Wednesdays at the CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm where I worked were packing days when no matter the weather or the raspberries left rotting on the bush, we met in the cool, dark room to sort and pack pesticide-free, non-migrant labor harvested produce to be delivered to starry-eyed customers in the morning.
Our Harvard-educated, Russian-Lit major boss told us not to worry too much about dirty garlic as the customers were customers because they wanted to feel part of the farm-to-table process.
Some customers visited the 200-year-old farm to see up close the dirty business of nutrition. They gazed in wonder at the strawberry fields alive with jewel-toned fruit only a day or two away from collapse and decay. They enjoyed getting pricked by the thistles as they reached for a berry and tossed the juicy, warm fruit into their mouths. Misshaped berries delighted the customers as much as the perfect ones (they were rare) for it was taken for granted that despite their imperfections the berries were more nutritious straight from the garden.
And so we might see our independent authors. Have you ever seen organic apples? Sometimes they’re not perfect. In a chain store they’d be thrown in a dumpster–edited out by committee and the corporate shopping experience. Until recently most of us were unaware of the difference (remember the red delicious apple in the brown bag lunch?).
Most of us have spent lives buying books and peanut butter manufactured by a marketing team. Everything tastes the same and we’ve grown fat, dumb and bored, always surprised when the Cheetos and vampire novels leave us empty.
When a book doesn’t have a committee of consultants, editors and proofreaders it may be rougher around the edges (like life). There may be some dirt left on it and the snide corporate-led critics and public may remark on the blemishes and miss the nutrition.
But why do we organic writers listen? Most CSAs don’t eventually want to be Monsanto. Why are we cowed by one bad review pointing out too many commas? Would we spend our time in a redwood forest looking for crooked limbs?
Let’s face it, most writers aren’t going to be celebrities and quit our day jobs. Most writers throughout history had day jobs. Even corporate, committee books don’t make authors big bucks, in general.
A farmer worries about the weather. His story, his life is a force of nature, dependent on nature. Most things are out of his control. Yet the satisfaction for the farmer who snubs Monsanto is in his integrity. It’s in his deciding how to write his rows in the earth. Every day IS the satisfaction. His fruit, his friendships, his nourishment–these things only a small segment of society will taste. So be it.
My farmer boss took 15 years just to reach the point where he could be semi-confident his eggplants would grow. He had back surgery from lifting ripe squash. Being independent can feel back-breaking. Maybe we don’t have the editorial staff as writers to cut the heart out of our rugged individualism. Maybe that’s a great thing.
Lots of us sell something sweeter (with a few too many commas). We give our stories our soul. There may be blemishes that bitter critics will harp on, but like people drunk on cheap wine, they miss the nuances, the many voices, the good years and the independent thoughts that make life and art worth living for.
So to all of you independent writers and farmers, the harvest is in the doing. Blemishes come with freedom.