Maintain a way of life that’s threatened by the modern world

In The Shepherd’s Life, James Rebanks describes being the son of a shepherd in northern England, struggling to keep a home, and maintain a way of life that’s threatened by the demands of the modern world.

“Later I would understand that modern industrial communities are obsessed with the importance of ‘going somewhere’ and ‘doing something with your life’. The implication is an idea I have come to hate, that staying local and doing physical work doesn’t count for much.”

(Rebanks with his sheep and dogs in Northumberland.)

I left my hometown (Jackson Hole, Wyoming, one of the most beautiful places in the world), because I couldn’t afford to live there anymore. I never left (after I was 30) because I would be better off in a cosmopolitan city, abroad, or in just anywhere else. The grass was never greener (after I was 30). Pantsuits and briefcases were never appealing. If it weren’t for dreams of affording to return home to my own place on the border of Yellowstone and the Tetons, I would dream of a farm in Northern Ireland or England, or California or Oregon, with sheep and wind and rain and maybe a goat.

Doing something with my life is exploring who I am, and going somewhere is exploring what I love. Not that I don’t love to travel. I loved being in Spain and SE Asia. I really liked Jamaica and Guatemala and France. But there’s no place like home. Returning from an adventure and being local again, working with my hands on a little space of my own- my plants and animals and art. 

What we choose to feel, to be surrounded by and what we choose to create. These are what give our lives meaning, don’t you think? I have this fascination with mugs and have somehow accumulated mugs from all the national parks in the West, a few bookstores, a number of eccentric old towns, and a couple of quaint bars. My favorite mug is from Ghost Ranch, where Georgia O’Keeffe used to paint red rock and flowers, and I’ve developed an urge to learn mug-making myself. 

(Georgia O’Keeffe photographing the Chama Valley, 1961)

So I’m thinking about mugs and mug making. We’ve just been hiking on Divisadero trail. Two old couples from California and Virginia took pictures in front of my “Fuck Trump” bumper sticker.

“I couldn’t have said it any better myself,” they said.

Charley’s at an AA meeting and I’m pouring a cup of red boxed wine into my favorite mug when I notice the box is a lot lighter than it was yesterday. Did alcoholic Charley find my wine… again? 

“If I ask you a question will you tell me the truth?”

“Wow, as I come back from an AA meeting-”

“Well you’ve done it many times.”

“I’m not even going to answer this question because it’s fucking absurd.”

We settle down. Duke is gnawing on a squeaky pig. Dakota is bouncing in her bouncy chair. Charley’s watching a Colombia drug cartel documentary and I’m rocking in the Number One Rocker in the World  and checking email.

“Hey, looks like JHStyle is using a half-page of one of my photos. $65,” I brag.

“You know, I bet if you’d waited a little longer, you’d have met a rich guy-”


“Someone into art and photography-”

“But I love you.”

“I’m just sayin-”

Friday morning I have an hour of counseling. She makes suggestions, almost like she’s scolding me. If it were just a friend she’d be saying, “Get off your damn ass.” Maybe I’ll look for a new counselor.

I tell her I want to succeed with my writing and art. “Sure everyone has dreams,” she says, “but what are you going to do to support your daughter NOW?”

She suggests Charley be a stay-at-home dad but he doesn’t want to not work, he just doesn’t want to work here. Not right now anyway

My depression level was pretty high on the depression form. We practice some exercise holding little black buttons with flashing lights. It’s a precursor to EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). In this exercise I list people and things that make me feel “supported” and comforted:

  • Ana
  • Lara
  • Bubble baths
  • My dog Freyja
  • Remembering my Nana
  • My baby Dakota
  • Hiking in the sunshine
  • Books

Aziz Ansari’s character on “Parks and Rec” is funny, I always liked it, buts it’s also one-dimensional. Most of the characters on the show are like that and I never had the urge to google him and see what he was all about because he felt like just that shallow character. But that’s Amy Poehler’s show, so when I saw him in his own show, “Master of None“, I was blown away. Here was a real guy, with funny moments but also sad moments and awkward moments and finally I could see how he was becoming comfortable in his skin as an artist to portray parts of himself as a human. And that’s how I feel sometimes, like I’m still stepping out of this show created by someone else to fully enter a new show produced, written, and directed by me. By ME.

Last few times I visited Nana I would videotape her when she wasn’t looking. I thought “well this is weird, why not be present and stop thinking about how she could die at any moment?” But she did die, the morning after Dakota was born, and all I have left is one video that survived losing my phone. It’s saved on Flickr and Nana is rocking and drinking her Morning coffee and beginning to tell her story about milking cows as a girl and how her sister Sara washed her muddy hands in the milk and gave it to an old rich lady. That sounds so nice. A poor farm. A cow. Milk. The simple life. Nana was always grateful. Always feeling blessed in her simplicity. I miss Nana. So I tell Dakota these stories I remember.

(Nana, 2015)

Look what I have? I have Dakota and this beautiful house with these beautiful animals and all my books. I have my art shop and I wrote my book. It’s not perfect and I need a good job and my husband has a lot of growing up and soul-searching to do to decide what it is he wants to be, and I don’t know what I’m doing to make it in this world and my counselor is annoying but honestly I am blessed.

Mistafizur is my only Craigslist room share response so far. He emails that he needs a place for him and his wife. “I’m interested in buying your Room for rent.I need the housing from June 03 to August 12. My wife will accompany me, so we will be two residents. I am going to intern in Los Alamos National Laboratory for this summer 2017. Please let me know details about the housing and rent options.” Um no that sounds too peculiar Mistafizur. Everything sounds too peculiar lately. An old homeless guy wants to help me out putting my groceries in the trunk at Albertson’s. Um, no. My old millionaire landlord wants to know if I can give him hour massages at a time share. Um, no. Peculiarer and peculiarer.

When you’re trying to remain an authentic artist and writer in a society where those aren’t considered “real” jobs, it’s like being an astronaut floating through space unable to catch hold of anything solid, and unable to find your home.

I try to advertise my art shop and my book but it always feels so awkward. Check the sales and they’re one to nothing. I’m advertising into a black hole. I love these things: my book. My art. But how do I do this by myself? The New York Times nonfiction paperback bestsellers right now: a book about tyranny, a book about a zookeeper’s wife (called The Zookeeper’s Wife), a book about black female mathematicians during WWII, a book about democracy. I respect these books. If it were another The Secret or The Power of Now, but the very top lately are awesome. I don’t expect a book about a moody pregnant girl to be a bestseller, I just would like it to be something. Because it meant something.

This calls for my John Denver 45.

Country love is kisses in the kitchen
Country love is honest and it’s true
Country love is home and with your fam’ly
Country love’s the way that I love you

That’s what I want. Country Love.

*cover art: self-portrait