Today is Chinese New Year. I use the time between January 1st and Chinese New Year (Lunar New Year) to get ready for the year to come. Usually this means cleaning and organizing paper work. This year has been a bit different. I have spent more of these last two months home with family than I have in years past. In our family, family-time equates to mealtime. I can’t help but think about how the dynamics of the dinner table are where I learned about community and family. Dinners and now breakfast, lunches, and dinners when we are together are the focal points of the day. My mother, who is 78, tells me that so much of her life was making sure we four kids were fed that even now she has a hard time tempering that muscle memory.
As a child around our table, and especially when my parents entertained or we were with my grandmother and others of her generation, there were specific expectations. You sat up straight; did not fall asleep at the table no matter how late the dinner stretched; you answered questions but in no way did you direct the conversation; and you waited for the older generations to be served and for the plate or lazy susan to come to you to fill your plate.
As I got older, I shifted into the role of serving the older and younger generations. I was allowed to move plates and turn the lazy-susan. There were moments when I moved the lazy-susan while others were serving themselves as well as awkward silences in the conversation, but I was encouraged to continue to try. As I became more accomplished with the dynamics of the dinner table, I gained more leeway. But with this honor came the responsibility of ensuring that everyone had enough food and drink and taking a larger part in the conversation, often smoothing over those awkward silences. I did not know it at the time, but these meals ingrained a sense of social responsibility in the most practical and elegantly nuanced way.
My mind has been returning to the idea of growing into responsibility, but in application to my work. The last few years I have been like a child at the table—unsure, watching and learning, not yet able to insert myself. If I look back over the last few years, I have spoken when I’ve been invited by others to speak. While I am grateful to this recognition and support, I have been wondering if I can speak if I decide to speak. And if could make such a bold move, what would that look like? What would I say? I think that’s why this journal section has been so quiet; with a voice comes responsibility and judgement. But to whom? For what? By whom?
All I can do is take the first step. And in my heart-of-hearts, I feel that I need to voice my commitment to make work in service of the community on which my work depends. I have always maintained that my work is more about relationships—with other makers, shepherdesses, farmers, and makers. In the spirit of Aldo Leopold, I would like to subscribe to an expansive definition of community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or what he calls “the land” (Leopold: 1949). Our land/community is in crisis. I would like to renew my commitment to working with materials from and in support of people who work in service of this community be it through carbon farming, biodynamic farming, genetic preservation, soil health, etc. These statements are purposely broad because the idea is that the collective community, my responsibility, and the repercussions of my actions are extensive. The beauty is that privilege and responsibility are interconnected, so, yes, there is more responsibility, but I am also anticipating an expansion in conversations, imagination, breadth and depth of skills, and joy. And maybe my tiny footprint can make a difference. This is an expression of choice, intention, power, agency. It also requires commitment over time and a long view of history. There will be course-correction, and I will need to remind myself that there is no expectation of perfection.
I’m taking a deep breath and turning on the comments for the first time. I would love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. I value the experience, skills and knowledge of this community. I hope this new year brings everyone joy, love, peace, and a little bit of discomfort to stretch and grow.