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titanium spoons

I’ve been wanting to write lately but notice I speak of the same things over and over in blog posts.  Losing a friend and lover, creating meaning out of the loss.  Gardening as a metaphor.  I went to writing group the other evening and was excited for a friend who is really shining in her writing.  There’s a few older eccentric men that come to our group and harsh her for picking out a little tavern to host our writing.  Small talk deemed a distraction, people turning into mosquitos.  I found myself in tears in church on Sunday listening to her sermon about riding her bike across the country.  I don’t feel the need to compare us any other way other than we are both on a journey.  Both writers.  Both searching.

I want so much to go down the rabbit hole of analyzing my past cycle with the old flame.  I think awful theories of subconscious creation of pain through other women, attacks, lies.  I think what was different this time was giving in a bit more to the freeze reflex.  I laid first on a plastic mattress on the floor and then a futon mattress and kept whispering “light as a feather, stiff as a board” while hands pressed all over my body.  I told myself to be quiet, that this might make things better.  I did not touch back.  I did not kiss.  I let it all happen and felt my stomach curl into knots.  I remembered parties of my youth sleeping on a carpeted floor in a trailer while some stranger pressed against me.  Paralyzed.

Instead of trying to make my demise all about cheating and lying, I can just default to values once again.  I don’t have many possessions and call myself a minimalist but I think survivor is a more fitting term.  I spent money like crazy in college and will forever suffer the consequences of my need to feel good…right now.  I sit on the couch in anxiety and watch an Amazon cart fill up with materials for solar power, titanium spoons, objects.  I stop to put down a spoonful of hillbilly beef soup I had made and laugh.  Why on earth won’t a regular spoon work?  Why do things need purchased?  Why so much time spent trying to figure out what to buy?  I see the cycle of capitalism and consumerism played out right in front of me  under the guise of “my land, my tiny home.”  Ownership.  Possession.

Despite the new rebellion against materialism the consumer mentality it still very much alive.  Still worried about kind and quantity.  Two titanium spoons, one for the ex and one for his guests.  Security sought in numbers all motivated by the anxiety that there may be some missing out of what’s going on.  Someone else might build a better tiny home, be more sustainable, have the best batteries.  Researched  lifetime warranties a little more lying naked on the couch in the morning.  Throw away cactus plants, throw away male marijuana plants, throw away people.  I learned most about what’s important inside a concrete room for three months.  One spoon works great and takes on many uses.  A toothpaste box becomes storage, toothpaste becomes a whitening agent for v-neck tees.  Stripped of identity and objects, my thoughts become my only possessions.  A true shift from the inside.

I still am teetering on that rabbit hole wondering if I was used for sex, unbending like a 2×4, noiseless like a spider.  As I shower I feel my heart jump as I mistake the soap bubbles for a spider.  I remember a game I created called finger spider so I could crawl my veiny hand tendrils all over the body of that same dude.  Not frozen all the time.  But still scared, seeing paper tigers and toy guns.  The last nail in the coffin became a pair of skis.  I watch the crazy eyes emerge–the same ones contained in a video with all actors high on acid.  Folks sure do get crazy over the things that help them escape.  I’ve gotten pretty crazy, too.  The skis were traded back and forth until eventually they have ended up in my truck bed.  Its hard to bicker over possessions (skis) not giving a shit about skiing.  Its hard to admit I’ve been fooled again.  And so I write.  About the same things over and over with or without distraction in the tiny tavern of my heart.

“To live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.”

― John Powell

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the law of the jungle

I am an intense person.  This has been pointed out to me.  In order to keep my whole person from shattering at the thought of all my faults I reframe these comments to think I’m passionate.  The other day I was on the phone and was trying so hard to explain why I felt a local organic farm was injected with privilege.  I couldn’t get my words out and sounded as if I was starting a war against young white farmers.  The friend helped me tease out my words and she said what was in my heart—“oh you want to make organic farming more accessible!”  YES!  All of my work in the social justice arena comes down to money.  Classism.  Poverty.  Social currency.

When I first came to Colorado, I was living in the San Luis Valley.  These were some great farmers markets.  Garlic, onions, potatoes, even some osha sprinkled into the mix.  When I was younger, I was involved with an apprenticeship in Laramie, WY at Elk Mountain Herbs.  I learned about herbs of the mountain west.  Herbs that grow in between 7,000 and 9,000 feet.  Yarrow, nettle, redroot, Oregon grape root, bedstraw, curlycup gumweed, plantain, black cohosh root, wormwood, elderberry.  I had a kitchen drawer full of dried herbs that I would combine into a daily tea or tonic as its called in the herb world.  Tonics are preventative medicine with tinctures serving for more acute illness.  I stopped at the farmers market in Alamosa, CO to talk a bit to a farmer about osha.  He realized its value and I felt as if I found someone who understood the distinct healing properties of whole plants.

The ranch in Elk Mountain had received a grant from the USDA to grow osha commercially and when I took my apprenticeship I was also in a magazine writing class.  I decided to write about the curative properties of osha, although the story was never published because osha has an endangered distinction due to being over-picked around herbs schools of the southwest.  In simple terms, osha helps regenerate the cilia within lungs.  Its best taken when you feel a cold or respiratory illness coming on.  A tincture can be made, or the roots can be chewed on.   Usually, the herb causes coughing right away and tastes of strong celery.  I interviewed Michael Moore, a very talented herbalist who has since passed, outside Reeds bar one night on the phone.  He talked about how osha was so special in the southwest it could be traded for money, gas, etc.  Since I’ve moved to Pagosa Springs, not quite as many folks know about the value of osha or more likely I’ve not met these folks yet.

During my apprenticeship learning about the medicinal aspects of herbs, we also learned about the magical properties.  Yarrow and dandelion were deemed “desert island” herbs that could be used for many purposes.  We learned catchphrases like “eat them, don’t weed them” or “research causes cancer in rats.”  I think what I liked best about this course is that I felt I was becoming more in charge of my own health.  I was noticing what herbs grew on my hikes around southeast Wyoming and collected nettles taller than my 6 foot frame at Elk Mountain Ranch in Wyoming. This stuff felt accessible and much of what we knew about these herbs was collected from indigenous cultures—American Indians, Latino/a’s.   During the course, a medicine bundle was found in Arizona assumed to be 500 years old containing osha.  Ligusticum porteri.  Strong enough medicine to be worn around the neck in a bundle for healing and good fortune.

What does all this mean for gardening, organic farming, foraging? For me, it meant I could learn to produce or find my own medicine and food.  It meant that I could take a hike and have even more purpose taking and giving from the forest diving into permaculture before I had even heard of the word.  I’ve only recently started growing plants and herbs and wonder why I haven’t tried this before.  But then I stop and remember that I’ve got to meet myself where I am.  The cost of organic gardening is more than just the $100 of seedlings in my garden.  Its learning how to grow, harvest, cook, having the mental energy to prepare a meal.  I’m a straddler of social classes, forever aware of my debt yet forever aware of my privilege.  I know about herbs.  I have space for a garden.  I can buy osha, or I can trade my goods and services.

To me, food justice means empowering folks through knowledge.  And the best part about this knowledge is that it can feed the mind, the body, the spirit.  I’ve sprinkled elderberries around my home for protection, picked yarrow in big open fields, hung bundles of nettle in sheds to dry.  I have cut up my cucumbers and ate them with yellow pungent sprigs of dill.  Growing my garden has rekindled my interest in herbalism.  And now I’m on a project to leverage folks in Pagosa Springs to start talking about how to reclaim our food, reclaim our plants, get out of the isles of the grocery store and into the isles of nature.  I’m just not sure yet how to do this—I’m weary of talking with folks who already have power.  I feel that some of these organic farms run by young privileged kids is another example of cultural appropriation.  But how do I explain this?  How do I both celebrate and challenge what we are doing?  I do what I know and I write a blog that goes in all directions and begin to name what I think helps—knowledge of herbs.  Knowledge of plants.  I can “Robin Hood” this information and start to share what I know, redistribute my social currency.  Food justice can start right here in my heart.

“From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”

Cesar Chavez

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blue-collar sensibility

My Dad and I often fought because unlike the other kids in the house I would argue tooth and nail on principals I upheld—like I should be able to go out late because how else will I learn to make choices?  There was one particularly heated fight and I went downstairs to my room to blast whatever awful music I listened to at the time and Dad came tearing down the stairs and ripped the entire door off its hinges.  I simply glared at him over my book of poetry by Jim Morrison and said, “it was unlocked, jeez.”

Dad was the archetypal blue collar worker.  He wore one of his 3 pairs of Wranglers 30 by 32, a pocket shirt of which he had about 7, a brown worn leather belt, and generally a ball cap with some fishing logo or maybe the name of the mine he at which he worked.  He changed positions a few times working in the coal mine after starting out in a uranium mine in Douglas, WY.  He did a stint in the oil field—his father and two uncles had started “Triple B Energy” in Gillette, WY where they had learned the trade after some semesters at Texas A&M.

Uncle Joe was a self-made chemical engineer or “mud mixer” as its called in the field creating a concoction of chemicals designed to keep the walls of hundreds feet deep drill site from collapsing. Grandpa Loy was more of the talker and business man of the group, in his later life selling cars for a living showing off that Southern sweet talk and charm.  My other Great Uncle, Doyle, was less involved living in New Mexico working for NASA for the latter part of his life.  I remember him clearly, he was in a wheelchair.  When he was younger, he got polio and used plastic straws he kept in his breast pocket to type out his notes on a computer he had configured to fit his shriveled body.  I would become so angry when folks looked at him as we tooled around the southwest—he’s smart, don’t you know?!

Some 13 million Americans have managed to move from their blue-collar upbringing to a while-collar world and while class mobility seems to hearken to the American Dream and is generally applauded in the symbolic way—there are lasting consequences.  It must have been summer of my sophomore year or so and Dad and I were once again arguing on principal.  I had become more proficient at this during my college experience.  Disagreements were now an area of growth—I saw these talks as ways to try to open his mind to what I was learning at college—how to think in the grey, how to listen to all sides of a thought and use my own skills of deduction to formulate my world.  Dad became more and more frustrated and then eventually said out loud “you are wasting your time, you’ll never make as much as me.”  I had to let that statement sink in.  He might be right. But is that really why I was getting my Bachelors of Arts in English?  To make money?

My parents were able to afford to pay for my room and board the first year of college.  I lived in the dorms, Orr Hall, and still look back fondly on those years.  I met many life-long friends at the smokers bench by McIntyre Hall where we would meet before meals walking out of the cafeteria smiling with ice cream cones we would feed to the fat, tame squirrels that lived in the tall pines by Fraternity and Sorority Row.  I had managed to get a scholarship for 4 years of tuition as one of the top 5% of scholars in the state.  I hadn’t hardly applied to any colleges, much less done any scholarships.  Senior year was a time of addictions and moving in and out of my house.  This scholarship seemed like a fluke but I thought I better try it out—if nothing else than to prove my Dad wrong.

I may or may not make more than my Dad in my life—I feel myself headed there and am painfully aware of being the 10% here in Pagosa Springs—most of my friends in small business or the service industry working 2 or 3 jobs to pay rent in a place they live with several other roommates.  Then, there are the white collar retirees who the blue collar folks cater to—a nice restaurant here, $70,000 for a nice new overlook structure painting a portrait of a town that appreciates finer architecture and place where Texans might buy your art.  But, mobility here is highly unlikely.  The college nearby, Fort Lewis, has gained the name “Fort Leisure” and doles out liberal arts and education degrees with the promise of Straddler status—rising from the woods of Southwest Colorado to get a corporate job on the Front Range.  I don’t know if that even happens.  The salary may increase with education, but us blue collar folks may never speak the language of the privileged.

I feel a real sense of fragmentation sometimes.  Here I am, with my Masters of Science, which means something to me and meant something in higher education—the industry I recently vacated to try my hand at professional counseling.  I try to avoid the inevitable “when did you get to Pagosa, what do you do” talks because I feel hyper-aware of my self-imposed status.  I can hardly speak the nuances of a while collar existence but my blue collar roots seems to create suspicion as well.  I usually rely on the old geographical class mobility—oh I’m from Wyoming I’m a good ol’ boy (girl).  But I know secretly that if I comment on politics in a way that is non-polarizing—I might be shunned.  I’m not quite the liberal retiree speaking of Trumps evil, but I’m also not the conservative leaning fishing guide still obsessed with land ownership as another vehicle of hopping social classes.  An imposter in both worlds.

I didn’t walk in graduation for either my bachelors or my masters.  I didn’t know if my family would come.  And I certainly didn’t feel that they knew what I had accomplished.  From the outside, it may have looked like I spent 4 years drinking and reading poetry and then 2 years in my masters learning the language of empathy which I’m sure most homemakers like my Mom would attest is something that can be done in child-rearing.  I was the first in the family (in this generation) to achieve both degrees with a first cousin obtaining her law degree from Tulane.  We had done it.  But there are still certain things I won’t talk about if I ever were to visit Texas again and hit up the family reunion.  I won’t share my postmodern theories of classism, I won’t speak at length about racism, hegemony, or eco-feminism which I still use as a framework to view the world.  But these are the topics that set me apart and let me mingle with the white collar folks of academia. They just want brilliance and it can come from many different roots.

I think my Dad and I could argue because of the blue-collar existence.  We weren’t too worried about keeping up appearances.  I never remember one BBQ or dinner party hosted at my parents house.  My Dad has the same 3 piece suit he wore to church, weddings, funerals.  My Dad worked 12 hours shifts at the coal mine toward the end of his life, added to a 3 hour commute to get the mine 70 miles away.  When I was younger he would come home with black-coal eyeliner and his fingers dirty making me think he actually dug coal for a living.  Later, he would shower at the mine and the only evidence of hard labor was his pink-red eyes, slanted from the tiring physical work he had been doing his whole life.  A damn hard worker.  And so I still continue to work hard and grapple with my straddle status.  I have retirement, insurance, benefits.  But I still try to remember my roots and bear the load of paying for most of my education.  In theory I may have crossed social classes but in reality I will pay for my status forever.

“Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read.”

-Alfre Lubrano, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams