Still Faking It

July 5, 2011 § 8 Comments

So Jenna went and blew up my blog with a 20-fold increase in hits (which lasted about a day-and-a-half; ya’ll come back now, hear?) by posting a teaser of my little missive Faking It. And I thank her for that.

But I’m equally thankful for the lode of thoughtful comments relating to the post. Which is in large part what’s compelling me to revisit the issue now.

As some of you may remember, Faking It was a reflection on how we, as a culture, define a “real farmer.” In short, I was struck by a short conversation I’d had with a dairy farming neighbor, and by how it seems as if our cultural definition of “farmer” (or at least the “real” variety) has at least as much to do with money, as it does the production of food.

I do not know if I do or should qualify for real farmer status or not. In my neighbor’s eyes, I don’t and probably never will. There was a time in my life, and not so long ago, that I might have felt compelled to defend the title, to prove that just because we do not earn the bulk of our living via agricultural pursuits, we are indeed real farmers. Frankly, I no longer care.

This is not capitulation. Nor is it apathy. Rather, it’s the realization that my life has unfolded in such varied and unexpected ways that I’m not comfortable defining myself by a single pursuit. Yes, I am a farmer, or at least partly so. But I am also a writer, a father, a husband, a son, and a brother. I am a bad guitar player and a lover of music. I’m a friend, or at least I try to be. I am not any one of these things; rather, they are all me. Human parts of a human sum, with each part playing a lesser or greater role depending on season, mood, and general circumstances.

It is true that I do not believe money should have much to do with how we define ourselves, to the extent we seek to do so. I write for money; does that make me any more of a writer than those who do not earn their living via the written word? I think not. Indeed, I believe it’s entirely possible that someone who has the discipline and drive to write in the absence of monetary remuneration is more a writer than am I, for what could be more real than being gripped by something so firmly and deeply that you do it without expectation of repayment? When we strip away the extraneous – the recognition, the money, the ego that is fed by each – that’s when we get real.

I am approaching my 40th birthday. I’d like to think that such milestones do not matter to me, and that I am above concerns such as worrying that my life is probably half over. But lately, I feel vulnerable to this knowledge. It lurks in the back of my mind as a reminder that no matter how others define me – hell, how I define myself – the only “real” thing about me is that I am human, with all the weaknesses and mortality that implies.

To be sure, the rest of it – the farming, the family, the writing, the fanaticism for early Rush – is more than mere window dressing. But none of it matters because I’ve laid claim to it. Rather, I think it is entirely the opposite: It matters because it’s laid claim to me.

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§ 8 Responses to Still Faking It

  • Jessie says:

    Is the person who produces things from his own land to sell, but then goes to the grocery store to get his own food more of a farmer than the person who gets his food from his backyard, but goes to a job every day? You are a farmer if you work the land.

  • laura says:

    I go over this all the time. Are you a real farmer if you farm 500 acre of soybean or 12 thousand chickens? or are you a farmer if you sustain your family with a meager wage but a freezer and pantry full enough to last through the winter months and beyond? What is real? Is bigger better? What happened to mixed family farms? I was listening to a radio show that said the monarch butterfly is suffering with the disappearance of mixed farms. Even nature wants us around, to continue to pursue things differently… I enjoy your blog thus far, thanks for making me ponder.

  • Pat Bartholomew says:

    As one of those that Jenna introduced to your fine work/life/family I am still very much here and enjoying your view of the world. Frankly, I don’t care if you are a farmer or a writer or anything else, I enjoy your authenticity (at least as I see it) and look forward to what the future brings. And as someone pretty well past 40, don’t sweat that, in my experience it gets better as long as you invest in the relationships that are around you.

  • Dawn Hoover says:

    I am still here and am enjoying your writing. A rose by any other name is still a rose.

  • Theresa says:

    I’m here via Jenna also. Love your writing, and will continue to follow your blog. Thank you for taking the time to share.

  • As MaryJane Butters says, ‘Farmgirl is a condition of the heart.’ (Or farmer!)

    Love these thoughts. Great picture, too!

  • CM Hooper says:

    I found you through Jenna also. Enjoying your blog immensely. Such a beautiful family. Looks like all of you are working hard but also enjoying your life. The saying goes, “life begins @ 40.”

  • sylvia says:

    Just my two cents but I live on 3/4 of an acre in suburban Atlanta and I call myself a farmer. True, I don’t grow all my family’s food or even most of it but I grow enough to feed us a lot and have tons to carry to the elderly that I visit for church who oooh and ahh over my lumpy, bumpy tomatoes and aromatic basil.
    To me, farming is taking care of the land and when we started here 18 years ago, you couldn’t see the street from the brush and weeds and the massive 27 pine trees that consumed our yard. Today, our lovely house is flanked by gorgeous apple/pear/fig/peach trees, a bank of blueberry bushes, many garden beds that mix flowers/shrubs and bean trellis, some grass, lots of herbs and creepy, crawly butternut squash plants (came up from the compost — haven’t planted a ‘real’ plant in 3 years!)
    My soil is no longer the hard, packed clay that defines so much of Georgia. Instead, much of it is a foot deep of lovely top soil from the years of grass-clipping stealing, wood chip dumping, chicken shed cleaning out and lack of herbicides and pesticides so I have the most prolific worm population in the neighborhood.
    Some years I produce more, some less. I have teenage children and a husband, a ‘real’ job and hefty volunteer duties at church. But if you stop most of the neighbors in the ‘hood or ask any of my large family who the farmer is, they will point to me. Some of them mean it in an ugly way (as the elderly lady who came up into my yard and told me ‘I was ruinin’ the neighborhood by all this ‘trash”) but most of them simply identify me with that and appreciate the squash and other excess produce that appears on their doorsteps.
    And that is why I also consider myself a farmer.

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