The Immersionist

March 14, 2013 § 8 Comments


On Sunday I drove down to a library just outside of Boston for a book discussion. It was beauty of a day, and to be perfectly honest I was hardly in the mood to spend the majority of the sunlit hours staring through the Subaru’s windshield and listening to my collection of David Lee Roth-era Van Halen cassettes (in truth, it wasn’t the Van Halen I minded; it was the fact that the only sun I felt that day was filtered by window glass).

In Montpelier, I stopped for a cuppa and, via circumstances that are too convoluted to explain here, found myself emerging from the coffee shop in the company of a young anarchist paramedic named Tasha who was southward bound without a vehicle to call his own. “This car smells just like the farm I used to work on,” he told me when we stepped into the Subaru, and I had to laugh, because that’s exactly what the hitchhiker Penny picked up a couple months back said, too.

Tasha and I spent the next 90 minutes discussing money, wealth, anarchism, the interstate highway system, and veganism, in approximately that order, until I dropped him at the junction of I89 and I91 and motored onward alone. I love strange little serendipitous events like this, the unexpected detours that make life interesting. One minute, you’re rolling along, belting out the chorus to “Panama”; the next, you’ve got an anarchist paramedic in your passenger seat, sharing tales from the business end of a northern MA ambulance.

I made to the library in a timely fashion and, as is so often the case when I am invited to participate in these sort of discussions, found the subject matter veering into unexpected territory (although, frankly, this has begun to happen so often it’s hardly unexpected, anymore). I’d been invited to talk about small-scale regionalized food systems, which had somehow morphed into a wide-ranging discussion of money, wealth, education, television, and health, along with a few other things I’m probably forgetting.

At one point, after suggesting that our lives might ultimately be richer if we simply ignored the news over which we have little-to-no control, a middle-aged woman blurted out “You sound like an isolationist.” It was clearly not intended as a compliment and she looked a little pissed, as if I’d somehow offended her. We spent a few minutes batting that around, although I was a little taken off guard and not sure exactly how to respond. Maybe I am an isolationist, I thought. And then: Is that bad?

The truth is (and as I tried to explain to the assembled crowd on Sunday), I have only so much emotional and intellectual energy to expend on the world around me. Quite consciously, I have chosen to expend it on the part of the world that feels tangible and real to me. That I feel personally connected to. Perhaps this is merely evidence of my small-mindedness, or the narrowness of my view. Perhaps there will come a time when I see it as a flaw and will feel compelled to rectify it. But for now, I am certain that by not allowing my energy to become diffused and fragmented by often-tragic events over which I am powerless to affect, I have more energy to immerse myself in family, land, and community. Is it possible that if we all focused our energies in this manner, the world might actually be better off for it? Of course, I cannot know, but I think this might be true.

All of which is to say, I guess, that it’s quite possible I am an isolationist.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t be an immersionist, too.









§ 8 Responses to The Immersionist

  • Jennifer Fisk says:

    I like the term immersionist. You do it for all the right reasons too.

  • Katharine Preston says:

    Right on, Ben. SOOOO much energy toward those things we really can’t change, taken away from those things we can. Trick, of course, is to find the line between.

  • souleke says:

    It seems strange to call someone who is presenting and discussing at a public library an isolationist…

  • I noted your visit was a couple of towns away from where I live, and wanted to come, but then got deeply “immersed” in my own life! Ha! We are planting in the greenhouses and not watching tv much either these days. Prefer it that way. Sounds like a tough audience. We sold veggies at their farmers market last summer… :) I sympathize…I don’t know many isolationists out speaking at public libraries either, and if you are one, I think it is a mighty good thing. Heard there was a new pope…new pope, same as the old pope… And so the world goes on…

  • i think that by making small changes in our own small worlds where we can actually makes the world a better place.

    when we watch the news and see things we can not change happening (and skewed by the media) it makes us feel hopeless.

    our happy little world spreads a little farther with each person…and a little farther….and a little farther.

    better to do what we can where we are. than to do nothing.

  • Angela Kelly says:

    I am definitely an isolationist.

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