Why We Do What We Do

This alternative lifestyle we’ve carved out for ourselves is full of booby traps. One of the many I fall into is self righteousness, and a general desire to show off just how green and groovy I am.

There might be a few true altruists out there, but I suspect that most of the rest of the green movement is about like me. I do care, deeply and passionately about the earth and her human and animal inhabitants. I have lay slain in my bed with grief, many a time. A strong sense of responsibility is certainly a part of what directs my daily life. But there’s a more primary reason, not to be overlooked or underestimated.

Like most of us I think, I do what I do because I love to do it.

I like to think that making all our bread instead of buying preservative rich loaves shipped from distant factories helps me stick it to The Man, just a teeny bit. But if baking bread was a dreaded chore for me, if I tried but couldn’t like the dark wheat flavor, it wouldn’t last. In the end, I make our bread because I enjoy manual chores with edible results, and I love homemade bread. Similarly, I hang our laundry partly to save on electricity and therefore participate just a little bit less in the war of petroleum, but perhaps more compellingly because I love hanging laundry. I love having a chore which requires I go outside, I love the feel of wet cloth and the sound of the breeze and the smell of sun dried clothes.

Even when my life was very extreme, and much more self righteous, the reality of my motivation was always the same. Ascetisism was appealing partly because consuming less helps save the world, but also because there is an immense satisfaction and subtle joy in an ascetic’s life. Nowadays, I keep up with many of these “green chores” largely because the doing of them keeps me sane. It keeps me grounded and able to remember that I was once someone. A ‘me’ outside of mama. I might not love each individual chore in a DIY lifestyle, but I love the lifestyle that encompasses those chores.

I don’t mean to dismiss morally driven action. On a daily basis my sense of morality keeps me in line. There is nothing enjoyable about washing the shit out of cloth diapers, but I do it– every day. I believe in ‘responsible action,’ absolutely. I believe that we as a culture have lost respect for it, and that’s not okay. We’ve taken our lackadaisical ‘whatever’ attitude too far, as a culture we think it’s cool to not give a shit about anyone else. Look out for number one.

I don’t have much hope for the human race, but I’ve always believed that a sane person cannot discover the horrors of the world and then go on as before, without trying to effect change. What I do may not be very significant in the big scheme of things, but how can I sit idly by? I have to feel like I’m doing what I can, just to keep my wits about me.

Nevertheless, I know myself. I am earnest, and hard working, but I don’t have an unusual amount of self-discipline. I would not be able to stick to my guns if I didn’t overall like the feel of the steel.

I think this distinction is important because otherwise it’s just too easy to climb up on my high horse and ride away. Otherwise some poor mama might be reading this blog somewhere and feeling guilty because she doesn’t hang her laundry. She might read about me making laundry soap and soaked wheat berry bread in the midst of having two little bitties underfoot, and she might feel less. Honey, let me tell you a secret. I was teetering on the edge. Homemade laundry soap was my life preserver.

Not everybody has the desire, or furthermore the instinct or inborn ability for these manual chores of homemaking. My Man for example. Not interested in the home like I am. He appreciates what I do, he truly does. But doesn’t have much desire to share the work with me, nor are tangible skills his strong point. His is the brainy path. He has always known that, and has tried to form for himself a way to be useful in the world with what he has. An oversized brain.

Sometimes I am sad that we don’t work together day to day as a team on all of these home projects. But honestly, my last lover and I were that tight, and I think we were a bit insufferable. I find value more and more in My Man’s separate-ness, the way we each cover our end of a true partnership. I have also come to realize the essentiality of his brainy environmental work. And in general, the importance of every person doing what they can with what they have.

And what about me? I used to do stuff. Now I write about stuff. I mean, I do stuff too, but if I quit with all this computerized time wasting, I’d get a hell of a lot more done. In the beginning of my writing obsession, I got down on myself about it. It seemed indulgent. Writing takes so much time! Time that I could be lessening our dependence on The Man.

But writing felt so good, every post like a much needed bowel movement. It kept me sane, and thrilled me. And then eventually people started reading what I was writing, and apparently it meant something to them, to you. I still feel indulgent, every time I write. But would you all rather I get down to business in my household? I’ve come to accept that this “computerized time wasting” has a use in the world, even if it detracts from the efficacy of my household.

And moreover, it has a use to me. That’s what this is all about right? The truth of it is that, as much as I have come to appreciate you the reader, I write this blog for myself. Because I want to. Because I can. Because I am inclined toward writing, to no one’s surprise more than my own.

I grow a big garden, cook all our meals, hang my laundry and bike my kids to the farmer’s market because I want to ‘be the change,’ yes. But also because in my freakishness, I think it’s a damn good time! I adore the directness, the dirtiness, the satisfaction of a day hard worked.

I like the feel of the steel.

33 thoughts on “Why We Do What We Do

  1. I hear you on the “you must love it” part. Ultimately, if I’m not loving it, I order pizza. I buy rather than make. And it’s best when I can focus on not the “failure” of that, but on the satisfaction that the other way gives. The feeling of self-sufficiency, and, lastly, the belief that it matters.

    Writing, though — when I’m up late reading a blog or researching how to knit wool diapers, there is always the voice telling me I should be writing.

    Your neighbor,

  2. Your posts inspire me to continue what I’m doing – my garden is a mess right now, but my chickens & ducks are laying like crazy. I try to keep my home neat & tidy & like I like it, yet have 3 boys + their pets – I do what I can. The real issue is that all this messy life-stuff is REAL. Getting into a car to go to a job that may, or more likely, may NOT pay the bills, does not feel particularly real to me. And so I carry on as well. Hang in there, Sister! You, me, Harriet, & all us other like-minded folks, we’re on to something. If you’re not neighbors w/Harriet, are we neighbors?? I’m in SE…keep doing what you’re doing! I so appreciate you!

  3. Miss Calamity Jane! We’re in SE off 33rd & Madison near Sunnyside Environmental School. 6 chickens & 4 Indian Runner ducks! I refer to The Girlz as my ‘slug abatement team’!! The eggs are amazing…maybe we can work out some sort of trade?

    1. whoops, i thought you meant SE–south eastern united states. what do you mean by SE? unfortunately, i don’t think you mean New Orleans where I’m at…. or i would be all for a trade!!!

  4. CJ your posts always leave me with much head nodding and uhuh-ing. I love that satisfaction of the day doing my ‘stuff’ as well. Bloody knackering at times but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

  5. Always in my thoughts, you write about the very things I’ve been pondering only days before, wondering if I am crrazy for thinking/ feeling this way… here I was thinking about how I slipped into this blogging, greening, preparing role. Because duties of motherhood and running the household were mundane. I thought myself unique and special, and beyond the mundane. So, I have created and nurtured this vision of me, dixiebelle – not just your average suburban mum – and become addicted to blogging and putting myself into exhaustion to create an urban homestead/ build community/ save the planet/ be prepared AND blog about it all… so that I would stay sane, so that I would be special.

    I feel that I must blog about this! Because my blog has now morphed into a place to debrief and get my thoughts out and get support… not just show off how great I think I am for ‘doing it all’ or for showing the glossy highlights of my life.

    1. I wanted to add, of course I am doing all these eco/ ethical/ prepared things because I love them and they are def. the right things to do, whatever the big outcome/ possibilities (Theory of Anyway) but somehow I got myself so caught up in doing this, rather than perhaps doing the housework, or playing dress up’s with the kids, or other things, that I went super-Greenie, and may in fact be missing the most important things in the world.

    2. dixiebelle, so true! this need to “be special” is so what i finally realized about myself. for years and years i thought i didn’t want to be extraordinary, i just wanted to do _____ and_____ and ______ and _______ and ________ and be good at all of it. like no one else had managed to do. was really only this last year or two that i started to see the irony.

      1. I hear you both. Dixiebelle, as a new blogger I am working on this too: I have definitely pushed the plans and changes around our home further and faster because “this would make a great post!”

        Unfortunately, trying to do it all, and all by ourselves, is a good path to exhaustion. The “all by ourselves” part is what I’m thinking about on my blog today. I think when everyone did this stuff, *everyone* did this stuff. Like, together, communally, helping-each-other-out.

      2. this is one of the main reasons i think we all need to cut ourselves some slack. this job just wasn’t meant to be done alone.

  6. I appreciate this post very much, in that yeah, if you don’t love it, all this could look a helluva lot like “work-making” to those who still believe the Earth is doing just fine and it’s totally cool to exploit her resources to the nth degree.

    On the other hand, it’s good to assess where we are and see how far we have to go. And, in the process, to recognize our Humanness–good and not-so-good qualities.

    The point is, you’re living it. That can be inspirational in and of itself. I recognize that your lifestyle and mine are totally different, but that even though I’ve got a more mobile lifestyle, I can still do this thang–just adapt it to the life of a gypsy.

    Love this. It’s always a work-in-progress, is it not? I like reading about the journey…

  7. “But writing felt so good, every post like a much needed bowel movement.” – I love it, I laughed hard, and I know that feeling. The kind of writing I’ve experienced this with has been journal writing in the past. Nowadays I don’t seem to experience it much at all – perhaps I should be re-thinking my attitude to blogging. It might be explaining why I can’t be too bothered with blogging lately.

    I think you’re talking about finding the right kind of balance for you. A worthy aim, eh.


  8. Hmmm..for some reason your writing style & things you write about must have resonated literally & figuratively ‘close to home’, hence, I thought you were in Portland, OR! I live in the ‘quadrant’ of this city referred to as ‘SE’. The irony in this town is that there are 5 ‘quadrants’…go figure!

    1. i do love portland. LOVE it. almost moved there steada here. but i’m glad we ended up here. portland is almost too cool.

  9. Yep, writing it out helps me to live it out, too. I actually DO more when I blog about it. It’s like keeping tabs on myself.

    I love hanging laundry out, too. I love it. I love it. I love it. I mean, I don’t care how many toilets I’ve cleaned using baking soda and vinegar, it’s really not that gratifying. Hanging laundry out– one of the BEST and most satisfying green homemaking tasks.

  10. Har, har, har….guess what I did all day today? (Well, not ‘all day’, but ever since I cleaned the house a little cos the flies were gunna start dying of obesity and old age)….

    I started knitting a vest for my four year old. A size four vest in blue faced leicester (or however ya spell it), knit in the round from the bottom up. I’ve just started to sip a bourbon and I’m leaning in to the week cos my man goes back to work tomorrow and is away for the next week. So we decided to relax, let the kids unwind a little (hell, the tv’s even on for the little guy). Little Alice is even in paper nappies at the moment cos I’ve had a mini flip-out and the first bandaid for me is one less load of washing every two days. She goes back in to cloth tomorrow, but today sister, today, I knit.

    So yeah, we do what feels good. We lean on the environment unfortunately when we have to (for the sake of my sanity, I’m using those goddam paper nappies), and we help her as much as possible. But that I have got myself in a situation where the recycled clothing fairy had blessed me abundantly and the only thing I need to do today is put a few hours in to a vest for my first born is a very good thing indeed. So today, I knit.

    And I fucking loved it.

    1. awesome.
      i “lean on” disposable diapers too much. always we use one at night– both my babies pee up a storm at night, so it’s a disposable or get up in the night to change a diaper (not happening), plus whenever we take a trip, or if we’re going out for a long day, or if i’m having a nervous breakdown.
      i actually tried to fit that admission into the post somewhere, but it didn’t work. writing is funny that way. i don’t always get to choose what goes in a post.
      but there it is. half assed cloth diaperer.

      1. LOL! I’ve had people “correct” or “suggest” in the comments of a few of my posts things that I had written and deleted because they interfered with the flow of the writing. There’s always a part of me that wants to say, “Yes! I was going to say that too! Really!” but I know that would be really obnoxious so I just STFU.

  11. Awesome post! I look up to anyone who can do all you accomplish AND blog about it, wow. I think it’s a gift honestly, and it’s wonderful to watch people who can get that all done and then write about it in such an entertaining way. Thanks for inspiring all of us revolutionaries out here!

    1. “all i accomplish” sure doesn’t feel like much most days. the sweet thing about blogging is it condenses all the juicy bits, so i can look over it and feel a real sense of accomplishment. unlike my watered down days, where i’m lucky to get one (small) project done, and that usually means sacrificing cleanliness.

  12. I think it’s so important to do what you enjoy doing in amongst all this striving towards eco-perfection that we do. It’s a hard life and very often no-one seems to appreciate the work we put in. It’s so easy to sometimes wonder why you put in all this effort when the vast majority of people just don’t seem to care at all.

    So it’s really important that you like what you do. What you write is great and so often strikes such a chord with me and with what we’re doing too. I think you touch lots of lives and keep lots of us going when you cut straight to the point like you do. It’s really appreciated and is certainly good work worth doing as far as I’m concerned!

    1. thanks, nancy. i’m glad i found a little group of folks who actually appreciate my “cut the point” personality, since some folks would describe it as ‘rude…’

  13. I love the community around this and other sites. You all are so lucky to have one another to learn from and inspire. Me? I’m an older former revolutionary (60 yrs young) I had my kids in the 80’s and was lucky enough to be able to stay home with them, not that everyone saw it that way. It was a lonely time but fun too. I remember embarrassing my kids by having them carry our cloth bags into the stores and farmers markets. my daughter still talks about having to eat sandwiches at school with home made bread and homegrown tomatoes. Ah the memories

    1. what do your kids think about it now? what do you think that upbringing gave them? do they hate you for it? i love having more than one narrow generation around. keeps a good balance. in person i have always gotten along better with your generation than my own…

      1. My kids are a hoot. Now they carry their own bags to the grocery and only buy organics and shop alot at farmers markets. My daughter spent a year in Florence, Italy and now doesn’t blink twice at not using a clothes dryer, it’s suddenly chic! I love it and by the way they are both vegetarians. All of this has seamlessly fit right in to their lifestyles. Does a mother proud!

  14. Ah ! I needed this post! Just today I started feeling overwhelmed after making my homemade tortillas for tonights dinner I looked at what’s for dinner tomorrow and…CRAP homemade pizzas! Are ya kidding me I have to make more dough!!! I love the way homemade cooking, gardening and trying to save the earth feels, but damn I’m tired.. Thanks again for the post.

    1. oh no. you haven’t discovered survival cooking yet. homemade tortillas and homemade pizza should not share a week.

  15. Thanks for your post, sounds a lot like my life, right down to the brainy man! I’m feeling really tired too, wondering if I’m doing too much.

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