“Going back to work?”

As if we stopped working in the interim.  As if carrying, growing, birthing, nursing, and raising a child are not work.  (Someone told me that the process of gestation and childbirth is equivalent, in terms of energy expended, to climbing Mount Everest.  Someone more reliable told me that the single most energy-intensive activity a mammal can undertake is gestation.  This seems obvious.)

But when you’ve had a professional career and you step away for a different kind of life, people always want to know if you’re going back to work.  By which they really mean one of two things: a) will you get paid again, or will you keep sponging off your husband (who must make a MINT)?, and/or b) will you do something that uses your vast experience and training or will you just keep changing diapers ad infinitum?  I’d be offended by these questions if I weren’t asking them myself.  (Except for the MINT part.  We wish.)  But I kind of want to know, too.  And I REALLY want to know if I’ll be able to go back to work in the ways that make best sense. Those are:

1. With limited hours so there is still time to spend with kids and so we don’t spend my whole paycheck on childcare.  You’d think in a tough economy and a social context where more parents want to parent more, that we’d see an increase in smart, flexible, responsible part-time positions.  No.  Instead, most organizations are forcing more on overworked, underpaid employees in the strange American all-or-nothing principle.  I don’t get it, nor do I like it.  The parents I know could change the world, and the lucky ones get to do it in both ways at once: through paid work AND raising the next generation of citizens and leaders.

2. With a passion for the field and an excellent match for my distinctive sets of skills and capacities.  Why aren’t there more (decently paying) jobs in the most creative and engaging fields of teaching and social change?  Don’t answer that.  I get it.  I just don’t like it.  Mostly, I can’t help thinking about how much positive change could happen if we actually embraced principles of prevention rather than treatment — if we made sure kids have what they need, and parents too.  If we got people interested in building things early, instead of teaching them to behave like a cog in a wheel or an arm in a factory.  The world is what we make it, friends.  Let’s make it something we want to inhabit.  That takes artists and engineers and organizers and teachers and doctors and environmentalists, and it takes cooperation and negotiation and the crafting of shared hope.

3. With a context and situation that permit and even encourage the recognition that all workers are human and deserving of dignity, flexibility, support, integrity, and engagement.  Being a parent has made me a better human and also, I believe, a better worker and supervisor.  And it has made me less patient with forms of interaction that are counterproductive.  Ask for people’s ideas.  Give them a chance to shine.  Be honest with them.  Encourage them to learn and grow.  Remind them that they’re not just laying brick upon brick, as the old story goes; they’re building a great cathedral.

This is all to say: I’m hopeful.  I’m hopeful that I can find ways to sustain us in the long haul, whether through writing or teaching or foundation work or crafting or consulting.  And for now, I’ve got a job I love with two tiny colleagues and one great big one and a shared vision of fun, love, and creativity.  Can’t beat that with a stick.


The garden at first snow

There have been years when our first snow surprised us, and we gleefully picked spinach and arugula from under a fluffy blanket.  There have been years when the first snow came overnight and was so gentle that it melted away from the small warmth of the plants, leaving them in shallow dark circles among the white.  There have even been years when I was so organized and the snow so conveniently late that my beds were harvested, composted, and covered over with a shredded-leaf duvet.  But this year is a tweener: the snow is late, and sparse, but we’ve had deep, consistent freezes that forced the chard and parsley into the house.  (I picture them lifting their mulchy skirts to hoist their skinny white knees above the soil line and then straggling like refugees up to the deck.)  All that’s out there now is the kale (which somehow ended up in four of our six beds…don’t look at me like that) and the remaining root crops: beets and carrots.  Those really need to come in soon, as our pitchfork can only do so much against rock-hard winter soil. 

It’s a frustration trying to garden with children, but also a lesson in wonder — not just that things grow from tiny seeds and produce beautiful, colorful food, but also that the soil and water and worms exist as they do.  We got Ezra to help us spread chopped leaves on the garden because we told him the worms need them for food through the winter.  He was beyond thrilled when, four weeks later, we lifted the leaf mulch to plant our garlic, and there were numbers of wrigglers dashing for cover.  Worms are for Ezra what writing is for me: alluring, entrancing, and more than a little terrifying.  Also good for the world, and something we want to nurture.

What. On. Earth.

Bear with me, because I’m just starting this up, and I’m a little starry-eyed.  It feels like one of those deep dark secrets we used to fondle, a little afraid of it and totally enticed.  And now I’m pulling it out of my pocket, covered in lint and crumpled, ready perhaps to show it to someone before it falls apart in the wash.

A blog like this seems the last hope of the desperate.  And a particular kind of desperation at that: a kind that demands that life have meaning and beauty and some sort of order.  A kind that insists we keep growing, even when it hurts or seems just plain stupid.  So here I am, typing away in my effort to keep living the questions I’ve been teaching about for years.  Yes, this blog’s title comes from a course I designed way back when: “Passion and Sustenance: On Crafting a Life.”  It was a study of community, vocation, sustainability, and work.  Ever since I left my paid work to raise my family, I’ve been trying to cleave to these questions, to remember the readings and to live with the ideas we bandied about so carelessly in the classroom.  And now the questions matter even more, because now they are wrapped around more of us.

So what will I do here?  Remains to be seen.  But at this moment, here are my topics:

Working (paid, free, idealized, crap, whatever)

Living (on earth; in the land; in community)

Growing (plants, people, whatever)

Making (food, art, words — craft is everywhere)

Hoping (what some might call faith, love, or imagination)

Nothing is neatly sorted or sortable, but as you’ll soon see, that’s just my speed.  It’s all connected, anyway, so we might as well take a deep breath. Keywords: patience, humility, generosity.  And hope.