Family Planting is a book about relationships—the human relationships without which we would not be who we are. Every human is born completely helpless. In order to survive, an infant must create relationships with the people, places, and elements that will support her or his life. This fact never changes. Humans need other humans in order to be human.
Family Planting is about three kinds of relationships: those with the people who care for you when you are unable; those who you choose to accompany on life’s way; and those for whom you choose to care. Parents. Partners. Progeny. Regardless of whether we marry or have kids, all humans find themselves in relationships that allow—or require them—to exercise these depending, bonding, and caretaking energies.
Family Planting offers a unique perspective on these relationships, one fed by the FARM, my interest in PHILOSOPHY, and my love of MOVEMENT.
FARM. My family and I moved to a farm in July 2005, all hearts set on living a dream we had of moving to the country. For Geoff and me, it meant a place to do nature-enabled art. For the kids it meant space to raise animals.
We fell in love with the land—96 acres of rolling hills, meadows, forests, ponds and a winding stream. Along with the land came a farmhouse in severe disrepair, and a seemingly endless supply of tumbling down barns.
We got to work. As we did, however, Geoff and my sense of why we were there began to unsettle and shift. We found ourselves pulled to farm, as a way to participate in the beauty of the place. How was this urge to farm related to our art? What was going on? As we helped our kids realize their dreams of cows, horses, and chickens, we began to understand the importance to our art of cultivating relationships with each other and the natural world. As I write in the book:
“What we were learning took us beyond what we had read in the homesteading and environmental literature; for the challenge we humans face in developing an ecological consciousness involves more than learning to interact in life-enabling ways with plants, animals, rocks, and streams. We must also find ways to move in our relationships with other humans that support us in becoming people who can and do live that proximity with the natural world. The two go hand in hand. One enables the other.
If we are to connect with this planet in life-enabling ways, we must learn to love one another. If we are to connect with ont another in mutually life-enabling ways, we must open ourselves to the sensory experiences our movement through nature provides” (8-9).
The challenge was clear. To be the dancer and writer I wanted to be, inspired by nature to move, I would need to cultivate relationships with the humans in my life. In this task, the farm was its own character and catalyst, providing us with the opportunity—by making it necessary—to learn what love can be.
In the book, our experiences on the farm form the narrative arc for each chapter, within which the challenges of nurturing relationships unfold.
PHILOSOPHY. The stress of living on the farm was significant. So much was such a mess, and so new. The pressure on my primary relationships opened tiny cracks of unhappiness that were not easily healed.
I found myself at an impasse. So much relationship advice is addressed to individuals, written for individuals, assuming that we are all individuals, who need to compete, compromise, and sacrifice our way to happiness. Yet this vision of the human contrast sharply with the ecological, relational vision I was coming to appreciate as necessary for the health and well being of our planet—and for my art. How were we to create an earth-friendly family?
My fourth son, Kai, gave me a clue. Age two at the time, he whizzed a toy truck at his older sister, Kyra, nearly missing her ear. Though I was ready to explode in a chorus of “no’s!” something stopped me, and the idea of an impulse to connect popped into mind. As I write, remembering the moment:
“Kai is not upset or vengeful. He is not trying to tease or annoy or frustrate. He is just doing with his toy what he sees me do with a washcloth into the sink, or what Jordan does with a ball. He is feeling the thrill of releasing matter into space. He wants this pleasure, and he wants to share this pleasure with this sister. Look! I can do it too! He wants above all to connect. He wants the glee of it, the shared laughter of it, the surge of white-hot vitality. I am alive! Don’t we all?” (177)
In that instant, I began to wonder: what if we humans are nothing more or less than an impulse to connect, born to live in love as the condition that enables our best becoming? What if we are who we are by virtue of the relationships we create with those who support our living?
I started to think about each human in my life, including myself, as an impulse to connect. Everything shifted.
For one, I saw that the challenges of our relationships to parents, partners, and progeny are all bodily. In so far as we succeed in connecting with these people, our bodies do and must change. We grow independent; we bond; we extend ourselves in space and time. As a result, the moves we make to establish and nurture that connection must also change—and just at that point when we think we finally have it all right. For we are not who we think we are.
Further, I realized that the need to keep evolving registers as those familiar, unwelcome feelings of irritation, displeasure, disappointment, boredom, frustration and the rest. When suffering such feelings, it is easy to think that the relationship is a problem and that the best way through is either to shut down or ship out.
Yet once we realize that it is our impulse to connect with this person—our desire to connect more deeply in more fulfilling ways with this person—that is causing us to feel these feelings, we are more able to act in ways that align with what we most want: that connection.
Family Planting demonstrates this dynamic again and again. In relationships with parents, partner, and progeny, I narrate those moments in which I learned to recognize, affirm, and move with my own impulse to connect, when experiencing my own aversive emotions or those of another. Each time, I struggle to find a way through that gets me what I want—more love!
MOVEMENT. In the course of narrating these encounters, Family Planting offers a final unique twist: I demonstrate how practices of bodily movement can help us find in ourselves the freedom to discern and move with the impulses to connect arising in ourselves and in others.
In some sense, this is the book’s most unique offering: the path to better relationships with each other and the natural world lies in cultivating a greater sensory awareness of the movement in and of our bodily selves. As I write:
“We humans can’t stop moving; we can’t stop creating relationships; we can’t stop wanting to connect with what will enable us to unfold who we are and to give what we have to give. The question is simply how” (208)
Family Planting offers an answer: an earth-friendly vision of what love can be, and an account of the sensory awareness that makes it true.