A New Year’s Plan: Looking Inward   13 comments

On Tuesday, a little after noon, I sat in the kitchen at one of the farms I work for, eating alone and browsing the tomato section of a Territorial seed catalog. Tomatoes, as it happens, are a sign of abundance for me, and the catalog complied with that categorization. The pages dripped with pictures of new and old varieties—brilliant reds, multi-colored striping, black and indigo and gold sheens, an endless multitude of vibrant fruit—and near-obnoxious but still utterly compelling write ups of their bursting flavor and vigorous growth, the new varieties that will change your life, sear your eyes with beauty, and climax your taste buds with depth and juice and meatiness. Garden porn. Nothing less.

So I read, and looked, and it was in those moments that the first garden stirrings of the year came upon me. It was the open possibilities: the expanse of fresh turned dirt, the starts, the rows of transplants, the mud and complete organic fertilizer, the broad fork and digging fork and push-pull and shovel, rake, hoe. The sweat and smell of soil and the dirty knees, rain, sun, the breeze and outdoors and racing clouds, hail and frustration and worry and failure and brilliant, brilliant success—those first few vegetables, out of the ground, into the mouth, good god the successful completion again of the cycle, the shepherded plants and the eating and deep, deep satisfaction. It hit me and I wanted nothing more than to sit with catalogs and my seeds and a piece of scrap paper and pen and dream about everything I might do this summer, all the food I might grow, all the far-too-ambitious plans I could make so that I could eventually pare back, eventually exhaust myself attempting to keep pace.

Then I heard the crunch of gravel and looked up to see a white car drifting to a stop in front of the house. I didn’t recognize the car or see who was inside, but didn’t worry about it, either. Customers came by often in the afternoon to pick up orders of meat or eggs, left for them in an outside cooler. So I returned to my catalog and dreams.

Moments passed. The tomatoes whispered to me, spread a garden in front of my distant eyes. In the background, a dog barked and barked and barked, unceasing. Meeko. Yes, he barked sometimes when people pulled up, but he always eased off. This time, though, he wasn’t easing off, and the barking finally broke through my dreams and brought me to the surface, to another glance out the window and toward the car, and there I saw the woman leaning out the open car door and waving blank envelopes at me, looking both frustrated and pleading all at once.

I didn’t recognize her. A bit older, gray hair, glasses. But I wouldn’t necessarily recognize her. She could be anyone, and even the customers often weren’t recognizable.

I left the tomatoes and the table, stepped outside the front door, slipped into my shit-and-mud boots, and stepped down the porch stairs to greet the woman.

She sighed. Looked tired and troubled. Behind her, Meeko lurked and barked, worry on his face. No one here felt right; I had never seen him this nervous about a visitor and I had never seen a visitor look so exhausted. Holding out the blank envelopes, the woman said, “I wanted to give these to you, but your dog is scaring me.” Weariness weakened her words and subdued her voice.

I apologized and managed to get Meeko to calm down, to slip past the woman and stand next to me where I could pet him and keep him quiet. The woman handed me the three envelopes and gave me her message: an economic collapse in four months. She knew this and she wanted to warn people. I nodded and didn’t bother to challenge her, just let her talk. I couldn’t help but hear how tired she felt—she seemed overwhelmed and sad, worried. She didn’t rave or rant, didn’t speak with anger. She just sounded worn out.

We spoke for a few minutes. Mostly she spoke, and I nodded and provided vague agreements and watched her, listened to her, thought her troubled but kind. As she prepared herself to leave, she looked me in the eye and said, “Take care of yourself. It’s no fun to starve.” And I agreed, and it was all absurd. Yet, I couldn’t laugh or dismiss her; she seemed too hurt, and too worried about others. I have no doubt she believed everything she said and worked with an honest intention to help others and prepare them for hard times. How could I object to that, given everything I’ve written here over the years?

Then she left, and I opened one of the letters.


It was a mess. She got her point across, though the writing was disjointed and at times confused. It was about Obama, and the Left, and Obamacare. It was about our secretly gay, muslim president who’s attempting to destroy America from within. It was about China and Iran, immigration reform and cap and trade, Christ and Satan, the 1000 year reign and Hell, and repeated pleas not to commit suicide when the crash happens. At times it was nonsensical, at times paranoid, and once or twice I couldn’t help but nod in small agreement. She urged the reader to stock up on food, accept Christ, and mail a copy of her letter to Benjamin Netanyahu. “Especially to Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Yet, even as I read it, I couldn’t stop thinking about how tired and sad she seemed. How overwhelmed. Life had hurt her. Some of it was in the letter and plenty wasn’t. But life had hurt her, again and again, and now she was out in the world, stopping at strangers’ houses and hoping to help others. I could dismiss most of her fears easily enough, but I couldn’t dismiss her. She lingered.


But I’m tired of the blame. I’m so sick and tired of it. I’m tired of hearing about the politicians who are fucking everything up, the voters who don’t know what they’re doing, the evil corporations and backward policies. I’m sick of hearing about the brilliant world we would have if only this person or that person would stop mucking everything up. I’m sick of hearing about the apocalypse or utopia right around the corner, as soon as everything lines up right. I’m sick of hearing about the fantasies of absolution—the mythical figure who will come and fix all our problems. I’m sick of all the outward looks. I’m sick of the hunt; by the sound of it the landscape is littered with feral scapegoats, and all of them must be shot. But I think they’re myth, to tell you the truth. I don’t think there are any out there roaming the land. I think they’re all inside us. I think that’s their only natural environment.

It’s in this spirit and these thoughts that I give you what’s become my annual New Year’s Plan. This year, it’s primarily about looking inward. Simply put, I need to spend this year working on myself.

One of the primary ways I plan to do that is through a new religious practice. I recently discovered the Universal Gnostic Fellowship and found it very compelling. The teachings speak to me. Thus, I’m currently working on the Gnostic Lessons and plan to take The Tree of Life lessons on soon, as well. In addition, I want to integrate into these two courses of study the meditation technique laid out by John Michael Greer in his book Mystery Teachings from the Living Earth. This is my general plan for the moment; no doubt it will evolve as the year continues.

I have to admit that I’m excited about this work. I’ve been looking the last few years for some kind of religious path of study and practice that would help me and I think I’ve found it through the Universal Gnostic Fellowship. Already, my early work on the Gnostic Lessons seem to be helping me, leading to a new understanding of my own personal challenges. I simply need the structure, discipline, and inward contemplation this path appears capable of providing me—and am finally at a point in my life at which I’m ready to tackle the work of it.

My religious practice, therefore, will be the main form of my inward work. I also have plenty of new work on the outside, much of which I outlined in the last post. I’m moving to a new place, where I’ll hopefully be able to settle in for longer than a year and perhaps make more of a long term home for myself. I’ll be breaking ground on a new garden there come Spring, and I will no doubt plan ambitiously, as I always do. Visions of tomatoes will be dancing in my head—along with so many other veggies. I may get a small flock of ducks, though I haven’t made a final decision on that. And I will work to make the home into something comfortable, cozy, and as sustainable as possible. I have my copy of Green Wizardry; I plan to put it to some use as I settle in.

Even these outward manifestations, though, feel like inward work to me. It’s about my life, my home, putting together a living that will sustain and satisfy me. Sure, all this will happen within the context of the outside world and no doubt much of it will relate to the outside-applicable themes and ideas I’ve been writing about here for the last few years, but all the major plans for this year feel intensely personal to me. This is about my life and my work.

All that said, I don’t know what this blog will be in 2014. I may feel compelled to write about my experiences in my new home. Perhaps I’ll stick to posts about connection with the natural world. Perhaps I’ll finally start that Considerations of Death series that I keep claiming I’m going to write. (I essentially did write the first entry in November.) Perhaps I’ll find some way to write about my religious work that feels relevant to others, though I have no intention to start preaching about it. (It would more be if it intersected well with the established ideas driving this blog.) I really don’t know. Nor do I know how much time and motivation I’m going to have to write here. I wish I could give you all better guidance, but we’ll just have to see.

I do know that one aspect of my writing I really do want to tackle this year is a return to stories. I keep talking about this possibility, and it may be that this is just talk once again. But I’m hoping that with the structure of my religious practice, I’ll be able to work in other structured activities, like setting aside time to write fiction. And indeed, there is a specific way it can intersect with the work of the Gnostic Lessons. So that’s good. I do still feel the call of it, of stories. I aim to answer in 2014.


I suspect this is going to be a year of transition. Granted, every year out here on the Oregon Coast so far could be fairly classified as a year of transition for me, but it’s shaping up to be even more dramatic this year. I don’t know if that will end up being the case or not, but I would be happy if it was. I feel slightly afloat right now in the sense of how I want to approach my life. The philosophies I’ve espoused here on the blog still hold dear with me, but they don’t have the same sort of driving fascination they have in the past. I need to look inward this year and figure out who I am now. I’m different than the last few years. The same in many ways, of course, but there are a number of new challenges I need to tackle and I have to find a new way to fit in this world. It’s changed on me. It’s been via my own actions, and I’m pleased with the changes, but I still need to figure out how to integrate them into my life, into my understanding of who I am and what I’m attempting to do.

I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about the world at large, about the ways that we live, about the unsustainable systems we have in place as a society. All of that still interests me. But such criticisms have to be tempered with an understanding of our personal work and the ways our own internal thought and function impacts the way we understand the world. I don’t want to find myself some day waving envelopes packed with the feverish typing of endless attempts to put all my inner turmoil on the outer world. We do face a challenging future, even if I don’t think it looks much at all as the woman who visited me Tuesday believes. But we can only face and deal with those challenges well if we understand ourselves. We can only deal with the outside world’s problems if we’re capable of understanding and dealing with our own problems. We can only tackle the dysfunction of the broader society by changing our own lives and working within personal action. At the end of the day, personal action and work is the only way for us to interact with the broader world; it therefore is only in understanding ourselves that we can do our most effective work.

I want that personal work in 2014. It will be exciting, no doubt. Challenging, without question. Hopefully satisfying, fulfilling, and at least partly revelatory, as well. I always want and need to learn. Perhaps this year the knowledge will come more from within me than outside me.


13 responses to “A New Year’s Plan: Looking Inward

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  1. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. So many folks are struggling and suffering with fear, uncertainty, and doubt. So sad. There was likely nothing you could do to disabuse the distressed woman of her stressful notions. So many people are suffering the same syndrome.

    • No, Jordana, I don’t think there was anything I could have said to her to make her feel better, aside from just being kind. It is tough out there right now, and I imagine it’ll get a fair deal worse over the coming years. I hope a good chunk of people are able to find their way, however things shake out.

  2. Inspiring. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Oh Joel. Beautiful writing as usual. Thank you for the contribution you make to the lives of your readers. I wish you would write a book and seek publishing.

    On Thu, Jan 9, 2014 at 10:25 PM, Of The Hands

    • Thanks, Faren! I appreciate that. And thanks for the sheep offer from your other message. I don’t know if sheep will ever be in the picture or not, but I’ll definitely keep that in mind.

  4. Good to hear from you again! That poor woman. I’ve sat here for a few minutes trying to figure out what else to say about her visitation. But all I can come up with is that one must be kind. Which you were.

    As far as spirituality goes, I’ve read a lot about the Gnostics and watched a lot of dvds. Including the Great Courses one about early alternative Christianities. Interesting stuff but I think I find it interesting more from a historic aspect. Personally, I have a pretty lively inner spiritual life, but I guess it’s pretty Judeo-Christian. But inner … personal. I don’t think people around me see me as particularly religious. And, of course I’m an old 12-Stepper, from way back. Coming up on my 25th anniversary in March. A piss-poor 12-Stepper, by the way. But, you don’t get that far in reasonable comfort without having something spiritual going on. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about milestones.

    Right now I’m working my way through “Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for Dummies.” 🙂 . Mainly to try and boost my productivity. Too much sitting around wallowing in the past. I think a clear program of living in the moment will help. Also working through the exercises in John Michael Greer’s “Green Wizardry.” Another well thought out program to follow.

    Well, next week I’ll probably order 12 unsexed Barnevelder chicks. To get the chicken system rolling. Hopefully, I’ll get at least one good rooster out of the batch. And some younger hens with a little more egg laying pazazz! My six hens are only laying about one egg a day. Sometimes, none. Rarely, two. Time to set up a brooder. Plenty of information and advice on how to do that. I seem to remember when I was a kid (back in the 50s) that I had an egg incubator that held two eggs and looked like a small, plastic flying saucer. It successfully hatched two chicks, but I don’t remember what happened to them. Probably something bad. And, then it was onto some new hobbie. Rock collecting or tropical fish, or something.

    Oh, yes. Seed catalogs as garden porn. I think I’d like to try those beets that are red and white stripped on the inside. But there’s oh so many more practical plants to attempt. Like ginger and turmeric. :-).

    • Yeah, Lew, I don’t think there was much I could say. Sometimes you just have to let people be where they are, think what they think, feel how they feel.

      Trying to boost my productivity is a piece of this spiritual path I’m taking my first tentative steps along. Of course, that’s just one piece, and the core of it falls more along a desire to increase my sense of connection and love. But . . . I want the structure. Oh yes, I definitely want the structure. And so far, so good. I’m not suddenly a productivity machine, but the intention of the work seems to be helping me stay on track more in other areas, as well. We’ll see how it continues to go.

      I definitely would enjoy hearing about any Green Wizardry experiences of yours. I plan to engage that book in the new place, which now is happening more toward the end of the month. Which is good, considering I haven’t started packing yet!

      Ha. “Probably something bad.” That’s how it goes sometimes when you’re a kid, right? I remember having a pair of hedgehogs I bred and let’s just say that something bad happened there. Mama ended up eating the babies. I didn’t get to see it, they just were gone one morning after having been there the night before. I remember that freaked me out a bit. Had some nightmares.

      I suspect your Barnevelder situation will end much more kindly. One can hope, anyway.

      Chioggia beets! They’re pretty, but I have to say I tend to enjoy the flavor of Bull’s Blood more. Of course, there are plenty of different varieties of beets, and I’d say they’re a solid crop to grow. Assuming you can keep the moles at least somewhat in check and stop them from tunneling under every damn root. 🙂

  5. Another library burned down. My neighbor Brother Bob the Bachelor Farmer passed away this last week-end. He was in his late 70s, but it was still kind of unexpected. Passed away in bed, a smile on his face and faithful dog by his side. So we should all go.

    So, I’ve been helping his brother, my landlord/friend pack up some stuff over the last few days and move them to a more secure location. There’s already been one break in. We spend the afternoons packing things up, cleaning a bit and telling “Bob” stories. The place has been in the family since the 1880s. Given that, and a family tendency to hoard, there’s a lot of useful stuff, some real gems and a lot of junk.

    Nothing will probably be done with it all. It will probably just go to wrack and ruin. I feel I didn’t learn enough from him. But then, I’ve only been here two years and he was just about as solitary as I am. As you get older, you just don’t let the missed opportunities get you down.

    • Sorry to hear about Bob, Lew—though that does sound a fine way to leave. Those missed opportunities often do seem hard. I’d like to think that in the future, there will be less of those, of people leaving earth without others having taken advantage of their knowledge. But who knows?

      Sunday I’ll be helping with a barn clean out at the new place I’m going to be moving into next week. Lots of old junk in there, no doubt—hopefully some of it still useful. I wonder if I’ll hear any “Myrtle” stories over the course of the day?

      • I’m sure you’ll find a lot of neat stuff! Can never have too many chicken feeders, bird houses, mail boxes, etc. etc.. 🙂 Keep an eye out for stashed cash. In other words, inspect carefully anything you’re throwing out. Found a LARGE stash of cash in a can of dried beans, last week. Turned it over to my landlord / friend.

        • Hey Lew,

          The work party went well. It’s amazing how much junk there was. At a certain point, I had to just let things go, but there was a lot I wanted to hang on to. Tons of canning jars (those will get used by someone, perhaps me) and I did manage to score two large ceramic crocks for pickling. Some tools and other things, as well.

          No cash, though, unless you count the huge pile of metal that some local high school kids are coming by to get this weekend for a fundraiser. Talk about the ores of the future. I couldn’t believe how much metal came out of the barn and garage.

  6. Yup. Piles of old metal. Don’t know what it was about old farmers and metal. The alchemical magic of refining? It’s almost a … what was that Jungian concept? Ah, collective unconscious. (I think.) A respect and awe for metals right down to the old DNA.

    We’ve got boxes of canning jars around here, in the sheds. And the basement. Which I’m free to use. Also, many crocks and a lot of cast iron cookware.

    Well, another cold snap, which I see is also hitting you. Oh, well. This one won’t last as long as the last one. Silver lining. The muck and mud in the chicken pen has frozen solid. Speaking of chickens, I finally found a local source of Barnevelder chickens. I should have 10 little chicks in about 2 months. Well, it’s time to pry the old dog out of the laundry room and go out and chip the ice out of the chicken waterer. Next year, a heated water source.

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