Last Fall I read My Side of the Mountain to River. It’s a novel about a boy who leaves the city to make a home in the woods on the site of his great-great grandfather’s failed farm. He builds a shelter by burning out the trunk of a great hemlock tree and he steals a baby falcon from its nest and trains it to hunt for him, though the companionship it provides seems infinitely more valuable. I don’t know how the story ends. River lost interest and we moved onto another book. But I think about the little boy on nights like tonight as the snow is piling up in great mounds around our warm house and the wind is heaving it here and there while I sit next to sleeping, fevering River on a queen-sized bed. There is a beauty to this moment that matches the tick-tick-tick of gently falling snow on a hemlock tree.
I subscribe to Meg Conley’s SubStack newsletter, titled, “Homeculture.” She writes passionate and artful essays about women, home, money and care. She was recently banned from Twitter after she published a piece entitled, “This is a rant about beds at work” criticizing Twitter (and Elon Musk) for installing bedrooms for employees, encouraging them to work too late to go home. She writes, “The consequences at an individual level are staggering, but this extends well beyond each employee to partners, children, roommates, even pets. It matters when a person is pulled from our lives.”
The rendering of the bedroom/office, which she quips, looks like an “IKEA showroom behind a 2022 Iron Curtain,” feels immediately eerie to me. It’s a corporate jail cell. And to what end? What exactly are we building and for whom?
I believe this is a question worth consideration as we set New Year’s resolutions and intentions. To what is my life a tribute?
Those who know me, know I struggle to sit idle. If I have the TV on in the evening, it’s for the pleasant hum of its company more than the repose of entertainment. Rest days are my worst days. I need them every now and then but I still haven’t figured out how to rest without ending up in a mini-ditch of depression by the end of the day. So this is not a treatise for idleness. I like work. I like creating. I find great meaning in all of it.
I’m not sure what my most meaningful work will be at the end of my life. What will “people” remember me for? What will my people remember me for? Oprah teaches that our most meaningful legacy will be the lives we touch, because we have no idea how our influence will fan out into the universe though those lives.
I have this one very meaningful life lying next to me asleep. I must admit I am wrapped up in him. He is the one thing that pulls me away from my work (work being the other ways I hope to influence the world). My work life is wrapped around his schedule so I can do school pick up and drop off as often as possible. I cooked German pancakes for him daily this fall because first grade has been hard for him, and I wanted him to have the extra protein to get through his day. He is the one being in my life I know most intimately and yet he feels strange to me at times. He’s always changing, always coming home with something new to learn about or iron out or build up.
What will the world be like for him? Does an Elon-Musk-work-cell await him? Surely not. This boy—who loves the mountains and dinosaurs and chemistry and Christmas—he will be a park ranger or an environmental scientist someday. He, just like me, needs air and curiosity and love to breathe.
Who is John Gault? This secret phrase is uttered between the titans of industry and the disenfranchised in Ayn Rand’s influential novel, Atlas Shrugged. John Gault, who begins as an enigmatic representation of “good-values” productivity, ends up being an actual person who has abandoned the world to its destruction and created his own society of like-minded individuals in a hidden location in Colorado. His created city is a sort of promise-land bunker for the few who are depicted as truly capable of supporting themselves in his closed society.
When I was a 20-something, going to PA school, preparing for a life of meaningful productivity and taxes, I identified with the John Gault dream. At the time I was married to a man who listened constantly to the incessant ranting of conservative talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage. I was naive, and I took their salacious fear-mongering to heart. I felt I needed protection—me!—a middle class white woman (arguably the most protected of peoples). The only thing I needed protection from was the patriarchy which fuels these mens’ hatred and lines their pockets.
When I became a mother I changed. I started to notice the toll that fear took on my soul. To believe that everyone around me was trying to take what was mine—to see the masses as indolent and lazy and evil—it was bitter and foul and the more I tasted it the more I knew I had to spit it out.
Maybe this is why we need mothers now more than ever. We need mothers to step out of their kitchens, minivans, daycare centers, therapy offices, true-crime binges, yoga retreats and corporate ladder-climbs and enter the public discourse. Mothers see that our world is a mother. The same gravity that magically keeps us bound to her surface, binds us together. Our very molecules are in constant relationship to each other through electric and gravitational pull. There is no bunker, no secret city in Colorado, no private hemlock in the woods that can sever these connections. We cannot abandon each other.
This is not a call to action for women with children. It’s a call for all of us to reconnect with the part of ourselves that knows nurture, that sees the commonalities between us and feels connected to how much we need one another.
Mothers are the ones who can see this much more palatable, even sweet, truth: People are good. We are good. I am good. You are good. We are good inside. The things we ache for are the same things they ache for, and the same things that boy from My Side of the Mountain ached for: air, curiosity, and love. We want freedom to be with those we love, to do something we feel matters, and a sense that the world is open to us.
This is my wish for 2023: That we see the humanity in our fellow humans. That we embrace love over fear. That we stop putting our faith in the fear-monger. That, together, we be free.