Sunday, May 24, 2009

To Be of Use

With title acknowledgement to Marge Piercy for her poem:

To be of use
by Marge Piercy

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

"To be of use" by Marge Piercy © 1973, 1982.


We celebrated fourteen years of wedded bliss yesterday.

The word celebrated is a kind of misrepresentation of our actual day. There was no party with lots of boozing and loud music. We didn't invite friends or family to commemorate the event. We didn't eat cake. We didn't exchange gifts. There was no recognizable celebrating going on.

Instead, we spent the day working on our nanofarm, which is a celebration in and of itself. At least to us.

This morning, I was reading this article in the New York Times. The author holds a PhD in some brainy discipline or other, and even worked for a time as some head-guru of something very important. Now, he makes the equivalent of $20 per hour as a motorcycle mechanic ... and earns a few dollars as a freelance writer - on the side. The article is an excerpt from his book where he argues that the stereotype of manual laborers - those who work with their hands - as being less intelligent, resourceful and productive than those who work in a cubicle is largely a fallacy. On the contrary, he says, many "labor" jobs require the ability to do serious problem solving.

And more, the act of doing "real" work - work that actually creates something tangible - is exceedingly more fulfilling than any sort of cubicle work.

His whole premise is what I've been hearing from a lot of people these days, and what Deus Ex Machina and I discover every time we can spend a day working outside in the yard, cleaning, planting, building, developing this lifestyle that is about connecting with the earth, about building the soil, about encouraging a diversity of life on our simple quarter-acre and most importantly, about cultivating a sustainable, self-sufficient life.

Deus Ex Machina spent the day reducing the heap of scrap we had accumulated after a decade of trying to find the best solutions for our nanofarm needs.

We now have a (mostly) debris-free space in which to bring to life the plans we have for an extended storage unit, chicken coop, woodstorage area.

And the yard looks amazing ... for the first time in many years. Everything is neat and tidy ... except my herb garden, and that's not likely to change, because I like it a little wild ... and so do the critters.

I spent the day expanding and prepping the gardens. I (finally) built my tomato trellis bed and filled in the cinder-block raised bed that will be a Three-Sisters garden. I (think I) improved the duck yard - they seemed to enjoy it ;).

We talked about "doing something" for our anniversary, but the truth is, once all was said and done, what we were doing was just exactly what we both wanted to be doing - spending time here, where we live and doing the things that we really want to be doing when the busy-ness of the stuff that fills our days takes us away.

Despite what the calendar says, in our resort town Memorial Day weekend is the "official" start of the summer tourist season.

After I finished my "chores," and I was sitting in the backyard next to the amazing firepit that Deus Ex Machina built,

drinking from the liter bottle of home-brewed beer we were sharing, I realized that this, this that I was doing, was what people go on vacation to do - sitting by a fire, drinking a great bottle of beer after having eaten an amazing meal of

grilled steak, potatoes and carrots cooked in the fire, asparagus steamed in its own juices over an open fire, and a little piece of baklava purchased that morning (along with the potatoes, carrots and asparagus) from the Farmer's Market - and if we were still doing the "One Local Summer" challenge, this would have been our "weekly" all local meal - eaten outside on our "rescued" picnic table that would have, more than likely, ended up rotting or sent to a landfill.

I can't even imagine that going somewhere to "celebrate" would have made the day any more special.

And every day, I say a little thanks for my amazing life ... and the wonderful guy who makes it all possible ;).


  1. And we celebrate the same on Wednesday... I still remember meeting you in the back room of that church, and being so thankful for all the love around. I am as thankful for that love today as I was then, and a bit more in awe of it. I knew when I said 'until death do us part' I meant it, but I'm not sure I understood what those words meant. Congrats to you both, and I'm glad I got to know you because you love and are loved by DeM.

  2. congrats...our first year anniversary is June 20th and we will be doing stuff around the house and probably no gifts maybe some homemade cards...but its really not a big thing...we are content to just be together.

  3. Congratulations to one of the most lovable couples I know. Your home, your children and your lives reflect that amazing love that you share. I feel so blessed to have you in my life.

  4. Happy Anniversary. The way you spent your day is the way we would have if my husband didn't have to work on our anniversary last weekend. Sounds like bliss to me! May you have many many more years together! :o)

    What you said:"What people go on vacation to do..." is similar to something that my husband and I say all the time. We LIVE where people go to get away from the city. I am always grateful that I get to share my life with my husband and our children, that we get to do the things we do and not feel lacking.