but the rating system it’s based on now devalues one of the traditional education+experience certification combos in favor of more stringent education-only, experience-disregarded combos.) This is part of the broad and malicious pattern of shunting training costs onto students, and in this case, as in some others, it also hurts the industry. Nice double whammy there.

Anyway, unlike the creeping pattern of shifting training burdens, Act 166 has nothing to do with me personally … unless I decide to chase down one of my fantasies and go back to Williston to reapply for the best job I’ve ever had. Nobody hold any breaths, okay? First of all, I couldn’t move back to Burlington yet even if I wanted to — too little time has passed. And with a whole classroom shut down at the Center, I doubt there’s room for an assistant teacher with no desire to be certified in early ed. More importantly than either of those: there’s so much more to explore!

I don’t know, though. I do think pretty regularly about becoming a teacher. To be clear, I also think regularly about becoming a floor nurse, a nurse practitioner, a cabinet maker, an electrician, a lab tech, and whatever I had to have 2 years of experience being to qualify for the job posting I’m reading at the moment. So don’t get too stamp-happy with that hat-mailing, okay?

March

So, blogging is a thing I should get back to. I’m not sure what my schedule will be yet because I don’t have a strong life routine. Usually I structure my life around work, but I’m a freelance editor now, which doesn’t provide structure. So far I’ve been getting a few hours of work every day or two, and when I get work I have around two days to complete it, so I can make any schedule I want. I was a bit trepidatious about the arrangement since I am not great with time. But so far it’s been about perfect. My general method is to do the work as soon as possible after I get it, leaving me free to gallivant until my next assignment comes in. But if I already have a full day planned, I can block out the next day for working. If by chance I have two full days planned, the evening and interstitial time is generally enough. I can usually turn down assignments, too. Right now I’m accepting everything that comes, and I’m hoping to get more assignments as time goes on; what I’m getting now will pay the bills, but not much more.

So what makes a full day? It depends. My other work – unpaid – is at the Free Farm, where I help out with the garden and various food rescue projects. So I’ll spend a few hours there when there’s something going on. I’m moving in there April 1st, which will mean it’s much easier to work and be involved, but right now that’s just a few hours a week. I also spend a lot of time dating and making friends and even more with the friends I’ve made so far. I spend a little bit of time going to trainings, talks and classes. I like that I’m flexible. I could definitely get used to this. If only Bernie Sanders had been elected president, I could happily do this for a long, long time. As it is, I’ll lose health insurance sometime in the next 14 months. Maaaaybe by then I’ll have enough editing experience to get a job with benefits. Anyway, I meant this to be a Big Update, not just a note about work, but I got busy so I’ll go ahead and upload it how it is and keep working on that Big Update for later.

The Very First Tomato

A few months ago I promised to write down some of the moralizing stories I tell the Lions. Most of them I’ll probably post in short form, but here’s one I wrote in long-form during nap.

My great-great-great-great grandfather was a farmer in the old country, and as well as growing grain and fruit and tending his forest, he kept a beautiful garden. One day in late June he went out looking for his first tomato to bring home as a surprise for his wife. He had seen it just the day before – plump, juicy and almost red enough to pick. But when he got to the vine it had been growing on, it was nowhere to be seen! My great-great-great-great grandfather’s eyes narrowed. Yesterday he had seen Mrs. Nork passing by, and she just would have stopped and plucked a tomato before going on her way. He marched over to her house.
“Mrs. Nork,” he said when she invited him in, “Did you by any chance invite yourself to a tomato from my garden yesterday?”
            “Why, no,” she said, surprised. “We have a few coming in ourselves. Not as early as yours, but soon enough!” My great-great-great-great grandfather harrumphed suspiciously, but he had no choice but to believe her, so off he went to visit Mrs. Guten, who often passed his garden on her way home from work. He knew she had no tomatoes in her garden. Maybe she had been tempted.
            “Excuse me,” he said when Mrs. Guten hallooed from her asparagus bed, “have you by any chance helped yourself to a tomato from my garden?”
            “Why, no,” she said. “Tessa hates tomatoes. They turn her stomach. But I still have some very fine lettuce; would you like some?”
            “Oh, no thank you,” said my great-great-great-great grandfather, a little bit ashamed. It was getting on towards noon, so he stopped to water the seedlings and headed inside for lunch.
            My great-great-great-great grandmother had made soup and salad. On top of the salad was a bright red tomato. “Look, darling,” she said to her husband. “I went down to the garden this morning, and the first tomato was just perfect!”
            My great-great-great-great grandfather laughed and put his head in his hands. When he was done laughing he put together a big basket of vegetables to leave on Mrs. Nork’s porch: baby corn, late peas, lettuce, and the second tomato – and not a single zucchini. For the Mrs. Gutens he made their favorite almond cookies. He left them on the porches with no explanation, so they could have a little mystery of their own.

Islands

I have been doing the work of finding islands of peace pretty steadily for about six days now.* It’s going swimmingly — and by that I mean that I am usually far from shore. But my use of the word is not entirely sardonic; it’s going as well as can be expected; I can now keep in mind almost all the time that such islands exist, and I can find them on my own. I have never had to do this before: a text to my best friend (no need for response) was the fastest way to an island and, by mutual agreement, I used that method of transportation more often than any other. For some reason I didn’t have the same trouble then that I am having now, which is that staying on an island of acceptance is very difficult work. Well, I will have lots of practice! I am feeling pretty good just now and my “hooray” is not at all facetious.

*This is the work I have been doing for years, but this fall I took a break from it. I’m starting again by dint of circumstance.

The work of finding balance of expression is not going as well! You can see by the paragraph above that I am currently in the mood for indiscretion. And even in real life I am frequently snarkier than I intend, which is grossly unfair, as the range of snark I can stand from Wafflets is extremely limited. I’ll figure that out, though.

I remember feeling unsure last week about the work that I need to do right now — whether I should cut and run to go back to farm work, or just go be a Catholic Worker already or what. But I am doing considerable work, in three parts. First and foremost, my work is to love my students, keep them safe, and teach them to love others and themselves. Second, I am still, in a limited way, practicing my food-production and homemaking skills. And third, I am learning how to love freely, independently, and fully, without tearing myself apart. (I cannot yet love politely. Sorry, Wafflets. That’s work for later. I am trying not to be too hurtful, or thoughtless, or actively rude, but it’s a lot.) The work I’m doing now feels like work worth doing.

In other news: most of the remaining tomato seedlings do appear likely to Make It at least until it’s time to plant them out (I literally just knocked on our coffee table, just in case). The mushroom table looks positively Pinterest-worthy. The compost bin is still not done but I bought the drill bits I needed and theoretically I can do it whenever it quits raining. I cooked dinner maybe once this week so I’m looking forward to more cooking next week.

The lilac is blooming, the bleeding hearts are glorious, and I finally got all the way through the process of harvesting and processing knotweed shoots (it’s not even that long, but the season’s so short!) to taste the spectacularly mediocre sweet puree recommended by City Herbal. (Maybe next year I’ll try a different recipe.) The garlic mustard is flowering already. So is our neighbor’s Giant Solomon’s Seal, a personal favorite of mine. (I mean to look at. It’s edible, but not responsible to eat.) I found a patch of nettle last week and though not terribly convenient it’s certainly in a place I can return to, so this week or next the Waffle will be enjoying nettle quiche. Or something. There’s very little that nettle isn’t good in.

I wonder if the milkweed is sprouting? The pokeweed almost certainly is, but I haven’t seen any skeletons whatsoever, and I don’t imagine I’ll find any until late summer when it’s much more visible. Well, if I’m here next May I’ll know where to find them. (I see why I used to speak with such certainty; I see why I bought the loom. It would be so lovely to think about next May and know I’d be here. Maybe it’s enough to enjoy this May. I’m doing my best.)

Happy Monday!

I wrote this yesterday but it was a terrible post for Mother’s Day so here it is today!

Well! We’re well into spring now and it doesn’t seem so cruel. So far it’s been a typical busy weekend: building, digging, planting, cooking, wrestling with the (proximate) purpose of my life and generally reflecting on its direction. We had our garden orientation on Wednesday, so yesterday morning I brought over all my pre-frost-free veggie seeds and spent a happy couple hours digging the tilled earth into this year’s bed shapes and planting and mulching the seeds. I’m only planting vegetables for practice (although of course we’ll eat them or give them away — practice sans product is not at all satisfying to me, which probably explains some things), so I didn’t plant many: one (3-foot) row of peas, two rows of carrots, one row of spinach, and one row of beets. When I had finished I was astonished and a little distressed to find that I had used a tenth of our garden space. It’s only 180 square feet (the plot size we chose can be anywhere from 200-300 ft2 so it’s a bit smaller than I was expecting) and we will have a tough time maintaining successions of anything with this amount of space. But, it’s just a hobby. Plus, 180 square feet may be the smallest garden I have ever planted … but it’s also larger than the largest garden I’ve successfully weeded on my own. I won’t really know how I feel about the size of the plot until I’ve kept it weeded all summer long.

So that’s the planting. The building this weekend was very low-key: I just reassembled the mushroom-log table in the backyard. I haven’t bought the braces I need for the second compost bin because I am a lazy bum and it doesn’t have to be done until the 15th or so. The digging was also very quick — just a new bed next to the blueberries so I could bury the pallet scraps and raspberry canes. It’ll be a really interesting little bed, because I wasn’t sure how to effectively chop sod laid down on a thick layer of wood scraps. Due to that layer and the dearth of topsoil, there’s actually an air gap in between the subsoil (which is gravel, from where the driveway used to extend into the yard) and the bed. So on top of the poorly-chopped sod I put some potting soil — yes, potting soil — and I’m going to try to take care of it like a large and oddly-shaped container, because it won’t be able to maintain the ecology a normal garden bed does. We’ll see how it goes! In any case, it definitely beats out “pile of pallet scraps” for attractiveness, so I’m not feeling too much internal pressure.

The cooking was just the typical stuff. Last night I cooked for four, on spec, and four showed up to eat. So that went well. (Had two showed up to eat, that would also have been well: more leftovers!) The four of us (me and Red and Eli and Nick) shared a lovely dinnertime and a long sobremesa. I am awfully spoiled here. I take for granted the cleverness and laughter and care and snark and love, even as I drink it up. When dinner is over and everyone’s attention turns elsewhere I try to stay content and sufficient, but it is very hard work. I get by. I find joy. I find moments of peace.

I would like to end with finality: that’s enough: but I don’t know if it is. Laughter and love and occasional peace are all things I am incredibly fortunate to have. But I’m still feeling dissatisfied because I don’t know what’s next. I was very fond of the pretty fiction that the next step was for me to buy a farm and for whoever wanted to to come along, but for that to be fun I need to think someone will want to. I had been sure I didn’t want to move ever again. Now I’m thinking about where and when to go.

Which is silly, because even if I go, I’m not going for another year or two, and if I do go the central problems that plague me here are all going to come too. I don’t know. I thought it would be best to pursue farming first, family second. Then I thought, well, I’m burned out on farming, so I should switch: family first, farming second. But my family finds it difficult to live with a messy, extravagant, puppyish, excitable farmer. Where will I find the people who want to be my people forever? I thought a city would give me better odds (there are, after all, more people). In retrospect that may also have been silly. Anyway, like I said, I’m getting by just fine. It’s a shame my annual panic came early this year, but by about July I’ll be feeling great!

Happy Mother’s Day!

I have a couple of calls to make, for which I’m saving the bulk of my sentimentality and gratitude and affection, but here’s a thought for Mother’s Day: my mother has made literally thousands of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in her lifetime. I woke up in the middle of the night one time thinking that. Imagine how many realizations are yet to come.

Also, a picture of a mama elephant and her baby, holding trunks. (Elephants’ matriarchal, family-oriented, fiercely social culture makes me happy to think about.) Happy Mother’s Day!
A large and small African elephant with linked trunks on a background of grass