cafe mama

finding magic every day

radical me . april 20 . 2010

me, in the oregonian, a radical homemaker
I have, of late, become reluctant to adopt others' monikers. As "foodie" and "locavore" became tinged with privilege, I -- always eager to join a movement or two -- have fallen in love with more inclusive and encompassing eponyms. "Urban homesteader" is one of my favorite, evocative as it is of that pioneer spirit infusing the stories I loved most as a child, Laura Ingalls Wilder, the Oregon Trail, plucky tales of girls who ran, jumped, forded streams, let fruit juices stream down their brown-in-the-sun cheeks, stitched hems on cotton lawn, cooked a whole pig, midwived their sisters, their friends. And descriptive: I love a descriptive name. A name, you see, should above all name.

There have been others, of course, through the years that seemed to fit. I've known and loved "voluntary simplicity," "frugality," "locavorism." I've always subscribed to "feminist," though in a way I'd like to consider gentle, quieter, man-indulgent. They know not of what they fetter.

One day, there was an email from she-who-coins. Shannon Hayes had, she told me, written and published a book. She had been given my URL, a "radical homemaker" if there ever was one, perhaps? Yes, I said, yes indeed. That sounds about right.

I read the book quickly, gulping her interpretation of history, drinking facts and suppositions and bitty manifestos with my hands raised in "hallelujah." Here, the choir: there, the preacher. I claimed.

It was about this time that a writer from the New York Times sat down, with (I imagine) Macbook in hand. In her pretty neighborhood in Berkeley, she, too, knew of these radical lasses, and they all had coops. That there were husbands and mid-six-figure salaries to soften the whush of the housework's whip in their Californian estates, I have little doubt; that they had loosed the bonds of corporate servitude, I doubt severely. But, they did have chicken coops, and organic kitchen gardens, and perhaps, foods cooked by their own hands. Without jobs of their own, they fit the bill, she thought. Peggy Orenstein shook off the wispy yokes of Latin roots and bestowed her own title, "femivore."

I do not prefer to eat only of the female animal; nor do I associate with the pretty ladies of Berkeley who are represented so well by the stock model in her knotted charcoal shawl. It is not her name I choose. "Radical homemaker" is, perhaps, a bit prescriptive; I stumble under the load Hayes would place on my back. Not the work, certainly (and in fact, the work of the radical homemaker is, often, something less than the work I do; her homemakers, she says, need rusty cars, don't always garden, turn to their community for much of their needs); the bit that has me staggering is the privilege assumed. Much is made of her family's farmland, on which her home could be built; of the elitism described by the advanced degrees so many of her radical homemakers have.

I do have an advanced degree, and an Ivy League one, too; I do have a homestead to call my own. There the elite-slinging ends. As a child, I was fed by food stamps, charity and prayers. I paid for my degrees on my own. My home, on a big lot in a busy street in a not-yet-up-and-coming neighborhood, was bought with on a modest salary and a lucky investment in eBay. Newly pregnant with my first babe, I sold my stock for closing costs; I began clearly the blackberry brambles by the time my third child was bouncing wetly in my belly.

"Radical," I suppose, I am, and perhaps in exactly the way Hayes proposes. I believe in the life of the home; I reject the empty-sweet sustenance of corporations; I grow an herbacious front yard of change. I barter and I beg, I trade and I teach. I speak out; I plant my borrowed blueberry bush, a hope-offering to the rush and offgas of passers-by. Here, here! A fruit, an idea, a simpler way. "Homemaker," yes: I wash, I knead, I preserve, I dig, I hang.

Leslie called one day, and asked me to describe my life in Hayes' terms. I did; she transcribed, and there I was. It's a snapshot of the radical me. It's a piece of myself, and as such, it's filled with all I wish I could be, and riddled with my flaws. Messy and hopeful. Intensely ardent. Possible, possible, possible.

paying the bills

read my previous post . all the pretty stories . march 31 . 2010