Last Thursday I went to “the land”* to spend a little extra time at K’s house, in honor of her birthday. Since I did not return until late Monday evening, that’s one reason for the posting lapse. It’s not that I can’t post from “the land,” it’s that I’m usually so contentedly busy there that I don’t think of it. While I was there this time I was thinking of a new blog series I’ve been wanting to start. You may have noticed I’ve dropped a few hints about my changing landdyke status–several rants ago I mentioned becoming a provisional member of a women’s land community, and then a little while later I added “landdyke-to-be” to my profile. And now I think it’s time to come fully out of the closet. I’ve approached this decision with much trepidation because my track record of collaborating with other women is so abysmal, and I’ve hesitated to write about it perhaps out of a fear of jinxing the process, or a worry that things won’t turn out as I expect. But does anything ever turn out as one expects? So, the decision is made, it’s official, or as official as anything provisional can be, and that train has left the station for good or ill.
I imagine the Land Dyke Odyssey as a way to detail my experiences, both outer and inner, as I proceed through the provisional membership process. I imagine it will be more diary-like than my more political writing, so feel free to skip posts with “LDO” in the title if that kind of thing bores you. It’s being brought forcefully to my attention lately, from various quarters, that contrary to my belief that I am completely normal and mainstream, I am in reality a big giant freak. I honestly did not realize that a lot of “lifestyle choices” that I take for granted and make as a matter of course are so foreign to so many. Unlike some people these days who are dying to be “queer” and “radical” and “alternative” and freakish, I have spent a lot of time and energy wanting just to fit in. I realize now that that’s a rather futile wish. And yet I know that I come from a place that’s not so different–a lower-middle-class family at the end of the 20th century, with perfectly mainstream views about family, men, women, children, motherhood, work, shopping, and popular culture. So how did I get from there to here? And how will living as a land dyke take me further? That’s what the Land Dyke Odyssey is all about.
Anyway, back to the weekend. It was a lovely, mellow time. I took my work with me so was able to earn some money. I dug a trench for a greywater drain irrigation system. It wasn’t a particularly impressive trench–about five feet long, four inches wide, and probably three inches deep at its deepest point–but I dug it into the baked clay soil with a hand cultivator and a trowel so I impressed myself, and K was suitably grateful. I enjoyed the work very much until I uncovered a nest of ants. Luckily (for me) they were the small, regular kind, not the big nasty aggressive biting kind. At first I kept digging but as I uncovered more and more of the nest, the frantic efforts of the ants to get back to the nest and the eggs–as opposed to what I assume would be my impulse to run the hell away if a giant shovel started scooping chunks out of my house–made me feel pretty guilty. I was reminded of the beginning of Watership Down where evil humans block up the rabbit warren and gas all the rabbits, and I didn’t like that image of myself at all. So I stopped digging and lay there in the blazing sun considering the patheticness of public education as represented by my lack of formicidal knowledge. There was one large ant with wings that several regular wingless ants seemed to be attending. Is that the “queen”? There were one or two smaller ants who also had wings–who are they? Why don’t I know about ants? And then I thought about humans making space for our wants in nature, and who that hurts, and what’s the right way to proceed. Should I reroute the trench? The nest was pretty well destroyed by then anyway, and all dyke desire to the contrary, drainpipe generally insists on running in a straight line. But should we even be disturbing the site to begin with? How do we reconcile what we want and need with what other beings want and need?
See, these are the kind of deep philosophical questions that have been plaguing me since I requested provisional member status. I’ve been visiting this land for almost three years now, and I thought a change in my official status would be a formality. But once the decision was made, I started to have a lot of thoughts and reactions that surprised me. I started thinking about processes of change and about how it’s hard to know the impact of something until you do it. I started thinking about what being a member of that group and living that life will require of me in a way that’s much more immediate than the abstract compare-and-contrast I’d been doing before. For example:
~ The LDO means living without the many physical comforts that I take for granted. As things are right now, it means living without hot water. It means living without running water at all. It means living without a shower, or a toilet. It means living without fans and vacuum cleaners. And as I think about how much I don’t want to live without these things, I inevitably think about how many women globally do live without them, for their entire lives, and the implications of the fact that a lot of us in the USA never even consider doing so.
~ The LDO means physically working hard. It means hauling drinking water and propane and firewood and a week’s worth of groceries. It means moving dirt in buckets and rocks in wheelbarrows and water in ten-gallon jugs. It means digging trenches with trowels and holes with post-hole diggers. It means sawing and drilling and lifting and holding the end of the measuring tape until I want to scream from boredom and muscle tension. I am physically strong but haven’t been as fit as I could be for a number of years and I worry that I won’t be as capable as the women twice my age who live there and build and haul the things they need as a matter of course.
~ The LDO means giving up lots of habits developed in the interest of “fitting in.” Because of the stereotype of the dirty fat person, I’ve always been fanatical about cleanliness. And it’s a lot harder to get “acceptably” clean with a gallon jug rather than a shower. It’s a lot harder to get your shorts clean by handwashing than with a washer and dryer. But on the land I’m aware of every drop of water that I use, because it’s all from catchment. If the tank runs empty and it doesn’t rain, we’re all SOL. There’s almost a reversal there of the priorities of my mainstream life–saving water seems really important, and being clean not very important at all. The rituals of mainstream femininity become completely meaningless–why comb your hair to lie on the ground and dig a trench? Why shave your legs when all of us have hair on our faces? Feminine clothing in that atmosphere looks ridiculous and is completely impractical–walk around in open shoes and something with spines or fangs is bound to find your tender toes. Spend much time outside in a tank shirt and you’ll get broiled. You’ll get way more attention there for your new tool belt than your new purse.
~ The LDO makes me question my definition of success. It occurred to me some time ago that, for the first generation of women who moved to women’s land, the late 60s-early 70s emphasis on “dropping out” was a big part of their motivation. Say what you will about Boomer hippies, in their early days they did have an analysis of what it meant to participate in the system. A lot of women of my generation and younger have missed out on that counterculture imperative entirely. We grew up in the 1980s with “The Secret of My Succe$s” and The Material Girl. If we went to college, we encountered an atmosphere where taking politics seriously was adorably retro and where becoming a corporate lawyer or a Microsoft drone was the best thing a girl could do. And aside from those championing a woman’s “choice” to be a stay-at-home mom, not too many women of my generation are talking about challenging mainstream definitions of professional success.** But I realize that, because of my tax resistance, I can’t own a home. I can’t buy a car newer than ten years old. I’ve given up the opportunity to work my ass off at a job I hate so I can afford an adorable two-bedroom 1940s perfectly tidy and tastefully appointed adobe bungalow in a trendy neighborhood with mature trees. Because I don’t want to pay for war, I need to find a way to live cheaply to reduce my taxable income. And that challenges everything I learned from my parents and this culture about the importance of presenting a reasonably well-heeled front to the world. It challenges my ideas about security–I’m realizing that security can be about getting and keeping a big paycheck, or it can be about having easily-met needs and reciprocal relationships established with folks who’ll lend you their stuff and help you out of a jam, but it is rarely about both.
~ The LDO makes me broaden my definition of “family.” Family has been a four-letter word to me for many years, both because of how it is used by the religious right and because of the unhappiness I encountered in my family of origin. But the land community is made up of women without husbands, women without children, who therefore have time and inclination to care about one another, to help one another, to take one another seriously, to keep up with one another, to commit to each other as the community into an indefinite future. Despite our differences, this is the first group in which I have ever felt truly at home–accepted in this body, accepted with a beard, accepted unshowered and bedheaded and out of breath at early-morning work parties, accepted buck naked, accepted in a dirty torn t-shirt, accepted cranky from a barbed-wire leg scrape, accepted with my politics even by those who roll their eyes at radical feminism, accepted in my struggle against middle-class aspirations and working-class tastes. This group is the first in which I’ve encountered an ongoing attempt to question mainstream assumptions about what is necessary and desirable about how we live every day coupled with an ongoing attempt to live differently–the synthesis of theory and practice, if you will. It seems a fitting home for me.
Well! That’s quite an introduction, I’d say. If you’ve made it this far, congratulations to you. I have a lot more to say but perhaps it shall wait for the next LDO installment. This weekend is the bimonthly potluck and membership meeting, and I think on Saturday there may be a celebration of some kind. Maybe I’ll have a chance to dig some more if the ants have moved on–hard to keep a Taurus away from the trowels. I’ll definitely be spending some time on the shade porch watching the hummingbirds threaten each other over the feeder. In any case it’s unlikely the contemplation will end, and very likely the drama will increase. I’ll keep you posted.
* I’m not naming “the land” though anyone who gives a hill of beans ought to be able to figure it out. There are reasons for this vagueness which probably will become clear in time. In lesbian community “the land” often refers to the site of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival, which is in a way the mother of all lesbian/women’s land. Women who were there at the beginning tell me that being at Michigan was so great that it got them all thinking, “Why don’t we live like this all the time?” So some lesbians set out to buy land and build rural women’s communities, many of which have existed for years (for example, OWL Farm in Oregon is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year), with new ones forming all the time. Therefore when a lesbian refers to “the land” she is probably talking about one of these women- and/or lesbian-owned rural communities.
** I guess we’re too busy performing gender and getting our labia pierced.