Sunday, 25 January 2015

Midwestern Wanderer

"Agriculture, Alcohol, Loneliness, and Other Motifs of the Midwest," is the title of an essay reviewing a favourite literary journal of mine.

Without reading the article at all, the title stayed with me.

I mean, this is what people think of the Midwest. Not a question. This is what I think of the land I live in. This is my landscape. Living here for the last twenty years has not changed my opinion of the landscape. I wrote a poem that sums up these feelings- lust, dust, and rust. Things dissolve into each other. 

I am having a really hard time finding subjects for my photography assignments. Right now, real life is dreary and blah. Browns and muted yellows against a grey sky. The house is messy, the kids are restless, I spend my afternoons writing in a grocery store cafeteria or next to a pile of laundry in my bedroom. Sometimes I imagine that pile suddenly animating like the Trash Heap in Fraggle Rock to give me advice and foretell my future, "There is more laundry to be washed! Always!" Then collapsing back into a heap of unfolded clothes for me to fret and worry over instead of writing. Like right now.

The loneliness and the dreary dead landscape view out my window is enough to nudge me toward the Scotch bottle for sure. Fulfilling the Midwestern legacy put forth by the article title. I resist and instead fill my cup with little cinnamon candies and plough on, word after word.

When I was sixteen and living in a small town in Illinois where everyone pretended to actually be from Chicago when they moved on to college out of state, my father told me we were moving to Iowa. My friends joked that my days would be filled with cow tipping and riding escalators for fun and that I would grow fat eating corn. Which is funny, considering that the town I moved from is more rural than the city I moved to in Iowa (Des Moines), though the year I moved here there were some unfortunate news headlines about teenagers riding escalators at the mall and getting clothing caught in the teeth of the moving stairs. Funny.

The Midwest sure is a strange place to live.  A landlocked, wet prairie, desolate, beautiful place to be exiled in. I have said this before, that I feel like mermaid stuck on land, homesick for something unattainable ever again, or maybe for something I have never known. Still, I am coming to this thought, unravelling at the seems, and wondering if maybe this homesickness and heartbreak I feel isn't for a physical place, but rather a yearning to be accepted by a place. I have spent the last year travelling all over and not once did I land my feet on the ground in a place that felt more like home, than my own farm. I had moments of bliss and beauty, vistas and magical places to roam, but never did I feel more loved and safe and beautiful than in my husband's embrace.

This was driven home to like a steak knife to my heart, in a bar in Prague, left alone at the table with another academic who was completely ugly drunk. He was pushing at me, asking why my husband would let me travel alone, why would I travel half way around the world if my bonds were secure and sacred? This is certainly an interesting question, even out of the context of this drunk stranger trying to get me to go home with him for the night. Why would my husband let me travel on my own? He could not stop me, not with pleas nor violence. I am my own wandering soul. He knows that and encourages and nurtures my dreams. Why would I go? Because I need to see. I need to climb to the top of a thousand year old church and breathe in the history and pray and be. I need to walk twenty miles until my shoes fall apart. I need to place my feet where revolutions have shaken the foundation of centuries of tradition, baptised in blood. Touch the bones that are said to cure blindness. I need to wander physically. My heart does not. My heart is with my family, sacred and secure, and I bring my stories and photos home to them. I am tethered by my heartstrings and my devotion and without that, would be completely lost.

And the evening ended with me threatening to gut the drunk bastard with my car keys if he dared try the grabby hand thing under the table again. You don't mess with a Midwestern farmer, even if she is on her own in a foreign country. I may have also made the threat in a Scottish drawl, strange as that may be. Goodness. I do thank the drunkard for the story though, without his terrible behaviour my last night in Prague would have been less story worthy, perhaps.  Less broken glass, at the very least.

And so, even though this place I am right now is dreary and cold, the food is fantastic and the present company close to my heart, always.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Balance of Ego and Vunrability

When I signed up for the photography class, I was kind of full of myself. I mean, I have published art photography and sold framed prints. I love my own work, I find it pleasing.

But I have never taken a class, barely understood the how to books I bought, and just rely on my instinct and auto setting. Finding and framing the moments.

I walked into class, the very basic beginning class at our local community college. First, there are students in the class that I am pretty sure have taken classes from me online. I'm on the other side of the fence now and it is really hard to readjust to being a student instead of in charge of the classroom dynamic. Second, there are professional photographers in the class. Actual professionals with successful businesses, mostly portrait and weddings. There are also students who have never used a camera other than their phone to take selfies and/or are semi literate (can't read or understand the syllabus, the class notes, or the assignments). I am too used to being the smartest person in the room and it is unsettling.

And necessary.

There are other times that I feel like an impostor. I've written about that before. That my lack of experience or credentials will reveal me to be a big faker. The thing is, over and over, I have faked it until it was real. At least, that's what it feels like. I was a city girl, in Target muck boots, pretending to farm- now I teach others farming ethics and techniques. I was a stumbling 1st year professor/grad student using a template syllabus and borrowed textbooks and assignments and ten years later I am a seasoned professor, creating my own lesson plans and creating new syllabus that others use.

I am taking the class because I love photography and need help learning the technologies involved. The math is really getting me. The vocabulary is confusing me. The technology is complicated. It feels very much like when I attempted fiber arts, but instead of my fingers fumbling, my mind is tangling up around the textbook concepts and camera settings.

Still, I am hanging in there. Dedicated and determined.

Here's a link to the work I am posting for the class (and some of my older work):
Danelle Stamps Flickr

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Midnight Writing

I've said this before: everything seems more meaningful when done at midnight. Baking bread? Mundane. Baking bread at midnight? Magical. Writing poems? Meh. Writing poems at midnight- 3am? Brilliant and beat poetish. Cooking anything, making art, even just listening to the things outside are just simply more interesting in the middle of the night.

Except when one is battling coffee induced insomnia and it is one in the morning, then everything is just freaking annoying.

So, here is my Eat The Frog post for the morning.

This weekend Chad and I had a date night. We went to an antique shop and then had dinner with friends and played Cards Against Humanity. Whoa is that an interesting game.

 I am inspired. I really want something just like this to store my camera items next to my desk.

And this for the bedroom someday. Love the look.

Snacks while we chatted before dinner. Iowa cheese. Oh yum.

And this was a couple nights ago, but so beautiful. I ran to the car to get something and found this, pulled out my phone and captured it into my visual record of moments I have stood in awe. This is why people can believe in something greater than just the here and now, beauty like this overwhelms us.

I am still hanging in there, getting work done, preparing for the travel next month, and cleaning and grading and creating art. This is my life, the busy punctuated with moments of quiet grace.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Farmiversary and Reverse Bucket List Update

In 2010, just days before Isaac was born early I wrote this: The Reverse Bucket List. Someone, I don't even remember who, called me a failure. I was mad and sad and pregnant and huge and well, when I feel like that I write.

Today, I don't feel like that at all. Nope. I do feel like adding to it though.

First, the five things I wanted to add to my list in 2010:  

Things I would like to do:
1) swim in the Mediterranean
2) walk inside a building that is more than a 1000 years old
3) drink milk still warm from the cow
4) finish my novel(s) 
5) help someone else succeed at breastfeeding

Did all of those except #1. But I was pretty darn close. And #2? The building was probably only 800 years old, to be fair, but I say it counts.
  1. Gave birth to a special needs baby, on my own terms, with a c/s that was how I wanted it to be. 
  2. Fought to breastfeed and taught a doctor how to measure how many ounces a baby drinks from the breast by using a scale. Seriously. 
  3. Learned how to audit my own hospital bills for errors. 
  4. Learned how to shop around for better prices regarding hospital tests and labs. 
  5. Learned how to ask for help.
  6. Learned how to milk a cow and that Chad is better at it so it can be his job. Ha. 
  7. Made cheese. Made a lot of cheese.
  8. Explored caves. 
  9. Started dying my hair purple again.
  10. Tapped maple trees and made my own syrup.
  11. Taught others how to tap and boil for syrup too.
  12. Took a pottery class and made my own dishes.
  13. Loaded pigs in a trailer, alone. 
  14. Brought chickens to the butcher and helped in the initial kill. 
  15. Returned to Chicago after a really long time.
  16. Found her. She's not dead.
  17. Applied and attended a writer's retreat in Georgia. 
  18. Rode a bus cross country.
  19. Assisted, alone and with the vet, pulling lambs from a ewe in labour distress.
  20. Bottle fed lamb, calf, and piglets.
  21. Published photography.
  22. Published poems.
  23. Published an essay. 
  24. Got my passport.
  25. Went to Europe. Took pictures.
  26. Sang at Karaoke.
  27. I wrote poetry again. 
  28. I took myself seriously as an artist. 
  29. I prayed at the Bone Chapel in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic. 
  30. I rode a train across the countryside in a faraway country. 
  31. I learned how to make tinctures and teas. 
  32. I healed some more.
  33. I cooked a pheasant.
  34. Hosted a holiday meal at my home. 
  35. Learned to kayak and row.
  36. Built fence and rotated livestock.
  37. Attended a wound that required actual first aid to stop the bleeding.
  38. Learned to hula hoop.
  39. Wrangled a loose calf.
  40. Kept bees.
  41. Rebuilt relationships, and nurtured other important ones.
  42. Learned about Permaculture and shared it with others.
  43. Made time for my art, and nurtured my own being again.
  44. Helped a mama get donor milk for a baby in NICU.
  45. Did the right thing even though it was really hard. 
  46. Encouraged someone else to take their writing seriously too.
  47. Got back on stage and read poetry aloud again after 16 years of being terrified to do so.
  48. Learned how to cook lamb.
  49. Bottled and started selling my secret spice mix.
  50. Raised food for 60 other families in the last 5 years.
  51. Stopped complaining about my toe. 
  52. Grew my hair to my waist. 
  53. Loved fiercely.
  54. Walked on ice.
  55. Brined olives (it takes two months and is kind of hard!)
  56. Taught my son to walk. 
  57. Started and admin several facebook groups that do a lot of good in the world. 
  58. Read more books. 
  59. Photographed a punk concert.
  60. Ate Vegan food and didn't die. It was delicious actually! 
  61. Learned to spin wool, even though I am terrible at it.
  62. Sent that packet of poetry back in, revised. They didn't want it after all this time, but I got a personal response back and at least now I know. 
  63. Didn't let rejection shut me down again.
  64. Learned that most of the time, when people are being jerks, it's not actually my problem or about me. 
  65. Learned how to apply eyeliner. 
  66. Threw myself a birthday party. 
  67. Joined a book club.
  68. Made Crown Roast. 
  69. Learned that I am my own worst anchor, let go of that chain.
  70. Toured Jim William's mansion. 
  71. Tracked wild pigs in Georgia. 
  72. Watched turtle lay eggs and later watched the eggs hatch.
  73. Drank Kumbacha. Yuck.
  74. Rode a horse. 
  75. Paid attention.
To do:
  1. Go on a sail boat. 
  2. Visit California. 
  3. Write and Finish the fairy tale book I am working on.
  4. Take a photography class. 
  5. Set up my own website for my writing and art.
  6. Go to Ireland and go fishing. 
  7. Return to New York City and read poetry there.
  8. Take pictures of mountain.
  9. Play with my kids more. 
  10. Learn to fly a plane.
  11. Learn to drive the tractor.
  12. See Lady Chablis perform live.
  13. Write even more.
  14. Love even harder.
  15. Grow more food, feed more people
Here's to six years on the farm, a fantastic adventure, and a freaking awesome life.