The buzz of being done

Last week, after two years of writing and revising an essay about beekeeping, post-partum depression and acceptance, I was able to let the process go: The piece was published on the website Lion’s Roar, in conjunction with the Buddhist Justice Reporter. Lion’s Roar is an in-print and online magazine devoted to exploration of meditation practice and Buddhism. Other topics find their home here, too: stories about skater culture and Buddhism or the Disney movie Encanto bring new perspectives to both topics and hopefully inspire people to contemplate things in a new way.

That was one of the goals of my essay, to push others to think in new ways, as all the articles in Lion’s Roar inspire readers to do.

The idea of writing about Buddhism and beekeeping came to me in 2019, when I got my first hive of bees and the small creatures stung my right hand seven times. I was so lost in the changes of motherhood that I mostly felt sorrow that summer, sorrow and depression with little pops of joy.

The day the bees stung me, I was transferring them from their “nuc box” (a small, cardboard travel box) to their permanent hive on my farm. I was wearing a pair of thin fabric work gloves and picking up and moving frames loaded with bees, larvae and honey. The bees were slightly agitated, and when I felt the first sting, I tensed. It was a hard way to come into my body, which had felt so foreign, so not mine, for the past year, and yet at the same time, the zing of pain felt good. It was MY body I was feeling. Then another sting came, and another. I stopped moving the frames and stood in place, watching the bees on my hand lower their rear ends into the glove and administer melittin, an acidic venom. I could feel the pierce of the stinger, and then the burn of the venom, and then a slow heat radiating out from each puncture.

It felt magical, like the first time I understood Buddhist philosophy and its promise that there’s a way to move past suffering in any moment. It also felt magical because I imagine being zapped in the hand by a magic wand would make one’s hand feel warm and thick and full of some other energy force.

In those moments, finding Buddhism or being stung, life slowed down and came into hard relief. Being pulled so completely into anything sometimes leaves me so focused I can’t see a way out of the thing–for good or bad–and Buddhist philosophy and meditation have given me a way to try and remind myself that this moment, any moment, will pass and something new will come.

I’m excited to have a byline in Lion’s Roar, but it’s also cool to have this piece featured in the Buddhist Justice Reporter, which publishes writing seeking to answer a complex question: How do and how can the values of truth, awakening, compassion, wisdom, skillful means, lovingkindness, joy, and equanimity manifest in these times?

The Reporter came about to explore the horrors and events surrounding the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Today, the publication has expanded beyond that moment in time to covering “Buddhist perspectives on justice” so that practitioners can “become skillful agents of social change in the interest of compassion and wisdom.”

I’m grateful for the opportunity to be part of the discussion about justice and Buddhism and “moving on,” even as I know that this too, shall pass.

Keeping bees with Sylvia Plath

I began beekeeping in 2018, the same year my son was born.

I’d been fascinated by honeybees for years before his birth, but that happened to be the year I committed and got bees of my own. He was just two weeks old when my first bees arrived, and the day I transferred them from their “nuc,” or nucleus housing to their actual hive, I got stung seven times.

Those seven stings felt so amazing, taking me away from the pain and depression of being a new, tired mom who saw her life fading away as her boy came more and more into the world. Those stings pulled me out of my body and dropped me squarely in the middle of some non-time, non-space existence. Those stings felt like the pure, non-corporeal enlightenment I’d been seeking all my life.

Those first bees did not make it through their first winter, and some of my second bees have made it thus far through their first winter. I’ve got my 2021 order of bees in place, and I’m looking forward to another year of beekeeping. My son has survived his first few years, and the week I get my 2021 bees, my boy will turn three.

Becoming responsible for another human life has been hard, and much of the past three years has left me in a state of suspended existence unlike the existence I felt the day I got those seven stings. The past three years have been filled with joy and laughter as much as they have with tears and sadness and depression, but the hard stuff always feels harder than the good stuff feels good.

To get through some of these times, I’ve been putting together ideas for a collection of essays that explores beekeeping, motherhood and post-partum depression. My first essay is almost ready to be sent out to the world, hopefully finding a home before May (I know, I know, that’s not much lead time in the publishing world!), but yesterday, I came across something that has me itching to get working on some research and another essay: Sylvia Plath’s poem “Stings.”

Although I really enjoy Plath, I don’t know her body of work well. I know what most people do: “Lady Lazarus,” “The Colossus,” “Daddy” and The Bell Jar. I know she married the poet Ted Hughes, they had a couple of kids and she put her head in an oven to end her life. I know she was brilliant but troubled. And as a mom who has wanted not to put my head in an oven but find an end in other easier ways plenty of times in the last three years, I have a newfound compassion for what I once thought was just crazy selfishness.

And with my introduction to Plath’s poem “Stings,” and the revisions housed by Smith College, I have a newfound curiosity for Plath and her work. Beyond that, I feel this sense that perhaps my ideas to explore beekeeping, motherhood and post-partum depression aren’t so weird after all, that the confluence of the three things isn’t something that speaks to just my moment on this planet.

It’s hard to feel the promise of Spring and new life when I look out my window to falling snow, but I know it’s there, like the promise of a new idea bubbling under the surface.

And yet here I am

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In this blog, I stay away from writing about the farm I live on because I want my writing life to be my writing life. I want my blog to be about education, writing, news, culture…things that interest me.

Yes, the farm interests me, but not in the same way these other things do. Until tonight I hadn’t really put much thought into why I want the farm to be and occupy a separate space. But as I overheard my husband talking with a former hemp colleague, I understood why I want this distance.

The farm is a shared place for us, and a shared interest. I like my multiple gardens, the space we have and the joy our son experiences when he’s outside. But the isolation of farm life, the struggle and uncertainty…these things I don’t like. And although things didn’t feel uncertain on the farm I grew up on, the isolation is one thing I wanted to leave when I left the farm of my childhood at 18. And yet here I am again, living on a farm. 

For those of you finding this blog for the first time, as strangers, the farm I live on is spectacular. Huge 3-story turn-of-the-century house (as pictured above)a Quartz foundation, with frogs and rats and water in the spring.  Eleven acres of fruit trees. A greenhouse. Strawberry, raspberry, rhubarb, currant and asparagus patches. A history that goes back to my husband’s grandfather, making our son the fourth generation to live here. It’s a lovely place to live, and when we moved here, we had huge ambitions.

But last year we grew industrial hemp, and we encountered many issues that prevented us from making any money on it. In fact, we lost money. We lost investor money. We lost partner money. And worse yet, we’re now in litigation over the crop. I’ll write more about that as I’m able; with a court case in the works I’m censoring myself.

That bit of backstory brings me to tonight
A hemp partner on the East Coast told my husband that he’s selling his farm. He went all in on hemp in 2019, and like so many other hemp farmers, it broke him. He has a family to support, and bills to pay, and he has his land.  So he’s going to sell it. I was heartbroken for him for a split second, and angry, too. Angry at hemp, and ag and my own situation. And as I dealt with the twin pains of anger and sorrow, I thought about this farm and how much it takes to just LIVE HERE. I thought about dreams and aspirations and what it means to sacrifice for your dreams. And then I remembered that it was never my dream to return to a farm after I left the one in Nebraska, where I grew up. And yet here I am.

My husband wants me to sell the house I own in town, but I haven’t been willing to do that in the three years we’ve been here, and lately, there’s nothing even remotely inspiring about that idea. What if we too, must sell this farm? Or, what if I simply want off of it, away from the stress and the expense and the isolation? We pushed through two challenging years of getting the land around here cleaned up after years  of neglect, and each winter I feel the bite of wind cut through non-insulated walls, windows and doorjambs. I feel thefarmer depression that some news organizations report on from time to time. And I wonder, is there a better way o do this? What if we just returned this land to land. I don’t mean move off of it; I mean, what if we just lived here, in this house, on this yard, with these trees? What if we didn’t farm at all?

The idea comforts me and gives me something to look forward to. I don’t want to take my husband’s dream away from him, so for now I don’t need to drag him off the farm. But holding on to my dreams of writing and experiencing the culture of a city need to be part of what it means to be out here. I knew this when we moved, but I didn’t think it would be THIS hard.

And so, here I am, writing about the farm.