There was a period of time, oh almost a decade ago, that I completely lost it. I joke that it was my Maria Carey meltdown (you do remember the time in her “Glitter” era when she started speaking gibberish on TRL while pushing an ice cream cart around only to wind up in a “sanatorium”, don’t you?). Well mine was exactly like that minus the fame and the money, the butt shorts and the Carson Daly. I had wound up, after a decade of living on my own in California, back in my hometown working in the mall I used to troll as a preteen. It was so not pretty I can’t even tell you. Every so often I would look up from folding a t-shirt (I spent an inordinate amount of time folding t-shirts) to see the schadenfreudic-full face of some girl I went to high school with strolling with her baby while wearing a two carat VS1 diamond on her finger. I cannot tell you how many uncomfortable and humiliating conversations I had during that period of my life, in between the time I spent traveling from the putty colored walls of my shrink’s office to the hallowed halls of Baybrook Mall’s very own Banana Republic to the zombied-out hours I spent watching “The Bachelor” and “The Swan” on my mom’s couch. It was truly pitiful, not to mention ridiculously expensive due to the megadoses of anti-depressants and sleeping pills I popped every day.
The how I got there part isn’t really all that important, but suffice to say I was in the midst of this full-blown major depressive episode by my own making. I had been on a fast track to a life that I thought I wanted, that I thought I was entitled to, only to have all of it blow up spectacularly in my face; I was suffering wildly at discovering that no one is guaranteed anything in life, certainly not everyone gets a happy ending and what made me so special to think I was so special? I was barely 30 and still young, but I held zero hope for my life ending up as I had plotted, planned and engineered with a Machiavellianish intensity.
Change can be exhilarating. Change can also totally suck eggs. But none of us has any control over it happening. And in my experience, the more you fight it the more you get a cold water wake up call. There are people out there that revel in the moving target of the unknown-- I have always been attracted to these people because I am a pain-avoider more than I am a pleasure seeker-- and sometimes these people have what I would have considered “messy” lives BMCM (Before Maria Carey Meltdown).
Prior to returning home and to perfecting “the fold” at the Gap, Inc., I had had a life that removed much of this messiness. I lived in an apartment so someone else took care of the gardening. I had Fluff and Fold because I was scared of the washing machine in the basement. I bought food pre-prepared from the deli section of the grocery store because I didn’t know how to cook. In terms of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I was at the top of the pyramid having satisfied my need for shelter and nutrition and I was removed from all the work that goes into securing and maintaining those things.
I had several wealthy friends at the time who I noticed were somewhat disenchanted with life and I was curious how this could be so since they appeared to have so much.
After my wake up call that came courtesy of all this unforeseen and rebuked change in my life, I was forced to rebuild (with lots of help, of course) from the base of that stupid, yet pretty accurate, pyramid. I started planting stuff (literally, not figuratively). I got a job that required a lot of physicality. Ultimately, I found that doing the things that money and privilege insulated me from actually restored and was the root of my mental wellbeing; that caring for myself from the ground up, so to speak, made me more human and some how more in the terrestrial world of other people. It was a great lesson that lead me to make and embrace real changes in my life-- going to grad school, learning a trade (a trade that is incredibly physical and basic and hasn’t changed since the middle ages), starting a business and learning to cook and building my kitchen.
So, to the point...hands in the ground/ making stuff = my salvation.
It’s a great concept for a romantic comedy: Vegetarian city girl writer goes to farm to interview boy farmer about new farming movement in food. Boy slaughters pig with girl’s help (even though she’s wearing a white Agnes B shirt). They fall in love and start a full-service community farm in upstate New York.
It’s kind of awesome on many levels, and it’s both a true story and a beautifully thoughtful memoir written by Kimball, The Dirty Life.
After I heard Kimball on NPR I added the book to my amazon.com wishlist, which is quite substantial, hoping, somehow, that my mom would find it in the middle of the thousand or so titles I was angling for someone to buy for me. Well, my mom knows me pretty well and I received the book for Christmas and I wasted no time in reading it. In fact I was finished before my flight back to Los Angeles landed.
Like any good memoir, it resonated on a personal level with me but was also a completely foreign, and therefore exotic, experience. What I found most compelling was the author’s ability to make change blindly, acceptingly and wind up in a messy place, only to struggle and find peace in that messy place.
Let’s be honest, not everyone would or could or should just shift their whole being, rotating 180° to become a luddite farmer (I say that lovingly, by the way) using plow horses as power, milking cows to make butter and butchering their own livestock, but it’s a hell of a story in caring for one’s self. Not many people would build their own shelter and provide for their own nutrition, covering the very basic of basic needs, as if mod cons didn’t exist at all. Not many people would proffer that the most primal work, therefore the most difficult and backbreaking, could be the key to some kind of human serenity.
I like that there is peace after messiness. I like that work can lead to divine resignation, which, I would argue, is even more comforting than peace. I like that Kimball found renewal in these things and that I did, too, in my own moment of being able to fight change no more.
And I really like that my drawers have perfectly folded t-shirts in them.
Go buy the book and...