I recently had a conversation with someone that described himself as “just a plain old art guy”. Plain - and – old - and – art just don't quite meld for me. I think he was being facetious. I don’t know him well enough, or much at all, to weigh in on the validity of this statement. I am convinced nonetheless; there must be much irony in this assertion. It seems this guy has had a modicum, if not quite a bit more, of success as an artist. He creates beautiful artwork, the kind that stops you, draws you in, and compels you to get close enough so that you find yourself attempting to move inside of it and become a part of it. That good, his art, truly. He seems to have a fairly large fan base from what I can tell, but that might be related to something else altogether. Plain and art just don’t usually go together, not if you are any good at the art, and he is. But maybe that’s the myth of him and who am I to say differently?
What’s most relevant about his assertion is my reaction or connection to it. I have long shared that I fancy myself “a simple, farm-woman” but I couldn’t get anyone to accept it or even consider it, briefly. It hasn't helped that I am not a farmer. I am holding on to this belief in myself, just the same. Perhaps one day I may become part of some great anthology of American heroines, or heroes (gender neutral of course) as, THE most eminent, strong and simple farm-woman.
This truth/myth started quite some time ago on a farm in western New York that I happened to co-own with a husband, long gone, as in, on to different pastures not deceased. It might have started much earlier on a farm in Lauragh, Ireland and the passing down of traits and family obligations. I fancy my grandmother, a simple, farm-woman. Not so much simple as in dull or dim witted, far from it. More in grounded, stoic, salt of the earth, no-fuss, simple, you know, the mythological variety. How I ended up on a farm in Western New York is complicated, far from simple, but relates to submitting as a wife and woman and the start of the myth of me. I went quietly, as though summoned or required. I knew the idea of owning farmland in the middle of the western part of this state was not bourn from my desires. The decision was made more from defeat than adventure. I did not want to be the one that said “no,” again. I laid down my sword and shield.
I did what any simple, farm-woman might, (not bad for a girl from Queens) I learned to live with it and made the best of it. I learned that I loved the sound of birds in the morning. I began to appreciate and value rocks each spring when the land was tilled, and suddenly fields seemed to be blooming with rocks: fossils, colorful, textured fruits of the inner earth. It was here that I began to examine and collect rocks, stopped to take notice of them and add them to my gardens. (Odd? sure, but it’s my story, not yours.) I learned to love the landscape and the rows of feed corn that a “real” farmer grew on our land. I learned that air could be fresh and clean, that a 5-mile bike ride “around the block” with my first-born strapped behind me would have him asleep before our house was out of vision. I learned that by simply looking, blue herons could be seen, stoically standing in wait. Days could be long and languid, if I so chose. I typically did not...then. I had a sweet baby girl and brought her home to this farm. I learned that I love making pies and canning cherries, sometimes while whistling poorly, but enthusiastically. I learned that being "me" was ok, and fitting me to this environment could be done, if temporarily. I learned that my fearless daughter was in fact afraid of sledding down “daffodil hill” so named by my son for the plethora of daffodils that bloomed there wildly each spring. I learned how to be a mother and continue still. I learned that a day spent chopping and stacking wood could be therapeutic, on occasion, and there is no better warmth than from a wood stove.
One thing I never learned, however, was to appreciate that water comes from the ground. I still want my water piped directly without fear of diminishing supplies due to the weather, power failures or unprimed pumps. So call me high-maintenance, or Goddess Agriculturina. Which agricultural goddess isn’t always at the mercy of water and engaged in a love-hate relationship with the elements? I have been wrestling a myth, I may as well imagine myself a goddess. I might just keep trying to wrestle. I’ve wrestled all sorts of thoughts and beliefs and run of the mill frustrations and they haven't slowed me down so far. I’ll imagine this myth to have some Greek-like philosophical importance or maybe Celtic spiritual power would be better suited. Maybe I can finally wrestle it to the “end”. Not the bloody end or anything messy like that, just the fold-it-up-neatly-and-toss-it-aside end. The myth I am wrestling with is the myth of me. My sense of self and the super-hero powers I have regretfully given to others to further determine or attempt to destroy who I am is at great odds, and a super-hero, or the mythological me may need to set things right.
It wasn’t always this way. I was once, or practically, a rebel, a warrior, a risk-taker, and devil-may-care hellcat. Not a myth, so much as, a clearly defined being. Sometimes a force to be reckoned with, other times a calm and quiet presence, an observer, a thinker, and just as quickly a raucous instigator challenging others to be more, or less of who they were. I was more frequently, just an all out good time. But that was long ago, when I didn’t care so much about the opinions of others enough to alter who I was or where I was aiming to go. More specifically, I wasn’t concerned with the opinions of those that had no real impact or importance in my life, or those that were too steeped in destruction, self-directed or otherwise.
It has been a struggle being “me” in this world that wants people to fit, to conform, to acquiesce and agree. I have some strong, unconventional leanings amidst some regular, ordinary thoughts and desires. I don’t always “fit”. I mostly don’t want to, or need to, or simply just can't. But I have tried, and doing so, I have lost a great deal of me. I have started realizing I am not so very different, or difficult, or dastardly.
In the face of adversity, I have a tendency toward directness, which can be threatening to others. I don’t like to tiptoe around issues, but knowing how directness can be so off-putting I began stifling and egg-shelling my responses to the point of submission. This worked so far as prolonging a life half-lived for far too long. I wish I had been more direct, and much earlier, or simply packed up the farm cart and headed out sooner. There has been a great deal of adversity. The myth I was fighting was related to wanting to be supportive and patient. I was each and more, but I was also angry that someone could destroy so much while denying it and blaming others. I believed I couldn't risk being blamed, I was anyway.
I was, a very long time ago, at times, a rebel. Like Andraste, fearless warrior who saved Ireland from the Romans. I went after things. I set goals and achieved them. Well maybe not quite like her, she had an unlikely helper. A special interest in the hare as a pre-GPS device. She figured out which direction to pursue and conquer after releasing her rabbit. All right scratch that, not like Andraste. I can’t help but think of Glenn Close and Fatal Attraction and we all know where her hare ended up. (That’s frequently the problem with women warriors, about 2 minutes into it, they get all intense and wound up and it’s just hard to take them seriously any more.) I suppose imagining myself as a warrior is in part myth. It seems I tend to spend more time on warrior-ing myself, or my instincts. I second-guess in spite of the clarity. I continued to set goals and achieved them, but they seemed to be done a bit more cautiously and at times constrained, respectable. I was fighting the myth of being challenging.
I am strong. I have been told this for as long as I can remember. It has been said with bravado and pride, by my father. It has been said with disbelief, and occasionally with awe, from friends or like-minded folk, and my mother. Sometimes, with annoyance, by an old boyfriend, or husband or two…sometimes shared with lament, by a particular colleague, “you don’t always have to be so strong.” I suppose I needed to figure out how to adjust and waiver and moderate my strength? Maybe I did need to be so strong, but it made my colleague and others along the way, uncomfortable, because it forced them to decide which side of the strength-fence they were sitting on. The colleague ultimately stayed on the edge, and lamented about my so-called strength. This is a great source of trouble with the myth of me, my strength being that double-edged sword that I am not permitted to wield, or whatever one does with a sword of strength that would be acceptable to others. Yet, when my strength is supported, I am often thanked for seeing something through in the face of adversity. I have been fighting the myth that being strong is bad or not feminine or acceptable for me.
This paradox, my strength, is responsible for creating a great deal of ambiguity in my ability to really honor who I was/am, not the myth of me, but me, straight on. I have been caught up so long in “fighting” me and submitting to those around me. I have lost sight or merely forgotten the truths of me. I am strong at times, but my strength is grounded and sure, and it can be very, very kind and protective and loving.
The aforementioned farm is where I played with two beautiful children forging a family of my own. Farm children? Not exactly, but they appreciate rocks and daffodils and cornhusks. This farm is where I started a new life, which ultimately brought a second husband and eventually in a less agrarian setting, a third child. After sometime, this husband also became interested in other pastures, or just disinterested altogether, not for me to say. The children have helped shape the truth of me. The three, appreciate, in varying degrees a mother that is “a simple farm-woman” with complex ideals and urban blood pumping through her veins. A mother that can sometimes be found whistling in a sundress, or overalls, or tight jeans and heels, making extraordinary pies. A mother that can chop and stack wood, create magic and sing lullaby's off key and be so full of overflowing nurturance and strength. A mother that believes in love, but also has one foot out the door, armed with a pitchfork, or a dream. Ready, all ways to deal with the course that mother nature and/or the universe determines in spite of any perceived progress and planning, or maybe simply to prompt forward or onto a different path.
The myth about me that may be grounded in truth is that I will always come out standing, if a little worn. I want for little and offer much. I wish I were a tad more like Medb (Maeve) of Ulster. She fought without a war but she won, again and again and she had quite a bit of fun along the way. Apparently terms like “man-share” were used in connection with her. And she needed seven men to satisfy her. That’s all good and fun, but now I can’t help thinking about the seven dwarfs, and well, that just doesn’t really turn me on….or fit into a myth about me. Maybe a fantasy someone else might be having about me, but who can really know what goes on in the minds of others, certainly not me, even mythical me.
Two down five to go? A possible man-share in the making? Maybe there is truly a pre-determined plan in operation here...... Whatever the reasons, I need to make the best of it. It is actually a myth that I am so glib about the outcomes of my marriages, but sitting around pathetically wondering why they haven’t lasted won’t help the crops come in and I have some pies to make.
(The plain old art guy is an artist in the Hudson Valley, he also goes by the name Chris Gonyea.)