#13. And I shall have some peace there by Margaret Roach
Grand Central Publishing, 2011
272 pages

Last week, I sat blinking at my computer. What. Is. This. Oh GOD. You see, iTunes had been acting up, and wouldn’t shut down, so I just turned off the computer without thinking. When I turned it on again – lo and behold! The White Screen of Doom. (Insert many, many expletives here and some sort of clip of thunder playing loudly in the background, and my shrieking in horror.)

My life was already in just about as much flux as I choose to handle, so I blinked at it for several more moments, and I turned the forsaken object off, put it in the other room, and swam up a river in Egypt. Sometimes, this is the best course of action.

And then I started reading Margaret Roach’s wonderfully introspective book, ‘and i shall have some peace there‘. It was a thoroughly calming experience. Sometimes books fall into your lap at the right moment when you need them most. Many weeks ago I had put this one on my library queue, and it arrived just in time for my crisis.

Without the explicit intention of doing so, I have lived my life seeking the guidance of strong female role models. The influence most likely, of the strong women in my family. I was raised to believe that women can do anything. I was raised to believe that I could do anything. Margaret Roach is a prime example of the type of woman I am inspired by. Her hard work, incredible accomplishments and perseverance I take to heart every day.

For years she grew in the Martha Stewart empire, working her way up to the top in part by embracing Martha’s mantra “Learn something new every day.” She reached a pinnacle of her career and was incredibly good at what she did. But I think she rightfully understood that a career should never be enough. After searching those many decades for herself, at the end of 2007 she quit, and moved to her house in the woods in upstate New York.

People lauded her for following her dreams, for breaking free, for doing something that countless wished they could do, but won’t or can’t. Lets just think about that for a moment. If you ask me, it seems like a ridiculous, crazy, insane idea,  which, incidentally is exactly why I admire her so much.

Sometimes I too feel like a crazy person. A few years ago, I decided to leave the comforts of the ‘Shire to move across the country to San Francisco. Those same people who taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be, felt, perhaps, that I was a little nuts. I thought I was a little nuts. But they encouraged me anyway – and I feel so lucky about that. There are brilliant people here in San Francisco, and there is someone I love dearly, and there is sunshine and 80 degree days in March. Still, every so often I get nervous and scared that I’m doing something wrong, or making a grand mistake in my life. These fears fill me with anxiety and can be consuming if I don’t take proper precautions.

And then I pick up a book like this one and my fears are quelled for a while at least. Lets be clear here. To move to the country is hard. All these kids who are glorifying farming right now clearly haven’t spent a day working on a farm. {I am always reminded of the first day I spent at my CSA pulling carrots from the ground, only to end up not being able to move the next morning from seized muscles and excruciating pain.} To do it with the grace and acceptance of reality the way that Margaret has done is something wonderful. And to be able to write so well about it, well, that is a great accomplishment indeed.

Just how hard are things? Well, there are snakes, for one. Lots of snakes. And then there is a fear that work will not come again, all the while her funds dwindling. And then there is the unsettling feeling of losing time and her bearings. And then the fear that she will be injured by some sort of fall, or a sharp object, or a bolt of lightening, and she will be lying there and dying and bleeding out alone.

Throughout the book, she writes to define herself: If she is no longer mroach@marthastewart dot com, than who is she? I find myself thinking this very thought often. For so much of my life, I defined myself by my community, instead of defining myself by me. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing when you are living in such a strong community, but to find balance, you have to learn the things that make you, you. For the past several years, by virtue of being in my own version of Margaret’s woods I’ve been forced to determine what defines me, if I am not any longer stackeff@wellesley dot edu? I’m still working on that one, but the answer, I believe, is identifying the things you love (particularly the little things) and seeking to experience them each and every day.

And in fact, for the reader, the best part of her journey is watching her learn to appreciate those little things: her special tea mug in the morning; the frog soap opera in her pond; and Jack, her semi-wild feline companion. Not to mention those who are there to pick up the mangled gifts from Jack for her and help her with the things that more easily take two sets of hands; becoming the grill master for town gatherings (even though she is a vegetarian, and has been for nearly thirty years); and New Years dinners where pajamas are acceptable attire.

All of her moments of realization helped me think of my own small wonders. The Wednesday emails from friends; my perfect tenmoku bowl that was a gift from my childhood best friend; the view from Bernal Hill when I have made the effort to trudge up to the top; my library card; and drives down the 1, even though I’m terrified of being a passenger looking over the side of a cliff.

Ironically, the only thing that bothered me about this book is how much solace she gets from gardening, and how much solace that I do not get from gardening, because I live in a third floor walk up with no soil to dig my hands into. Soon, I shall have to remedy this.

Beyond the book, which, I think, at this point, you can understand my feelings about, Margaret blogs at ‘a way to garden‘ and also, helped to create ‘the sister project’ about cultivating sisterhood of all kinds. She loves Rancho Gordo as much as I do, and makes a mean pot of baked beans.

As a final aside, although I’ve backed up many things, there are some things on my computer that I’ll be sad to lose if they are not retrievable (I’ve yet to go get the thing fixed): my latest bookmarks, the hundreds of RSS feeds that I kept on my computer instead of Google Reader, and a few weeks worth of photos that I had yet to sync to Flickr. The good thing about this, is that I’ve been forced to think about the feeds that I really love. The ones that I added back within the first five minutes to my phone because I don’t want to live without for even a week include: 101 CookbooksChookooloonksTea and CookiesConfessions of a Pioneer WomanPacing the Panic RoomDavid LebovitzEat the LoveYoung House Love, and, um, TechCrunch. Please note, if you are reading this, and you have a blog which I read and you aren’t on this list, I still love you and miss reading your posts. Seriously. Hopefully by next week I’ll be able to get everything back safely.