Over the weekend we began the move from barn to house, hauling our dressers out the sliding door that connects hay storage to the cows’ run-in shed. This necessitated navigating a minefield of bovine feces, frozen into ankle-twisting mounds like some strange winter-blooming ground fruit.
I was in a foul mood for no reason other than I’d chosen to be. I knew this, yet could not bring myself to choose otherwise, and as I trudged between barn and house and back again, bent under the weight of our furnishings, weaving an unsteady path through the shit, I marveled at the fickle nature of human emotion. I could identify no root cause of my sourness; indeed, all evidence supported ebullience or, at the very least, a base level of garden variety contentment, for here we were, after three months of barn living, with its myriad demerits, moving onto greener pastures. A doubling of space, a counter top, a sink, and so on. Eventually, even a shower! Much of it still crude by contemporary first-world standards, but hey.
Someone asked in the comments section a while back if I thought we’d be as content with our rustic circumstances if we didn’t have something more commodious pending, how we’d feel if we understood that rather than a being a mere blip in the timeline of our lives, that single room in the barn was as good as it gets. Good as it’d ever be. From here until forever more, that one room, the cold floor, the two bare bulbs, the iced-over windows. And so on.
I thought about this a while, and that led me to thinking about that interview with Stephen Jenkinson I mentioned a while back, in which he talks about hope, and, specifically, how dangerous it can be. Because of course hope is always a future tense condition; you cannot hope for the present moment or for your current circumstances. Thus hope becomes a leash that pulls you incessantly forward, out of this moment and into some unknown future that, no matter how fervently you hope (pray, dream, aspire, wish), might well be no better than the present.
In this manner, hope becomes (or at the very least risks becoming) an anesthetic, a painkiller for what exists in the here and now. Thus sedated, the urgency to affect real change becomes less pressing. It’s easier to simply endure and continue lathering on the hope. Jenkinson talks about being “hope-free” rather than hopeless, a condition I interpret as one of clear-eyed pragmatism, marked by an understanding that neither hope nor hopelessness ever changes one’s life for the better. I’d also add cynicism to that list, because what is cynicism but hopelessness with intellect?
I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with this view, although it’s true I’m not much of a hoper. But it’s also true that my life is an embarrassment of riches; materially, I want for nothing, and all the hope in the world will have no impact on my family’s continued health and well-being. And while I might bemoan the myriad outrages of our political and economic institutions (to name just two of the institutions that compel me to launch into one of my frequent mouth-foaming tirades, particularly if I’m onto a second beer and in the presence of like-minded company), I know that hoping for their reform will change nothing.
So. Would I have been as content living in our barn if the house were not on the horizon? I suppose I cannot say, because that was never our circumstance. Indeed, we did know the house was pending, and maybe that’s what allowed us to inhabit the barn with relative equanimity, sort of like how you endure quinoa and kale casserole because you know there’s banana cream pie for dessert.
It’s nice to be in the house, although there is still plenty to do: Interior walls to frame, wiring to complete, french doors to hang (arched, no less!), a tub/shower to install, and so on. Enough to keep us busy on a part-time basis for weeks, if not months, to come. But for now, we’re in thrall to all those rediscovered conveniences we lived without for the past few months. Thanks to the handiwork of our friend Paul, who artfully rigged up an antique copper boiler tank to our wood cookstove, we even have hot water at the kitchen sink. Can you imagine? Hot, running water. Sometimes I just stand there, running it over my hands until my palms turns pink and tingly.
29 thoughts on “Sometimes I Just Stand There”
Thanks, once again, for crystallizing so much in such a small space. I have also found that “hope” keeps me from simply being in this moment where I am—a variation of what you and SJ are saying—and what a great loss that is. Knee deep in shit may stink but it is real and only there can I be alive. Maybe I’d feel differently if I did actually want for anything?
Wow, John Snell, I admire your writing. Do you also have a blog?
Thanks for the link. Beautiful photos!
nice stuff, John
It’s been great to follow your adventure to your new land. Glad the house is coming together. I look forward to hearing and seeing more! -Kerry
I think hope is like fear. They’re both alarm clocks that wake us up to something needs to be done. In that sense both are helpful and not to be artificially avoided. Just understood. That being said, I need to go back and re-read the article in The Sun (great mag btw. was that the one you cite?) because as I recall the main subject was how we think about death and in the context of dying hope really needs to be managed. It is a different sort of urgency when juxtaposed with dying. In everyday life hope is easier to manage and less dangerous. IMHO. As a matter of fact in ordinary life I think hope can be a catalyst to impel us to make changes. If we had no hope whatsoever we might sink into despair and never do anything.
As always we must stay on top of things and adjust to fit the situation.
I’m with you 100% on the emotion. Emotion is a crazy monkey. That’s how I look at it. Yesterday I ran around slamming things. Maybe I’m tired of gray days. Maybe I’m tired of not being able to be on our new homestead. I just watched myself be angry and thought why am I doing this. So I just watched because I knew it would pass and I would come back to my senses eventually. Which I did. Morning is nature’s re-boot.
Ah Ha! Another clue!
Yes, soon. Yes, Saturday I will be telling everything.
I’d love to see pictures! We are doing something similar with our three children at thegoodlifewithkids.com
Just read several of your posts. Love them and will be following. 🙂
“I’d also add cynicism to that list, because what is cynicism but hopelessness with intellect?”
That’s pretty clever. You come up with that all by yourself?
i thought and wondered the same thing!
(well phrased, ben.)
Yeah, I was drunk.
It’s like James McMurtry says about writing a song when you’re drunk: You can do it, but you better be quick about it.
I know a few cynics and that describes them to a T. Clarifies a lot of things for me. Thanks!
I love your blog, just wanted you to know. I’ve been reading for a year and a half now, went through all the old posts before you trimmed the site down, and I love it. Thanks for continuing to write. It gives me hope for humanity that families like yours are still out there doing their thing:)
Thanks, Katie, that’s a really nice note.
I friend once tried to use the word ‘hoper’ in scrabble and it was disallowed. 🙂
Oh, good. I thought you were just standing there while the sander dug a hole in the floor.
Here’s to being “hope-free”, “free-free”, “should-free” and any other attachment to concept, thought, emotion or form.
Tell your cows to slow down on their way into the shed. 😉
Sometimes I think that the “Universe” hands us a down-day just so we will appreciate all the up-days even more.
Glad you pulled your hands out of that hot water just long enough to share with us. Laughed out loud at the quinoa and kale bit – for me, it is chocolate cake with peanut butter icing if I finish my potato cabbage casserole. Enjoy the new space!
So, in some cultures it is woman’s job to gather up all the yak shit and then spread it out and dry it in the sun for some good fire fuel. Just saying…. 🙂
Funny how greener pastures can give us the blues. We tend to build up expectations-ambition-hope for something or the opposite, the fear of something, even if subconsciously, then it comes or goes away, and then what? So Chris with non-attachment is on to something.
Thank goodness, when we can recognize emotions and the enormous power of that energy, we are completely free to chose to use that energy creatively. Glad you have a sense of humor about it. Nothing more empowering sometimes than laughing at your own cursing. When we see that the cow mud, the house, the thought, the emotion, the grey season is nothing but transitory, then the core remains that just plays with those transitions, instead of the other way around.
I am ploughing through Mr. Johnson’s book, not an easy read for me, but there are some good points.
I am thankful for these ponderings here, very interesting, beautiful and helpful. Thank you for sharing.
Ben: Whether consciously or not, you are mulling over some very Buddhist notions. I’ll try and summarize. Nothing ever happens except in the present. “Being in the moment” (that now very famous and fashionable phrase) is what allows us to experience life directly, and in that sense is the key to everything that makes it worth living. When we “hope,” our attention is withdrawn from the present to the future. This is what the Buddha declared to be the root of all suffering. But don’t despair, help is at hand. (I was going to say “there’s hope.”) If we are aware of our hoping as it happens, then we are still in the present. Whew–saved!
We can’t stop hoping–don’t even try. But we can be aware of it, and anything else that’s going on. Every time we do, we open the gateway to true joy.
Sorry to be so pedantic. Leave the Buddha out of it if you like.
Sometimes when I read the comments I get ‘too enlightened’ and I feel like I need to go drink beer to balance it out. But I’m a Mom now, and I don’t drink beer. If I did that we’d be ordering pizza every night, among other reckless behaviors. Anyhoo…it doesn’t take beer to make me go on a tirade about the government (or other ‘systems’). I have the problem of going on those tirades daily, and I fear for my own health because of it. I wish I could stop but I’m afraid I have some kind of addiction towards it. It’s so damn fun! F ’em all!
Hmmm, if I have to give up cynicism and quinoa in the same day, it will be a rough one.
Hopes are wants, the more you get the more you want, insatiable. I have a shelter, not a ” house”. A house will never be big enough, comfortable enough or fancy enough. A shelter can be made to suffice, warm and dry where one can rest and recoop for the next days chores. We have not evolved to where we don’t need exercise to stay trim and healthy, watch “What Is Eating Gilbert Grape”. I get so bored with a house or life with so many conveniences that one must go to the gym for exercise. Why i like to “chop wood and carry water”, just a metaphor, okay!
Am just speaking for myself, not prescribing anything to anyone. Just love all the food for thought that is to be found here and like to contribute once in awhile…
Have you ever hoped that your books sell?
I know way better than that!
Perhaps your foul (fowl?) mood is related to SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder. I know that when I lived in NH, I would get irritable during the winter, when we would have several days of gray, overcast, skies and the colors of the natural world were significantly limited to shades of gray, green, black, brown, and white. My Father suffered with it for years, but he referred to it as cabin fever.