The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #4

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #3: ESTABLISH LASTING FRIENDSHIPS

All too often I meet people who have made it their sole mission in life to seek out one person who will give them indestructible happiness. This is a mission that is doomed for failure. Not only have they made an investment with impossible expectations for their significant other, but they have set themselves up to be resentful when those expectations are not met. It also creates a situation in which one will be all alone if the connection with the other ever severs. What happens if their lover dies, or they have to leave for a while, or it just doesn’t work out like it was originally planned? Happiness isn’t found in one person; it spawns from the multiple lifelong connections you have made within your world. As Aristotle once said, “in poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.”

Now, I admit that I am not the most sociable person in the world. I can even be a bit snotty about it. I only let in people who I absolutely adore, mostly because I find social interaction to be exhausting. If I get to a point in my life where I feel like I have let too many people in, or if they are hanging out with too many people I do not want to let in, I disappear. I learned quickly that people get upset if you just ignore everyone for an indeterminate amount of time, so once I got a vehicle I began finding more excusable ways of escaping. I might change jobs, transfer schools, or work as an intern in Ohio. It’s like I have this unspecified social quota that I let slowly fill up, and once it’s filled I dump everything to start again. I should probably say that I plan to work on this, but I feel like I know myself well enough at this point to know that expecting anything else would be me not respecting the way my brain is wired. Though, I suppose I will eventually need to find less drastic ways to “recharge”.

Being Introverted doesn't mean I don't enjoy the comfort of being surrounded by friends.
Being introverted doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy the comfort of being surrounded by friends.

I always come back to the ones I love.  I may be extremely introverted, but I am not heartless. I require their support as much as any extroverted soul. I am only less overt with my appreciation. During my stay at Blue Rock Station, I have witnessed how exponentially important friendship becomes with age. People die, careers are halted, homes are loss, children can be ungrateful, romance may fade, but true friends are always there when you need them. For this reason, one should always make room for friendships in life. They fill your days with songs of laughter and joy, whose melodies will give you comfort in times of sorrow.

Photo credit:  Anna Marie

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The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #3

THE HAPPINESS FACTOR #2: MEANINGFUL WORK

I have excelled at every job I have ever had. I may not have always been the most efficient or skilled worker, but I am almost always one of the favorites. Much of my success is likely due to the fact that I smile constantly. Coincidentally, in most of the photographs from my childhood I am wearing this awkward smirk because I was never quite sure what it felt like to smile. My family would always get after me about it. “Why are you making that face? You have such a nice smile, cut it out!” In which I would further contort my face into a catawampus mess in an attempt to please them. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized smiling was more or less my default face. I am sure it has been a greater asset to me then I will ever know.

People with Asperger's tend to struggle with facial expressions
People with Asperger’s tend to struggle with facial expressions.

What has also been beneficial is the positive attitude I try to bring with me in everything I do. To the best of my ability, I try to match my supervisor’s sense of importance when accomplishing assigned tasks, and I set off to accomplish the tasks enthusiastically when I am asked to. I don’t do this because I want to kiss my boss’ ass; I do it because it genuinely makes my job more enjoyable. Additionally, I make a point to avoid co-workers who emit a negative aura. The complaints, the poor attitude; it is contagious, and I do not want to be miserable while I work. However, I have still never quite been able to be fully satisfied with whatever job I have held. I inevitably reach a point where I wake up each morning, sit on the edge of my bed, stare at my feet, and think, “What the hell am I doing this for?”

You see, a sense of accomplishment is important, but it will only get me halfway there. In my search for meaningful work, I lacked a sense of purpose. My personal values and morals have never been aligned with the values and morals required to do my job. It feels as if I am always forced to put on one mask at home and put on another at work. I am not merely referring to formalities, but the clear disconnection between my ideology and the goal of the companies who employed me. One can lie to themselves for a while, but their own life may eventually begin to haunt them without a connection between their work and their soul (i.e. midlife crisis). I have witnessed this firsthand, as the many male role models in my life have begun to quietly unravel from their experiences in the military.

I have a very serious milk face.
I have a very serious milk face.

At Blue Rock Station, sometimes the connection to my values are obvious. For instance, when I muck out the goat stalls I am not only contributing to the health of an animal that provides me with milk, cheese, and laughter; but I am also creating soil that will be used to grow food in the future. Considering that sustenance is incredibly valuable to human life, it makes standing in shit not seem like such a bad deal. More importantly, though, I want to live in a way that shows a deep appreciation for my environment. I want to minimize the negative impact I have within the scope of my world, and cultivate healthy relationships with the people around me. The people I am currently working for not only support my lifestyle goals, but push me to pursue them. This not only makes the work I do more meaningful, but it kind of makes it not feel like work. Rather, it feels more like, as Annie says, “I am just living my life.”

The life expectancy in this country is nearly 80 years old. At 24, the time I have experienced on this planet will be experienced another two to three times before I die. I do not want to spend it invested into something I hate. I am aware that this will likely make my initial journey into the workforce difficult, but it will be well worth it. Following Jay’s advice: I will find something I enjoy, and when I do not enjoy it anymore, I will find something else to do.

I wake up each morning, sit on the edge of my bed, stare at my feet, and think, “Get your ass up, the babies are starving!"
I wake up each morning, sit on the edge of my bed, stare at my feet, and think, “Get your ass up, the babies are starving!”

The Greenhorn at Blue Rock Station: Post #1

The importance of introductions and goodbyes have always been a difficult thing for me to process. Much of my early memories of social interaction involve my father apologizing to others for my rudeness when leaving abruptly or failing to say hello. Later, it would be my girlfriends who would be apologizing for me. I am still not completely convinced that introductions are necessary; as it all feels incredibly scripted, but I am conscious that others expect it from me.

Chris Guitar

So this is my Intro – my name is Christopher Creech, and I am a sociology major from central Texas with a focus on the consumption habits of North Americans. I am currently an intern at Blue Rock Station, a sustainable living farm located in rural southeast Ohio in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Specifically, the focus of this internship is on correlation between consumption and subjective happiness. I have Asperger’s, and though I have never viewed it as a disorder, it has likely guided much of my frustration with the world. My desire to escape it, through music, first sparked my interest in sustainable living. As an “angsty” teenager, the folk-punk bands from the Midwest mesmerized me with lyrics that rejected the consumer culture and embraced simple living. This blog will be cataloging my journey towards a more sustainable way of life while at Blue Rock Station, in addition to me musing over the various factors that effect human happiness.

When I first arrived at Blue Rock Station I felt mostly apprehensive. I had spent most of my life running away from places; this was the first time I had ever arrived anywhere with a purpose. I would be spending the next 11 weeks learning new skills, interacting with new people, and all sorts of other things I normally tend to avoid because I have an aversion to failure. However, I had gotten to a point in my life where I felt like I was getting everything I had ever wanted, yet I was deeply unsatisfied. I eventually came to the conclusion that my dissatisfaction with life could not be cured by wants, but by the need for something different. This is what led me to Blue Rock Station.

Chris & Mel
My first day mostly consisted of me being acclimated to the farm. I drank tea with Jay while we discussed what skills I currently had, what skills I wanted to learn, and what goals I have for the internship (i.e. none, all of them, and the confidence to change the world). He then expressed his disdain with Texan’s infatuation with the shape of their state, only to proudly announce that Ohio was in the shape of a heart several minutes later (highlighting how individual differences tend to be slim). Afterwards, Melanie, the other intern, explained to me the assorted functions of all the buildings on the farm. I then followed her through the garden trying my best to not be annoying. She was incredibly kind, though, and helped me plant black radishes in one of the garden beds. I was intensely proud of myself, though I was too self conscious to show it.

As it got further into the evening Annie, Jay, Melanie, and I all convened at the Overlook to discuss the events of the day. I mostly just observed, but I appreciated everyone’s genuine interest in each other. They listened intently as each person told their version of the day. I recognize that this shouldn’t seem novel, but within our fast moving culture I have become accustomed to the scripted calls and responses that plague our daily conversations. It was refreshing. After night came I went to bed earlier than I had in years, likely because I hadn’t spent my day saturated in electronic interference. Laying in bed, I thought to myself, “I can do this,” feeling more confident than I had since I was a child.

Peace Grows
P.S. If you have questions or comments I would love to hear from you.

Day #2 THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH

Day #2     THANKS FOR NOTHING Month                               Sunny/Frigid

“Just for today I will touch the arm of every person I speak to face-to-face.  This one act has the power to create a connection between us.”
????????????????????? Mornings during THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH are a challenge during these beginning days of the month.  Each year we forget how much thought goes into the process of having hot water.  And hot water is the first thing needed in the morning, and nearly the last thing required in the evening.

Ralphie is mesmerized by the morning fire.

The wood stove in the living room is the only active source of heat for our home, an “Earthship” designed by the architect Michael Reynolds.  The home is constructed with rammed-earth tires, cans, bottles and lots of other re-purposed items.  Because the basic premise of the home is to use the concept of thermal mass for heating and cooling, the house naturally never falls below 55 degrees F, even with no heat source.

The only sources of hot water include a large old-fashioned enamel water kettle, and a small modern metal tea pot which are heated on of the top of the wood stove.  This hot water is used for washing dishes, filling up the solar shower bag that’s used for an evening shower, and, most importantly, for hot tea and coffee.  It takes a bit of planning to not run out of hot water, and that’s where our month of no electricity and money gets off to a rocky start.

For example:  Unless someone gets up in the night to put wood into the stove, in the morning the water in the tea kettles is only lukewarm.  The room is still plenty warm, and the stove is still hot, but the tea kettles loose their heat rather quickly.  Since Jay loves his morning cup of coffee, and I crave a proper cup of morning tea, this causes us to huddle around the stove, waiting for the smaller tea kettle to begin to “sing” that it’s finally hot enough.

After the first night, I’ve decided that if I wake up, no matter how much I hate to get up, I’m going to refill the wood stove.  Last night I did wake, and I tried telling myself that it didn’t matter, we could wait for our tea.  But then I remembered that there would be people joining us for a consulting visit and we would not have the luxury of hanging out until we’re good and ready to begin the day.

???????????????????????

With my head lamp shining brightly, I wandered down the hallway like a coal miner and filled up the stove.  Unlike a coal miner, I had the added hazard of avoiding stepping on any of the cats that sleep wherever they find a bit of warmth.  Then back to bed, to dream of warmer days.

Last year I tried hoarding hot water by filling up insulated water carafes.  It didn’t really work.  Lukewarm water just doesn’t make a great cup of coffee or tea.

I’d love to hear an idea or two about how I might keep the water hot enough over night to have a nice hot cup of tea, and not have to wait around for 30 minutes to get the day in high gear.  I’m considering putting some clay bricks on top of the stove (slight thermal mass) and putting the tea kettle on top.  My hope is that the bricks will hold more heat then the top of the stove.

The saga of how to keep the water hot over night continues.  I hope to hear from folks about possible solutions.

Menu
Breakfast:
Fresh fruit with yogurt

Lunch:
Left over butternut squash/potato soup
Rye bread with butter
Fresh hot pepper raw milk goat cheese

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH DIARIES – Day 28

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH             January 28, 2012                      7:34 AM

65 F indoors                 34 F outdoors

TODAY’S HAPPINESS FACTOR:  8 OUT 10

 Image  Sophie and Cadeau, waiting patiently for me.

When I opened the door to the chicken chalet I saw his beautiful body resting on the floor, and I knew he was dead.  King Ferdinand, grandson of Antonio Banderos had just died before I opened the door.  He was young, healthy, and good at his job.  As I carried him to the house I felt worried about who would take his place.

Image King Ferdinand enjoying life with one of his hens.

Animals have been a big part of my January experiment.  Because the weather has been so good I’ve had more time to connect with them, and they have been happy to be my partners. 

Every single time I get ready to go out to do chores the dogs are so excited – really thrilled at the idea that the door will open into the outdoor world, and off we will go to the far off barn (800 steps from the house) to meet up with chickens, goats and llamas.

Sometimes when they are at the door dancing around, and Cadeau is turning in circles – just at the mere fact that we’re going off together – I think about how great it is to be happy about the smallest things in life, and I am grateful that they remind me of this.

I’ve taken a lesson from the dogs, I must admit.  On many days, when I am about to sit down to eat with my family I feel incredibly happy at the thought of it.  When Jay and I go to town together, or explore some new place I have this same sense of delight about life.  During my time in France I felt delighted almost every moment – looking at familiar things I cherished when I lived there, experiencing new people and new ideas.

This month has provided me with delight at every turn.  Each morning and each evening when I walk up to the barn I feel a sense of being nourished.  It is a great thing in life to have meaningful work, and I definitely feel that taking care of our livestock gives me a strong sense of purpose, a life connection.

Image Rosie, resting after a hard morning of guarding the livestock.

In the morning when I wake up I often feel energized by the thoughts I have when I begin to think about what I will write about that day.  Even if no one reads my words, I am pleased that I have the skill to put them into print.

Whenever I am sitting at the computer and one of the cats jumps up to sit on my lap while I work, I never fail to stop what I’m doing to pet them.  This month I have particularly enjoyed their attention, and appreciated the happiness they bring to my life.

The wind in my face as I walk has made me feel refreshed.  The stories I’ve relived and told this month have inspired me to think about what adventures must be waiting for us in the future.  The thoughts of new interns, and old friends visiting make me feel appreciative of what will happen this year.  I have really loved this time that we are alone together, and the fact that spring will come around again.

Staying put for one whole month has taken away some sort of expectation I’ve been carrying around – I don’t know what that means yet but not having any place to go has felt like a security blanket that keeps me warm and safe.

Image Michelle Belle playing the part of the jungle gym for two tiny goat kids.

Living without money has been so much more then just not spending it.  Somehow this month has erased barriers, and given me a new sense of myself – a re-writing of a small part of the core of who I am. 

I’m no Pollyanna though.  Don’t confuse me with anybody who puts her head in the sand.  It’s just that I want to live in a different world – a simple place where we focus on what we have in common.  And this month, I’ve spent a lot of time savoring the fact that I have things in common with everything that surrounds me.

The month’s not over yet, though, although I am not hoping to repeat what I found in the hen house last night – that’s just life happening in my real world, but it feels painful.  Instead, I am anxious to see what will come out of our experiment of living without money – and what has turned out to be my vacation from the world.

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH DIAIRIES – Day 26

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                                  January 26, 2012            7:20 AM

65 F indoors                 37 F outdoors

Rain, rain, rain

TODAY’S HAPPINESS FACTOR:  8 out of 10

 ImageImage

Meaningful work…Annie mucking out stalls and Jay, the breakfast chef 2012

January has been a time of reminding me that life cannot feel secure unless those around us are safe as well.  Safety comes in many forms – healthy food, affordable health care, adequate energy for heating, a safe place to live, and meaningful work at a living wage.  I would also add good friends and strong relationships with others.

A huge part of being happy in life is rooted in our personal values and a sense of security.  And values and a sense of security are rooted in feeling free to make decisions.  It seems like we use the excuse that we don’t have time to do anything else, when it really amounts to the fact that we don’t know “how” to make more meaningful decisions about how we use our time.

Turning off the TV or the computer at a regular time and giving the gift of time for reading, playing games, or just sitting around the table talking is a big step towards a higher HAPPINESS FACTOR.  This is such a simple thing to do; yet we hesitate because technology is an easy way to spend our energy.  Creating a quieter environment actually takes less energy, and, as we’ve found this month, gives back energy.

Another idea is to step out into society to volunteer, or just fill in when needed.  It often feels like we have so little control over what happens in our world, but volunteering to help others (and not just at Christmas) is a terrific way to replace consuming habits, and fill up that space with a sense of being worthwhile…an exchange of something besides money for making the community around us safer in every way.

My freedom to choose is so much more then just a bumper sticker.  This month has made it clear to me that I can choose to step away from the world for a period of time so that I can decide what is important to me at a deeper level, or I can learn new skills or even new things about myself.  I am more determined then ever to fight for my right to have this kind of freedom from technology, from consuming, from commercialism or the opinions of others.

This month, as I’ve thought more about what it takes to be content, I can see that a big part of my HAPPINESS FACTOR came from working for the rights of other abused women, and by going to places I’d been told to never go, or that I’d never be welcomed into.  Prisons, halls of great power in far off places, on trains across foreign unfriendly lands, and finally building a house out of trash.

My journey from those experiences, and now from taking time this month to be on vacation from the world, only led me back to the place my grandparents had shown me – a simple life.  At this point there is just no going back to the old me, or the one that my culture demanded.  Even though I know this, I need to be reminded that there are ways to live my life without consuming, without shopping, without wasting things and taking away from the future.  After all I am an American, filled with her ideals and dictates.

Please don’t think I have all of the answers.  I’m trying to find my way, the same as lots of folks.  But I do want to find and hang on to the energy that is at the heart of feeling secure, and free to be a happy human being.  The ultimate foundation for living a life rooted in THE HAPPINESS FACTOR.

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH DIARIES – Day 18

THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH                      January 18, 2012                      7:45 AM

64 F indoors                 27 F outdoors (feels like 18F)

Snow flurries

TODAY’S HAPPINESS FACTOR:  6 out 10

 Image Jay at 5 AM -writing the great American non-fiction

 

Jay uses the coffeemaker.  There, I’ve said it.

Yesterday Jay informed me that I should write about his indiscretions with energy.  I hated to do it, but since I haven’t said much about his comings and goings it seems like a good way to begin my blog today.

When we first started planning the THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH Jay was very keen about the idea.  Together we made a list of guidelines we both agreed to follow.

Jay is kind of a low maintenance kind of guy.  He requires cheese, coffee, pasta, potatoes, bread, butter and chocolate, plus lots of hugs and kisses.  Actually these are his food groups and if the food doesn’t fit into these categories then he has the attitude that it probably isn’t good for him. 

Jay is also a guy who enjoys routine.  In the evening he is eager to report what film we’ll watch.  After the film he takes a shower, then switches on the white noise machine. Reading comes next, and finally sleeps. 

For several months now he gets up at 5 AM to write.  The night before he puts his clothes in the living room so that when he changes in the morning he won’t wake me up – he’s a thoughtful kind of guy as well.  Next he makes coffee in the coffee maker, and begins his day.

I personally think he needs this routine because he is a brilliant workaholic.  That brain just can’t shut down. 

When we started thinking about THANKS FOR NOTHING MONTH though I felt like we weren’t really making many changes in our routine life.  Then Nans came up with the idea that we should live with the rhythm of the earth and turn off every ounce of energy (we need a little for our business day) once it got dark.

To me this was a Eureka idea.  To Jay it began a list of things that were challenges.  The first item was the white noise machine.  He said he wouldn’t live without it.  Within a day he had discovered it would run on batteries.  Whew!  That was a relief because that machine was staying one way or another.

Then I mentioned that we had a large French press that would work well for morning coffee.  Honestly, I don’t ever want to be responsible for putting that look on his face, but it had to be said.  “No way” was his response.  That coffeemaker was his best friend and he wasn’t giving it up for a whole month because his business day begins when that coffeemaker starts.

There are those who would side with Jay on these matters (and more) because after all, he does live with me, and he has to set his limits.  In fairness to him, I can see his reasoning, but I refuse to agree.

I argued that the whole point of this month was to have a deeper experience at living simply.  He said the purpose was to live without an exchange of money.  Sigh…

Last night, as we ate supper at 9 PM (he taught his class until 8 PM) he said, “I had to spend money today – I had a 20 cent fine at the library.”  I couldn’t help laughing.  When I pointed out he could pay it in February, he couldn’t see the point.

He said he could have stood in front of the Newark library and asked someone for 20 cents, which I thought was a distinct possibility.  The image of Professor Warmke in his expensive brown leather bomber’s jacket standing out in front of that fancy building with the folks who do ask for cigarettes or money for a cup of coffee seemed like it might be a life-changing experience.  Jay said that it would be his luck that the dean of the school would show up just as he asked for the change.  We had a good laugh about that.

Personally I think that this month is about stepping outside of the ordinary, and trying new ways of thinking about consumption.  Jay often tells me that my approach is about the soft side and his about the basics.  I tell him I’m the global thinker and he’s the local thinker. 

From a distance it might make people wonder how we’ve spent more then three decades together, but for me it’s just another day with my dearest friend and the most brilliant person I’ve ever known.

 

Menu

Breakfast

Gluten-free cinnamon toast

Left over noodles with egg (for Jay)

 

Lunch

Chicken Salad

Potato Soup

 

Supper

Left Overs