Wednesday, January 16, 2019

pocoapoco residency in Oaxaca, Mexico

all photos by Heather Waraksa

I wasn't always a reader, in fact much to my mothers dismay and despair (she's a librarian) I hated reading because it was 'boring.'

I liked to entertain and be entertained - I like to do things with my hands. I like to manifest ideas immediately out of thin air, make something out of nothing.

It occurs to me that flower arranging allows for that instant gratification (as does cooking).

I used to read a little, here and there. Enjoyed some contemporary fiction like DeLillo, Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith. The Stone Diaries is a book I remember devouring. But I could go months without reading.

Then I went to Oaxaca to be a part of my friend Jessica's (at that time newly established) residency program. It was winter 2016, and it was right as Saipua was in the early stages of run-away growth. I remember feeling guilty for leaving, and instead of seeing it as a necessary retreat from the stress of scaling my company I took it as an opportunity to broaden my botanical knowledge and expand the potential of our annual upcoming plant sale.

I brought with me an old copy The Secret Life of Plants, a strange book of pseudo-science related to the topic of plant intelligence. It provided me with a constellation of jumping off points into the depths of nature and the occult, more than could fit into a week. Mid week I wrote my therapist a long rambling email full of tenuous connections between the psyche and the natural world. She basically now refers to the residency as the dawning of my golden age.

All is to say that the (now 3 week!) residency at Pocoapoco is therapist approved. You owe it to yourself to at least look at the program here: Jessica is accepting applications for Fall/Winter 2019 through the end of this week.

I came home from that program and never stopped reading. Read my way through all the science my heart could hold, all the cosmology, quantum physics all the chaos theory, evolution, ecology and feminist theory. I'm often reading three or five things at once and leave overturned books full of scribbles in the margins in my wake. (Below is my current list.)

Everyone needs a creative recharge, stepping away from your small business is like leaving your baby. It's absolutely terrifying. But how are we to bring new insights and ideas to our work and our businesses if we're constantly coddling our old ideas? I think about my mom going to night school - I hated it - I wanted her home with us. But she set an example for me that was invaluable; the pursuit of her own interests and wellbeing was just as important as taking care of her family. As I find my own way through femininity and my work, I often feel this was the best gift.


Now reading:

The Coming by Daniel Black
The Death of Nature: Women Ecology and the Scientific Revolution by Carolyn Merchant
Caliban and the Witch: Women the Body and Primative Accumulation by Silvia Federici
The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Like in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing

PLEASE CONSIDER USING amazon alternatives like my favorite online book dealer!

Sunday, January 13, 2019

I'm on the farm in perpetuity this winter taking care of business here which is sheep, chicken and dog chores while also trying to wrangle the cat (who I absolutely despise) into the basement so that it, she, can work to keep at bay a pack of hoodlum rats who have discovered our winter storage crops and soon - I'm afraid our dahlia tubers. If you know anything about brides addiction to 'cafe au laits,' then you can imagine the black market dealings that happen in early spring when every flower farmer goes through the same hand wringing over whether they have in fact planted enough CAL's (for short). A small detail of the floral wedding world which I realize I am, in part, responsible for. We are, often, our own worst enemy.

James has been here for the last few days. He sets his gear up on the piano and works on mixing music. Hunched over my microscope examining sheep feces for paracite eggs, I yell from the other room: PLAY VANGELIS! which when played loud, fleshes out a delightful musical memory from my childhood. Vangelis is the only thing I remember my father listening to. I would beg him to turn it off because it scared me. This is the dark music that brought Blade Runner to life, or imaginary celestial stories of extra-planetary conquests. I came to love it as an adult because it's dark and erie. Most people probably try to shield their children from darkness. Which I think is unfortunate.  

One day at chores James asks, what's it like to care for these animals? It's difficult to tell him because it's so personal and because it's lots of opposite things that are true at the same time. In some ways it's quite easy, and in other ways very difficult. Some days are straightforward. I toss the hay, fill the water trough, feed the dogs. Other days I'm pacing the barn combing through recent memories and observations in an attempt to figure out why 3 of my 30 ewes seems to be starving to death while everyone else is getting fat. Farming livestock is both mechanical and emotional, these sheep feed us, keep us in enough wool to make blankets for every bed on this farm and also provide me with a unique glimpse of the relational economy between humans and livestock. It's ambiguous and must remain unsaid.

James also asked me, early on in our tenure, if I 'liked hellebores' -- a seemingly innocent question to ask a florist but to me felt like a probing query into some place of tender intimacy. 'Describe sex with all of your exes' I responded. 

As I write now I see where I want to go, I want to talk about the strange power of nuance, about ambiguity. This is the way to many riches is but it's hard to talk about. It's a slippery fish. 

Last winter as my thoughts were starting to coagulate around a new direction for Saipua I began to talk about craving a new aesthetic - one that I knew could not be captured in photographs but that had to be witnessed or experienced in person. A close friend eventually called me on it - 'what you're describing isn't a new aesthetic, it's a new politic.'

I had come, as many have,  to see that many of societies troubles could be traced back to a general lack of meaning. Anxiety, loneliness, anger, and illness are inextricably linked and can be alleviated by meaningful connections within communities where people support each other and share ideas, resources, food and healing. This is not a new concept - this is something humans have always done - but these nuanced relational powers have been snuffed out by capitalism which aims to isolate and commodify every last aspect of our personal and private lives. 
What's free anymore except the public library! 

Deeply nuanced beauty and the evocative can't be bottled and sold. The tough truth is that ambiguity can be suicide for businesses. People like to put things in boxes they understand. We may try to buy and sell certain things around the probability of conjuring up moments of real beauty -- we can make places and parties for people, we can buy land and animals and tend to them, we can pay employees and end up with meaningful relationships -- but these are long games. And just going through the motions of buying the flowers or the dinner or the clothes doesn't ensure an experience of lasting meaning. We may feel temporarily satiated, but eventually feel empty again and keep stabbing around for it with a credit card in hand.

Our system wants us to keep feeling empty because that's how it keeps us consuming more.

Oh brother, has this become my anti-capitalist blog? Perhaps. Those of you who know me know how much I love certain aspects of business -- I love a hair-brained idea, I love making something out of nothing and I love playing robin hood (although some of my former employees might disagree with that.)

Last winter I sat with a potential investor. A very smart man who is very influential in the world of media and business and, I'd go so far as to say, alternative ideas. He was very gracious as he listened to me whine about not wanting to sell anything and my broken relationships.  I gave him a few bars of my mothers soap, and as he was walking out of the castle he turned around and said to me - 'trust me, you're never going to escape this system. You have sell something -- put it in a well delineated box and let that generate the income you need to to live; then make your art separately from that; make your world-changing work separate from that.'

I've ruminated on this all year.

I can't drop out of the money system -- I don't have an endowment and my parents have already remortgaged their house to lend me money to finish building the farm -- but I can absolutely tell you that I can't agree with statement. We can not imagine new ways of living and working if we don't make space for an alternative that is separate from mindless consumption and trends. We are never going to get around the earth crisis and the crisis of inequality without groups of people willing to attempt some alternative to the wealth accumulation value systems inherent to capitalism.

I can't tell you what this interim transition phase looks like, but I can tell you that it absolutely starts small, in tiny micro-communities who eat together, and talk about these things loosely or in depth at the dinner table, out in the field, or at the workbench. In line to pick up their kids from daycare or at lunch with their contractors. Sometimes lightheartedly and other times to the point of tears. This is the work.

The ambiguity of a business like Saipua and our project at Worlds End is a nightmare for a PR person. Are we pro-business or anti-business, are we doing weddings or not doing weddings? Are we trying to sell experiences or just products that allow for the experiences of a few behind the scenes? I can't answer those questions precisely. I can't exactly define what we're up to. Some people seem to feel this new phase for us, and others may not. I'm never trying to be mysterious, I just don't always know. This is the awkward transition that is so difficult and painful but is the only pathway to new territory.

I've come to fantasize about this necessary change in our evolution as a species like an gigantic cloth made up of billions of threads. If you change one single thread, the thread next to it is going to feel it and maybe that thread changes a little too. Then one day the cloth starts to look a little different when you zoom way out you might see that the color has started to change in certain spots and you realize, well shit, one thread does make a difference.

The conversation is everything right now. Lets have it.
Ask me anything - but avoid my feelings on hellebores, unless you want a shit storm of incomprehensible intimacy.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

2018 year in review

It was about one year ago I stepped out of the rain into the vestibule of the bank on the corner of Court and Union Street in Brooklyn to make a sudden phone call to Zoe Wonfor in Calgary, CA. 'I need you to come back to Worlds End' I said. I've been trying to ask for what I need. Lucky for us, she agreed. And in the past year she's become one of the most influential forces here at Worlds End and in the business of Saipua. Her artistic approach to farming, cooking, sewing, and dancing have colored this strange dreamscape -- a place where ecology, art and education have begun to commingle and breed, generating new ways of thinking about how to live

Of all the creative, immensely capable women I've met in my tenure at Saipua, Zoe Wonfor stands out as one of the top. You have to meet her, you will.

Also, thank god Zoe also led us to chili oil. She started making it in the spring. There were various iterations - mouth numbing versions, too-mild versions, strained versions, etc. In general, condiments trended hard at Worlds End this year (along with romance and parasites) - aiolis, chimichuras, yogurt slurs, tahini sauces. Condiments keep things fun and provide creative takes on grains, beans and bread that help us feed more people.

Even though 2018 saw the end of our instagram account, we have plans to start filming new episodes of HOMESTEADING TODAY in the new year -- 'Creative with Condiments!' is slated as episode #4. click click click click, whats that noise you say? Thats the sound of people around the world buckling up for the Saipua You Tube channel launching here live from Worlds End in March 2019. If there's any social media I believe in, its the one that brings me instantaneous how-to videos on skinning a dead sheep or what to do when your prius key fob is out of batteries and you need to get off the farm right now. So hold on to a little of your internet.

In 2018 and I went back to my flower practice slowly with a different frame of mind. Who knows why I'm good at arranging flowers, it is a gift that sprang out of no where - and it would be foolish of me not to use this gift for as much good as I can. This past year with Bryony at the helm of the company, and with a lot more time and space for myself I warmed up to the work again. With the flowers we grow on the farm we can give people the best weddings and it feels foolish not to take a piece of this business in a small, responsible way. I wanted a revolution of the industry - or a radical shift, but instead I came to realize that the shift I want has to happen slowly - is happening slowly - if I just stay the course. Suffice it to say, that in 2018 I started to shed some of my tough, uncompromising skin. A thin line separates the act of sitting in one's integrity and luxuriating in foolish pride.

I continued to consolidate everything in Saipua this year. I got rid of our studio, our vase and prop collection, our van, my apartment in the city. When you burn everything down to the ground you're left with the shining diamonds. As I went through this grand process of relinquishing in 2018 it was the love and support I felt from the Saipua community which gave me courage and kept me moving forward. It is a privilege to know these people...they make me feel safe and confident, they make me laugh and they inspire me to work harder to make beautiful things we can all can share.

Also in 2018 I fell in love with James Mulry, a beekeeping DJ from Queens. We are both Leos, and like two big cats we circle each other. In the middle of the night he takes me dancing, I watch him become more himself this way.  He likes to be out in the world, seeing music, attending every cultural event NYC offers. I like to stay home and communicate with a listserve about sheep parasite prevention. I said to him recently 'We have nothing in common!' He looked up from his reading and responded 'Why does that matter?' I get weak in the knees.

Intimate relationships create a mirror in which we can observe ourselves. Being in love is like being a child again; we become curious and cautious; tender and vulnerable. It's hard for me to stay with those feelings because I like to understand and control my feelings (and everyone else's). This has historically defined my version of safety in the world; and in a lot of ways has served me well. But what started happening in my late thirties is I became very very angry on the inside because I was not paying enough attention to what I wanted and needed. I still struggle to think about what I really want because it feels indulgent.

In the time I took in 2018 to revaluate my work, I came to an important realization about how to develop the project of Saipua and Worlds End. I realized that I needed to always think about what was good for me - what I wanted and then let the structure and programming flow from those desires. If it sounds selfish, it is. Isn't it interesting that women are so afraid of being selfish? Isn't being selfish the only pathway to have real compassion?

I want to have a pattern shop here for apprentices to be able to make their own clothes, or uniforms depending on how they see fit. I want personally, to have several robes of silk and linen made for me to wear in the evenings or around the farm when I'm not in work clothes. I want to arrive to dinner in the big barn on horseback from my princess tower that I build one day in the middle of the beaver swamp. In this princess tower there are three levels. The top level is all glass windows where I keep my favorite books and my favorite, oldest plants. From here I can see a lot of Worlds End through a telescope. When I look through the telescope over at the field I see little bodies working in the bright colored strips of flowers, when I look at the sheep fields I scan over to see the scampering of tiny lambs and the big white dogs laid out sleeping in the sun. I scan the forest, and find a tiny hole in the tree canopy to find the Coyote Cafe where coffee and strange cakes are served from 2-4pm for staff and visitors (if they can find it.) I scan to 'secret' pond and see young lovers skinny dipping (I pause to watch them a while to see if theres going to be any action). If I move my telescope to the big barn I see a beehive of activity because people are getting ready for a big strange party tonight...

In the city a few weeks ago I was walking with James. It was just around thanksgiving when the worst news yet on climate change was coming out. Exasperated I told him, I didn't know how to personally tackle this anymore. 
I don't know what to do except help people find gratitude and celebrate and what we do have left. 
Light a candle every night, and come to Worlds End to dance. 

2 quarts of grapeseed oil
10 cloves of garlic, smashed
4 inches of peeled ginger smashed up a bit
handful of star anise
a few cinnamon sticks
2 tablespoons of cardamom pods smashed up a bit
5 tablespoons of hot pepper flakes
3/4 cups of szechuan peppercorns
1.5 teaspoon of salt

Simmer everything over medium heat for 30 min till small bubbles appear on garlic cloves. Remove from heat and strain.
Drizzle on everything