The conversation that has yet to be named: Parenting, education, art?

This conversation between Randall Szott and Meredith Warner (from 2013) is published as part of a series of conversations on social practice, criticism and the professionalization of art that took place between Randall Szott and a group of artists, organizers and collaborators over the course of several years.

Randall Szott conducts mystic experiments in divination (writing), conjuration (design), evocation (aesthetics), transmutation (cooking), illusion (philosophy), and enchantment (regenerative agriculture) in a small grey house in a small Vermont town. He was a merchant mariner for nearly a decade and now is the Chef and Farm to School Coordinator for a tiny village school. Szott is currently developing a ten acre parcel of land into a functioning agroecological system and as a possible site for ongoing seminars in #soilpractice + #socialpractice.

Meredith Warner is a multidisciplinary artist who recently relocated to Vermont from Philadelphia.  She is a founding member of the Think Tank that has yet to be named — a collaborative practice that initiates research, conversations, and explorations of contemporary sociopolitical issues in the places where they occur. Meredith’s practice is embedded in the places she lives through the study of place, landscape, site, material and community. 

Randall: This is what I think I know about us – that we both sit in an uncomfortable place on the left end of the political spectrum. In fact, I’m not even sure that I identify as “left” or “progressive” at all. The birth of my son really exacerbated this problem for me. I was never really comfortable with big or institutional solutions or the centralization of power, but when decisions around schooling needed to be made, it became so tangible, so urgent. Starting with education, An entire interlocking critique of scale unfolded before me – neighborhood/participatory democracy, local money/economies/networks of support and exchange, locally resilient food systems, banks and corporations too big to fail, decentralized energy infrastructures, critiques of professionalization, etc. These critiques are where the new left and the old right find common ground as Carl Oglesby (former SDS president) used to say.

I wonder if my characterization rings true at all to you and if being a parent played any role in that. Or do I have it all wrong?

Meredith: Like you, I was already leaning in that direction. But thinking about education for my kids put me to practice. I couldn’t just fly off at the mouth anymore. It was serious. I had to meet my words with actions.

Two years prior to my first kid we bought a house in Philly. The neighborhood catchment school was across the street.  I distinctly remember a conversation with my in-law’s where I, quite determined, told them how I’d be sending my kids to the catchment school. I wasn’t going to turn away from the neighborhood.  I’d organize. I’d be in the PTA. I’d be present– making that school better. Then I read Gatto, then Holt. Illich is was the one who killed school for me. I was done. My current understanding is that from a systemic level, compulsory education is the foundational tool for stripping people of their agency, creativity and their ability to know one another. They lay the groundwork for a dehumanizing capitalist society. I’ll do what I can to keep my kids out of school as we know it– or at least how I experienced it.

Yes. It is uncomfortable. The glares I get from people, who look and act much like me, when I tell them my kids won’t go to school. There is shock, disgust, irritation, annoyance. Two weeks ago while talking about homeschooling with my father, a former Public School Elementary Principal, he told me I sounded like I was in the Tea Party. Apparently, the characterization you bring up, is part of how others read me. But I think most people don’t fit squarely within a single political view, rather we pick and choose that which resonates.

And this notion, the idea that when you go so far you meet with “the other side,” is something I’ve recently been talking about with my conservative friend Mike (a more fair description of him might be a small government, free market capitalist, who believes strongly in the bootstrapping myth and who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative.)  I know him from organizing. And with me and him, it is really about where you position yourself in the conversation. He uses words like empowerment, responsibility, excuses, markets. More often he looks to business for models that might change the ways we build community. I use words like agency, privilege, systemic, economies. I am more likely to look at models for community building that are put together by people who live on the margins of society. And the thing is, Mike and I mostly agree. What separates us is a frame and a language. When he talks about change, he assumes we do things to people and I assume we do things with people. I often feel his position lacks empathy and I am sure he thinks I give people too much credit. But we are not so far apart. There is common ground.  

I wonder, other than education, did becoming a parent surface this anywhere else for you? Upon becoming a parent, what other systems were you forced to engage in differently that highlight this political in-between space?

Randall: Having a child is a great way to clarify one’s moral commitments. So yeah, almost every day invites if not a specific meditation on left/right ideology, an inventory of where one stands and where one has the energy to stand. As a small, but significant example – my mom used to shower us with clothing for our son. It was extremely generous, but also vexing as nearly all of it had some kind of pronounced corporate branding – she was especially fond of Disney stuff. So this required some discussion between my wife and I. Do we reject her generosity and create an awkward situation for the sake of ideology? Do we have our son walk around as an advertisement for corporate america despite our objections? In the end, we decided to value the personal, the familial over the ideological in that instance. It wasn’t easy though and we did our best to explain to our (very young) son how we felt/thought about everything.

A much more dramatic example might be the decision to move to Vermont from Chicago. I really wanted to live somewhere that was a better reflection of my moral/intellectual outlook and somewhere that would be healthier for our son. First and foremost, Vermont reflected a community built around proper scale so that its political institutions are still in service of the people (for the most part) rather than the other way around (re: Chicago). Vermont, in its own way, is a place where right and left meet. To the degree that there is a “right” here, it is a traditionalist, live and let live variety – believing deeply in civic (if not political) institutions, fiercely protective of local autonomy, but also holding on to the quaint notion of the common good. One of the great sins of monied liberals from out of state is to “post” their land, forbidding people permission to hike it or hunt it. Here, the old timers, the conservatives find this notion ghastly (again I will caution I am speaking in broad strokes). Even “inefficiency” is often defended by the right here (again this is a land of the traditionalist, rather than free market right), particularly with regard to agriculture and education. Our town has a school that is wildly inefficient – there are around 60 students in the PK-4 school. Many schools throughout Vermont “should” be closed, consolidated and yet they endure (many have been lost as well, but the resistance here has been more effective than in many other parts of the US). I could go on and on about the virtues of Vermont – town meeting and scale being among the greatest, but ecological commitment, strength of the local food movement, love of place, sense of community, scenic beauty, its independent streak, etc. – but you asked about conflict or engaging/thinking differently…

Many raised eyebrows, if not outright contempt were directed my way concerning the move, the most minor was the dependency on the automobile, the gravest though was Vermont’s status as one of the whitest states in the country. We were abandoning the diversity so cherished by liberalism and fleeing not just to the suburbs, but to “the past” to some degree. We were engaging in the whitest of white flight possible. And here we are again, forced to weigh things in the crucible of family life. We had the economic privilege to “escape” the violence, corruption, pollution, crumbling infrastructure, and broken institutions of Chicago and had to weigh two “loves” against each other – the abstract ideological love of diversity (and I actually have come to question how that is defined and valued) vs. the concrete love of our son, what we judged to be best for him.

I realize that there are a million different ways to object to the way I’ve situated things, but I am completely at peace with our decision. The love of particulars, the local and the filial over the abstract, the universal, and the systematic is deeply counterintuitive to large swaths of the left. In fact, as Illich, among many, have argued, liberalism (which embraces the latter) is the dominant ideology of the Western world and most political conflict involves left liberals vs. right liberals, with those challenging liberalism confined to the extreme margins. So here I am in a small town in Vermont, one of the most “liberal” (in the colloquial sense) of states trying to cultivate my own conservatism (not the neoliberal, free market variety), trying to raise a child and surely screwing it all up.

And this story is just my version of course, my wife and I often have very different points of view – you’d likely get an entirely alternate account from her. And let’s not forget my son, he is his own beautifully recalcitrant self, constantly mucking up all of those beautiful moral temples I build in my brain, putting them to an embodied, practical test.

Meredith: {A note here that Meredith, in a strange turn of events, recently moved from Philly to Vermont, despite her lack of love for it. Having lived here for 8 months, she does like Vermont, and could certainly grow to love it.}

I confess. I don’t love Vermont. Though I’d like to. My recent venture into the world of consulting deposited me inside the state government of Vermont. Nationally, I perceived Vermont as a kitten. But after doing some work from within, it suffers from the same bureaucratic juggernauts as any large institution. It is a mess– stalled by layers of complexity and piles of paper. But surely, it is the culture outside of the walls of government that matter in Vermont. I suspect that Town Meeting is where the slough of Democracy actually occurs, not within the bowels of a state agency creating policy.  And I just don’t know the local culture of Vermont well enough.

And so it is this culture outside of the walls of government and institutions that I am much more interested in operating in– one of the reasons why I left my job.  I don’t see a lot of value in working inside of institutions. While I have worked from within and without, I’ve always felt a more gratifying sense of impact and value while working without institutional constraints and boundaries. I am interested in what I can do for myself and my neighbors, very tangibly. I am grappling with getting myself closer to the products of my labor, without ceding those products to institutions. And when institutions from around that work, I am focused on keeping them light, flexible, accessible and not precious.

And for me, this ties directly to my survival. I’ve left my job. My partner’s income can not sustain us.  We have some savings. We’ve already cut back on entertainment, eating out and the groceries as much as we can.  We are down to the bone. So I am playing with other potential resources: growing and foraging food, renting our third floor, swapping childcare with neighbors, growing and selling starts, maximizing food preservation, organizing a food-share with a local Amish farmer from Lancaster. All this *may* be supplemented with some free-lance work. And for me, this is made distinctly possible because of where I live. Our neighborhood is closely knit with an existing undercurrent of radical politics that has been squashed for years by a large, corrupt neighborhood organization that recently imploded. With less institutional presence abd a general skepticism about its worth, people are thinking about ways to work together, to support one another. Now is a good time for my experiment. Though perhaps all times are, I was just convincing myself to wait.

Can we withdraw from, as a family, at least 50% of the institutional support we’ve had for the last few years and still survive? Can I be my own grocer, my own healthcare, my own childcare, an educational mentor to my children? And can I retract and use a combination of self-support and community-support to do it? This is the world I want to live in. It is the world I want to build so others might dwell there with me. It is the others that will make it rich. I can not do it alone.

Where you made a conscious move to Vermont  we made a conscious move toward unschooling. We are persistently accused of “escape” by many of our peers for abandoning schools. These accusations are made despite that others may have the resources for private schools, homes in wealthy catchments or the know-how to do the charter route. More often our critics perceive schools as essential to democracy and a kind of social leveller. There was a time when I too believe that. Once I started questioning the value school for ALL kids and families, it was hard to believe that at face value.

So let the accusations fly. The schools are failing whether my kids goes there or not. No amount of money or testing can change the impermanence of them. Institutions fail and they should. They especially fail when they become rigid, calcified and inflexible. I am ready to seed something new. It has its risks, but at least I choose them. And like your move to Vermont, I happily invite others to join us, but there is no mandate that others approve of our choices for our children.  We’d rather live on the periphery and attempt to embody a new foundation, a new way of learning together, a different kind of structure that, I hope, values cooperation, autonomy and agency.

Escape, withdraw, flight– these seem to be themes that come from others view of this mode of living. But if you shift the mindset, these are also generative gestures, no? Or can they be? What is it you are moving toward?

Randall: I will ignore your comments on Vermont except to say kicking a kitten is not very nice. And, Vermont is more like a catamount than a kitten…

I am probably referencing the obvious here, but I wonder if you’ve read Karl Hess. Both Community Technology and Neighborhood Power seem especially relevant. It gets so weird in this right/left political ecotone, as I find so much of interest in his work, but abhor the idea of being confused for a libertarian. In the end, though it is worth the risk to muck about on the right, or in other odd places as there are plenty of useful things out there. The Catholic Church, for instance, has the ideas of subsidiarity and distributism – “subsidiarity” being the idea that matters should be handled as locally as possible, and “distributism” being a social theory in which political and economic institutions ought to be subordinated to human scale values. If you’re willing to get dirty so to speak, there are a whole lot of folks who’ve already done a lot of work in proposing alternatives to modern liberalism.

Escape and withdrawal have been persistent themes for me for quite some time. I thought Kaprow’s “unartist” was an especially smart solution to the art/life problem and a nice complication of the non-art/art/anti-art nexus. A former professor of mine (Richard Roth) wrote a parody of art critiques in which this exchange occurs between his fictional characters:

Holly Stolz: I totally fucking agree. The best artists today are engaged in finding a way out of the art world. Escaping . . . with flair . . . is the art of our time.

A.R.: Escape artists!

Needles to say I totally fucking agree and I imagine you do as well. But “escaping with flair” needn’t be limited to art. It certainly can be a generative gesture, as you put it, in other spheres of life too. And yet again, the right and left meet – escape and withdrawal have been tactics used by both – not always with the noblest of intentions. So how uncomfortable does this history of escape make you? I’ve made my peace with it, mostly by being honest that no position is without its contradictions, impurities, problems…but am I just rationalizing?

Meredith: Warning: I am tired and this is all over the place….

Escape doesn’t bother me. Abandonment does. Not everyone wants to live the way I do, and that is fine. But I need, crave, and desire a certain level of engagement– a chance to dabble in the collective space. It might be to labor with others, to act together, to eat together, to share resources. But I can certainly escape with others. For instance: I escape the grocery store every time I go to my garden plot to pick a tomato.  That plot is made possible by a community of people who brokered the deal for the space, and the people who organize a community of people to care for it. It allows me, together with that community of people, to escape the dominant frame: the factory farm, biochemical industry, shipping, etc.

For me this collective exercise in escape is far from the fantasies I have following every national election: to flee to some non-existent country that won’t get nuked by the US and live off the land. That is abandonment.  It is withdraw from communal life, a seclusion born of fear. It is isolated. Sadly, I think this is a realistic picture of how most American’s live. They are not geographically secluded, but they retreat from life through the garage door and onto the couch. And I would be that person if it weren’t for the city that forces me, simply by proximity, to look my neighbors in the face and say hello. The city transforms me into a neighbor.

And it is a retraction, a mentality of isolationism, that people perceive when you say, “We plan to homeschool our kids.” The word “homeschool” draws a picture of a child chained to a desk with an uptight parent playing teacher all day. It assumes a withdraw from social life, a sequestering of human resources. And no doubt, there are people who do just that and intend just that. But we do not.  And this is just another time that I find myself with some strange bedfellows. The reasoning and outcomes are different, but the method, at least at surface value, shares a name and is treated the same by the State.

I’ve become accustomed to being on the periphery. Tonight I attended a local meeting of artists. A neighbor had been encouraging me to come for weeks. I foolishly assume when a room with people who identify as artists that anything goes. But within minutes it is clear that I am, yet again, an outlier.

Calling myself an artist is just easy. It shuts people up. Everybody wants a one word answer to “what do you do?” But here I was, in a room full of people who I assumed know this little trick, and they are so far right of me I can’t even understand what they do or why they do it. And I am as equally unreadable to them. She does what? That’s art?

But I care less about who gets to own the label or how legible we are to one another.  Rather, I am curious about IF these ideas really do come full circle: when you are so far left you are right, when you are so liberal you are conservative. What are the nuances that prove that circle never really meets? Is it the approach? The method? The outcome?

Randall: Maybe the circle doesn’t meet, but maybe there isn’t a circle in the first place. Political coordinates in this country are, of course, a construction and there are vested interests in keeping our current choices static. Here is a quote I would offer as evidence for our odd bedfellows theory:

The neighborly arts, like all arts, are cultivated in practice and passed on from one person to another in a particular place and time. The neighborly arts are placed arts, for they are embodied in the particulars of a local community. They are the humble arts that consist of persons living in proximity with each other and sharing particular knowledge in a way that improves the lives of family, friends, and neighbors. The neighborly arts bind people together in mutual help and affection.

The neighborly arts begin at home, extend outward in service to others, and return in the form of gratitude, friendships, and commitments born of practical skills shared and received. In this sense, I think, the art of hospitality represents in a concrete and intimate way how the neighborly arts can foster good will, good conversation, and good times (not to mention good food). Ultimately, a life together in the presence of extended family, friends, and neighbors is more possible, more durable, and more enjoyable when the bonds of nature, proximity, and affection are strengthened by the mutual assistance born of the neighborly arts. True happiness begins at home.

It is from a piece here, by a “conservative” whose book, The Politics of Gratitude, I’m currently reading. The book is a little disappointing and leans heavily (as conservatives do) on hierarchies and entrenched traditions, but I would be happy to have him as my neighbor, happy to hear him speak up at town meeting.

He writes of mutual assistance. Kropotkin wrote of mutual aid. Either way, there is an emphasis on the scale of human relationships and human institutions. As we hinted at before, maybe the big divide in the country is not so much a left/right one, but big/small.

I am interested in your self-identification as an artist as it seems like it might be just an act of convenience. Do you have an investment in that world/word, in that history? I have resisted such identification for a long time as it imports a set of complications that I’d rather not deal with, but there are lot of interesting people at the margins of that world. In fact, this conversation would never have happened if it were not for it…

Meredith: I suppose I self identify as an artist because I feel people don’t tolerate much more than a one word answer. Calling myself an artist means the real answer can be anything– the problem comes when they ask next, “what kind of art do you make?” Then I am in a jam. For a while I called myself a designer, and still do if it is convenient.  But that is a step further into the calcified world of professionalism than I’d like to be.

I suppose there are many other more truthful answers I might give like: mother, daughter, community organizer or gardener. The mother thing makes me feel pretty devalued– even by other moms. And I don’t really care to give a non-answer either like, “I’m a lot of things to different people.” That’s seems evasive– it’s just not in my character.  Being an “artist” gives me cover and ambiguity. People get it just enough to not ask too much more.

The “neighborly arts” quote resonates with the Structures of Support work we have been doing in the Think Tank. Underlying all the questions is a desire to see if we can build or manufacture a hyperlocal support system. The obvious test ground is myself.  We are in the process of relinquishing all of our paid childcare and I will be starting to swap care with some other families in the neighborhood.  It isn’t ideal, but we are one mid-class-ish family among many who has a shrinking paycheck and a weak local support system in place.  Our extended families are both conveniently close– but my partner’s mom is in the middle of chemo treatments and my mother’s health is not great– plus she is raising my sister’s three children.  So other than paid help– we are on our own.  

In addition to swapping, my friend and I are going to be hosting what I hope will be a series of meals for parents to talk through what support they lack and what hacks they have devised to stay afloat. We are focused on bringing together parents who are already using or thinking about using some less conventional means of childrearing: homeschoolers, free-rangers and the like. These are ideas that I’d like to start sharing and making available to people who might not otherwise know about these choices.

So I take the neighborly arts very seriously– though I wonder if my methods are conventional. I participate. I engage. I initiate. But I can always sniff out the conservative voice, as I did in the neighborly arts quote above. Sprouting from each word was rosebuds and cupids, hearts and stars. Has this person ever really spent time with their neighbors? It is a slough. Some days it is great, joyous, even magical.  But most days it is crazy, wrapped in bylaws, tied up with some conflict. People can be a bitch to work with– and when resources are scarce, people show their teeth. So I get nervous when I smell nostalgia. It is just the idea of neighborliness– not the reality. I am equally nervous about the rosey ambitions I have for my own life and the work of the Think Tank. It lives on the margins of reality because nobody really knows how to live together anymore. It is a rare neighborhood or town that does.

I re-read Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone this week. I can’t help it– I love that text. It is so reassuring– reassuring that I did the right thing to leave my job. It forces me to check the choices we have made like– do we really have a mortgage which ties us to domestic life, jobs and a stationary lifestyle? I could be living the life in a free apartment in Spain right now.  Why am I here? And Bey’s counter-net, as I interpret it, is the glossy version of what I hope the Think Tank’s Structure of Support project might one day be: an actual network of support that is free from the market and available to all those interested in engaging it.

I think the big/small idea is spot on. And it has to do with proximity.  When there is distance, there is bound to be mediation.  And the further that we are distanced from the need, the labor, the object, the more mediation occurs. The internet promised to bring us all together, to create “community.” But I can’t childcare swap with my friends in Seattle or call my friend in Pittsburgh when I need to borrow a ladder. There is too much between us. I need a cluster, a cohort, a willing person who can come by quick.  I need a neighbor.

Your work life seems pretty unmediated? What do you tell people when they ask you what you do?

Randall: I am interested in the way people characterize community and the democratic process. I grant that some people speak from a disembodied place, but I get nervous when people take their experience to be paradigmatic. That is, in certain neighborhoods, with certain populations, certain personalities, etc. it may in fact be hard work to be neighborly. I do believe that it can be easy too. There are complicated explanations revolving around community histories and resources, but I am especially sensitive to the word nostalgia.

I have heard that word used quite a bit to dismiss the plausibility of certain social arrangements. Some people told me my idea of Vermont was nostalgic. Never mind that they had never lived, or even visited here, yet claimed that any idea of people pulling together in crisis, or of convivial village life, of (largely) unfettered landscape, of being able to leave your doors unlocked, etc. were all dreams of an urbanite. Except that those things not only did exist, but do exist. I am frustrated because I can’t remember where I read it, but someone said that the desire to build human scale society often is characterized as nostalgia for the past by people who fail to acknowledge that their “progressive” vision is a nostalgia for the future. And this recent piece in Orion also touches on the topic (as well as a healthy dose of Illich) in a way that dismisses the charge, yet also embraces it:

Illich’s critique did not, of course, just apply to technology. It applied more widely to social and economic life. A few years back I wrote a book called Real England, which was also about conviviality, as it turned out. In particular, it was about how human-scale, vernacular ways of life in my home country were disappearing, victims of the march of the machine. Small shops were crushed by supermarkets, family farms pushed out of business by the global agricultural market, ancient orchards rooted up for housing developments, pubs shut down by developers and state interference. What the book turned out to be about, again, was autonomy and control: about the need for people to be in control of their tools and places rather than to remain cogs in the machine.

Critics of that book called it nostalgic and conservative, as they do with all books like it. They confused a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined “golden age.” It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a “crank” by saying, “A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions.”

Still, if I’m honest, I’ll have to concede that the critics may have been onto something in one sense. If you want human-scale living, you doubtless do need to look backward. If there was an age of human autonomy, it seems to me that it probably is behind us. It is certainly not ahead of us, or not for a very long time; not unless we change course, which we show no sign of wanting to do.

As to my work life – it is far from unmediated, but it is simple to explain. I’m a cook. When people ask what I do, I tell them that. Or I might get a bit into the fact that I do it on a boat that mostly operates in the Gulf Of Mexico and all of the cool and annoying things about having such an unconventional job. If I’m feeling a little more provocative, I might delve into why I call myself a cook and not a chef, but if I’m feeling especially provocative, I ask if they mean what do I do for money? This can go down a the rabbit hole of my education (11 years in college in 5 states and 3 degrees), how I ended up on the boat, why I’m not teaching, why I’m not an artist, what I do on my off time, and what living a “double life” is like. The double life part has been especially productive for me – spending half of my life (when I was in Chicago) around big city liberal/progressive artist/curator/activist/academic types, and half of my life around mostly rural (but from all over the country) apolitical/conservative/union liberal working class types. I found myself in an interesting in between zone, seeing in a very direct way how differently each group saw the world and each other. It also showed me how viable a secessionist politics could be (at least in terms of messaging) – let Texas be Texas, but let Vermont be Vermont too. And the intractability of worldviews also led me to conclude that far from being impractical, secession might very well be the most practical thing to do.

Meredith: Some words are just a bag or worms. I can toss out nostalgia, but it has never prevented me from moving toward that “rosey” vision of the past/future. I have an absent paycheck to prove it. We were living too high on the hog and too far from the source. So I left my job to be with my kids, to work in my garden, to build a neighborhood that I want to live in. I do, however, use the threat of the word nostalgia on myself– to keep myself in check, to be self critical. I have found it a useful tool, and continue to. And when it comes to depictions of human-scaled communities, some indication of conflict, difficulty or lack of clarity would go a long way toward making the picture they are painting a little more plausible. At least in my experience, there is great value in negotiating conflict, bending to meet others and all the other challenges that come when you work cooperatively. And when a definition of the neighborly fails to mention the bad with the good, I get suspicious.

Communities are cyclical but often lack continuity. They wax and wane with generations and political environments. They emerge from the coming together of common interests and they die, disband or implode for a variety of reasons. Just this weekend I was talking to an old timer in my neighborhood that seemed dismayed that we didn’t have a childcare coop. He talked fondly of the organization that existed during the time that he had young kids (1970’s). I’ve been thinking about starting a childcare coop, but it won’t occur in the very same way or for the same reasons that my friend started one. The initial impetus is similar, but the environment has shifted greatly. And the new founders will create a new system to meet the needs of today. And if it gets built, it will only last as long as it is useful before it too ends. I’ve been really focused on accepting the end of institutions. And I use nostalgia as a reminder to not reenact, but to use the past as a model to iterate a new version of the things we need to get by today.

As I am reading the Orion piece, I am brought back to my own reason to retract– or move, at least. Leaving my job was an attempt to get closer to my hand, to my labor. As an artist, I have mourned my move away from the physical making of “things” though never enough to go back to it diligently. And in my master’s thesis I wrote about the use of the hand, and particularly about the mythology of women’s hands in the production of hand-crafts.  But I see my leaving my job as a return to my hands and the reasoning is demonstrated so well in this Orion article:

“Mowing with a scythe shuts down the jabbering brain for a little while, or at least the rational part of it, leaving only the primitive part, the intuitive reptile consciousness, working fully. Using a scythe properly is a meditation: your body in tune with the tool, your tool in tune with the land. You concentrate without thinking, you follow the lay of the ground with the face of your blade, you are aware of the keenness of its edge, you can hear the birds, see things moving through the grass ahead of you. Everything is connected to everything else, and if it isn’t, it doesn’t work. Your blade tip jams into the ground, you blunt the edge on a molehill you didn’t notice, you pull a muscle in your back, you slice your finger as you’re honing. Focus—relaxed focus—is the key to mowing well.”

I want to live in this life. I want to feed my family, at least in part, from the food we grow. I want the tangibility to be palpable because for so many years there has been a void between myself in my work.





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