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.


Elisabeth said...

Hi Sarah.
I have been reading your blog and followed along in silence for years, and though I always have a few comments, in the end they never seem significant enough to write down and so I stayed silent.

I love your writing, your truth, your honesty. You're funny, yet your seriousness shines through and packs a solid punch. You are beautiful but not afraid to show and descripe the "ugly" side of farming - both the emotional side and the "frozen boogers in the nose" stuff.
About the rats : Guinea hens keep rats away. So I was told a few years ago, when rats started to descend on our farm and came into the house. Apparently, rats can't stand the sounds of Guineas, and I happen to know that guineas hunt rats, mice etc. mercilessly down and tear them apart! I found the remnants of a rat in the garden, torn to pieces and scattered all over the lawn. Haven't seen a rat - dead or alive- since. I'm not suggesting you put them in the basement (or am I?)but keep them around the outside of the basement. Cats are not nearly as good at catching a rat as a Guinea hen is.. in my opinion.
I would love to know how you wash your raw fleeces of wool. I sheared my little flock og Ouessant sheep last year and will probably have to throw the fleeces on the compost. After rinsing the wool in cold rainwater for a week then drying it, it's still filled with white bits of.. Skin? Lanolin?
Any way, thanks for filling this blog with meaningful reading and beauty.

Sally said...

You might like to read the works of Elizabeth Anderson. She's a philosopher in Michigan whose concern is equality. What does it mean, how is it achieved, how it gives meaning to life. And how it is essentially missing in present day America.
I don't know how she feels about hellebores, but she's weaving a beautiful cloth, strong and colorful.

I love what you do, thank you for your commitment. Someday I will find the coffee in the woods.

Caitlin said...

Wendell Berry's ' Mad Farmer Liberation Front' poem has recently resurfaced for me...,

Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

I'm out West trying to sort out these questions in restaurants. Feeding people for profit, that is. The 'industry' whether it be music or weddings or food or tech.. but like you, needing new or perhaps older definitions for what an economy is and what it means to be industrious.

Happy to be reading along here back at the blog, where I first encountered Saipua. Grateful for this platform for more fully formed thoughts, even when they are admittedly still in gestation. Rooting for you.


Anonymous said...

My God, you are an incredible writer.

Unknown said...

I long for you to write a book or books and fill it with your gorgeous photos. I always come back to your blog when I need to get my creative juices flowing because YOU inspire me with your words. Your photos are the icing on the Saupua cake. So many layers!
I don't know f you realize how much your writing is just as important to us as your work. Thank you for sharing yourself with us.