Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Abyss

A year ago I had a very stable routine. Five days a week I would wake up around 9 am and get to work on the next episode of the C-Realm Podcast. Some days I would record telephone interviews, other days I would edit them, on yet other days I went to the Chesapeake City public library to get online and correspond with the other people whose voices grace the program. I put two to three hours into the project most days.

After my daily stint of gratifying work  I would steel myself for the portion of my day that I gave over to alienated labor in the service of a corporate behemouth. I worked my cubicle-serf gig from 3 – 11:30 pm with the better part of an hour's commute each way.  I would arrive home well after midnight, feed the cats, read for a bit, and go to sleep. In the morning, I would get up and do it all over again. On days when I wasn't working my so-called “real job,” I had my two sons with me, and I made no effort to do any work on the podcast when they were with me.

This was a period of high misery for me, but in terms of keeping my creative output high, it worked well. My best mental energy is available to me in the morning, and working nights left my mornings and my best psychic fuel available for my own projects. Having the mornings available for my own creative activity and leaving only the dregs for my corporate employer helped things along, but the key ingredient was social isolation.

That two to three hours which I spent on the podcast each day was almost always completely free from interuption, and I got a lot done. My misery did not stem entirely from my social isolation. I have a high tolerance for solitude, but as I talked on the phone with authors and activists about the need for face to face interaction with neighbors and members of one's real community, I was acutely aware of the irony; the C-Realm Podcast with it's high-minded messages about community grew out of the soil of my own solitude. I longed for the opportunity to spend time with friends doing nothing in particular. I longed for shared meals and physical labor that would yeild tangible benefits for myself and my community. I longed to hear live music performed out of love rather than as paid performance.

I enjoy all of that in abundance now, and I am aware of just how thoroughly my wishes have been granted. I even have chickens in my life. At the same time, the C-Realm Podcast has suffered. For years I received praise from listeners via email expressing their amazement at the consistent high quality of the program. Now I'm getting feedback telling me that the shows have been hit or miss recently, and I didn't really need to be told that. I knew it already.

A year ago, I was doing just the one podcast and blogging haphazardly as often as the spirit moved me. Now I do two weekly podcasts (the C-Realm Podcast and the ETC Voices Podcast) and blog more rigourously, so the mental energy that used to feed one podcast now feeds two podcasts and a blog, but it seems to me that the strain on the C-Realm Podcast comes mainly from the fact that I now have, for the first time in many years, a “life.”

Here at the ETC, I eat three shared meals a day. I regularly enjoy spontaneous live music. I literally live in a forest, and I hear far more bird song than I do roaring engines. We even seem to be outside of any airline flight paths here (although we get our share of black helicopters befouling the audible environment with their noise). It's beautiful here, but it's also complicated. There are people; people who come to me and ask me questions. People who come to me in need of assistance with this task or that. People who come to me for help in interacting with other people. And the phone rings.

From the perspective of my having a life, these are all positive developments. From the perspective of the C-Realm Podcast, KMO's having a life is a problem. What to do?

I realize that it probably seems like I'm winding up to announce a podcasting hiatus. Not so. I have no intention of giving up the podcast that brought me here nor in scaling back the production schedule. People have written to me and suggested that I take longer to gestate each program and only release a new episode when I've got something that I am proud of, but I take pride in maintaining the weekly production schedule. I also believe that the best interview material comes unexpectedly, and I happen across it specifically because the podcast demands to be fed on a regular schedule. Had I not been scrounging to feed the beast, I would have missed out on some of the most stimulating and enlightening conversations that I've had since the Fall of 2006.

It seems that the solution to the problems that arise from an embarassment of social riches is yet more social interaction. I've written this entire essay up to this sentence without interuption because I managed to impress upon the right people with repeated, gentle reminders that I have committed myself to writing at least a thousand words every Saturday and that today is Saturday.

Communication is what I do best, and yet I do less of it with the people around me than I know I should if I want to honor what they do while securing the time and solitude I need to do what I do. I'm not the only person creating content around here. Albert Bates blogs and writes books. Merry, the innkeeper, gives far more of her mental and physical energy to the Ecovillage Training Center than I do, and she not only blogs, but she also shoots, edits, and posts videos.

The biggest challenge for me is in articulating the importance of sticking to my production schedule when I know full well (and I know that everyone else knows) that if I miss one of my self-imposed deadlines and end up posting to this blog on Sunday rather than on Saturday or (God forbid) that I should upload a new episode of the C-Realm Podcast on a Thursday rather than on Wednesday, no buildings will fall into rubble. No children will go hungry. No would-be podcast guest will withdraw her participation. No otherwise generous contributor will think twice about supporting my efforts.

There's just not that much riding on any given deadline, and yet the idea of missing one scares me in a way that the prospect of living without income or not knowing where I will be taking shelter from the elements six months from now does not. Merely entertaining the possibility of faltering in my weekly production of the C-Realm Podcast feels like tottering on the edge of the abyss.


  1. Your content output has resulted in the rallying of a sort of virtual community of like-minded people. There must be a resulting sense of accomplishment for you that is quite satisfying. Do you fear losing that community by slowing your output? Or is there a sense of identity that is conferred that you fear losing? Just thinking out loud...regardless of what your schedule is or ends up being, I have and will continue to appreciate and be thankful for whatever you are able to generate, whether it be on a weekly,monthly, or longer interval.

  2. Hey, KMO, I hear you. As another person with a weekly deadline (500-1500 words every Monday), it can sometimes feel as though the schedule is taking over. I am really grateful that you have the discipline to stick to your schedule; the C-Realm gives out such a huge amount of information and good vibes to the world. Thank you!!

  3. KMO, I totally understand what you are saying, if I read you correctly--the podcast gives your life structure, and, if you once let it slide, what is there to keep it from sliding further and then to not being done at all? It's your anchor in a chaotic world. I think you are right to stick to your schedule even if the quality suffers.

    It is really hard to have a lot of priorities--how do you prioritize the priorities? You can't do everything well. It's impossible. And, if you are surrounded by overachievers, it makes you feel inadequate. But, overachievers are just that. You don't need to overachieve. You just need to have a life that is as meaningful and satisfying as you can make it. And as joyful. And, it seems to me that's what you have now. And, no, you don't and can't have everything. Something has to suffer.

    Perhaps you can put your regular podcast as the priority and schedule everything else around it, but this requires you to stand up in defense of the time you need to do that. You can make that time sacrosanct in other people's minds if you set certain hours and post them on your door or whatever. I am certain you can get people to respect your needs if you are adamant about them and consistent.

    I wanted to let you know something. I wrote to you a couple of months ago about the possibility of moving to The Farm, and you referred my email to Albert Bates. Do you remember? Well, anyway, my sweetie and I chanced upon a wonderful opportunity for us to help a couple on their small property, and we are moving this week! We feel that this is right for us and are very happy about it.

    Good luck with your dilemma. I feel close to you after hearing so many of your podcasts and want you to be happy.

    Janet in MS (soon to be MA)

  4. Funny, I wrote about almost the same thing about a month ago:

    It is really frustrating, because all those community things are just as (if not more) important than our projects. My new resolve has been to try to combine them- ie, when my list of things to do includes "can the pile of vegetables on the counter" I call up one of my friends to come over and help. And therefore I fit together the community part with the getting things done part. This doesn't really answer the question you posed about the podcast. But perhaps others might be interested in, I don't know, helping to do the editing? Helping to line up speakers? There must be some way to make it more of a community effort, so it is not so much of a thing you have to separate out from your "life."