Thursday, December 31, 2020

the end of painful but purposeful year.

View from the cabin I moved into in July - up at the top of Worlds End and overlooking the bees and sheep. 

The first part of writing is thinking about writing. 
The thinking happens for months, with no direction. In July I buy an old teak lounge chair from an antique shop. Near the foot is a nameplate that reads QUEEN MARY - FIRST CLASS ONLY. I spend notable time considering the pedigree and travels of this chair, from it’s beginnings on a cruise ship’s deck before moving it to the deck of my new cabin near the top of Worlds End. On July 29th, my 40th birthday I sit in it and survey the kingdom. 

Around this time I take all of my astrology books to the cabin and begin a period of personal research on the planet Uranus. 4 billion years ago an earth sized rock collided with Uranus, knocking it almost perpendicular to the solar axis. It remains out there this way, a sideways freezing world whose hemispheres live in either 42 years of continuous sunlight or 42 years of continuous darkness. Imagining this odd fact comforts me; in times of spiritual freefall, I always turn to physics. 

Or astrology (shrugging emoji). It was around that time that I began drawing astrological charts again which is to say I was grappling - trying desperately to make sense of the world and my work in it. I’d lost all agencies, I questioned everything, saw both sides to every story, to each predicament. It was a mind-numbing paralysis. I couldn't make dinner for the community without asking someone obvious kitchen questions, I trusted nothing about my own judgements. (Uranus sitting stationary on my ascendant, square my Leo sun.) 

This past year I have lived at the farm with James, my parents, Eric (for brief periods) and a handful of residents and employees. We have made clever teams of cohabitants and workers; creatives who participate in the collective project of farming and building this place and who also simultaneously are crafting their own identities, arts, and narratives.

This past spring my parents sold their house, my childhood home in Mohegan Lake (and the site of the soap studio) after 48 years. They’ve banked everything - their retirement, their wellbeing - on Worlds End. We built a new barn to house the soap factory. It sits between the farmhouse and the communal barn. Before it was finished there were months of making the soap in our farm communal kitchen. An office and shipping department was set up in the back bedroom where my parents were also sleeping, before I moved out of the farmhouse and they moved in. Those months before we sorted out everything were demoralizing and also galvanizing. 

We’re still sorting everything out. 

James, over the last 6 months has asked me repeatedly in earnest ‘are we going to make it?’

Many friends tell me that all relationships are taxed in the pandemic. In the last few months James and I have made it through various communal living configurations and moved bedrooms or cabins at least 3 times. Each move I tell him maybe this will be the phase in our relationship where we ‘fall deeper in love’. As an event DJ, his work was utterly gutted by COVID. He’s adjusted as best he can to farm life; building things and wrapping soap in the factory. He works a few shifts at a local dog kennel. One of the many things I admire about him is he’s not too proud to pick up dog shit for $12/hour. 

This has been a year of emptiness, a void. Without visitors and their ideas, lifeblood, their words of encouragement, I questioned why I was farming at all. As we struggled like so many small businesses to keep up with payroll, to pay our debts, to finish a septic field, I came close to an edge many times. My edge looks like tantrums, throwing things, screaming. Violently cursing my dogs when they misbehave or get underfoot. Recalling moments like these leads me to a deep shame.

I’ve had enough therapy to understand rage, where it comes from. I know my cycles of denying myself in favor of working or taking care of the farm or other people. I watched myself invest in other peoples creativity while ignoring my own needs. In the moment it feels like drugs to run these patterns, maybe you can relate.  

This year I realized that Worlds End and I will need to break up at some point. Like so many relationships, ours has changed over time. What began as my creative play place, private home and refuge turned into something different, bigger, more complex, wildly beautiful and layered. Strikingly less mine and more of itself. It doesn’t need me anymore, and my freedom and a new chapter for Worlds End is around the bend in 2021…

For almost a year I’ve been talking with my parents, Eric, and committed friends of this place about turning Worlds End into a cooperatively owned worker collective. I’m excited to announce that we’re moving forward with this long process starting in February with the help of the student clinic at Albany Law School. 

As a nation, we have just begun to examine the nature of privilege and our personal and collective exploitative histories. Our ideas of personal success are deeply rooted in individualism; staking claim to ones own land, one’s own fortune, ones own education. We have all been complicit in systems of injustice and inequality; but we are also (always) on the horizon of our own evolution.

I don’t believe we can march bravely into a new world founded on principles of true equity and also be invested in private ownership and conventional business structures. In my tenure as a businessperson and employer I have felt this in a number of ways with each of my employees. As someone who feeds off of collaboration and the sprit of true camaraderie these traditional employer/employee power structures have always lead to heartbreak for me.

As humbling and difficult as it was to live on top of one another and ask our farm residents to wrap soap in exchange for living here, it was also a glimpse into a future in which simple, shared labor could result in enough economic force to sustain this place and the unique joys it brings. My hope is that setting up this new economic model will lead to a new personal pattern in which I take care of myself, so that I can better care for others, and move forward with other personal and political ambitions (writing, making art, running for Town Supervisor).  Over the last three years the work of deciphering the farm, unhooking myself and the business from floristry in NYC, experimenting with communal living and integrating my family and soap factory into the farm project, has been a complicated path to navigate. It's been full of unforeseen roadblocks, the need for quick pivots, and personal failures to maintain healthy relationships with people along the way. 

Through this, I have spent more time studying people and myself than anything else. Which I suppose should be the groundwork for legally collectivizing. 

Ultimately, I hope this may be a way to hack the system I don't want to live in anymore. 
I have more to say on this, and it's coming.

For now, please know that your purchase of soap this holiday season — 2,300 bars! — made by Susan, cut by Pentti, and wrapped by either Poppy, Laurie Ellen, James, Claire, Stacy, Heidi or myself has kept this farm running, and will continue to push forward our explorations at the intersection of beauty, farming,  craft, communal living and equity.

We are grateful, we are hopeful, and we are excited to welcome you back here in the New Year!*

*Some of you have asked when we will open to visitors again which is a complicated question to answer. In truth my biggest push is to create covid-safe housing scenarios for our 2020 floral residents deferrals. That looks like individual cabins for each of the 4 residents at a time. On the weeks that we are not hosting residents, we plan to offer 3-5 night farm stays (in those same cabins). Ideally we will have visitor hours (free, self guided tours) but I can't say with certainty what that looks like exactly. Planning the infrastructure that would allow for this (parking, site maps, trail markers, restrooms) is in the works, along with the need for us to visualize how visitor traffic affects our home-life. I hope to have a solid plan for day visitors by March. 


7petals said...

Happy New Year Sarah and the World's End Community,

It's lovely to return home from a very tempered music performance by a normally eardrum shredding dance band this New Year's Evening to receive your journal entry. When I first discovered your flower work and journal oh so many years ago, I was drawn to a quality I couldn't put my finger on in your work. Besides being beautiful, adventurous and ground breaking there was an intelligence and a quest that would not be limited to floral design. I always knew that. And I have remained curious and have appreciated your candor in your journey from design to flower farming/ sheep raising and beyond. I took a few of your work shops years ago, but you were such a formidable presence on the ascent that I could not find words to say very much to you in the way of appreciation. So, let me express it now, at the turn to 2021. I admire the long, hard road you have been on, Sarah and your courage and aspirations for World's End. I wish all of you the very best going forward. Keep going, keep the faith.
Maryann/ 7petals Design

Elizabeth said...

Happy new year Sarah ❤️ Larry

Desi McKinnon said...

Happy New Year! I’m inspired by your willingness to move forward. Thank you for taking us all along for the ride. I’m excited to see this new structure. I still hope to go make soap with Susan one day!

JBW said...

Wishing you and everyone at Worlds End a happy, healthy new year! A beautiful reflection during an upside down time. I look forward to visiting when you decide how that looks. With love, Jennifer from Bovina

Eli said...

Honestly, I am not surprised by this at all— knowing what I know about, your passion and commitment. Impressed, but not surprised. Good luck to you all! The world needs more of this.

Suzonne said...

I fall off the edges of things sometimes - the rituals that soothe me, the pleasures that feed me, the voices that speak to me. And then, in an instant, I will find one of them again and wonder how it is that I wandered away in the first place. Your voice is one of those things for me. In the blur of living, when I forgot to read blogs, I missed out on your perspective. But in finding you again, I am reminded how much you inspire me with your honesty and authenticity and sheer willingness to roll around in the muck. Looking forward to following along in your expanding vistas. Happy New Year!

Jonathan Hallet said...

Thank you for your honesty and thoughtfulness in navigating all the things. I relate to business being weird, and the richness of collaboration in making cool and beautiful things. You're doing it.