“composing a life”

I’ve begun to write about applying permaculture design principles not only to gardenspaces, but also to the lives we lead outside of our gardens. The first thing that occurred to me was that people do this all of the time.

Mary Catherine Bateson has spent a good part of her life writing about this: “composing a life” she has called it. Composing a permaculture garden. Composing a life. They go together for me.

In her stories of real people, she tells of those who have moved through different stages of life with trepidation and wonder, with reverence, often in community and interdependence, with compassion and deep observation, creatively composing their lives. She tells her own story too.

That’s a tough act for a woman like me to follow, lost and wandering working class kid, although I certainly understand the duo of trepidation and wonder.

I didn’t so much compose a life as bounce around in a life seeking moments of contentment.

I was born into chaos and spent years trying to understand how to manage it.

I know now you don’t manage chaos. Somehow you flow through it.

Don’t ask me today how that’s done. Maybe it’s one of those things that’s known only in the doing.

Somehow, early in my life I made a choice to navigate in tandem. I suspect I always thought my chances of survival were better that way.

I ended my relationship with my college studies in tandem. I fled Ohio for the West Coast directly after that in tandem.

I searched out a partner after each young breakup, one quite involved and painful. Common law marriage of five years my dad called it. Live-ins we called it.

It would be too simple to say I couldn’t face living alone. It would, believe me.

I did live alone at times but never for long.

I traveled back to Ohio alone and back out to Hermosa Beach in tandem.

Hermosa Beach Pier_Nov2013

I made babies in tandem. And I do not know how that marriage lasted as long as it did. I’m stubborn. Persistent. And willing to live in denial. Was willing to live in denial. Was.

It’s a tiny fraction of my adult life I spent single. And I don’t always feel single, since I live harmoniously enough with any number of my offspring at any given time. But I’m no longer part of a couple the way I have been, in one form or another, since my teens.

Four years ago my personal chaos began to hit a peak. And it all accelerated three years ago.

Sometime in the intervening years, I floated through some kind of narrow strait in the flow and arrived at a spot where I don’t feel the chaos as much as observe it.

Sometimes I know that’s because I’m numb. Sometimes I know it’s because I’m moving along into something new. It’s both. It’s each one at different turns. Your guess is as good as mine.

I’m one of those people who escaped the pain of a difficult divorce through work. Work in the classroom, work on my dissertation (did I ever mention feeling a bit lost after the graduation?), working on research, working in my orchard and gardens, working on writing. Working on figuring out what comes next. Working.

When I begin to ruminate, two things help. Working and vacating. Short vacations with my younger kids are my go-to these days. At least then I can stop working. I call that balance. And for me, you have to trust me here, this is balance. I suppose those are the yin and yang of my life: working the active, driving force and vacating, the quiet, dark moonlit rest.

Over the weekend I began to write about how permaculture principles, for some of us, begin to apply to all of life and not only our gardenspaces when we practice them.

Here they are again:
Observe and interact; catch and store energy; obtain a yield; apply self-regulation and accept feedback; use and value renewable resources and services; produce no wastes; design from patterns to details; integrate rather than segregate; use small and slow solutions; use and value diversity; use edges and value the marginal; creatively use and respond to change.

It got complicated.

I began looking at the origins of agriculture.

I began to do mind maps on spiritual ecology.

And I felt pain.

I began to re-live some parts of my divorce that I’m not sure I want to post here.

I’ve already written them down, so they’re exorcised. Again. That’s a demon that keeps coming around. Begone. For good.

Maybe I’ll rework those thoughts and post them. They connect with permaculture principle #4. We can “apply self-regulation and accept feedback” when we have problem in relationships. We can chose not to do so. You can see where this might go.

You might want to try these:
Bateson, Mary Catherine. (1989). Composing a life. New York: Grove Press.
Bateson, Mary Catherine. (2010). Composing a further life. New York: Knopf.

About rainshadowfarm

I teach anthropology, am an archaeologist, a drylands agroecologist, community educator, and a single mother of eight grown kids. I currently own and operate an educational and research farm in the southern Mojave Desert, Rainshadow Farm. I'm 100% West Virginia hillbilly. Not necessarily in that order.
This entry was posted in agroecology, gray divorce, Life changes, Nature, spiritual ecologies, sustainable agriculture and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to “composing a life”

  1. Elizabeth says:

    I read the Mary Catherine Bateson “Composing a Life” years ago, but you’ve inspired me to pull it out. I can relate to much of what you write here and would love to sit with you somewhere and really talk privately. Thank you for writing this, for revealing and sharing, however small.

    • Thanks, Elizabeth. We aren’t that far distant from each other, we should find a time to meet up. Let’s do it. I got your book onto my Kindle last night and immediately began reading it. I had to stop myself so that I didn’t read it all in one sitting. Woman, the way you write. What a gift. And what a gift you are. You are changing things. You and Sophie and your family.

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