Good morning the Fellowship of the Farmy. I am in California for the holidays.
I apologize for not being available lately. I had a number of issues (wrong word), things (even wronger), unavoidable challenges? to deal with and my head space got crowded as things came to a head. My Dad commenced to shuffle off his mortal coil ( his words) and I was unable to be with him. The Matriarch ran into some health issues and was in and out of hospital. All this coincided with me reconfiguring my workload at the mill so I could re-assign a number of my responsibilities to other members of staff allowing me to focus on baking and customer care and orders.
Then the new Variant loomed, a couple of other issues made themselves known and all of a sudden it became too much. I saw Burn Out, broken Break Down and Screaming Bloody Heamee Memees looming on my horizon. I was not coping. Not sleeping. My face developed an invisible twitch just around my mouth. I could not see Dad ( him dying in New Zealand and me in USA). I was not able to visit Sandy in hospital. I had to keep reminding myself where I was and what I was supposed to be doing. Even my conversation developed gaps as I struggled to find words. I could feel my heart beating so hard I could feel it with my hand. I was melting.
So I went on the defense. I fled emotionally. Concentrated. Dug deep. Hunkered Down. Became very Still. Froze. Like the way a piglet does when she gets a fright. Removed myself. All those things. It helps to stand on one foot and pause. Just watch things play out through a port hole. To freeze and listen hard. To retreat. Think. So I did. But it was hard on everyone else. And I am sorry for that.
My mother in law the Matriarch was recovering at speed thanks to Johns care but then my Dad died. I thought I was ready for the tectonic shift of losing the last parent. But when I was told that my Dad had died in New Zealand – even though I knew he was dying and even though I knew covid would ban me from saying a decent goodbye or helping my siblings with his send off, or attending his funeral or baking bread for his wake or raising a glass in his honor or any of the things the oldest daughter should do, even though I knew these things – I was more angry than I think I have ever been in my life. Wild spitting destructive anger. I was deep in my mental pause by then so I had no valve for the fury that rose into my mouth, blinded my face and took my words. I silently carried rubbish bags into my room, shut the door and commenced to clear it out, for two days I sorted through years of detritus and threw stuff into the bin bags.
I was sick of it all. Sick of all this stuff. Sick of all this plastic. Sick of all this ownership. Sick of this comfort. Sick of pretending to be sweet and malleable so as not to upset anyone. Sick of being so far away from my children. Sick of this damn virus. Sick of walls. Sick of me. I wanted to bite and glare and shake this off like a wet dog. It was a dangerous rage this one. It could burn stuff. Break people. So I threw that into a rubbish bag too. I piled the bags up into the corner of my bedroom to wait and flew to California.
I think I am hard for myself to know.
I have looked at these paragraphs for over a week now and wondered if this is overly dramatic or quite true.
I need to calm down for about a year.
( I did not discard everything – I put the oil-skin hat and coat from Dad, art from Mum, recipe books from my grandmother, the hand made coffee mugs and glasses gifted to me by different children, a bowl and a knife, bench scraper and bowl scraper all into one box. In fact it was a curious and consuming exercise. Possessions have levels and once I began to let go of each level a whole raft of useless things followed behind clattering into rubbish piles. But gifts from the ones I loved I kept. My cameras and written words went into another box. I have kept some clothes because otherwise I will be cold (and they are useful for wrapping fragile objects) but I don’t like most of them. My clothes no longer reflect who I am – they have been overwhelmed by millwear, and comfy culture).
Anyway as I breathe out here in Visalia, with my son and his children, I remember that life (as Shakespeare and you and I know) has chapters in it, episodes, dynasties. I loved being a stay at home mother, being a single mother of many, being a teacher, a friend, being involved in the film industry, being a mother of adults, learning to farm and succeeding, being married,
But now many of those descriptions have the word absent in front of them. Absent mother, absent teacher, absent friend, absent daughter, absent sister, absent wife, absent film, absent writer. Absent me.
The time has come to try and turn my absent into active.
So now I am forcing my life into its next Act where I am determined to blend it all together. And I am burning the trail to get there. I want to be active not absent. Writing, baking, moving and learning. Working alongside my children and grandchildren and sisters and bothers too. I almost loitered too long. I allowed a gap to widen between my selves. I almost lost my people. My country. Myself.
Now I am determined to move to and get to know each of the youngest members of my family and create a present relationship with each of my children and my brothers and sisters. I want to rekindle my old friendships and work harder to keep my present ones alive. I am going to try and stir my life back together with all its eclectic ingredients and bake it.
I will continue to work for Janie’s Mill remotely – taking that show on the road – by teaching, baking with, writing for and supporting her customers and in turn supporting myself, as long as they will have me. That in itself a a huge piece of work and I relish the challenge.
My possessions will decant back down to my two old suitcases. Two phones. My office into a satchel. I will create a new rhythm to my old life. One that is no longer absent. John might get so sick of my darting between countries feeding my families and working from remote locations, that I become homeless again but that is his right and my risk. Active and absent. It is a hard ask.
I am in California now, flying back to Illinois tomorrow and will return to California in February to help with the children for a month, then back to Illinois in March, then late March I will travel again and go to New Zealand for a while, NZ is on course to open without supervised quarantine Feb 13th. But I will need to self quarantine. If they close the doors again I will go to Australia. I look forward to Canada opening up. I am back in the game.
And of course – as ever – I am taking you along for the ride – if you want to come.
So there you have it.
PS – I am working in Black and White as an expression of my personal mourning period for my father. I think we should give ourselves permission to grieve as long as is necessary. Grieving and mourning is not all about uncontrollable tears it is also about respect and goodbye and time. And Dad taught me by using black and white photography as his medium. So I will create black and white images as my goodbye.