The temperature fell hard overnight, dropping a good 20-degrees in the 8 (ok, 9) hours I spent holding down my pillow. With the cold front came snow and wind, and this morning we awoke to wraith-like spindrifts spiraling across the pasture. The blown air bit hard on my cheeks and tunneled through the gaps between sleeve and glove, jacket collar and hat. It stung, but the stinging felt like winter should feel, and the house was never more than 100 yards away, so I did chores with no particular urgency. The colder I got, the more I’d appreciate my return to the protective cocoon of our home, where I’d have the distinctly rural luxury of choosing between two wood stoves by which to warm myself. If the cookstove, I could lord over percolating coffee and the twin five-gallon pots of bone broth from the quartet of lambs we processed over the weekend. If the Elm, I could stand sock-footed on the fieldstone hearth, feel the irregularities of the coarse stone against my feet, gaze at the unadorned cement board heat shield behind it, and admonish myself (yet again) for its incompleteness, which in turn would only remind me of sundry other incomplete projects. And then the subsequent descent into the inarguable truth of my failings.
So I chose the cookstove, and it was the right choice.
Too warm this morning, 40-ish and spitting rain. The snow, which just yesterday was ideal for skiing, that elusive combination of glide and yield, has gone to mush underfoot. What more, it has been gray for more consecutive days than I have fingers to count, and while I suppose I could remove my socks to facilitate the math, I don’t like cold toes. So let’s just say we haven’t seen sun for at least 10 days, and let me keep my warm toots, ok?
This morning I noticed a spike in traffic to this site; ever curious, I followed the spike back to Heather’s page, where she’d linked to this page. I like Heather; she’s been incredibly supportive of my work, and furthermore wicked generous with her insight and experience. She strikes me as a thoughtful and gentle person, though of course I know her only at a distance, and this allows me the luxury of imagining her in a manner that’s entirely inconsistent with that impression. I’m thinking pack of Pall Malls perched on the corner of a chipped formica counter, something raunchy on the juke (Skynyrd? No, wait, I got it: Skid Row!), post-breakfast Bloody Mary in hand… damn, I better stop, or she’s never gonna talk to me again.
Anyway, my only-partly-latent narcissism couldn’t keep me from reading the comments pertaining to her post, which included the following statement:I can’t help but feel a bit judged when I read Ben’s work. I might’ve passed it by, but it’s an issue that’s been on my mind; a while back, someone (can’t remember who, and I’m too lazy to go looking) commented on this page that what I write here sometimes makes them feel inadequate.
I’m not sure exactly what to say about the sentiments expressed, except the only honest thing, which is that they make me feel pretty bad. I know that wasn’t the intent, but of course intent and outcome do not always align. I also know what it’s like to feel judged myself; if you have a spare, oh, 5 hours or so, scroll through the comments pertaining to my Outside article. There’s no shortage of judging going on over there. The obvious difference, though, is that I sort of ask for it. I mean, I put myself and my story and my views out there for the world to see and dissect and critique. Over the years, I have developed a fairly thick skin, though of course it’s not without its cracks. I don’t exist in some sort of evolved state of consciousness where nothing anyone says about me matters. Which is why I suppose the comments about my work making people feel judged or inadequate bother me in the first place.
Ok, I’m figuring out what to say. The first is this: If what you read here makes you feel lesser in any way, shape, or form, please don’t read it. I mean, I want you as a reader, don’t get me wrong. But not at the expense of your self-worth. Or at least your perception of your self-worth, which I suppose is pretty much the same thing. I realize this might sound sort of cold – if you don’t like it, don’t read it – but that’s not how I mean it. What I sincerely mean is that if my work does not hold some positive value for you, find someone’s work that does. There is so much great writing out there; there are so many interesting stories. But far as I’m concerned, none of them are worth feeling shitty over. Conversely, if what you read here somehow makes you feel superior to us, well, you might want to think about that, too. Because that’s its own form of self-deception, is it not?
Second. My intent is never to suggest that our way of life is the best, or that I’ve got it all figured out. We are constantly reevaluating, making changes, tweaking, thinking, talking. In my view, the moment you stop asking questions, not merely of others, but of yourself, is the moment self-confidence tilts toward arrogance. And maybe I am guilty of this at times. I hope not, but maybe so. I know I feel strongly about many aspects of our life, about many of the choices we have made. Truth is, you can’t make these choices and not feel strongly about them, because many of these choices are not widely supported in our culture. I would like to think that through my work, I do not offer answers, but rather encourage people to ask questions. The answers they come up with might be entirely different than the ones we come up with, and that is exactly as it should be. Why? Because they’re not us, that’s why!
Ok, one more thing, and then I’ll shut up. We do thing things we do, the things I write about, because they align with our version of a meaningful life. We do not grow most of our food to meet some arbitrary goal for how much of our food we can grow, or because we’re trying to uphold a moral code. We grow most of our own food because we like it. Because when we wake up in the morning, we get to wake up excited for what the day will bring (well, ok, maybe not today, what with the rain and all). Because we like the feeling of dirt under our fingernails. Because I like to sing stupid, made-up, ad-lib songs to the cows as I go about chores, about love and fur and hay and milk. (If I get $1000 in donations today, I’ll make a podcast of one of these songs. It’s like one of those NPR fund-raising challenges, except the reward is actually a punishment)
Someone once said something really smart to me, and I try not to forget it: I cannot control how people perceive my work and what they take from it. I think this is true, because of course my work is not entirely mine: It inevitably crashes against and into the experiences and perceptions of those who read it. This just now occurs to me, but it’s like the rain that’s falling this very minute. It’s mixing with the snow, it’s becoming something entirely different, one into the body of the other. And the outcome – the final result – is not mine to fully understand.