Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Putting Another Log on the Fire

So I got my first internet based marital proposition from someone in federal prison (minimum security, I was assured!) the other day. I'm so proud. Not since I got debunked by the right wing wackos at junkscience.com has a tribute to my work meant so much. I hear Ann Coulter gets 150 proposals a day, but this is my very first
;-). I'll call him "Rambo" since he mentioned that movie twice in his (long) email to me.

Now ordinarily I wouldn't make fun - not all prisoners are bad guys, and it certainly has to be one hell of a lonely life. But the gentleman in question was not overly subtle about his goals in marrying this "rollecking farm girl with a survival orientation" (ok, I really liked that phrase, even though he seemed unaware or unconcerned he was proposing bigamy...can we just skip the Groucho Marx puns here ;-), and I feel it acceptable to make a bit of fun, given the language of the proposition. Particularly since he wanted me to wait until his parole in 2013. I was forced to tell him that a. I'm happily monogamous and b. if I weren't, I'm really not into delayed gratification.

Now this is pretty funny for me. I'm not the sort of woman that people get agonizing unrequited crushes on. The only way I'll ever be the loveliest girl in the room is if I have dinner with Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and these days a date with my husband is an evening spent romantically planting corn or shoveling out the compost pile. I suspect the gentleman in question noticed I was female, the only real relevant requirement, and decided to take a shot. And a lovely esteem enhancement it was, despite the use of the unfortunate term "lay" to describe my person ;-).

What really interested me about the email I got was this - the gentleman in question
graciously offered me his protection in the coming hard times, including an explanation of his experience and training. He knows I live somewhere in the state of New York, and he warned me that I could expect to be overrun by "hordes" of people from Manhattan any time now, when the peak oil apocalypse comes. And as appreciative as I am - Eric, while a wonderful man with many gifts has no experience in underwater demolitions (although given that I live in upstate NY and the creek on my property is rarely more than a foot deep, that might not be tops on the list of survival skills I'm seeking), I did have to decline, if only because I doubt we have until 2013 before the consequences of peak oil begin.

The gentleman in questions seemed sincere, if a little crude, but the proposition he seemed to be making seems a bad sort of deal for me. He'll protect me from marauding hordes while I farm, have babies for him (oh yes, this was specifically mentioned - I don't think he realizes that babies already come with the package), and do the "woman-stuff" (his term). Now I'm no starry eyed idealist, nor am I a pacifist. I have a fairly firm and practical relationship to the preservation of my family, my life and my livestock. Guns are useful tools out here in the country, and while I'm not buying my ammo by the crate, I'm also a pragmatist - I'll use whatever works in my quest to keep coyotes from eating my geese and the wolf from the door.

But I, apparently, get to do all the easy girl work of growing the food while breastfeeding, and cleaning. How nice for me! The gentleman was very clear on this fact - he has no agricultural knowledge of his own, and it seemed as though the "farm" was even more compelling than the "rollicking" part (I just like to write "rollicking.") Oh, and he mentioned cooking too - he wanted to know if I was a good cook. Well as it happens, I am, and not a half-bad farmer either. And I conceed that in some conceivable situations I might need someone to hold the shotgun while I'm mulching the corn, somehow, the "you cook, clean, plant, harvest, hoe, and I'll play Rambo" deal didn't seem like the best trade off I've ever gotten. See, I've gotten oddly accustomed to sharing work equally, with a real partner. Some days are more equal than others, but the "protection for sex and dinner" deal just doesn't look that good from my end.

May I offer a suggestion to the male survivalist lovelorn (and any really tough lesbians with the same assumptions ;-)) - peak oil doesn't actually mean that we get to go back to living the "Put another log on the fire" life (And ain't I gonna take you fishin' with me someday/Now a man can't love a woman more than that...). There are whole forums out there are of people who imagine that handling peak oil is just a matter of a good gun, an isolated homestead and someone to do the cooking and sewing. I've got to say, I suspect that the reason those forums tend to have a 8-1 male female ratio (and half the guys seem to be single), may have something to do with the fact that underneath the rhetoric there's a "Yay, back to the stone age with all the girls" theme. Often, women are referred to as "our women," most often by people who don't own any ;-).

But the thing is, it doesn't matter how many guns you have or how much ammo you've got - unless you live in the movies, if the purple haired mutants come around, two people are going to get their asses kicked by 3 or more people. Isolated homesteads aren't that common, actually - most of them are surrounded by other people who also like isolated homesteads, and they all get to be isolated together. And unless you plan to revise our incest taboos, at least once a generation (and probably quite a bit more often), everyone is going to have to come out of their cave and get to know the neighbors.

So obviously, soloing isn't the answer (sorry Rambo!). Which means communities. Which means doing the work of community building - you know, having relationships with people. I'm not talking about setting up an ecovillage (no implied attacks on people who are, just not my thing) - I'm talking about building community with the people who live near you. And the way you do that is usually not exciting or dramatic - it rarely (at this stage) involves everyone learning to work together to defeat the marauding whatevertheyare a la the Magnificent Seven (Shoot, I was aiming for the horse!). Mostly, it involves knowing people well enough to trust them. And how do you do that? The boring way. You stop up and have a chat. You ask after the baby or the grandkids. You bring soup when someone gets sick and have a party now and again. You barter. You trade. You talk. You offer to help with something, show up, do a solid day's work, and do it again next time, proving that you mean what you say. That is, you do all the girly (and men do it too - I'm making fun here) stuff of talking, having relationships, being nice, paying attention and helping out.

Now I can't swear that Rambo's services might never be useful. But I do know, that fixating today on Rambo's solution is the quickest way to bring about the nasty future he wants to protect me from. Social breakdown and violence happens when infrastructure fails. So building shadow infrastructure - ordinary people prepared to pick up the slack when institutions fail is a #1 priority. What we need right now is as much engagement as possible with other people. And even with Rambo at my back, I can only fight off, oh, maybe 12 (yeah, right) marauders (personal nukes are on my "to get" list right after the solar panels ;-). Ultimately, a bigger group of people, or a luckier one or one with less to lose can always take what they want. The best hope I have is to make sure that things don't degrade that far. Because if they do - I've already lost. Civilian casualties, accidental deaths and friendly fire constitute almost 40% of all deaths in any given conflict - not starting the battle is my potential salvation. Speaking as a Mom, I don't want to win anything that involves my kids getting hurt even accidentally. If it ever (g-d forbid) comes to that, we'll deal. But when you've got an investment in the long term, short term thinking is a big mistake.

So Rambo, I'm afraid we just weren't meant to be. But I do want to throw his offer open - he didn't strike me as a picky sort, and I do have quite a few female readers. So if anyone is looking for a man with demolitions experience and an eye to survival, I'm sure he won't mind if I pass his email along.

Sharon

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Sharon. When i say you're inspiring - I mean it as a verb not an adjective - for me and I gather many others, you inspire real and lasting life change. So I've traded a Sydney city
apartment for a suburban block and I've vermicomposted and commited to a paler variation on your 90% reduction. What I need now is *practical* tips on how to get started growing food. Where to locate the veggie patch? What will grow in this soil? How much of it should I plant? How seriously I need to take the directions on the back of the pack? How so I prime the soil without petrochemicals and the like?

Can you or your mates suggest some sound web or book resources? The seasons and the climate are different here (Right now it's a "very cold" winter at 5-10 degrees celsius - there's never a frost, and summers can be relatively humid - depending on what El Nino's doing) but we have reasonable growing seasons and better rain than most parts of the continent. This is one of the most urbanised countries in the world and reflecting this I know *no-one* who has ever grown food in this country. Food gardening books I've found are the "buy Yates complete fertiliser and XYZ sterile seeds" variety) or at the other end of the spectrum, serious farmer's almanac stuff. Neither of which meets the need.

A huge admirer

nada said...

Anonymous,

If you are in the Sydney area, you can grow anything. I live in the Blue Mountains and grew up in Sydney - my mother's Sydney garden has everything from citrus to coffee growing in it. A veggie patch and flat, fertile ground that is a joy to garden in/on.

You do need water. If you can get a water tank that will help especially in Sydney summers which are hot and dry. Garden site - most sunny spot but shielded from the western/arvo sun.

Local libraries have a great and wide selection of gardening books.That's a good place to start. The Gardening Australia website (via the ABC TV) is full info and tips. There is a great gardening bookshop in Glebe called Florilegium, if you wan to buy things like manuals to help you.

There are community gardens and councils that offer food growing help - depends where you are.

I can also recommend the Diggers Club (www.diggers.com.au) for seed and growing info. Eden Seeds (www.edenseeds.com.au) for open pollinated (seed you can save- not sterile) seeds. You are right to avoid Yates - although they are bringing out some organic seed as part of their range.

That's all I can think of - i lost all my garden links last week with a computer crash.....

More gardeners. YAY!

Anonymous said...

Hi Nada - that's a wonderful start and thanks for responding. I think we've met at the 90% reduction site actually - Mandarina

Nada said...

Yeah, we have met....hi!

Look if I can give you anymore help, let me know. I'm no expert but do, as they say, like to give it a go.

MSquirrel said...

Welcome to the world of "you must be interesting because you have boobs". Ever since I got signed up to Yahoo chat so our household can talk for free to friends scattered around the world, I've gotten propositioned (but no marriage proposals) from well-meaning gentlemen (snicker) from around the world as well, even as far as Italy and Egypt. And since I troll the net anonymously as "Mama Squirrel" and even use pics of Squirrels instead of my own, one has to bemuse to oneself, "What was this guy thinking???"

Anonymous said...

I've always said that if you want to be married more than anything else (as opposed to have a good marriage) get a pen pal in the pen.

That aside, I think one of the biggest blocks to community building for people if the feeling that we need to be "like minded." You really can feed the cat belong to someone who have voted on opposite sides of every local election, and enjoy having them read to your children while you unblock the loo. You can trade garden chores with someone who takes three jet-assisted vacations a year.

Because, push comes to shove, we are going to be relying on each other, and at the end of the day, we can't afford to be too picky about who offers us a helping and and who we reach a hand too.

(yeah, I know there are people who live in places where they have never seen the people who live next door becuase they drive into their garage and never emerge until they drive out until the next morning, and who reacted to your plate of homemade cookies the the day they moved in as if a three headed alien had presented them with a plate of dog dirt, but if you can find any connection with a neighbor, I'd go for it.

MEA

jewishfarmer said...

Anonymous, that's one of the most wonderful compliments I've ever gotten. Thank you so much for telling me that I've had an impact. I'm really grateful to learn that.

I don't know that much about gardening in your region, but I can list off some of my favorite garden books, which I hope will be available in your region. But this is one of those YMMV things - I may be giving bad advice by telling you to refer to things from people who don't know what they are talking about for your area. So I'd definitely take local advice over mine.

Some books I like _Square Foot Gardening_ by Mel Bartholomew may be the best overall beginners book that I know of. I also like Lee Reich's _Weedless Gardening_ and the Rodale _Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening_ which has a lot of good information on soil building. But you could definitely get started with just the Bartholomew book - at least here.

Good luck - and if anyone else has better advice, please post it.

jewishfarmer said...

Ms. Squirrel, yeah, I know what you mean. Wooo-Man. Pretty funny though.

MEA, I think you've hit the nail on the head. There are reasons to look for better neighbors, but no matter how perfectly we pick our community, eventually we'll have to get along with the other people around us.

Sharon

Greenpa said...

Wonderful stuff!! I was cracking up through the whole essay. :-)

Anonymous said...

Neighborliness seems a lot like soil to me. I've lived in places where there was no sense of neighborliness whatsoever, and places that prided themselves on being neighborly. Sociologists call it social capital and it is real. Also it's very subject to erosion. When we lived in "Deer Park" most residents lived there 1 or 2 years before moving on. The few who had been there over a decade interacted with each other a lot, but they weren't going to make the investment on someone who would move away soon. Where we are now, one lady made friendly gestures to us when we moved in, but none of our (many) other neighbors made overtures, but when word got out that we bought the house rather than renting it, and were hoping to stay her long-term, lots of people started befriending us. And we were let in on some of the neighborhood traditions, like playing washers. For the first time in our life, we've lived in one place long enough for friends to move away from us instead of vice versa. So I understand the emotional investment issue a little better. I think there are many, many places where community has been eroded to almost nothingness by moving in and away. This will probably change as Peak Oil effects get bad, but I'm not sure it will change right at first. In a lot of places community building will be starting from almost scratch.
-Brian M.

Katrien said...

Hilarious! And serious too, yes, but very funny!

Sharon, you write "I'm not talking about setting up an ecovillage - I'm talking about building community with the people who live near you." In the comments this is called "neighborliness," in which likemindedness should not be an issue.

I agree we need neighborliness. But I also like the idea of a like-minded community of family and friends. I don't know if you have lots of family nearby, but my own nuclear family is rather extremely nuclear. It's just the 3 of us, and our nearest relatives, 1,000 miles away, have never seen our daughter(almost 2 years old). As I get more insight into what the future will hold, I feel the need to attract more family and friends - not for visiting, but for staying with us.

Also, by the way, in response to a much earlier post of yours on learning about the energy crisis from the poor, I wanted to mention Chelsea Green's new book Since Sliced Bread. Common-sense ideas from America's working families. Very helpful in so many ways!

Anonymous said...

I'm fortunate to have family (my APs) and like minded neighbors in walking distance. But I'm also careful to keep neighborly with the unlike minded ones, and they, obviously, with me.
MEA

Anonymous said...

That totally explains some of the rhetoric I have seen on the peak oil survivalist boards....now I know where they are coming from. Literally.

Someone once pointed out to me that the reason these guys want to see the world turn out that way is because they have failed in the current world, and they imagine that because they will have weapons and know how to use them that they are gonna be on top of the stone age system.

Anonymous said...

Hi, it's me, the poor/disabled person - ;)

This post is quite funny, and you make a great related point about building neighborliness - but, I don't think it was very nice of you to out this Rambo so fully - he sent his hopeful email to you, not to all of your readers - and he should have been given the humane courtesy of a less humiliating mention, if any at all. I understand that he was offensive, and far too presumptuous - but was such explicit fun-making on a widely-read blog really the right and honorable thing to do?

Although I laughed, I felt rather ashamed for doing so.

jewishfarmer said...

Anonymous, you may be right. Rambo did give me permission to "pass this on" which I considered permission to discuss publically. And frankly, Rambo's comments were in some places so offensive that I don't feel that guilty about it. I left out the part where he discussed precisely what he'd like to do to/with me, in which the phrase "lick your pussy" did figure prominently. I have tended to think that if you are really obnoxious in email you forfeit the right for me not to make public fun of you.

But maybe I should have a little more compassion, and maybe this wasn't fair. I don't know - I think sometimes I err on the wrong side, and I appreciate your critique. BTW, now that we know each other, can you sign in with initials or a code name or something - I don't want to invade your privacy, but I hate thinking about you as "the poor disabled person." Otherwise, I fear I'll start thinking about you (and I hope you will take this as flattery, not unkindness) as "Jiminy Cricket" because I think you have such an unfailing ear for when my conscience should bother me more ;-). I appreciate it.

Sharon

jewishfarmer said...

Katrien, thanks for the book recommendation - I'll definitely look at it.

I agree with you that having people like you is really valuable. For us, one of the big issues is family proximity, another is access to religious community. I'm really not opposed to an ecovillage - I just can't imagine spending the rest of my life deciding things by consensus, but that's probably me. I like the principles, I just don't know that I could live with them.

I sometimes debate inviting another (comparatively) young family to come share our home and farm - we have a huge house and more land than we can work by hand. I worry that it might not work out, but at the same time, I often look at what I have and think that it would be so much easier with more people - and so much more fun.

So yes, I do understand the appeal. I just sometimes think that the "community of like-minded folk" thing becomes a barrier to simply choosing a place. I know a lot of people who are looking for the perfect community, and I wonder if they'll ever really find it.

Sharon

Anonymous said...

I passed this article on to my husband. It was a great way to present my views on our future needs. Rambos get around. We both have known several. Sad, really, for someone to be so helpless and immature, but damn funny. Excellent article. I have enjoyed many of your articles. It's nice to know someone in the peak-oil arena who's sane.

Anonymous said...

And in the NY Times "garden advice" column yesterday, an apartment dweller with a balcony was looking for some sort of product they could buy to keep their balcony plants watered while they went away and the columnist was full of advice about what they could buy- and never once was it suggested that perhaps the neighbors could just stop by and water the plants......

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