I have been reading a blog about urban farming, called Ghost Town Farm for over a year now. It’s written by Novella Carpenter, who recently turned all her experiences into a book called Farm City. The book is awesome. I love these kind of raw, honest accounts of pursuing the challenges of a truly alternative life. She starts, sort of by accident, a small farm in a ghetto-ish area of Oakland, CA. It’s a gritty book, and I love grit.
Anyway. One day after arriving in New Orleans, I was perusing the side bar links on Novella’s blog. For some reason, even though the name did not sound at all compelling, or suggestive of anything in particular I might be interested in, I clicked on the link that said “Riana’s Blog.”
I guess because the real name of the blog, These Days in French Life, is a mouthful, and also not suggestive of the contents. Or at least not anymore.
Riana is Novella’s sister. Wow, what a duo. They grew up with hippie back-to-the-lander parents, and Riana did a typical hippie kid manouver– first she rebelled by becoming super materialistic, a self-confessed shopaholic living a very glamorous lifestyle in LA. Then she married a French guy, had a baby and, though the real change must have been gradual, seemingly suddenly forsook all the bullshit. She made a pledge to herself not to buy anything beyond food and absolute necessities for one year. During her first “Slow Year” the apple of Riana slowly migrated, complete circle, right back to the tree. She loved it. The more she did without the more she wanted to do without. She loved having time to spend with her daughter, and the creative challenge of every day.
Discovering Riana’s blog (I dug through the archives until I found the start of the slow year, and have been back reading ever since, I’m to March of this year now, almost done, boo hoo) has been an interesting emotional journey for me.
My own trip is a true negative of her story. Though I also grew up with hippie parents, I made the opposite move when I left home. Trying to pick up where they had left off, living far more extreme than I had growing up. After adventuring around my home state of Alaska, and the wider world as far as Iceland and Italy, I found someone on the same track as me, and we “settled down” 26 miles (by road) from a small, coastal Alaskan town to build a little homestead of sorts– treehouse/cabin, big garden, root cellar, smoke house, sauna. Learned how to can fish and butcher bear, tan hides and make birch bark baskets, wiped our asses with moss and cooked in our open fire-pit most of the year.
We lived there for four years, but when we broke up, neither of us could stomach staying at the place that was so very “us.” I moved, heartbroken, to a different coastal Alaskan town. Eventually met a shaggy man living in a tipi/shack of his own design. Fell in love and three years later, married that man. Through a set of circumstance too complicated to describe, we ended up moving out of that sweet, drafty, moldy tipi and buying a house, right in town (albeit a tiny town of 2,500 people, without even a stoplight). We made a couple of babies, and then my man decided to go to law school, in New Orleans.
Of course, it didn’t go quite like that, it was a slowly evolving and mutual decision. He has for years worked what I consider the other side of my coin. He does non-profit environmental work. Which means he more or less tries to stop Progress, or at least muck it up as best he can, via the legal system. He’s been doing law work without a law degree for years, and it’s always a pain in the ass for him to try to find a lawyer who’ll work for non-profit wages. He’s got the brain for lawyering and even, amazingly, enjoys the puzzle of the legal system. So going to law school was a logical step.
There were a few schools in smaller towns, one in Vermont that everyone thought would be perfect for us. And maybe it would have been. But we both felt like if we were going to leave our home, our favorite place in the world, for three years, we might as well go somewhere completely different– for the pure adventure of it. We would have liked to go to another country, but you can’t study law in another country. New Orleans seemed about as far as a person could go from Cordova, on every level, without leaving the country. Plus they offered him a huge scholarship…
So, to New Orleans we came! Where I could garden all winter long, supposedly, and have a lemon tree. I love small town life, but I also liked the idea of living where there are lots of weirdos doing things I hadn’t even dreamed of. Where I could find maybe a whole big community of my own kind of weirdos. I was at a time of life ready for some new adventures, and was excited about the move.
But, inevitably, the transition has been hard.
My daily life, especially when we first got here, consisted of buying stuff. We did need stuff, we’d hardly brought anything (except 2 huge coolers full of frozen wild meat and fish, and 9 flat rate boxes of home canned same) because it didn’t seem worth it when the American world is so overladen with second-hand. But also, there just isn’t much else to do in a city when you don’t have a true Home yet. Especially when it’s 95 degrees and you’re 7 1/2 months pregnant, and you were born in Alaska, and you can’t fathom hanging out outside. In fact, even inside with the AC going I was too hot to want to do anything. I didn’t even feel like cooking, which for me is probably a sign of clinical depression.
And of course, it takes a long time to find your particular community of weirdos. I felt cut adrift. I’d only met one person who I could imagine dumpster diving (not that I’m such a hard core DDer, but it’s a measure of a person’s brand of weirdness). It seemed especially impossible that I’d ever meet another mama I could truly connect with.
My fire of discovery, of pure driven direction, had been fading for years. The move suddenly felt like the complete wrong turn. If I’d been not pregnant, without toddler in tow, I could have probably pushed my way through, relit my fire. But I felt heavy.
This is when I found Riana’s blog. At first it made me so sad I almost cried. Here she was, living the gorgeous, soft-focus, Slow life in France of all places (how obnoxiously romantic), and describing perfectly that sharp, heady joy of singular direction that I felt I’d lost. The bitch.
It’s so hard to have a distance perspective in life. Everything seems it will always be just how it is right now. But thankfully after awhile I was able to remember that this seemingly directionless moment in my life would pass. I was tired and heavy because I was growing a big, healthy baby inside of me. It was hard to get anything done because my beautiful first born was having her own rough adjustment period. And everything felt harder because it was too fucking hot.
With some perspective in hand, I was able to let go and just enjoy Riana’s blog, her diary of change and discovery. She definitely puts a rosy glow on everything, and I am old enough to know that’s not the whole picture. But I’m also old enough to know that the hidden dings and scratches don’t make the picture less true. She is obviously having a great time with her Slow Years, and it’s a pleasure to be able to share in her story.
But I don’t just want to sit around and read about someone else’s good times! Riana’s passion and drive have motivated me to kick myself in the butt. I’ve always been annoyed at people who just moan about their situation and limitations, instead of making whatever changes they need to make to be doing what they want to do. There’s no reason I can’t do my thing here in New Orleans. I love mountains and trees and wild things, but my thing has always been about living deliberately and directly, about doing and creating instead of spectating and consuming. Those principles can be practiced anywhere, no matter how limited your resources, or non-existent your community of others. Just look at Riana– somehow I suspect no one else in their picturesque little French town is wiping their bung-hole with a washable cloth wipe.