Like Most Things in Life


Apple eating carrots

For more than 20 years, I have made the bulk of my income as a writer. I’ve done other things, too: Banged nails, given presentations, cut down trees, guest lectured classes, operated machinery, sold meat and milk, worked for a non-profit, undercoated cars, and co-hosted online workshops. And I still do a bunch of this stuff. But by-and-large, I’ve earned my keep with the written word. It actually kind of blows my mind to think about, but I guess that’s just the way life is: The years sneak up on you, and pretty soon they’re piled up like so much cordwood.

For a period during the late 90’s and early ’00’s, I actually made a pretty decent middle class income with my writing work. I wasn’t picky, I produced halfway decent content, and perhaps most importantly, I hit my deadlines and generally made my editor’s lives easier. It helps a lot that I’ve always been a fast writer, and skilled enough that my first drafts were acceptable, or close enough to acceptable to not require major reworking.

In recent years, I have chosen to be more particular about the work I take, and the more particular I’ve become, the further my income has dipped. This is fine, because we have made other choices that have allowed us to absorb this dip, though I would be remiss not to acknowledge the many privileges we enjoy that have in large part enabled us to make these choices: To be white, english-speaking, land-owning, and so on. Even to be heterosexual. I try not to forget that everything we have was (and to a certain extent, still is) built on the exploitation of others, be it through slavery, genocide, or other less obvious means. This is not something most oppressing people want to think or talk about, maybe because we can’t figure out what the hell to do about it. Less charitably, maybe it’s because the only conceivable way we could possibly begin to atone for these crimes would require such a massive shift in our understanding of ourselves and in a redistribution of accumulated stolen wealth and opportunity that we just can’t face it. But just because we don’t want to face it doesn’t make it untrue.

I still like writing (and I particularly like writing in this space), but the older I get, the more lonely it feels, and the more desire I have to be out and about, connecting with others. I like people, and generally even people I disagree with. I’m curious about others, too; how they view the world, what set of experiences and circumstances has brought them to this place in their life. I think curiosity is a good thing, though I suppose some would call it nosiness, or remark that many of the things I’m curious about really aren’t my business. And maybe they’d be right. On the other hand, in my experience most people seem to enjoy having someone take an interest in them, and not in a facile way, but in a way that suggests maybe you actually care about what it’s like to be them. I’m not saying I do this all the time, or even very well when I do. But I try, and I’d like to think that counts.

I’m distraught by the current political climate in this country, which in many ways is being mirrored by the cultural climate. I’m not naive enough to think that if we’d just elected someone else president, it’d be all better. Nor I am naive enough to believe it doesn’t matter that we did elect a president who has bragged about grabbing women by their vaginas, and who is clearly racist, as well as being supportive of a racist agenda. I’ve heard it said that just because someone voted for Trump doesn’t make them a sexual predator or a racist, and this is true, but it DOES make them someone who is ok with having a sexual predator and a racist represent this country. I’m not sure how to come to terms with the fact that enough voting Americans (albeit not a majority of voting Americans) were ok with this to make it a reality. I really wish I could understand it; it just doesn’t make sense to me. Yet I can’t ignore that it happened, and that it must make sense to a significant number of people. What are the experiences that can make something like this add up? I think that’s a question more of us could be asking, and I wonder if maybe our aversion to it is in some ways similar to our aversion the question of privilege: Maybe we don’t really want to know the answers, because maybe the answers would force us to look more closely at ourselves, at our own assumptions and prejudices. That’s a tough pill to swallow, my friends. A person can choke on that one.

Shit. I’ve totally lost the thread of this one… started out talking about writing, moved onto privilege, then into curiosity and politics. Funny how that happens. Except, now that I think about it, the thread’s pretty obvious. Like most things in life, you just got a slow down and pay attention.




58 thoughts on “Like Most Things in Life”

  1. This is an amazing summary of much of my thinking.. my sticking point to “good” folks who voted trump in.. my world just not making sense. when I grasp something & do it, I feel awesome.. and then I look around & all that quagmire is still there… thanks for articulating, continuing to write… I feel great pride in your writing (while I know of course I personally had nothing to do with that, I take credit too) Write on! xxxxoooo

    1. the other day I was talking to someone about my high school experience, and I said something like “I really didn’t like school, but I like that I had two teachers who really made a difference for me.” I was speaking of you and Joanne, of course.


  2. I’ve been taking a break for some months from reading you (no offense intended, seriously) and am surprised today to see you commenting on our current political/cultural situation. I’ve been curious also as to where this came from. (And to think Russia had a hand in engineering Not My President’s victory. Wow.) A few people have offered to me their reasons for their choice. About a month ago I learned my only sibling voted for DT (I refuse to name him) because “I wanted to shake things up.” Sad but true. Several erstwhile Democrats I know admitted they voted for DT because they were afraid Hillary would be too influenced by Bernie Sanders and would take the party to the left. The specter of socialism to many, I suspect, was their guiding principle. Who knows how many votes were decided by misogyny. Or a racist backlash. Or xenophobia. We’ll never know. DT, unfortunately, is very good at manipulating certain fears, certain base emotions. Sorry to be pessimistic, but I think it’s possible DT gets reelected and Pence after that. Where are true leaders in opposition to this sorry state of affairs?

  3. I appreciate you voicing the dismay that I feel. Sometimes it is overwhelming. I have a daughter about to go to college. She is bi-racial. I cannot tell you the fear that I feel at the thought of her living away, on her own. It is probably not rational but I do somehow feel that proximity to me equals protection for her. What has been especially hard for me is that as a Christian I see so many other people that identify as Christian that have such unwavering support for the current President. I read my bible and the verses about caring for the poor, the stranger, about loving your neighbor and I don’t see that very much in the Christian community. You are correct that a different President doesn’t mean that this racisim, sexism, misogyny wasn’t already flourishing – but he has certainly done a lot towards bringing it out of the shadows. All that to say thank you for writing about it today.

  4. Maybe getting older makes us realise our time is fleeting, running short and we like to make the most of what’s left by doing something really worthwhile. Like getting in touch with real people face to face.
    And I will refrain giving a non-American point of view on politics on your side of the Atlantic, even if it affects everyone. I have stirred that hornet’s nest one times too often. I can only wish you, and us, the best of luck. We’re going to need it.

  5. It’s nice when the ‘whities’ (I shouldn’t say that) admit their privilege. I don’t know too many who can or will admit it, but I suspect you are right that nobody wants to start sharing their spoils with anyone with brown or black skin.
    The people I know who voted for Trump either completely don’t get racism, misogyny, and greed, or they are numb to it because it’s the way of our culture, then there are others who, like you said, wanted to ‘shake things up’. I welcomed the shaking up over Hillary, and I have to say he’s doing a good job, but it’s very painful. I can’t help but wonder if we are going to recognize things by the time it’s all said and done, probably not….which is what I wanted, but wish it could have been done differently. But when you think about it, it seems like nothing is going to stop the machine. It’s hell bent on destruction, and most people I know enable it to the fullest. Talk about voting 3rd party, buying less stuff, eating weeds and killing your own animals is extreme weirdness to these people. I’ve come to realize in the past year how demented and fucked we are as a culture…I want it to end. Just not in terrible ways, but I think that is unavoidable.
    Aversion, that’s such a nice way to put it. These ‘aversionists’ are probably the most annoying aspect of what’s happening IMO. I fully believe that sticking your head in the sand and declaring such subjects ‘too negative’ to talk about is a real problem. So that is most people I know….tv shows, pictures of their kids/meals/new car on FB, vacations, and laughing away the world’s problems because it’s beyond them… I try not to be hostile but I do want to smack people and tell them to wake the fuck up…. but they won’t. So here we are, rocketing at full speed into a plethora of destructions. Weeeeeeeee! It’s like people would rather die than give up nonstop gratification. How morbid. Here’s a fun song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtBy_ppG4hY

  6. The fact that even you have written in this little corner of the universe about Trump proves that he is a master of the media and has permeated consciousness in ways unimaginable except maybe in totalitarian times. Let’s hope that is not what’s coming

  7. I find myself dismayed and horrified by the current president. It is harder and harder to go to my “happy place” tho I can still get there. Living off the land and reading your blog about it is grounding for me. Thank you for that.

  8. Oh man, you named that so well. Months back on my blog, I’ve written a little piece about Trump mostly concerning his rape of nature (although I’m also pissed about his sexual predation on women, of course). A bunch of people un-subscribed from my blog then. The only thing I thought was “Good fucking riddance.”
    So, thank you for being so real, as always.

  9. I have been dreaming about purple cafés, where red and blue folks can hang with each other, listening without thinking of how to respond. Attended Climate Reality Leadership training in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Fearing that most folks do not want to know the climate score. See no climate change, hear no climate change, speak no climate change. Yet, no resignation, and always, a sustainable mental health, which means joy must be present. Thank you, Ben.

  10. Ben; it is both heartwarming and inspirational to see how you are able to bare your soul, exposing provocative thought, concern, and vulnerability. Like you, I agree we need society to be more engaged AND more honest. Thank you!

  11. Yeah, this has been a tough time.
    I too wish people could have civil conversations, even if our views differ, but I find that all the screaming and yelling is tiring. Internet fighting and name calling is at an all time high and while I have no issue pointing out idiocy, it is taxing to one’s mental health.
    I loathe this “president” and his cabinet and everyone who voted for him for their various reasons. Cutting taxes is not worth anyone’s rights or dignity. I hope we can survive this. In the meantime I read, write, garden… Sometimes I pretend I don’t live here and exclude the news from my life so I can function like normal, happy person. It ain’t easy, but it is what I do.
    I love the photo of the cow. So sweet.

    1. Oh, she eats plenty of apples, too. And I shoulda clarified that it’s just carrot tops she’s eating… we kept carrots for ourselves

  12. Ben, I live in Nebraska, which is sort of a photo negative of Vermont politically while still being eqully rural. It is very sad here. It is so disheartening, de-humanizing, to drive down the street and see a “Trump that B*tch” bumper sticker on the car in front of you. Why would that overweight middle aged white man with a goatee (I will cease to stereotype when I find an exception to this rule) think he needs to make that statement? A thousand why’s. Anyway, for those of us cowering in red states, plotting our escape, people like you are a beacon.

    1. My only experience with Nebraska was passing through in approx 1993 in an old Saab that had to be push started (starter was shot), idled at 3000 rpm, and leaked gas if you filled the tank over the halfway mark. Everywhere we stopped, people were incredibly, almost over-the-top friendly. At least, I think they were being friendly, since I could hardly hear them over the revving engine.

    2. Hi Matt!

      I live in west Omaha, near 180th & Q Streets.

      I think that while Nebraska is a very conservative state, the people will usually vote for the politician who they feel is the best person for the job, regardless of that person’s political affiliation. I think that one thing that attracted Nebraskans to vote for Trump was his promise to do something about the problem of undocumented aliens.

      Although the words on the bumper sticker that you speak of is clearly offensive, it is that person’s right to exercise his freedom of speech, so there isn’t anything that anyone can do about it. Do you think that you would find it less offensive if you saw it on a car in a blue state?

      What is keeping you from moving to a place that offends you less than Nebraska?

  13. “But just because we don’t want to face it doesn’t make it untrue.” Beautifully put. These days I am often distraught too.

  14. At the risk of being overly simplistic, my solution is is Ghandi’s words: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Not fancy and doesn’t result in immediate change (or does it? On a personal level, I have seen it do just that.) Whatever the political leaning, most people are guilty of wanting change yesterday not accepting that ideological change takes a looooooooong time. I suppose the final argument is do we have the time to wait it out? I certainly don’t have the answer to that one so I return to the simple advice of doing what I can in my sphere of influence. Your writing influences me a great deal and I continue to thank you for that. Peace!

  15. I don’t personally know anyone who fights over fury battery operated toys on black Friday but we know it to be true. It seems like ‘those people’ votes get double points..
    Ben, I have been reading your words for awhile now, articles, books, blog post. I’ve never had the desire to add more in the way of comments. It has been pleasing to see part of your journey in your writing. Sometimes your words linger in my mind and I want the people around me to read them too.
    I took a seventy five year old man to the hospital today. He probably wont make it through the night. I think about the power of breath and muscle control, thoughts, emotions and the power of choice. I wonder about the lack of courage and acknowledging responsibility.
    And I wonder why people don’t understand that sometimes the answer is, no.
    And I wish more people read your words.
    Well, there you go, probably why I never comment, random thoughts that don’t seem to go together but do.

  16. For me, the Trump thing has been a blessing. It’s certainly shaken things up in my personal life in ways that I didn’t expect. I’ve kind of taken the Michael Jackson approach, starting with the “Man in the Mirror” (Woman). I no longer have an excuse NOT to go deep into myself and purge out all the Trump-like stuff in myself – like him, I can be arrogant, judgmental, selfish, egotistical.. I could go on. Another hidden blessing of this political situation – I’ve pretty much quit all media including NPR, which helps create the quiet in my heart that I need to really undertake this process.
    Untying these knots is a long, involved process which I expect will take most of my life, but if I’m ever done, then I will be able pass judgment on the president, and especially my neighbors who voted for him – like you Ben (I think), I’m a low-earning, hard working farmer, and I’ve always had a deep love and connection to those kinds of people, and there are lots of them that voted for Trump. I want to love and understand those people more, not less. So, I’m starting with the Man in the Mirror.. Peace be with you and as always, I thank you for speaking truth to power.

    1. Thanks, Emily. I do sometimes wonder about the unintended beneficial consequences of having this president.

  17. Thank you for this. It is the elephant (pun not intended, but welcome) in the room in so many interactions these days. While I know you won’t accept the term, it is brave to be so honest in a public way. This is exactly what has disturbed me most about the state of things. Not necessarily that my family and friends voted for this shell of a human being, but that they still defend that choice despite the towering evidence of corruption and depravity. It’s like I’m grieving the loss of the people I thought they were. It is up to the thinking, science loving, truth seeking and, in your case, eloquent among us to keep speaking up. Thank you for adding your voice.

  18. Ben — thanks as usual for your thoughtful writing. It means a lot to know that you and your readers are out there THINKING. Visited the Manzanar internment center in California the other day — from a jagged edge in US history when white privilege and oppression were everyday reality. Thought-provoking, just like this forum you’ve created.

  19. I don’t know if anyone else was listening to Jane Lindholm’s conversation with Robert Siegel earlier today, but he said an interesting thing. He said that as disturbing as things are right now, when he thinks back to 1968 – Viet Nam, the overt racism of third-party candidate George Wallace, US cities literally going up in flames – the sense that the USA both as concept and construct might not be viable was even greater than it is today. Yet somehow, we made it through that. So maybe we’ll make it through this, too. But then, I’m a glass-half-full kind of guy.

    1. I head that last night on the rebroadcast. Very interesting. As an aside, I’d kill to have Seigel’s voice.

  20. Wow. I feel like this commentary is from another day and age, I applaud the maturity and thoughtfulness from all of you. It helps. Thank you one and all!

      1. Then there’s this –
        [audio src="https://archive.org/details/tcb2016-06-03/tcb2016-06-03d01t01.wav" /]

  21. The speed with which you write, and the quality of your quick drafts, is the ONLY frustrating part of collaborating with you. It’s also one of the best parts, but… gah!

    As for everything else, right there with ya.

  22. the weight of the burden I carry as a Canadian female person of white priviledge is crushing me. I naively carried on thinking I was a good person. My uncle once said that I was the “dumbest” person he knew. At 67 I realize exactly what he meant by that. I feel a deep need to withdraw so that I cannot offend or oppress anyone else, but then am I not doing my part to atone…so much to think about

      1. oh, I’ll be fine but thanks. There are so many simple pleasures in my world, one of them being your writing and Instagram pictures. Just after typing my comment I read a Walt Whitman quote on another blog that just made me feel refreshed again…life is funny that way.

  23. I would agree that you lost the thread and would prefer that you not write about politics and social inequities.

      1. Because I’d rather read about your cows, your kids, you wife, your old trucks, your illegal trailer, etc.

        It seems to me that you are just parroting what you have read or heard, rather than what you’ve experienced. I don’t find a white guy who lives in 94% white Vermont being a very credible voice when speaking on the issue of minority oppression.

      2. I think we all tend to parrot what we’ve read or heard, at least that which resonates with us. There are very few (if any) original thoughts… though there are original ways of expressing them, which is the fun part for me. I’m not sure why a white guy living in a majority white state shouldn’t speak to these issues; whether or not that speech is credible really isn’t for me say. Besides, it’s not like I’m unaware of what’s happening nationally, or even internationally. And I don’t have to live with native peoples or people of color to know the history, or many aspects of the present. It’s very well documented for anyone who cares to take the time to study it.

        All that said, I’m certainly not claiming to have the last word on any of this.


      3. I strongly recommend find time to read Harvard professor Robert D. Putnam’s 2015 book; “OUR KIDS – The American Dream in Crisis”.

        ISBN 978-1-4767-6989-9

        This book is a scholarly work that reflects much of what I’ve seen.

    1. Ben,

      I think that you must be biased because you lack direct, personal, experience of living/working in a high volume minority environment and everything that you have read or heard has been filtered, so that you’re embracing a version of reality that is in sync with your preconceived notions.

      Have you ever wondered how, within a generation or two, former Vietnamese boat-people refugees who came to America with nothing are becoming professionals at a much greater rate than other minorities? Maybe it has something to do with a willingness to work hard, to assimilate, to build around family, and to do what’s right rather that to be self-indulgent.

      I regularly volunteer to pack food packages in the weekend backpack program that gives kids from low-income families basic food for the weekend. These are mostly kids who eat 3 free meals a day, monday thru friday, at school and the backpack program helps to insure that they are fed on saturday and sunday. I have delivered hundreds of these backpacks and have formed an “in my experience” opinion that a lot of the reason that these kids don’t have food to eat on the weekends is because the parent, almost all are single parent homes, has decided to use money that should go to feed their children to purchase recreational street drugs and/or alcohol. The program, intended to be a safety net, actually enables people to be irresponsible and make poor parenting choices. This isn’t just a minority issue, rather more of a low-income and poorly educated issue.

      1. You’re close Jeff, but once you can deliver those backpacks without judgement you will have arrived. I feel like you are making broad strokes with a broad brush. Maybe you understand addiction and hopelessness, maybe you dont. Go one step further, help those people you criticize by getting them into a program. You arent enabling them to by drugs they are going to do that anyway thats the nature of addiction, who you are enabling are those kids, you are enabling them to eat a meal and concentrate on school. Thats the silver lining to the dark cloud.
        Guy Spencer, Runner Bean Ranch

      2. Jeff, I know from personal experience that you’re a big hearted person. I don’t dismiss your personal experience, but I also think there’s a lot more to the story, and that it involves a sobering look at history, and the ways in which certain groups of humans have been exploited for the benefit of others.


      3. Jeff, I feel you must be biased because you have made a judgment based on only your experience, while at the same time invalidating Ben’s. Maybe if we all considered Ben’s words regarding curiosity, we could actually take others’ opinions into consideration before dismissing them.

  24. Guy, I’ve tried to help addicts who I know pretty well, children of friends, and have had no successful helping them get and stay clean and sober, so I doubt that I’d have better success helping strangers in whom I am exponentially less invested.

    1. Jeff, people can only be helped if they want to be helped. All you can do is offer options. Advice doesn’t usually work. The reason I’m saying this is because I have a 39 yr old daughter who has been into the drug and prostitution scene since she was about 14. Despite many ‘angels’ in her life that helped her over the bad and hard times, she went back to drugs. I know some of the reasons for this behaviour yet it is hard to understand when she does not ask for help. She comes from a loving, forgiving family and has recently started back, once again, on the sober path. As her mother, each time she goes through rehab or manages to stay sober for more than a year on her own, I rejoice. However, I now realize that nothing that is said to her or done for her will always make a difference. She is the only one to that can change her life and I hope that options will always be available to help her in the fight against addiction.
      I agree with Ben that feeding the kids gives them a head start over those that come from homes that prefer drugs to food and ignore the hunger and helplessness of the children that see no other way of life.
      Keep feeding the kids, Jeff. Even if only one becomes something special In this world, you will have helped make that happen. And probably there will be many more who go on to do amazing things that you will never know about and that is okay as well.
      Thanks for caring.

  25. Do you hear yourselves? With few exceptions, this post and the stream of comments only perpetuates what you claim to be against. I agree,.. we do need to look more closely at ourselves, at our own assumptions and prejudices.

  26. Thank you. I look forward to your seemingly simple clips of life posts that often stay with me for a day or two while bringing to mind similar experiences in my life. You summarized in this post what many are trying to reconcile. You may at times feel alone in your writing, but you have many unknown friends who enjoy your posts and look forward to the post card moments your words so easily create.

  27. I, too, am curious about other people: how they think, why they do things, the choices they make. I don’t engage, because I think folks would think I was rude, nosing in their business. As a cashier now, I talk to a lot of people of many colors and varied socioeconomic backgrounds. I get to be curious, but only in 30 second bursts. I wonder about them and their lives. It’s all interesting, but just makes me curiouser. People are funny.

  28. Many people I know voted for Trump solely because of the possibility that he could fill one or more Supreme Court seats with a justice who would defend the unborn. They made the judgment call that the possibility to save millions of lives outweighed Trump’s odious views on race, women, etc. I know many don’t see it this way – I’m just saying that this is how a significant portion of the American population made their decision. Voting for Trump didn’t make them “ok with having a sexual predator and a racist represent this country;” they voted for Trump solely because it represented the possibility of overturning something they believed was much more insidious. One could even argue that a vote for Clinton would have been the most (unacknowledged) racist position, since the vast majority of aborted children are minorities.

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