Friday, September 28, 2012

Going hoarse and finding my voice

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one discharge from sin and error,
The only hope, or else despair
   Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre--
   To be redeemed from fire by fire.

   Who then devised the torment? Love.
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
   We only live, only suspire
   Consumed by either fire or fire.

--T.S. Eliot (from "Little Gidding")*

My dad sent me an email two days ago prompting me to write. Why haven't you written recently on the blog? he asked. Some of my friends in college would write poems every day, it seemed, for every little thing. I don't do that. It takes me a long time to gestate thoughts into language. These days, I'm getting ready to leave Floyd, which has been my home for the last four months and a kind of new birth for me into the world after my own intellectual gestation of the past 16 years of schooling. I'm getting ready to leave and my brain is too crowded to easily sort idea from idea and peck them out into sentences and paragraphs. It's hard for me to write when I'm unsettled. (Consumer warning: Yeah, this post is going to be total naval-gazing. I'm sorry. It's the end of the summer. I promise to post pretty pictures next time.)

Last week, I talked to Betsy for a while about how hard it is living alone. Days pass and I say few words to anyone. I get out of practice having conversations; the sound of my own voice becomes strange. I get used to the little non-causal explosions of thought that erupt in my brain without organizing them into linear thoughts. In the absence of speaking, I feel like I've lost my voice. Writers talk a lot about having a "voice," of course, but that conversation with Betsy was the first time I thought of that abstract writerly "voice" in terms of the experience of speech--the string of words which ties our lives together, individually and corporately. Being by myself this summer and keeping my voice inside my head so much, I feel like my personhood has somehow been sort of diminished. I often find I don't know my own mind before I have a conversation, and in the absence of other minds this summer, I've been at risk of loosing mine.

I have had many wonderful conversations in the fields with my coworkers, I don't want to sound like I've been a complete Cistercian, but there's been a lot of silence--good silence, time to wait for myself to grow up, time to finally take note of the changes within myself particularly during the past four collegiate years which have not allowed much time for contemplation. I've needed that. But I also need community. If you know me at all, you know I'm pretty obnoxiously, neurotically independent and having to be independent this summer has made me realize how much I love other people, how much my personality doesn't exist unless it's in conversation with another.

It's been constantly amazing during this past summer how at peace I feel when I'm with others. After I bought my car, there were a few evenings I drove all the way to Blacksburg (45 minutes) just to sit in the library or Starbucks until they both closed. I'm sure the other patrons would have been completely weirded out if they had known how greedily I listened to their gossip and arguments over physics homework. Back at the farm, solitude in the evenings oscillates between unbearable loneliness and complete contentment. I didn't knew before that it's possible to experience both emotions almost simultaneously. Is that what adulthood is like? Shoot. I didn't sign up for this.

But the summer's over, folks. The calendar has announced and passed the first day of fall and the colors as I drove down Allegany Springs Road for the last time on my way to 81 on up to Marieke and Betsy in the D.C. area. (Fast fact: Northern and southern Virginia are really totally different. Also, I can't drive in traffic or parallel park without almost causing accidents. Don't tell my mom. She'll worry about me.) This week, I helped dig 1,500 lb of sweet potatoes in 4 hours with Nii Anang, I learned how to feel trees, I cut and split 3 cords of wood, and I found two baby possums in my trash wrapped up in greasy plastic (they are totally gross, not cute). We wound up the irrigation hoses and planted winter cover crop and the last of the lettuce. I'm done with Seven Springs Farm and the season is over. It's been so lovely--the people, the land, the work. I can't imagine a better place to have accidentally ended up as a confused college grad. So thanks, Floyd County, VA and all my new friends. It was an honor to have known you.

It's hard to leave and I'm going to miss forgetting when I brushed my teeth last or showered, I'll miss the fresh food which has totally ruined eating out for me. I'll miss talking about farming as a spiritual discipline out in the fields with Polly and learning African folk songs. Having to wear shoes every day is going to suck. But I'm so glad to be with friends again. I'm so glad I'm moving to a place where I'm going to have a wonderful spiritual community. (Warning to all my friends in Dallas: I'm planning on being obnoxiously social. Sorry.) It's nice to use this hoarse voice again.

*(Yeah, so if you're looking for a connection between the "Little Gidding" quote and this post... there's not really one. I just really love that poem. And you thought I'm some kind of deep and obscure English major? Ha.)