and preliminary decisions
It doesn’t matter how much planning I do, I never get much sleep the night before a big trip. When I’m crossing the pond I can pass it off as strategy for being sure to get sleep on the plane, but I had no such reason flying from Germany to France and yet still…no sleep. Everything of major importance is sorted and done, but it always takes the impending reality of departure to actually put things in the bag and zip it up. And there are always a thousand things to think about. A thousand practical little strings to tie up before boarding the plane to Nice, all of equal importance, or non-importance more accurately. And of course there are the intangible strings as well. The sense that you’re about to be tested in a number of ways. The fears and excitement of setting out to do something you’ve never done before. There was no sense in waiting for my alarm to go off. I decided to keep my eyes closed for another 10 seconds, and when I opened them that the Tour will have officially begun. 10…9…8… As I counted down I thought about how grateful I am for everyone’s support on this crazy journey… 7…6…5… I decided I would not hold back anything short of my best effort and that I would forgive myself and try again if I screw up….4…3…2… I decided to make my excitement, not my worries about the tour define its beginning… 1. The Tour de Farm has begun.
Packing for the Tour de Farm
It’s not exactly fair to compare packing for a two-month cycle tour with the “What is the one thing you would bring if you were stranded on a desert island?” game. Let’s be honest. Bear Grylls is not about to get dropped in the south of France, and I’m not really laboring over decisions that will determine my survival…I don’t think. Like the island scenario game, the question is really more about what’s most important to you. In this case, everything I bring must be important to me because I’m about to literally carry it for over 800 miles. Space is important, but there’s always creative ways to strap more stuff to your bike. So, weight is probably the greatest factor I’m bearing in mind while making decisions. And as everyone who’s shopped for cycling equipment knows, shedding even a few grams is going to cost you, but you’ll still have to pay in sweat for the grams you do pack.
Standing in the cycle section of a shop in Germany with my friend Kelly, we compared specs on various equipment. “So it’ll be about 20 euros more to save 100 grams.” Rusty on thinking in metric I tried to think about what that actually meant. “Well, a handful of chicken is about 100 grams” said Kelly cupping her hands together to illustrate. While this is a perfectly reasonable way to think about 100 grams, a standard food measurement, I laughed imagining her hands full of chicken and someone paying me 20 euros to carry that little chicken all the way across France. After that, I couldn’t help but make all my cost vs. weight decision in terms of how many chickens I would be willing to take across the country. I might take one little chicken for 20 euros, but I definitely wouldn’t take three. Although, I might take two for 50 euros.
So, in this highly-unscientific approach, it’s pretty apparent that capturing this adventure is pretty important to me because my camera equipment weighs about 13 kilograms. In other words, I’m willing to carry 130 handfuls of chicken over 800 miles to do it right.
Join us on the Tour de Farm
An Adventure in Cycling and Organic Farming
In the spirit of Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France, the Tour de Farm will be a cycling tour across France, stopping at organic farms along the way to volunteer, to learn about sustainable living and organic food, and to share these ideas with others.
Like the best tours, my story is full of highs and lows. It’s about peaks and valleys and how our greatest and worst moments tend to collide. The seeds of the Tour de Farm began in such a way.
Within 12 hours, I had received the best and worst news. A routine dermatology
appointment turned long day in the emergency room where scans revealed a coconut-sized tumor in my side. My heart screeched to a halt when I heard “tumor”. Several years earlier, losing my father had started in a similar way, with the very same word.
On the way home from the ER, I got a call. “There’s an envelope here. It’s from Oxford.” The last few weeks had been filled with nervous anticipation as I started receiving application decisions from the graduate schools. I was shocked and thrilled to be accepted to Yale, Harvard, and Cambridge, but for some reason I couldn’t get the idea of Oxford out my head. Like a lovesick puppy, I checked the mail obsessively.
But as discussions of a biopsy procedure began, I knew I would be waiting for results of a different kind–results that could make all of my hard work and plans irrelevant. When I finally got up the courage to open the envelope, I quickly searched for key words and found them, “pleased to inform you…congratulations!!” My eyes filled with tears of both joy and fear. I was 23 years old.
The tumor was removed, taking my right oblique muscles with it, and the pathology results seemed to promise that it should be gone for good. I was able to accept the offer and move to Oxford. It was there that I fell in love with cycling.
However, my health struggles were not quite over. The mesh that they used to replace my muscles had developed an infection and the doctors had found yet another development of melanoma. After several days of receiving the most potent antibiotics available intravenously, the infection still did not seem to be responding, so I went into surgery.
Recovery was excruciating, there seemed to be no end in sight, I knew that soon another surgery awaited me. It was in that moment, with tubes coming out of my side and a picc-line in my arm that two things came into focus: 1) I would have to be exceptionally vigilant in my pursuit of health. 2) Life is undeniably fragile, so it should be lived to its fullest…right now.
I had dreamed about cycling through the south of France and working on organic farms, but now I was determined. I want to grab my health and my life firmly with both hands, and to inspire others to do the same. The Tour de Farm is an expression of this resolve.
In the spirit of Lance Armstrong and the Tour de France, the Tour de Farm will be a 50-day cycling tour through France, stopping at organic farms along the way to volunteer, to learn about sustainable living and organic food, and to share these ideas with others. I will be joined by my sister-in-law, Tiffany, as a cycling partner and production assistant.
While the 2012 Tour de France makes its way down the east side of France, we will be pedaling and farming our way across the south. The tour will commence in Nice and continue via ferry to Corsica, then on through Marseilles to Nimes, and down toward Foix. After traversing the infamous Raid Pyrénéen, we will continue up to Bordeaux before making our way to the finish line on the final day of the Tour de France in Paris. Since the location and quality of the ride will guide our route more than distance efficiency, just like competitors in the Tour de France, we will occasionally board our bikes on a train (or ferry) to get to the next great ride.
At four stages throughout the journey we will trade our cycling gloves for work gloves, volunteering at organic farms along the way as a part of the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) Network. At the farms, we will be busy helping to tend gardens, orchards and animals, but we hope to cultivate more than fruits and vegetables. We also hope to cultivate greater familiarity with where our food comes from, awareness of what it means to live sustainably in terms of both our food and transportation, and practical ways to adapt these principles to our daily lives.
When my dad was diagnosed, doctors gave him just a few months to live and unpromising treatment options. However, thanks to some radical, healthy changes in lifestyle my dad lived an incredible two and a half years beyond expectations. My father was a walking testament to the value of organic food, an active lifestyle and creating opportunities to live life to its fullest. These are the same values I will promote through the Tour de Farm. I believe that health is more than just the absence of cancer or sickness, and living is more than just preventing death. I believe that health is a way of life that can be cultivated. The mission of the Tour de Farm is to spread ideas that promote healthy,vibrant and sustainable living.
Emmett Meets the World
A quick video I put together of my nephew’s first day in the world.
We tend to remember firsts. Yet, no one remembers their biggest firsts. First day of life. First breath of air. First noise we make. First time we see our mom and dad. So here’s a snapshot of some firsts for Emmett.
Portrait of an Artist
I had a great time producing this video for Kathy. The hardest part was how much we had to leave out. If you ever get a chance to meet Kathy, be sure to ask her for more stories.
A few things about working hard while remembering not to sweat it
I recently had the honor to attend the 90th birthday celebration of my grandfather, Henry Barnes, in Warm Springs, Ga. Everywhere in Meriwether County and miles beyond, the name Henry Barnes inspires a sense of deep respect and simple integrity. As a war veteran, former commissioner, father of five (and father-figure to dozens more) with over 65 years of marriage (and counting) he could reasonably demand your respect and attention, but this is never the case. A man of few words and great actions, when Mr. Barnes speaks you want to listen. At 25 I often forget, if not disbelieve, that I might actually be alive when I’m 90 years old. A 5-year plan feels like pretty long-term. But sitting in that room listening to story after story of the impact one man has had on so many people over not just a few years, but over whole decades of faithfully investing in his family and community has made me eager to learn from those so far ahead of me in life’s journey. Will the things that seem important to me now still be important to me then?
Last year I called “Dad” Barnes, as we call him, from Oxford on his 89th birthday. Nearly crushed by the relentless demands of grad school, the present moment seemed ever filled with the urgency to accomplish and I felt choked for time as I put aside my studies to give Dad a call. I’ll never forget our conversation. “So you’re 24,” he said, “and I’m 89. Look at how young you are!” Funny that this obvious pronouncement actually came as somewhat of a revelation to me. Reminded of this bit of perspective I asked, “So, any advice?” I think I was still half-way expecting some specific political or investment advice that would once again help me capitalize on every ounce of the precious commodity of time; However, his response was not about actions but attitude. “Don’t sweat the small stuff. Do the best you can each day. Just keep plugging away. Thank the Lord for the good days, and if you don’t make it one day, don’t worry about it. Maybe you’ll make it tomorrow. It’ll all work out. Don’t stress. That really does the most harm.” In the midst of a season where I was operating on a diet of stress for breakfast, lunch and dinner in order to get it all done, those simple truths were exactly what I needed to hear. Do the best you can. Be diligent. Be grateful. Be hopeful. Trust. Don’t worry. Offered from the time-tested authority of 89 years of experience, and today at 90 his message is the same. Like an anchor whose strength is most evident in its stability, so much of his quiet strength flows from his steady example of hard work and harder faith. As someone who can often depend on using anxiety to fuel action and prevent laziness, I want to lean into this wisdom that trust and hope can also fuel a thriving life. Trying your best every day without fearing failure because you trust in the bigger picture. Go for it, but don’t worry.
Just a day later, I also attended an awards ceremony that would honor my grandmother Margaret Parsons Andrews (on the other side of the family) for her role in founding the Gwinnett Art Council. I remember seeing some of her early designs for an art center on the desk in her studio. She sagely made a point to design the arts centre at the corner of the property to leave room for growth. Her vision became a reality with the beginning of the Gwinnett Center that now includes the Hudgens Arts Centre which houses art galleries, a chidlren’s museum and studio spaces for children to learn the arts, a performing arts theater that supports all forms of community music, dance and drama, and which has since been expanded to include a conference center and the massive Gwinnett Arena where I have seen performances by artists such as Elton John. As the eldest daughter of Calvin Parsons and therefore a direct descendant of the first settler and founder of the city of Duluth, her involvement in the city was practically obligatory, but her vision and determination went far beyond the call of duty. She could have settled into the family’s business and the small comfortable town without many obstacles, but progress requires a vision for opportunity and willingness to face new challenges. Margaret was not afraid of a challenge, but she was terrified of public speaking. So, in college she picked a major that would force her to confront and overcome this fear, speech communication. At the awards show, they handed her a microphone as an entire theatre of people gave her the only standing ovation of the night. After nearly 30 years with Parkinson’s disease, her mobility is pretty limited and her words are often soft and strained, but that night she sounded loud and fearless and she expressed her gratitude and redirected her praise.
Some of the greatest lessons I learn from my grandmother are not gleaned from her words, but from her life. As an artist and businesswoman always on the move, being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease would have been devastating, an easy excuse to dwell on the injustice of this tremendous struggle and step-down from ambitious pursuits. Granted, I’m not old enough to remember when she was first diagnosed and I know I’m not present for many of its many little daily struggles (surely we all have our moments), but I know that I personally have never heard her complain or resign. This has been an especially valuable example to me of late. Having spent the greater part of December and January between surgeries, in and out of the hospital with tubes in my arms and side and a plethora bandages, stitches, scars, and medications by no particular fault of my own, it would be easy to dwell on the injustice of the temporary and permanent setbacks I now face (and again, we all have our moments); But this would be irrelevant to my present ability to accept those challenges as a part of my reality and just roll with it.
Everyone’s challenges look different and it’s not always fair. It usually isn’t. No, I didn’t deserve all of those health struggles, but I also didn’t deserve the amazing friends and family that encouraged and supported me among many other blessings. We probably don’t deserve our windfalls any more than our pitfalls. This lack of control may plague our sense of justice (rightly so), but it does nothing to change the fact that we can and must choose how to respond. Since I’m 25 and probably don’t know anything about anything, I’m going to try to follow my grandfather’s advice: “Do the best you can. Be diligent. Be grateful. Be hopeful. Trust.” Well, that and “eat your vegetables and get some some sleep.” I’ll work on that too.
Tis better to give and receive?
We all know ’tis better to give than to receive. But receiving is nice too. So, ’tis even better to give and receive…right? However, a confluence of stories, ideas and conversations has made me rethink the ethical-consumerism model, and made me more aware of some of the ways our charity can hinder and even hurt the very people we hoped to help.
When I think about the classic ‘tis better… adage, I think of the tears on my mother’s face on Christmas morning when she has just unwrapped the thing that I have spent hours and dollars putting together. Her joy is my both my goal and my deep satisfaction. So, indirectly my goal is also my own satisfaction, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Part of what makes Christmas and birthdays so wonderful is the way we connect our happiness with the happiness of others, and this reciprocity is a key part of celebration and healthy relationships. The best gifts come out of the best relationships because healthy relationships are characterized by seeking the best for the other person while being able to be honest about what that “best” might really look like.
But this win-win scenario breaks down outside of this healthy relational context. When the satisfaction of giving unconsciously becomes the immediate goal instead something indirectly achieved through listening and accurately discerning the desires and needs of the receiver, then we are no longer really giving. We are consuming. We’ve all gotten a gift that we didn’t like because someone was more interested in what they wanted to give. This is the awkwardness that surrounds the gift gone awry. It’s a gift so you’re not allowed to complain about it and you should probably set it out whenever they come around. Now time and money has been wasted, and what’s worse, a facade that may require maintenance has been created. Facades only make authentic relationship and effective giving more difficult.
Sometimes we genuinely want to give or want to help, but if we’re not paying attention we can become consumer-givers that are at best inefficient and at worst capable of tremendous damage.
I was recently having lunch with a friend who co-founded a humanitarian non-profit organization. She was telling me about her experiences in fundraising and about how many well-intentioned people can fall short of really being helpful. One way that they have raised support is through art projects with the kids they support. The finished product is a trendy, beautiful piece that brings a bit of financial support to the organization, and a bit of moral and aesthetic enhancement to the buyer’s home décor. Humanitarian and consumer impulses satisfied in one purchase. They raised over $50,000 at a conference by selling the works of art alongside a description of their mission. However, when they shared their financial needs at the same conference a year later without selling the art, they only raised $5000. What happened? Were these people less convinced about the needs or efficacy of the organization? Probably not. This reveals something very telling about our giving motivations. We don’t want to just give, we want to get something as well. We’ve become so accustomed to charity as a transaction that we’ve forgotten how to give without strings attached. It’s obvious why NGOs in need of funding will tap into the consumer impulse: it works. There’s no question that most of them are just trying to do the best they can. The real question is, are we? I, for one, think I could be a more effective giver. The point is certainly NOT “don’t buy stuff” or “don’t buy things for charity.” The point is, think honestly about why you’re buying it and consider: Is it something you would buy even if it didn’t support charity? If so, get it. If not, consider just making a donation. A lot of sideways energy is wasted because we can’t just give. If we really want to help, then shouldn’t we want to give whatever is most needed without expecting some token of gratification in return?
Sometimes those who want to help the NGO in a less “materialistic” way, decide to visit. They want to give in a “hands-on” way. A fine idea. Good intentions. I can relate. However, when we show up to play with the kids for a few days, return home to talk about our “life-changing experience in Africa,” and leave the kids wondering where we went (the overwhelming majority of whom are already dealing with serious abandonment issues) … did we really help? Non-emotional work projects are better ideas, some would suggest. Help repaint some walls or build some houses,… oh and eliminate the potential employment for some local unskilled workers, or waste an opportunity to stimulate the local industry. This is a type of consumer giving, because the determining factor was primarily the desire of the giver, not the needs of the receiver.
Voluntourism can not only deprive local economies of potential jobs, but in its uglier manifestations it can also create a guilt economy wherein “opportunities” are created simply to meet the demand of westerners who want to feel like they’ve done something good. In an eye-opening article Ian Birrell describes “orphanages” in Cambodia that are filled with rented, bought or stolen children in order to meet the demands of voluntourists who want to feel like they’ve done some good on their vacation. Another sobering example is presented by the Human Sciences Research Council in a report on AIDS orphan tourism in South Africa. This is surely not the result we had in mind. So, maybe we need to be more mindful.
If our chief concern is to help, then perhaps we should stay home and give the $2000 we raised to pay for our trip towards hiring people who need to feed their families, or people rooted in the community who might actually have the capacity to incite lasting change. Why not? Honestly? Because it’s not as much fun. It’s not how we want to give. Before I sound overly harsh or judgmental about “short-term” volunteering, let me say that I’ve done this. When I first went to India I was excited about volunteering and traveling, a little altruism mixed with my hedonism to make it more palatable. (Or was is it the other way around? A little hedonism to make my altruism more consumable?) Bright-eyed and idealistic, I expected to come home reignited in my compassion and feeling like I had made the world a better place. Instead, I realized how inadequate my short-term presence really was. I felt like a poverty voyeur.
However, the time I spent in India was not wrong or worthless, it was just misguided in its sense of purpose. I had to acknowledge that the jaunt would chiefly serve my own ends: joy of travel, experience of a new culture, personal growth through broadening perspectives, sense of adventure and a sense (albeit false) of contribution. Don’t mistake me. I’m certainly not against the “going” part. I am passionate about the value of traveling and think everyone should do more of it. If you want to explore remote places in the world, do it. Don’t even apologize. See the world. Learn something. Plenty of countries could use your business more than your charity. Give them your patronage, but don’t patronize them. Don’t offer to hold their children for a few days, help enable them to hold their own children. I think it’s crucial that we look more honestly at the purpose and efficacy of our altruistic jaunts, and our charity.
The tragic fact is that sometimes our little acts of altruism are more harmful than blatant hedonism because they can keep us from recognizing or condemning deeper flaws in society and in ourselves. When symptom-control starts to cloud pathology, it becomes dangerous. Philosopher Slavoj Zizek has some interesting thoughts on this. Zizek argues that “the worst slave owners were those who were kind to their slaves, because they prevented the core of the system from being realized and contemplated.” This is not praise for those who treated their slaves badly, but rather a call to recognize our own hypocrisy when we try to use consumerism to fix problems caused by consumerism. We don’t limit our consumption, we just buy stuff that helps alleviate our guilt that other people don’t have as much stuff as we do. [Again, I do not say this as someone remote or exempt from this criticism. If anything, I say it because I am guilty of this and want to be try to be more honest about it. I’ve walked a mile in those TOMS shoes so to speak.] Or as Zizek puts it, “you buy in the very consumerist act, your redemption from being only a consumerist,” but we might actually prolong the suffering of others by prolonging the systems that cause their suffering. Philosopher and theologian Peter Rollins uses Batman, the billionaire capitalist by day and extravagant vigilante crime fighter by night, as an example:
“Indeed one could say that it is the very philanthropic work of his Father and the crime-fighting of Wayne that actually provide the valve that allows them both to continue in their objective violence. What better way to feel good about yourself than volunteering at a local charity in the evenings (like his Father) or beating up on street criminals in the evenings (like Wayne)…The philosophy here is exposed as do something so that nothing really changes. Perhaps then the next film will not have Batman running around beating up drug dealers and pimps…but rather dissolving Wayne Industries, setting up free health care and campaigning for radically different socio-political structures.” (Read the full post.)
Though I am skeptical about the idea that any socio-political structure is capable of completely eliminating poverty and violence, we will never know what our society is capable of if we continue to provide only superficial remedies for systemic problems.
This is not, of course, a case against compassion, altruism, charity, or giving. These things are signs that we are human and value humanity, but our world needs more than cheap consumer charity. Quoting Tillie Olsen, “It is a long baptism into the seas of humankind, my daughter. Better immersion than to live untouched…Yet how will you sustain?” Jaqueline Novogratz describes the Life of Immersion, and speaks frankly about its cost. The point is not to neglect individuals for the sake of addressing systems or vice versa. The point is that on both levels, we must go deep not wide. While I don’t have a 10 step plan for a better society, I do think a good first step is an honest look at our purposes in giving and consuming, and what we really think we are accomplishing. As Oscar Wilde writes, “It is much more easy to have sympathy with suffering than it is to have sympathy with thought.” Furthermore, let’s become better listeners. Let’s try to understand what is really needed and think more about the real causes of the problems we are trying to fix. If we cease to let our gnawing sense of injustice be pacified by token shallow efforts, then perhaps we stand a chance to initiate something radical. Perhaps something will actually have to change. Perhaps we will actually change.
with Atlanta Foodie Lindsay Tarquinio
>>> so check back again soon.