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…’

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