It’s been a year and five months since I moved back to Buffalo. Not much in the big picture of my life has changed since that “Meereen” post. I crocheted a lot, I wrote 50,000 words of a fantasy novel, I attended a conference on housing cooperatives, I went on a kick-ass winter camping trip, I hosted a New Moon Gathering, I started some seeds, I joined the board of my co-op, and I learned to install flooring… but all the big stuff is the same.
It was Past Me’s plan to take off again at this point, because the world is vast and life is short and there are a lot of things I want to do before I die other than work in an office. My plan had been to go back to my job for another year/year and a half so I could save up money to eventually buy land, then go do something more interesting and less lucrative until I stumbled upon a place and a group and a situation I would like to commit to long-term. I feel like I’m having an even harder time articulating my reasons for this than I was two years ago. “I’m leaving because… my past self told me to?” “Because I feel like I can’t reach my potential if my life continues in its current format?” “Why do I have to justify myself to everyone, anyway?” I guess I don’t have as much clarity of purpose as I would like to.
Here are a few ways I can try to explain myself…
Buffalo is full of this heavy inertia for me. Somewhere around October or November I started researching farms in New York, Vermont, and Pennsylvania that take interns, and I was overwhelmed with the number of them I found. I chose 40 that generally fit my criteria and put them in a spreadsheet, and a couple of weekends ago, I went for a three-day visit/interview at one about two hours from here. Let me tell you, it’s no easy feat to plan your post-job future while you’re working 40 hours a week and trying to be an active participant in your housing co-op. It’s hard to even find the mental space to envision where you want to be. It’s also very easy to keep going on autopilot, going to work, doing intakes, closing cases, entering data, going home, cooking, doing chores, getting ready for work, etc., without considering anything long-term. It’s hard to remember your vision. I’m glad that Past Me left me so much written inspiration to guide me; otherwise, I might just be getting sucked into the whirlpool of Buffalo inertia again. I don’t mean to imply that this is a bad place to be; it isn’t. I just don’t think it’s the place for me right now.
I haven’t quite felt like myself, this past year-and-a-half-ish. It’s hard to find the time and space to think, to reflect on things, to create, to be. I’ve been less a human being and more a human doing. I miss the crazy-wild inspiration I felt at Six Circles. I miss working with my hands, with my whole body and not just my fingers and voice and brain. Things as they are are okay for now, but they’re certainly not okay in the sense of “this is what I could be doing until I’m sixty.” 32 more years of this? No, thank you. And I’m not getting anything but older.
I’m conflicted in the sense that, if I’m going to live in a city, this is the city I want to be in; and if I am going to work an office job, this is the job I would like to work. Those facts make me more reluctant to leave. I like the fact that I am ostensibly working for social justice, even though there may be better ways to do it. I’m not interested in fleeing social justice work for a life where I could isolate myself from the world’s problems. (I’m not saying it’s not tempting, sometimes. No one is happy when they have to call me at my job. And no one is really happy to be at court, either: not judges, not court staff, not attorneys, not landlords, and certainly not tenants who might soon be homeless. Compare that stress to days of tending plants or selling produce to cheerful farmers-market-goers: it’s like night and day.) I’d like to find a way for all of my passions to intersect in the long run. Working for a nonprofit is a mixed bag in a lot of ways that I had no grasp of when I started. Our job is akin to putting Band-Aids on a stab-wound victim: we help individuals in small ways, but we’re not doing much to change the structures that contribute to these injustices. There’s a good reason for that: nonprofits run on grants from funders, and funders are generally folks who are reaping the benefits of our current economic system. It’s not in their best interest to fund organizations that are working to change that system.
I want to structure my life around something other than money. As soon as you graduate from school, the question isn’t “What do you want to do?”; it’s “What do you want to do for money?” I think that we as a species could accomplish much more worthwhile things if we could remove money from the equation. I realize that I have not thoroughly thought through a complete overhaul of our economic system; however, you don’t have to look far to see some of the completely stupid things that happen for the sake of money: the manufacturing of pointless plastic crap that no one really even wants to buy, polluting our water with fracking to extract oil rather than pursuing renewable sources of energy (why consider the long-term impact of things that make us money in the short term?), electing only the wealthy and privileged to positions of power and expecting them to look after the interests of all of us. I wish we could get rid of all the things we do that would be completely pointless if it weren’t for money, and redirect all that time and energy toward things that really matter.
I feel like I’m living a little bit out of order. The proper way to do things would have been to pursue more volunteer opportunities after my JVC year ended in August 2009, rather than attempting grad school and then flailing around when that didn’t work out. Why did I decide on grad school, again? I think that part of me felt like I should be working toward paying off my student loan debt, which was always hanging over my head. I also had a lot of pressure to be doing “the responsible thing,” whatever that was; and I wanted the approval of certain people in my life who thought grad school was the way to go. Not the greatest reasons. (I wish I had read this letter from Hunter S. Thompson earlier in life.) So I wound up getting a “real” job with benefits earlier than most of my generation, which allowed me to pay off those damned student loans and save up some money beyond that. I can’t say that it was a terrible decision, since the debt only gets bigger the longer you go without paying it off. The problem is that I missed out on my early twenties as adventuring, wild-oat-sowing years, and now I find myself faced with the prospect of counterintuitively quitting a pretty good job to go fuck around and not make money. It makes sense if I phrase it like, “I wanted to get myself out of debt before sowing my wild oats;” but at face value, most people are going to think this is a really stupid decision.
So roundaboutly I have come to the point of this post: I am going to do another farm internship! This one seems like it will be quite different from the last, albeit pretty close geographically. I’m going to live in a 45-year-old intentional community from the middle of May to the middle of October as their farm intern/coordinator of WWOOFers. Everyone I met there has been awesome, and I’m excited for this change. It looks like it will be both rewarding and challenging in good ways. And they have a tiny little off-grid cabin for me to live in on top of a hill. I am super psyched to basically be camping out for five months. It sounds like I’ll be farming five days a week with one day doing a craft (weaving, woodworking, or pottery), and one day off most weeks. I’ll attempt to keep you informed about how it goes!