The Ugly Stuff

July 16, 2014 § 26 Comments

Morning chores

Morning chores

I’ve mentioned this before, but one of the things I really dislike about this medium is how one-dimensional it is. Or maybe not one-dimensional, but certainly lacking the complexity and nuance of what it really means to live as we do. Some of this is my fault, of course. For instance, I could post pictures of what I lovingly call the “white trash zone” directly outside the walkout door from our basement. This is where our garbage accumulates between our annual dump runs, and where we store the cast-off minutia of our rusticated existence. A half-full bucket of hydraulic fluid. Old windows. A random assortment of metal roofing pieces, too small to be of any real use and too big to discard without the nagging sense that someday we’ll wish hadn’t gotten rid of them. Of course, this never happens and the pile only grows bigger and you’d think after enough years of this, we’d put two and two together. But no one said we was the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Or I could be more honest about how difficult certain tasks are and how even now, six or seven hours before we’re due to begin, I’m already half-dreading slaughtering the pigs. “You make killing pigs sound so easy,” someone said to me recently and I felt a little guilty. Because it’s not easy. Actually, it’s pretty friggin’ hard. Messy, too. I don’t love it. I love being done with it. I love what it results in. I love knowing I can do it. But actually doing it? Actually spending the afternoon elbow deep in fat and muscle and blood and guts, sweat beading down my face? Not fun.

Or you might have noticed I haven’t posted many pictures of the inside of our house. Part of that is because we don’t spend a whole lot of time indoors. But the other part is because it’s often pretty messy. I mean, not disgusting or anything, but not something any sane person would aspire to. Piles of clothes in random places. Stacks of books where stacks of books don’t necessarily belong. Right now, a kitchen table covered with fishing tackle, as the boys prepare for a trip with Nate. Mud on the floor. And so on.

I think this is one of the dangers of this whole social media thing. We see what people let us see and generally what people let us see are the things that make them look good and perhaps, by comparison, make us look (and therefore, feel) bad. In a sense this is no different than real life, except in real life as you become closer to people all the other stuff is slowly and inevitably revealed and they either learn to embrace you for the holistic person you are or decide you’re an asshole and move on. But in this medium, we can keep hidden anything and everything we choose to hide. We let the rest of the world peer into the fractional view we offer and if they feel in some small ways (or perhaps in large ones) their own lives don’t measure up, it’s no concern of ours.

Of course, I have no idea if that happens here. Perhaps I flatter myself to even consider it a possibility; more likely, people see what’s going on ‘round these parts and thank their lucky stars they don’t live like those irredeemable hicks up in Cabot. In a way, I sort of hope they do. It makes me uncomfortable to think that anyone might aspire to our life. That’s not what this space is about, although I can see how to a certain extent, I’ve unconsciously cultivated an element of that. I post the pretty pictures. I write the pretty words. But the ugly stuff? I keep that to myself.

So, let me be clear: The house is a mess. The boys just finished squabbling over something ridiculous and although they are at peace now, I know them well enough to know another squabble is forthcoming. I do not look forward to killing the pigs and what’s more, the area immediately beyond our basement door is approaching squalor status. And did you know my office is a shithole? It’s true. The walls are unpainted and the floor is unfinished and I think I might last have swept it during that slow period in December 2012.

Like all of you, I’m guessing, we’re just doing the best we can. And the truth is, it’s not necessarily something to aspire to. It’s just a life.


§ 26 Responses to The Ugly Stuff

  • Kent says:

    Ben, your honesty is refreshing. I hope some of it rubs off on me!

  • Ann says:

    Thank you for writing this post. The illusions of the blogging world are great and I appreciate the honesty you share here. Often your style of life is painted as idyllic and it’s calming (to me at least) to know you too have “ugly stuff”.

  • Eumaeus says:

    meh. the outside doesn’t matter. no really, the outside doesn’t matter. there are a lot of really really pretty picture farm blogs out there. dime a dozen. authenticity can shine through words, maybe easier than it does pictures. but it shines through pictures too. i’m gonna listen to Diogenes in his barrel if he is speaking the truth… no worries.
    and killing anything is never fun.

  • Heidi says:

    I like your disclaimer Ben about social media and its ability to misrepresent. I don’t feel it has been done here but it certainly is done in many other forums whether its intentional or not. Its always good to keep this in mind when reading online information in general!

    I truly appreciate this post and have enjoyed this blog. One of the things I like most is the lack of pretense exhibited here. I’m always a bit suspicious when someone plays off something, anything for that matter, as being without “the ugly stuff”. Life is untidy (in more ways than just house & yard mess). I was reminded recently by some small, helpful people that if I spend my time cleaning up I’ll have time for nothing else!

  • Is disordered and thrown-together simplicity simplicity? I suppose so. Simplicity is, of course, a personal aesthetic, and thus it comes in all shapes and sizes. Yet one of the most fulfilling aspects of simplicity (for me) is the beauty of it. Beautiful simplicity: It is this I think that we can stand up against traditional American life and know we have something better. Orderly and well-managed simplicity is convincing simplicity.

  • Andrea says:

    Ben, this post made me feel so much better about my day, my own farm and the long list of things that never get done, in spite of a day so full of work, the mind numbs. I have an image of what the farm should be. It isn’t that yet, but there’s still so much good in it, so much that’s worthwhile that it keeps you going. The pretty stuff. But it relieved me to read about your ugly stuff. I agree: we tend to keep that well under-wraps.

  • Audrey says:

    Well I love this blog and the way you write about your life. I never thought to aspire to your kind of life but I love your stories. Also because I am a bit OCD when it comes to my surroundings I already figured your house was a mess just from looking at your no-specific pics.So what? I love what you do here and that is all that matters!!

  • sarah says:

    some might see the pile of trash as , well, trash, others might see a treasure trove..

  • Tres Jolie says:

    I don’t know how my dad-burned Illinois relatives do it. Their farms are always neat as a pin and winning dad-burned awards. Our place is different. We have the trash pile that my partner says is absolutely necessary because there is stuff in there that might become useful someday. I’m from Iowa and I have that Northern European gene for crazy neatness so I’m always pleading if you have to have it at least put it behind a hedge row so I don’t have to look at it.

    I like how you can write about anything and see beneath the surface of things. I like how you reveal without TMI. I might write about castrating bull calves but I haven’t figured out how to do it without getting really gross. I hate that job too.

    • jules says:

      I come from Slovak stock, so I understand about the crazy neatness, but mine tends towards ‘I understand the importance of keeping it because some day…but at least keep it in nice neat stacks, please.’

  • I know what you mean. I feel the same way about my house and farm. We got rid of an enormous ugly (ugly is as ugly does) pile of metal and steel parts a couple of years ago. I mean it was a really big pile of rusted twisted stuff that sat here for decades behind the barn. The boys cashed it in for the spot price and we bought an air conditioner and Cool Bot for our cobbled together walk-in. They cleaned out a barn that was filled with old stuff from people long dead generations back, and its still pretty full. Looks like a mess to anyone else but us… But its home sweet home. Everyone’s a mess, when you come right down to it. Life is messy. I’m glad you feel killing pigs is not pleasant. I’d be worried about you if you did…

  • foxfirefolk says:

    Sure, there are some idyllic photos on here, but the cow-shit aroma of real farming comes through loud and clear.

  • NeoNoah says:

    Wal Mart has dozens of floor cleaners, polish and wax of varying sorts- all of them toxic. Haven’t as of yet heard of any child becoming ill from mud poisoning. Bet your floors are just fine. Everyone has waste, it just mostly is dumped onto someone else. A lot of it goes all the way to Africa and India, think of oll the waste created just getting it there. Man, who came up with that solution? Oh yeah, MAN!!!!

  • Joy says:

    I don’t need to see pictures of the muddy floor but i’m glad you’ve got that, unpainted walls and squabbling boys too, same here!

  • Robin says:

    I said I would clean the house when the kids were grown. There were more important things to do while they were at home than wash the floors and the windows and the woodwork. The kids are adults, living on their own, and as it turns out, there are more important things to do every day than wash the floors and the windows and the woodwork and all that stuff. I do it, but I don’t do it as often as I should. So far so good. Nobody’s died because the floor isn’t shiny.

  • ncfarmchick says:

    My home and farm may have been cleaner before I had children (those of us from German stock have the neatness gene, too) but it was a whole lot less happy and less fun. I think of that kind of thing as “hotel” pretty – may be beautiful but it lacks the personality and warmth of real people living real lives in that space. With a lot of purpose and intention, we seem to have found a happy level of mess (those necessary piles of materials that sure come in handy when we need to fix or make something) balanced with a certain minimalism (eliminating the superfluous things we don’t need like too many clothes, gadgets, etc.) As for your family’s level of authenticity, there’s no question. The fact that Penny gave birth in a house with barely any walls to it says it all. You all are the real deal and that’s why I keep reading. I imagine others feel the same. I also respect that you don’t like killing things. Would be suspicious of anyone who claims otherwise.

  • CassieOz says:

    I HATE pig-kill day. It’s got to be one of the low spots of my farming year. I lie awake the night before rehearsing everything so I get it RIGHT, I’m so worried that I’ll mess up and cause suffering. And I hate pig squeal. And I hate scalding and scraping pigs. Don’t get me wrong, I love pork bacon and ham so there’s no way around it. Does’t make it a good day.

    I’m always reassured that people have lives that are more important than tidying up and cleaning and polishing. I’m also pleased to hear that your boys squabble and leave a trail of chaos behind them, and the pile of detritus and discards in the white trash zone are a treasure trove for fixin’s.

    Now if you hadn’t given us this snapshot of your reality to ponder over, we might have to look closely at our own basements or kitchen tables. :-)

  • Pam R. says:

    That pretty much describes things around here. Our pile is behind the barn. The inside of the house is messy, and sometimes dirty. Dusting NEVER happens.

    And butchering is also something we look forward to be done with. We love the food, but the butchering is hard, awful, messy WORK.

    We do what we can do, the rest is let go.

  • etcfarmsblog says:

    Thanks for your openness. As a friend of mine says, most bloggers show us only their highlight reels. Glad to get a glimpse of the cutting room floor for a change.

  • jean says:

    Thank you from the bottom of my messy heart. From a similar homestead in Maine…..

  • kspring says:

    Thanks for this…Edge and I have been feeling the pinch of high summer, and I’m slightly embarrassed for anyone to come near the yurt or woodshed (aka catch-all like the spot outside your walk-out door). Mari, Laura and I at the Green Mountain Girls Farm used to joke there should be a “Dark Side of Farming” blog to even out the bucolic romance we all post. This post helps shed some light, and makes me feel much better, too!

  • Joanne says:

    Ben, you are an awesome writer. You’ve captured my thoughts so well. Our old farmhouse sounds a lot like yours only our 3 sons are about 10 years older than yours and we have beef cattle, not pigs! Keep blogging.

  • jacki paper says:

    Oh, how I can relate.

    I prefer to see your pretty pictures. I’ve got enough ugly stuff of my own to look at.

  • […] towards the generosity enabler in the upper right corner of his blog) and you can read one of my favourite blogposts of his here. It´s about the white trash areas. I relate to those! […]

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