Learning to Love Lentils Again
Don’t laugh: I consider myself a radical. I can throw around terms like hegemonyand anti-oppression and white-male-heterosexist-patriarchy with ease. I have marched in demonstrations in blowing snow and slept in Monument Square to protest unjust wars. I have hobnobbed with anarchists and anti-capitalists and socialists and libertarians. I recycle diligently and buy bulk grains and pick herbs to make medicine.
But last year, my thirtieth, brought a change. Sometime in between gardening season and legwarmers season, I had to stop, take a giant booted step back, and see what I heck I was doing with my life.
It was difficult. I believe in the radical cause. I do think that capitalism is a scary machine that is leading to global poverty and environmental degradation. I also know with all my soul that racism and sexism and classism and genderism and looksism and ableism hurt everyone, and must be actively confronted. But I was so strung out with meetings and fundraising and the internal dynamics of my activist group that I was unable to tend to some important things in my own life — namely, my commitment to the queer cause, and my family. Most distressingly, I had become cynical about activist culture; because of my internal turmoil, I could no longer see the larger goals. So I quit organizing cold turkey and turned my gaze inward.
With a few months’ perspective, I realized I was feeling burnt out because I could not integrate all the aspects of my life: parent, activist, lesbian, family member, writer. I spent a quiet winter cultivating those things, weighing priorities, and guiltily eating meat. But I hated being so far away from the work and ideals that are so important to me. So when an annual radical gathering I’ve always attended rolled around again this summer, I decided I was ready to go back with this new knowledge about myself.
We arrived on Friday night, at suppertime. This was my fourth Burdock Gathering, and the sixth year of the event’s existence. It is held on the banks of the Sandy River in Starks, at the edge of property owned by a local farmer. Burdock is an intimate little gathering, full of simple, collectively cooked meals, thoughtful workshops, and a dedication to learning sustainable ways to live and build community. The festival is contained within a small area: a grassy road cuddles up to the river, and people camp between the flattened hay and the water. Colorful tents crouched in the tall grass just under the dense tree canopy. My daughter and I set up close to the giant, blue-tarped hoophouse that serves as the dining area.
This is activist fantasy life: all the work — from cooking to childcare to leading workshops to emptying the humanure toilets — is done in voluntary shifts. (Emptying humanure toilets, by the way, is a job for the truly dedicated and unsqueamish. Despite my dedication, I am squeamish, and so I have avoided this task for four years, justifying it to myself by not using the contraptions for the entire weekend of our visit. This is not the generally recommended practice.)
By the time our little carload had set up camp and joined the evening’s entertainment – an Open Mic(less) Night – there were about 70 people present. My daughter found some friends and spent the evening wading in the river. I reconnected with dozens of people from whom I have been estranged since my breakup with the radical community. I had anticipated feeling some awkwardness, because some of the compromises I have made in my life are far from radical.
But mostly, I felt good, because there was – for the first time – a queer caucus on Saturday. About ten of us gathered to talk about being radical and also being queer. This felt like part of the answer to my dilemma. So much of my life and activism has led me to separate the many facets of my identity: I can connect with other parents if I play down my queerness; I can connect with other queers if I don’t notice rampant consumerism; I can connect with other radicals if I leave out my job; I can connect with my family if I downplay my urbanity and education. This radical queer group felt like the most successful integration of those pieces I’ve ever experienced. I felt none of the judgment or distance from these folks that I have sometimes experienced in the radical community.
However, despite my enthusiasm for the queer caucus and the work we’re going to take on, the big shift has been internal. I’ve recently begun to feel comfortable in my skin in a way that’s completely new. This is due, I think, to having spent three solid decades on this globe (well, that, and a lot of therapy). Me and this body I inhabit are now pretty well known to each other – the experimenting and testing of my teens and twenties have given me a good sense of the boundaries of my self, which is fortunate, since I had practically run out of identities to try on.
What’s left is a solid core of me that’s proven dependable and creative, persistent and permanent, and ready, finally, to integrate radical politics back into my life. So bring on the lentils; it’s time to get busy.
Among all these other changes, Jen Hodsdon is also moving to Portinsula! Her column still appears monthly.