Mar 18, 2011

A Piece of My Mind:
Margaret Roach

Who am I if I am not
mroach@marthastewart dot com any longer?

I have lived in Vermont for 30 years on a dirt road, up a long, unplowed driveway, pulling a sled with groceries, heating my house with a single wood stove, and making a garden. When I speak about living in the country, I feel confident, I know what I am talking about.

Margaret Roach is a force.  She is authentic, intelligent, well-read, well-traveled, well-humored, well-googled and she can definitely put two or three words together without taking herself too seriously.  I have heard her speak, read A Way To Garden, and regularly visit her website.    I like the whole package.  I pre-ordered And I Shall Have Some Peace There and waited for the volume to arrive.
I  finished the book in two sittings.  It's only 260 pages and a fast read. 

"How did I go from SHE WHO LIVES IN THE WORLD to she Who Lives in the Woods, navigating a slow route between the West Side Highway and Valley View Road, where instead of potholes, ruts deeper than the wheel wells shape up to punctuate multiple mud seasons each year?"

How she left her corporate job, moved to the country and made a new life for herself is the subject of this new book.  It is her homage to a "post-paycheck life." Margaret Roach is honest about her struggle to live in a small house, with no partner, no friends (at first) just a cat.  Margaret describes her journey:"jumping ship from a luxury liner into a lopsided-but-nevertheless-floating rowboat." There is more about the weather in this book than about the garden.  Birds, frogs and snakes are given long passages, well-researched passages.

If you have left a job (maybe not a six figure job), but a job you felt stuck in, to take up residence in the country, this book has a lot to say to you.  And if Margaret doesn't, she quotes myriad people who have plenty to say.  As I was whizzing through her book, I kept a piece of paper by my side with a list of books to read. 
 right to left:  Bob Dylan, John Cage, Francis Bacon
Buddha, Joseph Campbell,  May Sarton.
  All quoted in Margaret's book.
At a certain point, Margaret's new life really begins.  From this point on, the book is about LIVING, paying attention, taking a breath and understanding..."there is no where to be but here."  Roach makes a list of changes: bedtime enjoyable, no dread of Sunday night, essential handheld device idle, tasks related to food pleasurable, meditative quality to living.

"... I feel at home with letting the hours and even a whole day unfold, taking reassurances where and when I can get them, from whomever surfaces as the latest in the series of messengers."

For those of us, who have lived in the country and made a decision in our early twenties to stay in a rural place, this book may not speak to you.  I find myself in this group. Margaret Roach uses a lot of adjectives, adverbs and phrases to describe herself:
  skipping ahead 
living inside my head
 self-imposed shut-in
living too much inside my intellect
overactive mind

I found the writing in the book mirrored all of these words and phrases. Even though she nails certain dilemmas, like "You know you've really moved to the country when you have your first local haircut", she doesn't seem to be able to focus the writing.  Roach uses many metaphors in the book related to Buddhist teaching and practice, ATTENTION, ATTENTION, yet that is exactly what her writing lacks.

I couldn't help comparing the role of writing in my life (although, I am sure I don't succeed) with Margaret's.  Writing is exactly what I find centers and organizes my thoughts.  It's all about ATTENTION.  It's about connecting the dots.  It takes restlessness and turns it into quietness.

Bob Dylan
"Well, I wake in the morning,
Fold my hands and pray for rain.
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin' me insane..."

Margaret Roach has found her there.  I found mine a long time ago.  It's peace in the world and in my own head that has proved a lot more elusive.

Margaret Roach ON GARDENING:

"To be a gardener is to come face-to-face with powerlessness (not something written anywhere in the corporate mission statements of Martha or my two previous employers), and to cultivate patience as actively as you do botanical things."

"I know only one thing for certain about gardening now, thirty years in:
Things will die."

"...Whatever you don't kill makes you stronger, though and hungrier for more plants and then some more, and so this imprint deepens:  Curiosity becomes interest, interest becomes hobby, hobby becomes passion, passion becomes life's work, and even spiritual pursuit - the stuff of the heart."


"I am no longer a commercial laundry into which others put coins and get results."


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