Friday, March 31, 2023

inside the creative continuum


Even with fresh snow on the ground this morning, the serene calm of winter has already been punctured and the spring rush of new staff, new lambs, new plants bursts into being with such rigor that I’m still surprised by it every year. The cycles of life and death on the farm seem exposed with heightened relief: the snowdrops blooming with the ever growing pile of junk on the burn pile behind them, the attempt to start making space in our deep freezer for an aggressive ram that needs to be culled while also witnessing new life in the lambing pen. The aged and the innocent seem odd bedfellows everywhere I look. It’s a brutal and delicate time of year. High contrast.

Senior farm staff arrived this week; Zoe, Claire, Nahvae, Esteban and most of our work is the deep cleaning, organizing and systems creation that will allow for the gentle onboarding of new farmhands next week and the arrival of the first residents in May. It’s a frenzied slog through the detritus of former years. Old inadequate structure being torn down (literally in some cases) and re-jigged for our biggest year yet. 

I stopped reading the news a few weeks ago and remember how much better I do when I’m disconnected from it and can focus on the materially entrenched matters within my control (or illusion of) here on the farm. The burgeoning politics of this place need all my attention. We play at world building; but it is also serious labor. We create a chore wheel, rules, our food system, our rituals. The people here are some of the hardest workers I’ve known - an observation that feels balanced with the absolute luxury and pleasure we experience when we stop for a coffee and sit and imagine how we want to live this season. Because we can have it however we want it. 

For example, I want homemade aioli in the staff fridge at all times, a short Greek tragedy comedy performed on the hill. I don’t want to do chores for a while. I want water conservation in general and rain collection for showers and irrigation in the lower campus. Someone else wants group fitness, someone wants synchronized dancing. One of us is wanting more rigid kitchen rules. Someone wants a sound system in the lambing barn. 

This kind of creative freedom is something many of us have worked very hard for and I realize the stark contrast between labor and luxury has been tied up in the mechanisms and ethos of Worlds End since the beginning. I want everyone who comes here - students, residents, farmhands, or day-trippers - to see what we’re up to and be inspired to world-build for themselves. I want to help people understand that their creative practice can suffuse so many areas of their lives. My creative practice for example is floral design yes, it’s color, its texture, it’s hospitality, it’s my relationships with animals. It’s eating it’s listening it’s reading it’s relating. But it’s also work, it is a practice and sometimes it’s getting stuck in the mud (literally) and solving for a frozen barn door and other times its the high of an enjoyable flow of making something beautiful. I try not to cling to one or the other but experience the continuum with humor and as few curse words as necessary. 

Friday, March 24, 2023

aging, intelligence and retirement



As I experience the awe of aging I’m simultaneously receiving targeted ads in my feed for things like face yoga, keeping ‘ballet arms’ after 40, and weight loss apps. My recent favorite: ‘you’re not getting old you’re just not stretching enough.’ Hard not to agree! What bothers me is the new zeitgeist-y sentiment now circulating in wellness and beauty spaces to ‘embrace aging.’ My favorite example of this is Naomi Watts popping on IG to point at all the ‘benefits’ of menopause while selling her brand of skincare products developed specifically for aging women. One of the benefits is apparently ‘not giving a fuck’ (but apparently giving some fucks about looking beautiful according to a standard determined by Hollywood.)

And don’t get me started on Perimenopause which beauty and wellness companies have used to unlock an entirely new market share of products. Gwyneth Paltrow calls for a ‘re-branding’ of menopause and has developed a line of Goop products to help women navigate it.

We associate aging with shame, so for generations, women have shied away from openly discussing menopause. What I find unnerving about the sudden attention to aging women’s health issues in the media is twofold; one, it often leads to products, and two, the entanglement of beauty and aging contains an impossible paradox - how are we really to embrace aging when we simultaneously receive messaging about looking younger - or beyond that - that looks at all are imperative.

When I was a wee thing, not at all convinced aging would happen to me, I found myself on a magazine floral shoot with a lot of stylish editors. They ordered (and paid for!) lunch and we sat around on break to eat. I tried the best I could to keep my mouth shut because I say weird things which tend not to go over great in such settings. One of the editors talked about how she had a plan to cut herself ‘in half’ - she described wanting to look half her age, and halve her dress size. Over 15 years ago now, I still remember that weird fantasy. Why would anyone want to be half a woman?

My relationship to my body and to aging has shifted a lot on the farm. I remember expressing to a farmer friend once that the less I went to the city, the less I was concerned about my figure. Matter of factly she said; ‘on the farm, the important thing about bodies is that they work.’ I find myself in awe when I experience new physical limitations that I never assumed could never really happen to me. A knee that can’t be on hard surfaces anymore without searing pain. A tricky carpal tunnel in my ‘clipper wrist’ which rages sometimes at the squeezing out of the kitchen sponge. Money is layered into these experiences of aging in complicated ways - the price of physical therapy* for my angry shoulder is probably what a perusal around an anti-aging cosmetics counter would be. There are choices to be made!


A sentiment shared amongst farmers is that sheep are not ‘the smartest’ of barnyard animals. Of course, as a lover of sheep and all their idiosyncrasies, I am unsatisfied with their agricultural intellectual status. Instead I like to think that intelligence is different between species; non-comparable. When you watch sheep eat hay, or graze on summer pasture, you start to see how instantly selective they are between types of grass and forage. They can decipher differences you and I would never be able to analyze with just our senses. They also have horizontal pupils allowing them to peripherally see to almost 180 degrees behind them (it’s very difficult to sneak up on a sheep.) Those of us who have been moved by the seminal (though questionable) text The Secret Life of Plants (there’s also a great strange movie made from the book you can watch here) may remember the section on plant intelligence. It was my first introduction to the fundamental differences in the experience of time between the plant and animal world: we can run from danger, plants reaction time is infinitely slower. What if plant intelligence is just not comparable to animal intelligence. What if the intelligence of rocks is beyond our imagination?

I also see this intelligence differential at work in my immediate circle of friends and comrades. Things that are naturally occurring or obvious to me, elude others and vice versa. Some of my colleagues have patience and pacing skills that I could never learn. I think about this in my partnership with our farmer Mark. Our skillsets benefit this project immensely but occupy opposite ends of an undefineable spectrum. He is planning a stone wall around our kitchen garden that will happen in segments over the course of 2 years. I am planning dinner and the next Supernature disco. 

Intelligent too are the minds that continue to sell us gasoline, wealth disparity and oppressive regimes disguised as wellness.  Those people’s experience of time - and specifically the world they are leaving to their descendants - seems rather short sighted.

Lastly, how does the experience of marginalized people - the ever expanding spectrum that includes everyone outside of the standardized Eurocentric white cis male - represent a particular intelligence predicated on the act of learning to survive and thrive against the odds?


With Susan and Pentti settling into their new house on the hill, and a certain ease that’s come over all of us, I’m reminded of the original sentiment or wish - that this would be the start of the Worlds End retirement community. A series of small houses that nestle around the hill for retirees who wish to be involved in a farm project, have skills to share with younger generations, and would prefer to have certain things taken care of for them - such as maintenance, occasionally meals, etc.

As I’ve thought about this I realize this is the community I want to live and work in right now - fortunately this retirement community has no age requirement. The only requirement is participation. Pentti, the oldest among us at 78 - and arguable the most likely to be…irritable and withdrawn? is a good litmus test for what it takes to participate. His burning desire to harvest wood from the forest and stockpile it for winter is insatiable, though he is sometimes thwarted by stumbles in the garage which tend to slow him down for a few weeks at a time. So it goes with aging, he’s cruising right now but when he’s back, I’ll ask him - did you ever think this would happen to you?

*Found an AMAZING PT in Hudson, NY if anyone is looking.

Friday, March 17, 2023

Perfectionism, Texture, Tech and Fractals


I read a book about perfection; If you struggle with perfectionist thinking, I recommend a brief perusal of the audio version - once I got past the gauzy self-help lingo that pervades the genre of self-betterment, I gained some insightful perspectives.

Perfectionist thinking is commonly attached to an individual’s deep investment in ideals - and perfectionists strive to make reality match these ideals. (Spoiler alert, they never do.) I imagine everyone has their own unique brand of this, for example, I really get off on ‘perfecting the imperfect,’ and idealizing experiences.

Professionally I see this in my floral work (I’m almost never satisfied with arrangements or events I work on) or in my work on the farm (preoccupied with details of visitor experience). The most insidious version of this ideal-seeking tendency creeps into casual experiences in my personal life; my pre-conceived notion of a dinner alone, the imagined details of a romantic afternoon off with my boyfriend, etc. I live in a shroud of disappointment! A familiar disappointment that comforts me even before the experience fails to live up to the ideal! The book’s recommendation: don’t attempt to eradicate your gift of perfectionism, utilize it to make great things in the world - but also maybe live in the moment and be present, why don’t you?

Perhaps more interesting to me is the conversation around perfectionism in a larger socio-cultural arena. Why do we seek perfection, and more importanatly, whose standards of perfection are we working with? Are you having the perfect perimenopausal experience? Have you perfected your morning routine? Are you perfectly nailing the imperfect laissez-faire parenting vibe?

Perfection starts with standards defined by the cultures we participate in. These cultures are many concentric circles - the largest being something akin to ‘western culture’ which gives us fun stuff like heteronormativity (one of my favorite hate reads) and the conception of universal human rights (one of the biggest myths of the west). The smallest cultures are the ones we create in our tight kin circles ( I refuse to say families here because of the way the word ‘family’ is twisted and weaponized these days.) 

Culture is a tool used to conform; its purpose is to rally people around common values and keep us aligned. Without culture there would be chaos - any small business owner with employees knows the importance and mysterious power company-culture has. Everyone aligned around a set of values. Sounds like a cult!

The aesthetics of modernity and wealth tend to deplete texture, flatten the natural world, and replaces it with stainless steel, germ-free impervious stone surfaces, ‘optimized’ health and diet, the eerie Tribeca Pediatric locations that are suddenly everywhere, generic facsimiles of third wave coffee shops, and my favorite new ‘wellness’ salon to puzzle over; a place called Clean Market on Bleecker St. in Manhattan where you can get cryotherapy and a nutrient intravenous drip in the time it used to take you to get a cut and color.

My reaction to this sanitized cultural clutter is to become a feral animal, operating only through instincts and emotion. Do you have a feral practice? I highly recommend deciphering one! I’m not going to tell you what mine looks like, but I will say it varies depending on the day and where I am, and lately involves a lot of snow-eating. Don’t know how to be feral? Imagine hoarding some nuts like a squirrel. Spend time with animals or children. Make a mess and then live in it for a while.

In thinking more and more about texture and its opposite (smooth, impervious boundaried surfaces, flatness) I desperately look around my office for a little book I had on fractals. A dummy’s guide or whatnot. The book had a mention of the tortoise and hare paradox (Zeno’s paradox); essentially as you look deeper and deeper into the passage of time during a race between the slow-moving tortoise and a speedy hare, you see that the hare can never win. Time gets segmented infinitely and the race can never be resolved, never finish. Fractals present an adjacent physical manifestation of this - infinitely complex, never ending patterns. The easiest fractal to see is the patterning of coastlines. In an attempt to map and measure a coastline, you can use smaller and smaller units of measure to accurately depict the unique curvature and crevices of nature. Eventually you realize the length of the coastline is approaching infinity…

Our earthly embodied experience can never be measured in the flattened worlds of mathematics and technology. Real beauty eludes definition, and the pursuit of perfectionism requires a flattening and dulling of the complexity and texture of lived experience. So I say, before we descend into the textpocalypse may I recommend a filthy romp in the natural world to engage with all of your animal senses? In these types of experiences, the notion of perfection has no footing because there is no definable, standard or right way to be feral.

Friday, March 3, 2023

tea, cookies, community


If you’ve been reading here, you know I want to live in a world without money. Specifically, I want to live in the Station Eleven post-apocalyptic Shakespearean traveling band. But while we're still tethered to the absurd realities of late capitalism, I'm resigned to collect money selling tea and cookies and teaching others how they might make small community-based farms, businesses, and cooperatives for themselves - the types of tenuous organizations that can weather the strange storms that are surely coming our way.

Instead of getting stuck criticizing our current systems, we have to get busy making new systems. This I say all the time.

What I don’t often talk about is how difficult this work is, straddling two paradigms. It’s like swimming upstream without a break. It’s why I continually go to shopping malls looking for some old familiar pleasure, stopping at Chipotle on the way home. Spending money feels good; stopping at a drugstore for tissues or tampons; when I put my card in the reader I feel good; I feel like I’m normal and I’m doing the right thing. Of course, I am doing the right thing in these instances, I am participating in a system that was continually honed to make every last second of our waking lives (and sleeping ones*) for sale. Capitalism disintegrates communities, individualizes, and alienates people to sell more lawnmowers. In the suburbs where I grew up, there were garages all full of the same lawnmowers, hedge clippers, power tools, etc. ) I always thought, why don’t we just share one lawn mower?

When I was interviewing farmers two years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a woman who had been farming for over 50 years (!) and was looking for a sort of final project. She turned down the job before I could offer her membership into my burgeoning retirement community - but during her visit, we had many thought-provoking talks. We spoke about ecology and how exciting it is to shift your perspective to see the work of farming as enmeshing oneself in a series of relationships.

She said in regards to farming ‘relationship is the hardest work we do.’ Amen, I thought.

It’s often easier to buy our own lawnmower than to envision communicating with our neighbors about what it would mean to share one. It is challenging to share farm equipment. Most farmers can attest to this. Suddenly the brush hog (a tractor-sized mower) has a chipped and dull blade and you’re lying awake at night fuming and wondering who used it carelessly. A farmer friend and I have discussed this at length - and there’s no right answer. Sometimes opting out of the equipment share is what allows you to keep going, and I’m not here to judge.

I mentioned on Instagram earlier this week that I’m not always good at community…I think one of the major aspects of being in real community with family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc is an element of honesty: being able to express your needs and being able to be vulnerable.

I often talk about mutual aid needing to start at home. We can talk all about the benefits of charity, solidarity, community food fridges, etc, but practicing mutual aid right at home with your immediate kin (spouse, parents, children, friends) is the foundation of community work.

Mutual aid is being able to say what you need, hear what others need, and then work together to meet those needs.

When you live in a community and don’t really communicate what you need, you form resentment.

And as the leader in a multi-generation matriarchal community living inside patriarchy, there has been - suffice it to say - a lot of martyrdom that has taken hold and proven corrosive at times.

My work has been continually to attempt to understand my actual needs and communicate them while allowing space to hear the needs of those around me. I fail repeatedly. But through the iterative process of failure, I also make progress. I deepen some connections and loose others. A big truth of community is that it is always changing.

Donna Haraway, ever the beacon of imagining alternative futures, describes the importance of making kin inside complex entanglements within and outside of heteronormative structures. She describes a materialist, embodied practice of doing the work of relationship - with other humans, animals, plants, places, etc. Here at the farm my neighbors and I don’t have a lot in common. Mostly I don’t like all of their guns. I have one neighbor who has repeatedly made me pretty upset during arguments we had about abortion.

I watch myself: how I tend to this difficult relationship is always changing. There is not a right or wrong way to do community; there is only our shifting intuition around who we want to build worlds with; our shifting needs and desires; and our ability to bring them to the table with honest integrity. Can you bring those things forward, as awkward and cumbersome as it feels and then can you listen voraciously? This is what Haraway means in part when she describes ‘staying with the trouble.’ And when you fail to show up, can you see that sometimes that is part of the process too?

Back to my sales pitch: there are many concentric circles that map onto immediate and far flung Saipua community; two dear friends of mine and to this project are Deborah and Laurie Ellen - Deborah makes tea from her garden (I bag it and label it) and Laurie Ellen makes lavender shortbread cookies (I open bags and eat them). Buy one of each and make yourself a nice aromatic afternoon ritual. 

*Braidotti Posthuman Feminism pg. 47 “Sleep is a significant concern for the wellness industry and the ‘sleep economy’ is a profitable proposition. Marketing high-tech mattresses, high-performance pajamas and technological sleep-tracking devices, it is estimated at around $432 Billion USD. Remedies against insomnia and bad sleep plunge directly into the psycho-pharmaceutic industry which is one of the pillars of advanced capitalism. Gender, labour and class relations are crucial in structuring access to adequate sleep….sleep is a class prerogative … well off people, and men, have always slept longer and better…’