essay, Feminism, Inspiration, Memoir, Nature, Rant, relationships, Womanhood

Farm Her: New Job, New Life

I work on a farm now, helping care for hundreds of chickens, plenty of pigs, a handful of sheep, a field of cows, and three goats that are up-for-grabs.

My boss, a young woman not much larger than I, is southern-girl-polite, patient with me as I learn the ropes, and incredibly tender with her livestock. She is teaching me how to use power tools, perform animal husbandry, and push a little past what I think I am physically capable of.

So much of what I thought I knew about the world is being called into question. Namely, what I am good for: sitting pretty? Moving things? Growing food? Personality traits and body parts have taken on a whole new meaning. I can’t fall back on pretty, no way, no how. I don’t even put on makeup before I start my day. (So, if you know me at all, you know that everything has changed.) The one thing I have going for me is that I don’t mind getting dirty.

What used to bother me so much about customer service was the shallowness, the trivialness. I have none of that now. My boss is stone-serious about what we do. Because what we do matters. Believe it or not, I’ve only had one or two jobs where that was the case (working for the National Park Service was one, working with incarcerated youth was another. My post office job, well that was somewhere on the border.)

Sure, I’m working a million-gazillion times harder than I ever did before (except for my time cutting down trees with CREC, whadddup!) but it’s a different kind of work. It isn’t so mentally exhausting (not nearly as mentally exhausting as writing!). I whip around on a four-wheeler all day from one task to another with nobody asking me to “smile more,” with nobody’s wonky energy to pick up and take home with me.

I’ve loved all my jobs (maybe that’s a stretch, I’ve had a lot of jobs) but I often regret that I haven’t stuck with one and, you know, Started Making The Big Bucks. But this job? This job is legitimately good for me. This job is wholesome. Educational. Amusing (those piglets!). Active. EMPOWERING. And don’t even get me started on Do You Know Where Your Food Comes From? (I’ll just say: whatever you’re paying for chicken, you’re not paying enough.)

I’ve been feeling like “farming found me” because although I did apply for this job, I also applied for about 10 different State Park jobs before getting turned down and, miraculously, getting a phone call from my new and lovely boss Jenni. And I’m glad I did get turned down by the parks because my exposure to nature at the farm is probably ten-fold what it would’ve been and I’m learning skill sets that will last a lifetime (I can’t believe I’ve made it to 31 without knowing some of these things!)

My values are being turned on their heads. Not all my values, but things like: what makes me a beautiful and valuable human being? What do I really contribute to this world? What does environmentalism really mean to me? And am I willing to act on those values? Where did that jerky come from? How was that animal treated? My former touching stones (shopping for clothes, getting dolled up, watching mindless movies) are eroding beneath me. It’s kind of scary, but exciting. This is just the start of something bigger, a drop in the bucket no doubt, but I am evolving and changing as a person and a woman and I am trying to get a foothold in this strange, brave, and REAL new world.

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Literally me. A photo Jenni snuck of me on one of my first days at work. She posted it on the farm’s Instagram account and titled it “Chicks putting out chicks” #farmher
essay, Freedom, Love, Memoir, relationships, Womanhood

Mind Fuck

The truth is: I still get depressed. “Still” being despite all the good things I have come to obtain–things I’d worked toward like a good paying part time job which affords me the “time to write”; and meeting my boyfriend who is hard working and kind and so wonderful that I often fear losing him. I sometimes think that if I give him away then I will not be losing him. This is untrue. Nevertheless I set little booby traps for the both of us, one little slip here and we’re done, a step too far that way and I’m out. Not even two years in things are so predictable. But I’d set out to do it different this time–to see it through and find out what happens when you do. And I have every reason to! But between you and me, I’ve been daydreaming.

I’ve been daydreaming about roadtripping across the country in an airstream trailer I will make payments on, painted on the back will read “Less is More”. I’ll wake up next to the sea shore, and camp in the parking lots of our National Parks. I’ll fry myself eggs (airstreams come with stovetops, right?) every morning, eat lots of that soft Taylor’s beef jerky, and live on black coffee with tons of sugar. I’ll give up smoking, for good, dammit. I’ll journal under the moon roof, under the stars. I’ll listen to public radio and really good books on tape. Hell, I’ll even write a book about the whole thing. Or at least an essay.

The only thing stopping me is fear of loneliness and regret. So say I give up my boyfriend and I give up all my new friends–the girls who invite me to their blessing ways and craft nights, the young men who cheers me after a hard days work, who run around with me to rock shows and barbecues, then what? I find new friends? Someone else to have sex with and the whole circle begins again?

See it’s not so much humans that I’m looking for. Being alone and being sad, it’s what I do. Starting over, it’s what I’m good at. It’s safe to say it’s all or nothing for me. It’s safe to say I am impatient. It’s safe to say I dream about pregnancy and motherhood and in vain cause….well, never mind. It’s safe to say I have chronic malcontent, I go after something, I get it, I fear losing it, I begin to fantasize about throwing it away, I throw it away. It’s safe to say there is something unresolved inside of me. This does not make me special. There is something rather unresolved within all of us. I always tell myself “don’t let on, don’t let on”. I’ve told myself that people who let on are weak. That we all have our problems but we shouldn’t just go on and on about them. That’s what separates the strong from the weak. But I don’t fully believe that either. You want to be strong enough to voice your opinions, to talk it out, and to make change. But there is some strength in keeping quiet too, not showing how much it hurts. People have enough problems without taking on yours too, and that’s a fucking fact.

So I quietly plot out my life:

Plan A. Stop sleeping so much. I fucking sleep right up until seven a.m., the latest possible hour for me to get to work on time, then when I get home I exhaust myself pondering what to do with all my spare time and I fall into an angsty, maddening sleep, the type that says “you should really be doing something else” or “Steve’ll be home soon and he’ll catch you sleeping”.

What is unresolved within me? What, in my daily life, am I running (i.e. sleeping) from? The uncertainty of it all? Is anyone else this hard on themselves, this hard on life? Are they just not letting on? Plan A. Keep on doing what I’m doing well, and fucking start enjoying it more. Take pride in the work I do. Push myself further. Yet allow for rest. Know when it’s time for what. Greet the day optimistically. Cook a good fucking dinner. Trust others. Do yoga (I don’t know, its recommended and it does fucking feel good). Be in nature. Play along if I have to.

Plan B. Pack up and move in the day, when everyone else is at work. Leave a letter note saying I’ll be back for the rest of my stuff eventually, so don’t worry about that. Cry all the way to the coast, all the way down the 101. Stop on the side of the road to vomit, likely. Remember all the other times that things weren’t “quite right” or “good enough” so I left, changed location, got a new job, replaced my boyfriend. Remember how time frantically erodes all the mystery anyways and that all the mystery and peace, it lives on the inside of me. So does the dissatisfaction and pessimism. I carry it all with me wherever I go.

Not a year ago I wrote a poem titled Staying Power. That’s what I wanted. Now I’m leaning more toward Runaway. But it’s all a mind fuck. I know this.

It’s safe to say when I am alone I am in control.

It’s safe to say I like being in control.

I feel I am at sea in my home, with my man. Okay so it’s better than ever. It works. But I don’t know which way we’re going, I don’t know how long I’ll be out here for. And it’s all so average, I don’t do average. Give me neat and tidy and I’ll muss it up and rebuild it to be my own version of neat and tidy.

It’s safe to say I am confused and at times sick with worry. Things are just-so and that really unnerves me. I want more. In this peaceful space–my brain builds catastrophes, spiderwebs of what-ifs and what-for’s delicately stitching together my present moment and existence–I tip toe through my mind, more afraid than ever of what I might find there.

Dreams, essay, Feminism, Memoir

Womanbody

I want to be a mother. Want to harness life inside of my own body. Want to validate and make use of this healthy hearty womanbody that I have. See I always thought I’d have that baby by now. But I’ve discarded two lives by the ingestion of two pills taken two hours apart. Two men and women weeped and then ate ice cream afterwards two bloody times. I let go of two children on the floors of two different college town apartments no longer than two months into two separate pregnancies. I wasn’t yet twenty-two. Judge me, go ahead. I don’t care. I did what I had to do. What I had the right to do. But that was  way back then.

I want to do it right this time. And that’s OK. I can want that, can’t I? To do it right? My secret shames me. Or tries to. All the women ask me more more more about what I see, what I want. But the men turn their cheeks, their torsos, go silent, don’t know what to say. Most of em anyway. One of my friends though, he told me: I want the baby as I stifled a surprised laugh. The baby. I said I’d get back to him on that. Told him thanks, bra.

I’ve been on my own since fourteen, or seventeen depending on which angle. Point is, I’ve been on my own. I’ve packed and moved thirteen different times. I’ve hosted garage sales with a smiling beaming face all the while featuring the discarded stuff of lovers going their separate ways. I’ve patted the back of men I’ve dumped. I’ve sucked the dick of men I love, but never of men I didn’t. I’ve found my own truths through self-therapy, self-medicating, self-forgiving and self-love. I’ve had sex a million gazillion times and I’m still wandering through life unattached, not pregnant, working at a menial job, going to parties, “living it up”, paying rent, extending my youth. But I want to be a mother. Unapologetically.

I like to think I manage quite well our twenty-something household by cooking meals, watering plants, fluffing guests pillows before they arrive, and subtly controlling everything and everyone—including two twenty-something male roommates (one of whom is my boyfriend) who love to drink and debate and hoot and holler but will maneuver this way and that way to avoid my emotional pull and to please me in many a unique manner. But the men must know what I want. They must know I want a baby. We don’t go there. Sooner or later though, we must. Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to prove that I can handle a baby, like a kid would try to prove that he can handle a puppy. Thing is, I probably can’t. What I mean is: learning curve. What I mean is: everything changes. What I mean is: there really aren’t words for becoming a mother.

I dreamed last night that I was. That I was a mother. I was the mother of a small little girl, chubby faced and brunette. She had a smile. Oh she had a smile and we smiled all above and around her. Then there was this moment. This moment where I wanted to go to the other room, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t go in the other room, because I had to stay with Her at all times. It was bliss meeting burden, being a mother. I want to be a mother. Make use of this healthy hearty womanbody that I have. Make up for lost time; for lost bodies.

essay, Memoir, relationships, Writing

A History of Kitchens Part Three

Wintergreen Farm offerings

The kitchen, it’s my job. I want this role. I’ve earned this role. I wear aprons. If Steve did these things too it wouldn’t be my role. I might be demoted to just bathroom cleanup or worse, yard work. So I just shut up and say Bring it On, the dishes, the unbelievable messes Steve makes when doing anything in the kitchen but just sitting there on the counter. I mop up after the dog and Steve-boots multiple times on a good day. I wipe the coffee grinds from the counter top night and morning. I recycle the green and yellow sponge from dish sponge to chicken-egg sponge and I decide when we start a brand new one fresh from the threepack. I even get to feed and water the chickens, collect eggs, and harvest the fruit of nine apple trees. I have been blessed with a kitchen to call my own. And because Steve works on a farm, once a week he plops a dirty plastic tote up on the countertop and I smile warmly in return and start unpacking the goods. That plastic tote makes all the difference…our lives revolve around that tote, that kitchen.

I imagine I will dominate many more kitchens in my day. I have a dream to even design one. It will have a window above the sink, for gazing dumbly out onto while washing the dishes, an “island”, and one of those overhead hangy-things for pots and pans. Maybe I am asking too much. I probably am. Perhaps someday I will sit quietly in the kitchen of my daughter-in-law, watching her take control of the stove settings and the manner in which dinner is served all on her own, as I once did, eager to show her skills to her in-laws, eager to be grown up and woman and to have the gift of addressing each and every need of her guest. Water, tea, and fabric napkins. Beers, tops already popped.

I imagine I will die in a kitchen, upright, moving my hips and fingers to the beat of the radio…static, old classic country. I imagine the kitchen will be sunny, not gray or brown or fabric-y, a pot on the stove containing saucy stewing yummy things and the conversation always intimate and trying. I imagine I will die trying…to feed my family.

essay, Memoir, relationships, Writing

A History of Kitchens Part Two

I had a boyfriend in college who barked at me for washing his fancy wine glasses, his most valued possessions, with soap. Frankly he was much more sophisticated than I was [in the kitchen] and knew things like to wash with only hot water (I still don’t get it?)…and how to actually cook duck (I once ruined some very expensive meat), how to really tell when a steak is done (or perfectly undone), to buy unsalted butter, to always salt water, how to season fish Cajun style…we shared a kitchen which he absolutely dominated and filled with all sorts of fancy things like meat tenderizers and food processors and a whole set of knives it was understood I could. not. touch. ever.  I learned to fill a small porcelain saucer with salt for easy access, placing it near the cooking stove, something I still do today. I learned to defrost meat in warm water and how to make lemon vinaigrette in a processor. I couldn’t tell you what hung on the wall in the kitchen. Or what was on the fridge. I think the kitchen was a male.

orangesMy kitchen now didn’t always belong to me. Less than one year ago I was timidly tiptoeing around it, washing dishes quietly and obediently as my lover fell to sleep. Not wanting to boast my kitchen management skills, I cleaned the counters and the cooking pots in-between-time, quickly and nonchalantly. I picked things up off (bits of bark and mud from boots) the floor when no one was looking and I began grooming the kitchen to be mine, talking to her and showing her counters and cabinets Who Is Boss and where things belong.

In August, after I officially moved in with Steve, I painted the kitchen windowsills bright yellow and after dusting the kitchen head-to-toe I hung a large sun/moon artwork in the corner by the window, reorganized the spice rack, moved in my toaster oven (boyfriend loves), hung a colorful and funky coffee mug rack above the stovetop, put a simple beige rug underneath the sink where your barefeet go in the morning, and retrieved every mason jar I could for easy drinking, canning, and snack packing.OldDesignShop_AluminumCoffeePotBW

My boyfriend destroys the kitchen every single morning. Although he always always always unloads the dry dishes from the strainer and puts them away (it’s like a ritual) he also always always always always cracks three eggs, cuts one potato, dirties one chef’s knife, one plate, one fork, one coffeepot, two cups—and the egg yolk and dishes remain there on the counter until I get home from work in the afternoon. Then it’s: clean up the breakfast mess and start to make another mess for dinner. I tell my boyfriend, clean as you go, like I do. I try to demonstrate how perfect and polished the kitchen can remain even as you bake bread, pan-fry pork, handbrew a pot of coffee…if you just clean as you go! It’s brilliant! I chirp and hum along with the radio.

essay, Memoir, Poetry, Writing

A History of Kitchens Part One

rebecca sittler
Photography credit: Rebecca Sittler

These are the kitchens of my past. Some of the kitchens were females and some were males. Some of them had dining tables and some did not. I remember the worst of the kitchens, the friends or neighbor’s kitchens in college—I was afraid to eat a thing strait from the waterlogged counter, there were hotpink Las Vegas shot glasses and sticky empty liquor bottles on their sides and who knows whose ass had been sitting up there. I remember the food bank finds, the cardboard microbrew beerbottle canisters with a banana inside, a serrated knife, and a days old spoon with yogurt-tongue markings still on it…a bag of Western Family wheat bread always almost out and wanting so badly to be the lucky roommate to eat the last sandwich, with cheese.

I cleaned kitchens in exchange for cigarettes for a woman I can’t remember the name of now but I can see her plain as day in front of a sepia television, blinds closed, sitting on her long black hair on a tan couch in a house down Modoc Lane. I was fourteen. She didn’t have a table in her kitchen. I used yellow Sun soap and an inefficient wide-pored plastic green scrubby from the dollarstore to wash dried Top Ramen noodles from indian boybowls on foggy, windy days, my kid-hands enjoying the hot soapy water and subsequent Marlboro 100’s plus four to go in the pocket of my jean jacket.

Personal | Becky Luigart-Stayner--Food & Lifestyle Photographer
Photography credit: Becky Luigart-Stayner

Kitchens with no power. A solar pushlamp dim as a candle. Kerosene lanterns and a generic plastic red and white checkered tablecloth my Dad picked up at Shop Smart. My Dad, just twenty-four but playing Mom with our square, aluminum-legged kitchen table, checkered cloth and candlelight, for both practical and spiritual purposes. Two dinner plates and forks. Papertowels folded in half for napkins. The days when things were real good for us both. A father, a daughter, and a kitchen. Propane gas stove and long-handled lighters—big boxes of matches my Dad would strike on his pants zipper if I asked him to. Matches that struck on the pavement of the platform outside our trailer, the concrete foundation that would be our home. A home that never really got to happen.

It was a small father-daughter kitchen, with one window above the sink which in the daytime looked out to a lush green lot, with rabbits in cages, wild doves in the Myrtlewood trees, and geese and ducks and things. The window fogged at night and I would write things on it to entertain myself, smiling faces, peace signs, my name, mad, antsy scribbles, spirals and hearts. There were no refrigerator magnets and the walls were bare. In the living room was a framed school photo of me that would eventually burn and in the bathroom, the Lord’s Prayer hanging on the wall, a wooden vintage piece: Our father who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name... In the kitchen cupboards: white sheaths of premium saltine crackers, cans of “ABC” soup, a bag of popcorn kernals, white rice, apricot jam, and on the counter, carrots, potatoes, cumin and mint tea.

What Katie Ate » Happy Easter 2013 (!) and a few Gluten-Free Desserts :)
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A boy cousin is over for dinner. We’d come by some sort of green squeaky toy—a frog—my dad requests that we bow our heads to pray before eating which I obediently do. My boy cousin squeaks the toy and giggles. Maybe he did this twice. My Dad says firmly (to us both, as to not even call my cousin out), “Humble yourselves.” My boy cousin squeaks the toy again and my Dad immediately smacks the toy from my boycousins hand, looking serious for once and shocking us both to the core as it was one of the few times we’d seen my Dad genuinely pissed. We both bowed our heads as my Dad gave a shaky, but always sincere prayer starting with Dear Heavenly Father and ending with the three of us saying Amen.

Nag champa incense and me knee-sitting on a simple wooden chair washing dishes, often my designated chore, with large yellow rubber gloves (you know the kind) complete the memory of my most cherished kitchen—the one dad and I shared in Rock Creek. Sometimes I would be asked to come play, but my Dad made me do dishes instead. However if the dishes got done, I could go play. But if they didn’t it was me in the kitchen crying and alone.

essay, Memoir, Poetry

Eastbound to Malta

Drunks and writers ride Amtrak. Classy drunks (the kind who don’t drive) and amateur writers. The type of drunks who don’t mind spending six dollars on cans of Budlight to wash down the flask of whisky they tucked into the inside of their winter ski jacket.

The writers are young and hopeful. We all gather up in the observation car sitting with our paper notebooks, ink pens, and hardback novels spread across the dining tables like sentence physicians—our vintage leather suitcases claiming the seats in front and to the side of us, lest some fool should try to join us, interrupt us; so our orange peels, Nalgene waterbottles, and of course our papercups of black Amtrak coffee crown our paperstuff, nudging us on and warding off talkers.

The young writer (actually he is a graphic novelist) behind me is passionate and excited in his seat. His shoulders are jumping and he has a faraway look as he fishes for inspiration. The train engine revs and be begin our travel from Portland, Oregon to Malta, Montana (me). As the train moves down down down the tracks, the jumpy novelist turns to me, “Excuse me.” he asks, “Do you know it it’s always this bumpy?”

Personally, I’d never much noticed the bumps. But I guess we were kind of bumping along. “Bumpy?” I respond, looking up from my poem.

“Yeah, bumpy.”

“I don’t know, I’m sorry.” I tell him. Poor guy. Thinks he’s going to be the next Art Speigelman beginning with an epic trainride across the west, where ideas will come to him just like Christmas gifts from lonely, wealthy, overzealous relatives and he will lay them down onto the page like Jack Kerouac did, his words timely and brilliant and bold. How sad, I think, as the young artists puts his pencil to paper and the train jerks and shudders. I look at my own paper and there are circle scribbles and big black holes and lines, missing letters and arrows.

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In the front of me is a poor sap whose head I keep looking above and all around. He’s a pretty boy and so he probably thinks I am admiring him, although he seems to be a writer too (pens, a wallet size notebook, a crown of snacks) so he just might know what I’m doing staring off like this. Thinking. Fishing.

He’s a bouncy fellow (maybe I think they’re all so bouncy because we’re on a train?) and for a spell he stares back at me and out the boxcar window, scribbling words or pictures, I don’t know. We begin to roll along side the navyblue Columbia, a river I have never truly rolled alongside before. Soon the jumpy fellow (pretty boy) is distracted by his cellphone—poking at it—and then he gets or makes two phonecalls and as I cannot help but eavesdrop I find that he has a “crazy” ex-girlfriend which reminds me, aren’t they all? Men use crazy to describe “unideal” or  “just didn’t work out” like we women use “lazy” to describe men who ignore us or have too many indoor hobbies and “cheater” to describe men who lie or have pretty friends.

He eyes me back but I am not eyeing him, just eavesdropping and fishing. There’s a more handsome man with a big smile and a greasy cowlick sipping a cocktail from a tiny plastic cup in a seat to the right and up a few. And beyond that there is my very own boyfriend who is waiting for my arrival way down the tracks in frozen Malta, Montana. And it is him who I set my sights on.

It is Christmastime. There is a man who stops at every chance to smoke and drags into the freeze his oxygen tank and Camels. Back at my assigned seat is a large man in cowboy boots and hat, nice enough guy, rank breath, offered to buy me a beer, likes to show you things on his phone. I politely excused myself to the obs car. Pretty boy and cowlick have struck a conversation and the graphic novelist behind me converses with a gang of old folks—and they all cheers to the grand Columbia.