Monday, August 30, 2010


One of the great pleasures of the past two weeks has been taking long walks in the evening on the country roads around my aunt and uncle's farm, smelling fresh cut hay and watching the sunset over the corn fields.

One evening I decided to try a new route. I passed churches and old barns and several roadside stands and was pleased to see two white roosters scratching around in one yard. Even more pleased when they started jogging in my direction (yes, I do miss my chickens).

Docile, gentle farm chickens, so well-behaved we let kids play with them.

Except that one of them started heading right for me and making me nervous. Raising, caring for, and (when necessary) disposing of 9 hens gave me no experience in dealing with roosters. A quick search for a branch with which to ward off the potential attack yielded only a couple of leaves. "Maybe he just thinks I'm going to feed him" I thought as I tossed the leaves in the rooster's direction.


So I took off running (okay, sprinting) down the road, followed, at a speed I've never seen in a chicken, by the rooster, until I was several houses away and clearly no longer a threat.

I really hope someone happened to be looking out their window.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

growing up

Becoming (somewhat) grown-up and getting a (somewhat) grown-up jobs means obtaining some semblance of a grown-up wardrobe. And that means doing one of my least-favorite things: shopping.

For several years I've tried to avoid buying new clothes whenever possible. With a few exceptions for hygiene and safety (new underwear and running shoes), I've managed to clothe myself primarily with thrift store finds and the occasional "donation" from my friends' closets. I've chosen to do so for several reasons.
  1. I disagree with the conditions in which most of what's on the shelves is made. I stopped buying new stuff my freshman year of college with a vague sense that the global clothing industry was problematic. Living with garment factory workers in Cambodia did not convince me otherwise.
  2. I disagree with disposability. Following trends means buying new stuff as often as the industry wants me to. If I’m only supposed to wear it for a few months, chances are it's not made to last. Making new clothes is also environmentally costly.
  3. I can't afford new stuff. And as it looks like I'll be either a student or working low-paying non-profit jobs for the foreseeable future, this is unlikely to change.
  4. (This one was a surprise) I like this way better.
Just like I'm lucky that I don't like meat (it makes being a vegetarian so much easier), I'm lucky that I can't stand shopping. I credit this to my childhood. Every other summer my family would return to the US to visit family and friends, gain weight eating American junk food (okay, maybe that was just me), and stock up on what we needed for the following two years. This lent our shopping trips urgency and anxiety. Urgency (because if you don't get what you need from Old Navy now you won't have another chance for 2 years) and anxiety (because how, at age 11, can you be sure that your feet are done growing? and should you buy your jeans expecting that you'll lose the recently-acquired 5 lbs or not?).

But it was more than just the anticipation of long, boring days at the mall and frustrating decisions that made me dread shopping. It was the change I could sense in my spirit, the heaviness of feeling like I needed more and more new stuff that wouldn’t lift until I was back home. Kenya was no non-consumer Eden, but there were fewer options and therefore less anxiety.

In a way, my decision to stop buying new stuff in college was an effort to create a less-choice environment for myself. At first it was scary, and then it became an adventure (a pattern that recurs in my life every now and then). I can appreciate finding my bridesmaid’s dress for a friend’s wedding at a second-hand shop or inheriting a favorite outfit when a roommate moves out as gifts. Getting a pair of jeans I like from a Goodwill is a small miracle.

But. But. I start a new job in a couple of weeks and will need to be dressed professionally. Every day. I don’t often see quality dress shirts or suits in the racks at Salvation Army.

Once again, growing up means getting close enough to what was once black and white to have to taste the gray.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

back to where I started

I am back where I was almost exactly a year ago, back in rural Lancaster with the smell of dairies, baked oatmeal for breakfast, and candles in the windows of houses. I'm back to hearing stories of growing up on a farm and being peppered with questions about organic agriculture that I feel only slightly more qualified to answer after my California farming adventure. I'm back to the familiar feeling of living out of a suitcase and some boxes, of being between places and lives. I'm back to trying to picture what's next and acquire appropriate attire (here's to a smooth transition from a job where my uniform consisted of the same pair of muddy jeans and faded flannel shirt every day to something that will most likely require suits and daily showers!).

I'm particularly aware of being in transition and uncertain of what comes next, so it is appropriate that I spent the better part of my evening reading and thinking about a NY Times feature on "emerging adulthood", a new life stage to describe all of us mobile, "self-focused", relatively unattached 20-somethings. We're delaying adulthood (defined as financial independence, marriage, and having children...hmm) in favor of identity exploration and instability. Our lives are characterized by valuing change - moving and switching jobs often, living with romantic partners without being married, living at home... The author gives a nod to several of the forces shaping this trend, including changes in parenting, higher education requirements for jobs, changing sexual norms, but probably doesn't spend enough time on the one that looms largest right now: it's pretty hard to start your adult life if you can't get a job.

But there's a flip side of choice (and privilege) for some of us. I'm fairly certain grad school awaits me some time in the next five years and could make a reasonable guess as to the degree and discipline, but I'm in no particular hurry to get there. Even in this economy, I'm not in a rush to get my academic career started (though this is only Week 3 of unemployment - stay tuned).

It's not that I don't feel the strong pull of libraries and university campuses, and Being Able to Afford My Own Weekly Copy of the Economist is an income category I aspire to and take into consideration when applying for jobs. But I want to spend some time working. Exploring. Trying new things. I know I can do the books-and-writing-and-education thing, and I know I love that. But in even a cursory glance over the last five years I have to admit that the times I grew the most and felt the most challenged and alive were the times I spent doing things I doubted I'd be any good at at all: working as a camp counselor, living in a Cambodian slum, spending a year as a farmworker. Learning a new language. Singing silly camp songs in front of large groups of people. Raising chickens. Taking care of toddlers. Leading yoga classes. Cooking church dinners. The times I've spent realizing I have something more than my brain to offer.

So with that in mind, here begins the next adventure, which will land me (job or no job, hopefully the former) in New York City in a few weeks.