“You’re just a Santa Fe hippie.”
I’ve heard that a bunch over the years from some of my east coast family. But as Tolstoy famously said about how the least ugly person in a group is the family beauty, this is a statement more about contrast than reality. My mother was haute-bougeoise in her tastes, activities, and aspirations. So, compared to her I really am a Santa Fe hippie—despite my newish Subaru, my well stocked closet and larder, and my pretty container garden.
But what am I really? And what are you?
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how we customize a life, taking certain values and styles and mixing and matching them. It’s a tremendous freedom, and a Jeffersonian pursuit of happiness.
To whit, I’ve recently observed
A long divorced couple who gets on so seamlessly that both of them continue to benefit socially and even economically from their unconventional alliance.
More than one disabled artist creating exquisite work despite—or maybe “with” is a better word—physical limitations.
A writer whose creativity and career are taking leaps forward during a stressful, seemingly incompatible, sandwich generation time.
And…my daughter’s chickens.
Let’s look at first few examples. When you realize you don’t actually have to do something—such as divorce—any particular way—you feel free to customize the experience. You might receive criticism, but probably that is from people who prioritize discord over harmony, and you don’t want to be like that anyway.
The same is true of disability. I wouldn’t wish the chronic pain or limitations I have on anyone, and I don’t regard it as a “gift.” (The kind of gift you’d want to return!). However, it seems more than possible to flourish emotionally, creatively, spiritually if you will in even a very dysfunctional body. Able bodied folks don’t seem to necessarily be happy or productive. And disability is no deal breaker when it comes to authenticity of self.
Caretaking can be exhausting and stressful. It can also, in the case of kids, babies, dogs, kitties, llamas, and goldfish, be a lot of fun. Each caretaker has to decide what will keep the situation from destroying inner joy. Here, the ability to handle ambiguity is a huge help. More than one thing is happening at once. Someone is sick or dying, the peonies are blooming—these things co-exist rather than canceling each other out.
I have to add that all of the approaches above can help when it is society that is in turmoil. I avoid the 24/7 news cycle like the plague—because it makes me feel that I’m about to break out in boils, not unlike the Black Death itself. There is no one right way to be a citizen, you get to figure it out for yourself. What is the correct mix of outrage, activism, self-protection, and equanimity? That is up to you to decide. Just don’t let cultural stress turn you into its victim.
Now, to the chickens. When my daughter started her rainbow flock, my mom was not happy. Granted, my mother was almost 90, and fading into dementia. She still didn’t like it. “Chickens are like the shtetl,” she whispered to me.
My daughter comes out of several cultural influences—diy, backyard homesteading, self-sufficiency, New Mexico, country living, and a love of animals. Maybe deep in the background there is also the shtetl, and the Jewish love of a nicely cooked chicken, with bones for soup. Eggs are a Slavic symbol of rebirth, also found at our seder. Plus, the fresh eggs are delicious.
So—I’m not claiming to be a Santa Fe hippie—just the parts of that which suit me. The counterculture and its influence is found throughout each of my days, as is the upper middle-class suburban way I was raised, the Romantic notions of a poet’s life, the politics of my Menshevik fore bearers, and the shtetl’s appreciation of chickens.