Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Month on the Road

It gets hot in Tennessee in August. Darned hot. So the ETC closes down for the month of August, as does the Inn. Someone still has to feed the chickens and ducks and do other basic care-taker operations, but it certainly doesn't require an innkeeper AND an assistant innkeeper, so I hit the road to go spend some time with my children. First I drove from central Tennessee to the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay with my usual stop in Greensboro to hang out with my friend and fellow podcaster, Marty. Marty always puts me up in grand style, and we usually take in some zombie media.

I picked up my kids in Maryland and we took a very expensive taxi ride to the Baltimore airport. We flew from there to St. Louis where we met up with my mother. After a day and a night doing touristy things in St. Louis we drove to Berryville, Arkansas. I wasn't born in Berryville, and except for summers spent at my grandparents' place in my childhood, I never lived there until I was an adult with a wife and child of my own. My second child was born in Berryville. I mention that I never lived there until I was an adult, but in a way Berryville is my home town. My family moved repeatedly when I was a child, and summers in Berryville served as my life-long point of continuity.

After a week in Berryville, I drove back to the Farm in Summertown, Tennessee with my mother and two sons. We spent four days and nights here at the ETC, and I was happy that my boys finally got to see where I've been and what I've been up to this year. We left on a Friday morning and headed back to the East Coast, stopping again in Greensboro. We stopped by Marty's place for some end of the day video game action. His girlfriend, Kaye, was there, and I showed her the cover proof for Conversations on Collapse. Kaye was the leading contributor in my Kickstarter Campaign to raise funds to get the book printed. My mom, my kids, and I spent that night in a Super 8 motel. I wasn't about to ask Marty to house our whole party.

We arrived back at the Elk River House in Chesapeake City on Saturday evening where we all stayed until the boys' mother came to pick them up at the end of the workday on Monday. Tuesday I drove down to Chestertown, Maryland twice; once to record an interview with Tara Shannon Holste, and a second time later in the day to enjoy a home-cooked meal at her place. On Wednesday morning, my mother and I set out again for the Farm. This time we were in two cars, and we had Boots, one of my two cats, with us. We would have taken both cats, but we failed to catch the other cat, Mocha. Boots and Mocha are brother and sister, and until a couple of days ago, they had never lived apart.

Again, we stopped in Greensboro and enjoyed the hospitality of both Marty and Kaye. I stayed with Marty, and my mom and Boots stayed at Kaye's house. We set out the next morning, and I spent 12 hours in my truck with Boots, who gave voice to his misery for almost every moment of the trip. On the Farm, Boots got a one-day reprieve from the torment of the road. He stayed in the greenhouse that is attached to the south side of the Inn and got to spend a bit of time outdoors, but now he's back in his cramped travel cage as he rides with my mom on the final stage of his cross country ordeal, where, late tonight, he will be re-united with my dog, Ungo. They've spent two years apart, and I don't think Boots missed Ungo in the slightest. I imagine that he does miss his sister, Mocha.

Over the course of the events I've just described I traveled about twenty five hundred miles by car. I also logged some air miles, but I don't care to find out how many. The trip from Maryland to Tennessee was doubly consumptive as we had two cars and two drivers, and while I'm the kind of person to make a mental note of the expanded carbon footprint, I'm not the kind of person to fret over it.

Did I have any insights or flashes of inspiration along the way? Well, sure. On one solo day of driving I was thinking about the upcoming AMC series, The Walking Dead. It's an adaptation of a long-running comic book series by Robert Kirkman. Frank Darabont, the director of The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, is adapting the comics series for television, and I have high hopes for it.

There is a very successful podcast called Galactic Watercooler, which started out as a fan podcast devoted to Ron Moore's re-imagined Battlestar Galactica TV series. That podcast was originally called Galactica Watercooler, but the podcast outlived the TV series that inspired it, and it has garnered the love of the SF/sci-fi fan community. The podcast is now professionally produced, provides a living for its creators, and has inspired an annual, in-the-flesh meet-up that draws hundreds of fans from all over the world. As I drove, I was spinning fantasies of replicating that sort of success by hitching my wagon to Frank Darabont's incipient zombie epic. I thought of a name for the podcast; The Talking Dead, and I imagined replacing the W in the stylized title logo of the comicbook with a T. Since Marty and I both love zombie movies, and because it's a lot easier to do a podcast with two hosts than to fill the silence with monolog, I called Marty to see if he wanted to co-create the show. He didn't answer the phone, but I left him a voicemail and he later got back to me to express enthusiasm for the idea.

When I was at Marty's house most recently we were brainstorming, and I said, jokingly, that before we go any further I ought to do a Google search and make sure that nobody else has already staked out this bit of territory. I didn't imagine that I was following in anybody's footsteps through the morphogenic landscape, but of course I was. It turns out that The Talking Dead Podcast is already up to episode #19. The creator of that podcast even used the exact same title graphic I had envisioned. Phooey!

Marty pointed out, quite correctly, that this doesn't bring the portcullis down on our potential podcast. We just have to come up with a different title. I agree, but at the same time, I'm not feeling the same wind in my sails now as I was when the idea first came to me.

So much for inspiration. What about insights? Well, maybe, but they certainly didn't spring unbidden from the churning ether. I cornered interview subjects with digital audio recorder in hand and solicited their insights. I had a pretty clear idea of what it was I wanted, and that's what I got: ideas that I already endorse spoken in voices other than my own.

I recorded a conversation with Patrice Gros, my old organic gardening guru, about the difficulty of competing with corporate agriculture and it's economies of scale. I got an apprentice of his to articulate my belief that it's better to get people to fall in love with quality food than to scare them with stories of famine and collapse. It also occurred to me, not for the first time, that it would be fun and possibly useful to travel around to various organic farms and capture images of sexy young people working in the sun, smiling, laughing, and showing lots of firm flesh. I could justify that project as an attempt to give enlightened agriculture a memetic leg up by eroticizing local food consciousness, but really, I just like being around sexy young people who aren't caught up in the cultivated materialism of commercial culture.

When talking with Daniel Krotz, he articulated my conviction that organized religion has a legitimate role to play in rural societies and that the New Atheists are doing more harm than good when they heap scorn upon Christians as it pushes people of faith into a besieged mentality and exacerbates the ideological polarization that politicians and power mongers cynically exploit to get poor working people in the so-called Red States to vote against their own economic interests.

As I took hundreds of photos of my two sons on our trip, I realized at the time, and then again earlier today as I looked at those photos, that in spending so much of my energy on trying to preserve the moment, I missed the full experience of the moment. Yeah, yeah. I've heard and had that one before.

I realized, as I got close enough to the Farm to turn off my GPS navigation device, that I'm glad to be familiar with this particular patch of the rural south and that I'm happy to have a place among the people here. Merry, the ETC innkeeper, is leaving today to spend a few days away from here to re-charge her batteries. Albert Bates is in Ireland, so I'll have the ETC pretty much to myself for the next few days. A new group of permaculture apprentices will arrive next week, and the familiar rhythms of this place, including weekly updates to this blog and the ETC Voices Podcast, are about to resume.