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Saturday, July 31

when the going gets tough, the outrage-fatigued get back to basics

I spend the bulk of my time now as an urban homesteader, when I'm not commuting to and from a job with a vague expiration date on it. If there is anything positive to be said about spending upwards of 4 hrs a day commuting, it is that one has a bit of time to spend reading. When one is not snoring on the train, which is often.

Aside from the occult-flavored reading that I decided to re-immerse myself in upon moving, I picked up two books that have pretty much reassured me that any move I make to get outside of the system, away from The Man, is going to be a net positive over the long haul. At the very last, I am the mistress of my own fate.

The first quasi-life changing book I read was Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture. Yes, the cover has a woman wielding a rolling pin on it. But it is a lot more than that. It is basically a call to arms to steadily work to quit perpetuating the extractive economy. 'Extractive' meaning we work in order to buy things, and are not particularly benefited by the process because we were sold on consumer culture as soon as manufacturers realized they could even manufacture a sense of need. We work long hours in order to afford things. Who benefits from that but the manufacturers. This is a paradigm-shifting book if one wasn't already suspicious of rampant consumerism. I know quite a few women who were really angered when it came out because it looks from the outside to be a book putting women back in the kitchen. That interpretation is horseshit. It puts the whole family back into the running of the household (guess what, most households have a kitchen in them) and gives examples of living situations where a sense of community is regained because people are working together as partners in order to get away from being wage slaves. Which is how it is supposed to work, within reason.

The second quasi-life changing book I read was Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream. This one stirred up vitriol in people who don't like the thought that the predominant US way of life is wasteful, unsustainable, irresponsible, and negligent towards future generations. (Tough shit, guys, but it is. As is globalization as it's been spoon-fed to us. Okay, buy some carbon offsets, and you'll have shit with a bow on it, is that better?) The 12x12 cabin in the book belongs to a country doctor who works just enough hours per year to fall under the tax-paying radar. It has no plumbing and no electricity, because in the county she lives, having those would make it a bonafide dwelling, and thus subject to property taxes and the like. Of course, it would also afford her some squatter's rights and some say in how the county does its business, to officially exist to state and local officials, but she's decided she prefers to not contribute to a system she doesn't believe in, and to spend much of her time remembering humility and being an activist. It isn't for everyone, but I felt envious of living that... small. For lack of a better word. To take up so little space, to have a permacultured garden and orchard which is irrigated by rainwater. To have a composting toilet and basically not worry about such mundane things as a septic system backing up, or an electrical bill. Her shower is outside the dwelling, the water heated by the sun all day. And this isn't even what the book is about, rather the context and crucible...

But I was talking about outrage fatigue in the title for this post.

Wiki-leaks that aren't leaks of anything we didn't already suspect (leaking the names of the informants was bloody irresponsible, though). An oil company shirking responsibility for killing several ecosystems in one go (I'm sorry, how is this a revelation?). A Congress which refuses to live by the work ethic the rest of the country lives by (e.g. they are basically refusing to address global warming because apparently they got stressed out with the medical overhaul which wasn't - sorry, assholes, but you work for us and you won't be able to eat money when agriculture becomes impossible). Sewage sludge being given to communities and farmers across the US as 'fertilizer' so the processors don't have to pay to dispose of it as hazardous material (the SFPUC and the Chez Panisse Foundation have a lot to answer for right now); sewage sludge is full of super happy fun things like flame retardants, dioxins, phthalates, pharmaceuticals, heavy metals, etc - this is not unlike the coal ash being encouraged as garden amender in the east so the power companies don't have to pay to deal with it properly.

Honestly? The stuff above isn't even the tip of the iceberg for me, but these are the bits that currently have my attention. The Wiki-leaks stuff less so, because it is a Weapon of Mass Distraction in the media right now. This means BP and Toyota are probably holed up in a titty bar somewhere doing shots, glad to not be the leading topic on the news every night. I'd bet Monsanto is there right now with them, because while the Roundup-ready alfalfa's been disallowed for now, they'll be back. They're counting on Elena Kagan being confirmed because the White House is way more concerned with putting a couple more ovaries on the Supreme Court right now, no matter the bias. I guess Clarence Thomas needs the company. But shit makes the flowers, grow, does it not?

So, I go out into my backyard and find solace in weeding out dandelions between the rows of corn and sorghum. I harvest plums from the neighbor's tree hanging into my yard and make wine and syrup. Last week I belatedly started broadcasting seed for nitrogen-fixing cover crops for the chickens to peck at, like red clover, and the task today is to till in some compost in one of the side yard patches so I can finally put the elderberries into the ground now that they've leafed out in pots (got them bare-root from a nursery, pretty nifty way to get trees and shrubs). The bees are back in the yard because I managed to coincide the sunflowers with the squashes, which means I will actually have a squash crop this year thanks to sufficient pollinators. I am kicking myself for yanking out so many nettles in the spring; those could have gone into herbal beer and pesto, but they seem to be coming back. And so it goes.

Fetch water, carry wood, muck out coop, compost, sow, grow, fetch water. (Speaking of water, I managed to cut the water bill in half with irrigating the yard with gray water this season.) The garden is a small oasis in a neighborhood that quite belligerently does not give a shit about simple things like a sun-ripened tomato, or greater self-sufficiency, but what matters is that my enthusiasm for what I do when I get home every day has been contagious, and several coworkers who were apathetic last year are growing their own this year, and I have friends thinking about keeping chickens. And there are many oases in front yards in my community which did not exist last year, where one can see a row of corn and sunflowers acting as a windbreak for tomato and pepper plants. I still have my eye on two sizable empty lots nearby, for the purpose of squat-gardening leading up to community gardens eventually. If I just throw seed balls and let the rain take care of those in October, come February and March people will see pretties and edibles growing. It is a start.

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