The Shallow Insistence
The Shallow Insistence
by Lynn Miller
There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.
– John Adams
A man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone.
– Henry David Thoreau
How can you govern a country which has 246 varieties of cheese?
– Charles De Gaulle
There are melodies so evocative they would melt any attached words. There are images so powerful they might negate explanation. There are working rythmns which fly well beyond the vocational titles we give them. Those powerful melodies, images and vocations; all of them deep and rooted now in the human pysche. None of this has to do with good or bad, it is just so. And that has been for most of mankind’s modern days, these last five centuries. But then the shallow insistence snuck up on us and we have fallen down or are falling to our lesser selves.
The shallow insistence, the casual impatience, the convenience imperative, the lazy demands – whatever we call them or it – it has us in its grip. Today I hear of a man who says he quits his farm dream because you and I are unwilling and/or unable to tell him the simple secrets to how a comfortable living might be made without too much work, without too great an investment, without disappointment. He has insisted we give him the guaranteed plan. He casually says he’s not going to waste any more time on dreaming. He demands for himself a life without so much hard work. He says to us that those powerful melodies, images and vocations are all a thing of the past – or never existed at all. He says of us we are charlatans for hard-selling the agrarian life as a dream come true when all it is is misery, disappointment, hard work and poverty.
And I’m supposed to stand chastised and humbled because I dare to edit a publication which champions such a boondoggle? To defend our efforts against the shallow insistence tires me to the bone. There is no boondoggle UNLESS you see it as such. There are no answers, no guarantees, no sure-fire plans. Some of us will never make successful farmers, regardless of what criteria or definition you use to measure success. And some of us will continue to succeed no matter how poorly we are doing. If you see it won’t work, it won’t work. If you see it as the effort you want to make, it is already working. I’d much rather be home farming than in here defending music, art and hard work.
Expansive. Crystal clear summer midday. On the porch with daughter- made grilled turkey pepperoncini, cheese and mustard sandwich, limeade the chaser. The Italianeate shadows, cropedges – under trees and livestock – off the buildings – look as the sandwich tastes, thick with flavors and colors. Just in for a break from the field. It’s one of those days when most every bird is lazy-happy to be alive and somersaulting insects delude themselves into believing their lives will be long. Watch as old saddle horse saunters towards shade tree, head swinging low and slow on her long neck while tail does double time across the itchy hips. Puffy white clouds pass on parade, their pace matching the bird snores, the mare’s saunter, the insect somersaults and my sandwich party. Will be returning shortly to the field work. Glad for it. Glad to know what to do, to have it to do, to feel it working on me as well. I feel expansive and in the expanse of my good life, all of the moment and moments.
Back and forth across the field, walking speed, able to rest with thoughts instead of wrestling with them. No way to hurry this process. The time spent working this field gives me an acceptance quite above patience. No insistence, nothing shallow. Feels like I’m riding the day, and I am oh so happy for it. When I have completed this procedure I will have visited with my eyes every square inch of this field’s top side. Not to say I will know or understand it completely because that will take several lifetimes.
“Oh, you farmer you.”
As a young man I was prescient… I knew I wanted to be a farmer and an artist. Nothing else filled my imagination. And all during those growing up years, a half century ago, I was constantly warned that my choices were unwise. That neither art nor farming would grant me much in the way of security and wealth. It would be a slow life, hand-to-mouth, and one with very little prestige. So, wize guy that I have always been, I asked ‘what’s so wrong with slow? And ‘hand-to-mouth’ sounds pretty good to me – are you suggesting it should be ‘foot to mouth’ or ‘butler to mouth’, or heaven forbid ‘syringe to blood stream’? I know you mean that it likely will be tough and I’ll have to work for each meal. But again I say, so?’
Some of you will feel these words incorrectly as some sort of taunt. I’m sorry if that is the case, because that is not what is meant in the sharing. I have heard it said of me that ‘yah sure, he’s farming, but it’s because he had the money to get a start.’ Nope, not so. Started out poor as a church mouse but just as courageous and silly. And I’ve heard it said, “he’s not a very good farmer, always behind in his work.” To which I respond – yes, that’s certainly true but it is as much by choice as by happenstance. I do take the time occasionally to put this magazine together, and to paint pictures, and to do things with my family and friends. So the farming hasn’t always got the full measure of time it cries for BUT it has always received from me the fullest measure of my passion, ease, comfort, anxiety and thoughtfulness. But then I’m not normal in any measureable way. I am different from most other folks I know who choose to farm. We are all different, all individual.
Yet, the wider public has a definite sense of what it means to be a ‘farmer’, to be that character that says ‘farmer’. And that sense is ripe with contradictions. They see us as hardworking and slow witted, they see as essential and replaceable, they see us as highly skilled and uneducated, they see us as courageous and insulated, they see us as poor and lucky, they see us as trustworthy yet sneaky, they see us as alchemists and as luddites, they see us as agronomists and gamblers, they see us as religious and heathen but mostly they see us as unfortunate.
What is it about us? I was in the auto parts store today trying to get a couple of spark plug wires for an old Wisconsin-model baler engine. I took the originals in with me, learned long ago I had to do that otherwise they would argue when I described the parts. They say things like “ain’t no such wire, not like that any ways.” So I took in the offending wires and plopped them down on the counter. There they were big as life, no arguing with that. The two guys took a look at them, fingered them and then rolled their eyes in reverse unison. “What are these off of anyway?” So I tell them and the owner says, “better take him back there and show him what we got on the rack.”
We discover that they truly don’t have anything quite like my old wires so they decide they will sell me the parts and pieces to assemble. The hired man says, “don’t know how to put them together, never seen it done” to which the store owner says, in a voice meant for every other customer to hear “Just give him the parts, he can put it all together, he’s a farmer.” Somehow the tone of voice had the sour harmony of a history professor’s referencing of some idiot neanderthal tribe’s self sufficiency skills. So I pipe up and say “Maybe you should put a sign on the door says no farmers need apply.” And he mumbles looking down and says “no, no, it’s not like that…” because times are tough and every customer is essential and he knows now is not the time to pick a fight with a paying customer let alone a ‘farmer’. And I think ‘wait a minute, it was all meant in jest. Let’s lighten up here.’ But I don’t say it out loud because these times beg of us to play sweetly the pipes of the civility organ. So we part company in full and quiet disagreement, uneasiness at the core.
Where is the thing which separates us? What is that thing? I want to think that some of us have lives filled richly with stories while others don’t. And when those two worlds meet they never truly meet. I have a friend who is also our family dentist. He is a treasure, a man filled to overfull with stories yet most eager to hear yours. I have another good friend who is general practitioner but one who has never shared a story and seldom has time to hear one. I do not mean to suggest one man the better. They are both superior human beings. I do mean to suggest one man the more accessible and perhaps tolerant.
Today, with the cyber universe dictating to us our speed and values, more and more people are coming to be storyless. They have none to share and most certainly aren’t interested in yours. They do get some comfort at having their society well ordered and rapidly accessible. They know who it is they most want to be like and they set them well up on invisible pedestals, and they know who they don’t want to be like and work hard to put them in their place and out of view. They shield themselves from any story that might draw them into some sort of permanent public connection. James Agee, Eudora Welty, Studs Terckle, Italo Calvino, Steinbeck, Faulkner and Twain are of a type which today are seen publicaly as en- emies of the shallow insistence.
When we began to lose our stories, we began to lose our sense of humor and with that went some of the strongest defense of public liberty. But even the concept of public liberty requires thought especially if we are to know why it is a thing to be defended.
Food, shelter and warmth used to be generally accepted as the basic needs of the human animal. Long ago I added to the list, for myself, ‘thought’. The freedom and the capacity to think are certainly not givens, certainly not guaranteed, and in most modern societies they are most definitely not recognized rights. Some see a free thinking populace as a strong threat to commerce, property rights and the quietude. When it is written in constitutional law that we have an inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, do not mistake that to include the right to think deeply about personal and social subjects. We are expected to ‘sign-on’ to the package deals of industrial commerce, political parties and media instruments. We live in a time of socio-economic governance; business and industrial interests have as much or more control over our actions than does the rule of law.
Thought ought to be part and parcel of a public liberty. There is an old adage which goes something like “the best guarantee of democracy is a well informed voting public.” So I say our democracy is at risk. And that is exactly how corporations want it and how we allowed it to become. Impa- tience is the name of the game. On top; impatient for profit, impatient for power, impatient for control. On the bottom; impatient for thrills, for free lunches, for indolence, for unlimiting shopping, for speed, for satiation.
After returning from an extended summer road trip into the midwest, Paul Hunter commented to me as to how cell phone coverage has made significant shifts – several rural areas he had been able to call from were now without signal. In my own similar experience I have found amplified reception in some population centers and new dead zones as well. Crazi- ness but there is a pattern to it all. As people become more and more dependent on mobile phones, companies are experimenting with the boundaries of these new relationships and service. Cell phone companies appear to be doing the ‘Chinese Shuffle’: meaning do whatever it takes with pricing and service and availability to run the competition completely out of business then later adjust prices and coverage to maximize profits. And our government is in full ‘compliance’ seeing a fully connected populace as a more easily secured populace. There is very little room for public liberty in a fully governed country.