I had a friend many years ago who was living in a cabin in the woods with her partner and baby. One day she told me about catching up with an old friend over the phone who had said, “Wow, you are really living the dream, huh? Doing what you always wanted to do. You must be so happy.” And she was dumbstruck. “This?” She said to me, “This is the dream? I’m living it?” She related to me the frustration of not having running water, of carrying loads for the laundromat up and down the long stairs that climbed the hill to their cabin, with a baby in tow, of not living near family who could help. She didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. “I’m doing what I always wanted to do…” she murmured in wonder.
I have thought about that conversation so many times. A life, described in broad strokes, can look so amazing, so idillic. But when you hone in on the day-to-day realities, they are always the same. So many chores that need done, so many broken whatevers that need fixing, so many tense conversations about money or parenting, so much running around trying to make it all work.
Writing for me has always been about outing those realities that we all keep hidden from public view. Dredging all the shit from under the bed and spreading it on the front lawn to air out. Especially as a modern person, taking part in this grand farce we call the internet, posting pictures of my broad strokes. Keeping it real feels vital, but it’s always been a struggle for me, balancing the real with the ideal.
Writing about yourself is hard. Writing about yourself, with any shred of honesty, when you are attempting to promote yourself as an educator is nearly impossible. Our world has a certain expectation for those who claim enough knowledge to share, and that expectation is that you have arrived. You learned your subject, past tense, and now you are an expert. There is no room for the bewilderment I still feel regularly in my own garden, after almost 30 years of learning. No room for such a vast gaping maw of knowledge as the natural world.
God help you if you aim to teach anything so broad and all-encompassing that it can be considered a lifestyle choice. Now suddenly, not only must you be an expert, you must also be living proof of the perfection of that choice. If you take my gardening class, you will soon live in a glowy bubble of harvest baskets and ladybugs and smiling children who prefer carrots to candy.
Throughout my life I have been guided by that very image, the so called “simple life,” in which each day is filled with beauty and vibrancy, and feels like plenty. I have taken the steps implicit in the journey, and all the facts are in place: I grow most of our fresh produce in my organic garden, I cook most of our food from scratch, bake bread every week, and eat speckled-brown homegrown eggs for breakfast. I regularly put fresh flowers from the garden on our kitchen table, crouch outside quietly with my kids to watch an insect, and make gorgeous homemade pies.
But I fear that I have arrived at the destination, and it is not what the travel brochures led me to believe. “This is it?” I murmur to myself, “I’m living it?” Because although all of those things are absolutely true, it does not paint an accurate picture of my life whatsoever. My life is complicated and hard, a chaos of contradictions and compromise. My day to day is made up of those beautiful glowy moments mixed in with a much greater proportion of very regular modern American bullshit.
And so it is that portraying the beauty and satisfaction of keeping a garden and baking bread makes me feel like a fraud. Ever since I got back into this internet world a few months ago, I have been struggling with Imposter’s Syndrome. Who am I to talk about ‘cultivating abundance’ when I can barely get through a day without feeling the tight constriction of scarcity clawing at my neck. Scarcity of time, scarcity of money, scarcity of energy. Who am I to write a gardening guide when I can barely get my spinach to grow without bolting? Who am I to promote home cooking when my I keep my pantry stocked with corn chips and energy bars?
The world is so big, so complex, so dynamic. We are always trying to pare it down into something we can wrap our heads around, we create simplicity by putting differences at odds with one another. God vs the Devil. Heaven vs Hell. Republicans vs Democrats. A handmade life vs a consumer life. But true things do not fit into tidy, opposing categories. True things, especially living things, are vast networks of connections and complexity that we cannot hope to understand.
And so is my life. A vast network of complexity that I will never understand.
But here’s what I do understand. In the midst of all the regular American bullshit, the unemployment paperwork, the arguments about parenting, the hour after hour scraping the internet for shreds of meaningful community that I can’t find in real life, the corn chips and the energy bars, in the midst of all that, I get to go out to my garden and cut giant, luscious, glowing green collards for dinner. I get to wash those beautiful leaves and chop them and saute them with onions in my cast iron skillet. I get to taste that deep mineral flavor of earth and sunlight and feel, on some level, the connection all the way back to the seed I planted three months ago.
Every night I have to go out and lock my chickens up. I’m always dead tired at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do is go outside and do one more chore. But I do it anyway, and what else would draw me out in the dusk to see the first stars breaking through the violet? What else would take me out past the nicotiana and the moonflower, breathing their secret scent into the night? Every morning I have to let them out again, and it forces me to start my day in the world for a moment, gives me a time and place to notice the way the rising sun gilds every leaf and flower in the garden with gold. And there, waiting quietly for me in a nest of straw, a perfect brown egg.
These simple acts in my otherwise life are a tiny prayer and a communion with the world. Although my harvest basket does not define or even really describe my life, it illustrates the beauty and abundance that is waiting there for me, every day, to connect with when I can. Those beautiful moments in my garden and in my kitchen may not add up to the glowy life I thought they would, but they are nevertheless real and essential, a deep and vital nourishment; they ground me, and heal me, and gild my life with joy.
This is what I want to share. This is what I fear so many people need but don’t know how to access. This is what feels so particularly important to me about teaching “backyard homesteading” right now. Because we are all feeling the tight claw of scarcity right now, of fear and division. We all need a little healing, a little joy, and a lot of grounding. The abundance of the world is waiting quietly to for us, waiting to nourish us one perfect egg at a time.