I am not reading any novels. Last week my mom told me, "I've also decided to fast from reading novels." She and my dad are doing the Daniel Fast again this year--maybe some of you pre-readers remember it, it's where you turn vegan for three weeks, plus you can't drink coffee or juice or anything with chemical things you can't pronounce. Daniel did (essentially) the same thing back in the day, in order to purify himself, keep him closer to God.
Apparently, novels are a vice for my dear mother. It turns out I'm like her. Except I call it "studying," reading novels and books and anything written by a real-live author. And I feel guilty when I don't finish it. I don't speed read, I slow read, and suck all the marrow from it. Not really. I never liked Henry David Thoreau in high school and I've not picked up Walden, since. But, I do try to read a book with the intent its author had in mind. When you spend a lot of time scrawling letters on a page, you garner a certain respect for other authors.
D.H. Lawrence said, "It is better to know a dozen books extraordinarily well than innumerable books passably." (Quoted by David Shields in Poets & Writers, Jan/Feb 2013, 34).
Well, I don't. But I just read a really great essay by Barbara Kingsolver about food and eating it and why people eat too much of it. They've lost the sensual enjoyment of gardening, she claims. For instance: The taste of an Heirloom tomato to most people would be like eating sushi to me--it really doesn't make much difference in my life. When something hits you in the gut (like the taste of home-grown tomato), you know it. You are moved by it. (Slow Food Manifesto, anyone?) But sometimes you've got to taste something over and over, or in a different context, to understand what it's all about. Just like going to Italy to eat Tiramisu is an entirely different understanding than eating it in Iowa with a table of teenagers. Environment matters and context matters, and you've got to approach certain things with the right attitude if you're ever going to grasp its meaning.
Kinda like people, I suppose. You've got to actually pay attention and listen to them in order to get to know them.
I was at the gym this morning (okay, the YMCA, where I've been graciously given a membership, because I work there), and I was on the stand-still exercise bike and the television was talking about how Coca-Cola is making people fat. Too much sugary liquids being consumed by the masses of Americans. Well I was pedaling and bending over the bike with my elbows pressed to the rubber handles, remembering Kingsolver's essay and thinking, dangit sir, but the problem isn't Coke, it's the disconnect we have with the earth. Make a person garden their own corn and maybe we won't worry so much about how we look in the mirror, we'll be thinking more about another way to make corn look appetizing. But the point Kingsolver was trying to make (and I'm still wrapping my head around), is that dependency on grown things is a healthy dependency. When we have to physically labor to put food on the table--as in, hoe, rake, plant seeds and fertilize them (with non-government-funded chemicals), then harvest them ourselves--there's a respect that happens. When we give respect--we can't make it rain, but we can do the rest of the work--we learn respect, too. Some things are out of our control. God makes the rain.
And we drive the cars that push emissions into our beautiful atmosphere and hence make global warming an actual issue, and who knows but our earth may be gone in two-hundred years...but that's another topic for conversation.
And yet everything's connected. My friend Jane and I were on a walk the other day, down on Cooksey Drive at the south end of the island. It was getting on to evening and the fog was thick over the water, and the road kept splitting off and we'd look at each other: which way? And we'd decide, mutually. It struck me about halfway up the last road that if anyone is really going to care for the earth, devote time and effort and actually make a difference, they've got to have an intrinsic motivation that pushes them to it.
So what's it gonna be?
It all winds back to God. The Creator, the Father of All, the Giver of Life, the Maker of Trees, the Great and Wonderful Better-Than-Oz. God is brilliant. He made the soil, the rocks, knows how each one is formed and has seen their destruction and rebuilding and reforming over years and years and years. To protect that creation--that's got to be the motivation. But God gave it as a gift, as well. Yes, it's all for God's glory, but when we work and live and harvest within that creation, we learn to respect it.
"I've found the deepest kind of physical satisfaction in giving my body's muscles, senses, and attentiveness over to the purpose for which they were originally designed: the industry of feeding that body and keeping it alive. I suspect that most human bodies have fallen into such remove from that original effort, we've precipitated an existential crisis that requires things like shopping, overeating, and adrenaline-rush movies to sate that particular body hunger." Kingsolver, Barbara. "Lily's Chickens." Small Wonder: Essays. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.
I suppose I need to find a planter, and some seeds, and maybe buy a little watering can for the winter months. My dad says that Swiss chard grows well, even with a frost. Swiss chard with a fried egg? Um...yes please.