Thursday, July 07, 2011

Happiness, come back a while

Grandpa Jenks, the gardener, electrical cord clearly visible

It’d be nice, when attempting to live a back-to-the-land lifestyle, to have a trio of men to perform each of these essential tasks: electronics, mechanics, and plumbing. Someone proficient in electronics could help with circuitry, soldering, and wiring; a mechanic could fix cars, small engines, lawnmowers; a plumber could help with heating, septic systems, drainage. Who can imagine a family with all three of these skills? No one.

I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by families that are different than mine. My grandfather focused all of his life on books, theory, and theology, as though the world of ideas was what mattered, not the world of things. He spent his life waking at dawn to write, most of his life in an office. The story my grandma tells, was that when she asked him to dig a hole in the backyard for some tomatoes, he dug the spade in, looked at her, and said, “Why, Joan? Why?”

My grandfather from the other side, who carpeted his garden with scraps from his living room to keep down weeds, who built a tomato trellis out of old electrical cord, who composted styrofoam and meat scraps, so that he had to keep the raccoons away with a .22, who never had garbage pick-up in forty years, so that he burned his old tires cut up into his basement furnace, was much more in touch with the physical world. The last meal my grandmother cooked for me, two years before her death, was ham, scalloped potatoes, braised chard, sliced tomatoes with mayo, zucchini bread, and ice cream with raspberries. Four things came from their garden.

The two sides of myself at war: my grandfather the intellectual and my grandfather the pragmatist. I spend half of my day locked up in my office, with books and papers piled around myself, and the other half picking cucumber beetles off my squash plants (we’ve determined they’re cucumber, not potato beetles), weeding the beets, heading basil. Maybe I can get them to peacefully coexist. I always end up immersing myself in the world of things, the world in which I’m much less comfortable. Biking, sailing, farming… All of those things require the ability to respond to sensory data. But that’s the point. It’s a challenge. And life’s no fun without a challenge.


wfrenn said...

Hi Melissa,
Your comment about the tension reflected in you between your grandfather, the intellectual, and your grandfather the hands-on pragmatist, reminds me of my great "tension" and decision to change it twenty years ago.
All my academic life, I had read, thought, taught, written, published and lectured, punctuated by academic conferences and department meetings. I was thoroughly immersed in the sedentary life.
Yet, I had loved the sea all my life. In 1991, I decided to become more balanced between the claims of the world of ideas and those of the material world. I bought a sailboat for the purpose of circumnavigating the globe, and knew that prerequisite to this would be learning a number of skill sets, most of them with a strong physical component.
You will relate to them. They are: sailing, sail handling, canvas sewing, dinghy handling, outboard motor repair, diesel repair, plumbing, electrical repair, painting, weather, marine communications, celestial navigation, chart reading, GPS, heavy weather sailing, docking, anchoring, and single-handing.
Some I already knew, others not so much.
Changed my mind on circumnavigating after I tested myself sailing to Bermuda and back (missed Rose too much and recognized I was too gregarious for two years alone), but I never regretted mastering the skill systems, and think it made me more balanced as a person person than the pure academic.
Keep the faith and the quest!

The Capt'n

Melissa said...

I completely agree about the need to have that material skill set for sailing--I felt like I was taking a graduate course almost every day. I also know what you mean about the tension between the academic and physical worlds. My leanings are definitely academic, but I always want to challenge myself in the physical world, and Secret was one of those challenges.