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Of Life and Romance

December 5, 2016

Francis Bacon, “The Father of Empiricism,” is one of my favorite philosophers. Not so much because I agree with all his views, but because he was an early champion of a skeptical methodology for arriving at truth (or at least for drawing conclusions that were reasonably close to true – we can’t know everything). He did not develop the scientific method, but his focus on empirical data would eventually contribute to its development. Since I began my college career so many years ago as a hard sciences and engineering major, the scientific method is more than a little important to me. Now, as a registered nurse, I still use it (nurses, not wanting to be like everyone else who uses the thing have renamed it the “nursing process,” but it is really just the scientific method dressed up in different clothes and modified for a specific application). We use it to avoid making decisions based on what we think is good information. As Robert M. Pirsig noted in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“The real purpose of scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know.”

It’s other, related purpose is to help when there are simply too many variables or too much going on for you to safely make a quicker, more “intuitive” decision. From Pirsig, again,

“Solution of problems too complicated for common sense to solve is achieved by long strings of mixed inductive and deductive inferences that weave back and forth between the observed machine and the mental hierarchy of the machine found in the manuals. The correct program for this interweaving is formalized as scientific method. Actually I’ve never seen a cycle-maintenance problem complex enough really to require full-scale formal scientific method. Repair problems are not that hard. When I think of formal scientific method an image sometimes comes to mind of an enormous juggernaut, a huge bulldozer–slow, tedious, lumbering, laborious, but invincible. It takes twice as long, five times as long, maybe a dozen times as long as informal mechanic’s techniques, but you know in the end you’re going to get it.There’s no fault isolation problem in motorcycle maintenance that can stand up to it. When you’ve hit a really tough one, tried everything, racked your brain and nothing works, and you know that this time Nature has really decided to be difficult, you say, “Okay, Nature, that’s the end of the nice guy,” and you crank up the formal scientific method.”

All of which really has nothing to do with this post beyond making the point I like Bacon and the empirically driven model for which he was an early influence. Oh, and he wrote an essay, Of Studies,” the title of which was the inspiration for this post. Anyway…

LIFE

Life has this way of sometimes bringing us to unexpected outcomes, decision points if you will, that we didn’t really anticipate. That’s where I am. Life has thrown more than a few of these at me over the past several years. Now, having apparently decided I was entirely too comfortable, it has heaved a few more my way.

A few years ago, I made the decision to open my own hypnosis and life coaching practice here in my west Texas town. It was great fun, I was able to help a lot of people – and I could not make enough money to meet our financial obligations. So, while I still offer the services, I closed the doors to my office and returned to nursing. I have been, for over half the preceding year, the Chief Nursing Officer/Director of Nursing (CNO/DON) of a psychiatric hospital, a job I enjoyed more than any I’ve ever had. This was a really unique opportunity for me, as the bulk of my clinical and management/leadership experience has been in the Operating Room (I have psych experience, but a lot more OR experience). As of 4 days ago, the hospital was sold to another entity (which already had a DON) and I find myself unemployed. I had a significant “heads up” period, so it wasn’t as unexpected as it might have been, but my response to the change has not been as positive as I would have liked. There is a definite sense of loss and maybe a little depression as I contemplate what I might have to do, at least in the short-term. Moving my family is not really an option right now and I don’t see any real opportunities here in the area, which raises the specter of having to work out-of-town. This is not my idea of a good time. So, if you happen to know of an opening for a CNO/DON at a psychiatric/mental-health facility, let me know. The same is true of any hospital looking for a Director of Surgical Services (DSS). I’m the guy.

Anyway, that’s what life does. It throws things at us we don’t anticipate. Fortunately, because of our belief in being prepared, we’re okay, even if the job search takes longer than I expect it to. We have enough money banked and extra coming in from other income streams, along with enough food in the freezer and pantry to feed our family for a while, even in the absence of any income whatsoever, that I’m not worried about that. I just don’t like being unemployed. It really, really bothers me. If I put the best of faces on this situation I can say that this time off (there’s little reason to anticipate starting a director level job before the first of the year) will give me time to do some things that really need my attention. Among those are:

  1. Replacing a window on the garage
  2. Repairing the rabbit hutches
  3. Pulling the edging for the raised beds out of the garden and rebuilding the beds before the ground freezes
  4. Building cold frames for winter growing
  5. Laying in more firewood for the outside kitchen I need to build
  6. Welding up the steel rocket stove I have planned
  7. Laying the concrete blocks for the smoker grill I’m building
  8. Laying the wood flooring in the hallway
  9. Finish writing the book I’ve been writing for months

Of the above list, items 2-8 are all related to our move toward developing our own “urban homestead.” Which brings us to romance.

ROMANCE

Webster’s defines romance, in part, as “an emotional attraction or aura belonging to an especially heroic era, adventure, or activity.” 

I’ve noted before that a great deal of my life as a child was spent on and around farms and ranches. That experience has served me well as we’ve worked on transforming our home and property into an urban homestead. I believe there is, for many people who decide to go the homestead route, a tendency to romanticize what they are doing, to focus on the aura rather than the reality of what they’re undertaking. Specifically, they are attracted by the ideas of freedom and independence so often associated with farming (and ranching), but also by the pictures they have in their heads. Certainly this is in keeping with our American history. Agriculture is a part of our heritage. After all, many of the Founding Fathers were farmers. The problem with romanticizing homesteading is that it tends to overlook the amount of hard work involved. Even with my experience of living and working on farms as a kid, I sometimes romanticize homesteading, myself. While I don’t have nearly as much experience with ranches as with farms, I’m reminded of some lyrics from the song “Wild and Wooly” by Chris Ledoux:

“I’ve been workin’ all week long out in the saddle
I lay my bed roll down at night out on the range
Cussin’ dust and heat and flies and cattle
All this romance can drive a poor cowboy insane”

It is one thing, I think, to be a pioneer who is carving a home out of the wilderness. If that’s what you’re doing, you really don’t have much time, at least at first, for other pursuits. It is another thing altogether to build a homestead while doing all the other things required of life in 21st century America. The result for many people seems to be frustration and annoyance, leading many to abandon their dream of being free. I don’t think it has to be that way. Recognize that, at least for now, you have to keep your job. After all, you still need to eat. You need clothes to wear and a place to live. For those things you simply must have an income. So work the job you have and work on building the homestead, urban or rural, as you have time. You don’t live on the frontier. You aren’t struggling to wrest a living from the wilderness. Be thankful for that and for not having to worry if you and your family will starve this winter because your food crops from the spring garden failed. Just keep doing what you can, as you can. Give yourself some time. Focus on what you really want. Be realistic and don’t let the tendency to romanticize homesteading leave you surprised and overwhelmed by the sometimes tedious nature of the work that building a homestead takes. I enjoy my time with our few animals and in the garden. I like planting fruit trees and planning projects. Still, there are times it’s just plain hard work, especially if my job (you know, the one I had until a few days ago) has left me mentally and physically exhausted. That’s when I have to focus not just on what we’re doing, but on why we’re doing it. It’s not simply the aura of being a homesteader. It’s the freedom it will bring. I don’t know about you, but I really want to be free and I don’t have to romanticize that at all.

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