On the long drive back to NC from Maine after the summer intensive I had plenty of time to think about WHY I was making work about farming. Am I really that sad or surprised that farming is going away? No, not specifically farming, I decided. The essence of my own emotional response to the decline of farming is a strong discomfort, uncertainty, and anxiety about change itself. Farming is special to me because it’s how I grew up, but not in the abstract exactly (though I think it’s the right filter through which to talk about these things). And when I thought then about the role of nostalgia it seemed to me that nostagia (and its manifestations) is a form of controlling time and memory–an attempt to stop, possess, and preserve moments. And the more unstable the present or future is, the more we look backward and harness nostagia. This made sense to me when I thought about my inclination all summer to literally contain things–encasing the grain in resin, containing a chicken coop in a small room, etc.
Thinking about these issues of nostalgia and control I scribbled down a short story one day. It’s rough and unedited.
There was an old woman who lived on a farm with her old man husband. She became tired of seeing friends die, highways expand, barns sag. She became anxious about the way things changed every time she looked away for even a moment. One day she decided to preserve the things she loved in mason jars, alongside her rows of canned peaches and green beans. She started with her husband, who she loved very much. He was sealed up in glass and wax and arranged on the shelves in the cellar. Next she canned her favorite parring knife, tabby cat, rocking chair, and family photo albums. These were carefully labeled and placed down next to her husband. The old woman kept canning through the winter till the jars filled every room of the house. Finally she sat amongst all of her favorite things and enjoyed how still they were.
This was the impetus for a large canning project that I’ve worked on most of this fall. I’ve canned 103 jars of tomatoes and am working out different ways to present them. Here are photos of the jars in process: