This is me (an idealist dreamer from an early age) in the early farm days, circa 1973, in one of our commune’s many improvised environments — a “barn apartment.” That’s my cousin Barb, a fellow commune-dweller (wearing actual clothes), in the background.
For a lot of my early life, the idea of “being different” was anything but appealing to me. All I wanted was to be like everybody else.
Alas, right from the beginning, that just wasn’t in my cards. Growing up in the Midwest, surrounded by Ann Johnsons and John Andersons, I had an impossibly weird name. At one point I asked my mom if she would consider letting me go by something more normal — like, say, Jill, Sarah or Irene. She would not.
To make matters worse, I spent most of my childhood on a back-to-the-land communal farm that was regarded by the surrounding rural community as completely bizarre. The lunches my sisters and I brought to school (sandwiches with sprouts on homemade dark bread, and yet packed in reused bread bags — go figure) bore no resemblance to the “normal” lunches other kids had.
The crazy-looking houses we lived in (experimental passive solar designs constructed by amateur builders from recycled materials) were so odd looking from the road they were rumored to be haunted, or to conceal dungeons. The fact that one house had a tower, and the other a drawbridge, probably didn’t help.
Long story short, my sisters and I were never going to fit in. We talked, thought and acted different from our peers, and at times we were regarded as so strange and “not from around here” that the local kids refused to sit next to us on the school bus.
For a long time, I tried mightily to conform. And eventually, when that didn’t work, I moved away — going first to an alternative public school in Minneapolis (weird), then to a women’s college in California (also weird, but in a different way), and then doing a brief teaching stint in Paris, where, being neither typically American nor appropriately European, I felt totally out of place once again.
Eventually, I got used to the idea of being a walker between worlds. Sometimes modern, Western, mainstream ways appealed to me. Other times, counterculture, global or ancient wisdom made a lot more sense. I experimented with both, mixing and matching as I saw fit, and searching out the balance that helped me feel best in my own skin.
In the realms of health and happiness, it seemed obvious to me that many of the dominant-culture patterns were making people sick, fat and depressed. They were also polluting the environment, undermining communities and emptying human lives of joy and meaning. And at the same time, many of the alternative-culture patterns seemed rigid, restrictive, joyless, overly woo-woo or infected with a nasty case of holier-than-thou-ism.
Looking at the world around me, and experimenting for myself, I started seeing that ultimately, neither side had all the answers. Reality just wasn’t “either/or.” It was “both/and.”
I figured out that I just had to get comfortable doing what worked for me — even when that meant feeling wedged between the cracks between two categories, or drifting free of all socially-sanctioned moorings.
Walking the path of health and happiness, I have found, sometimes means wandering alone.
It can also mean swimming against the tide, walking against traffic, dancing to your own drum, hoeing your own row and about a dozen other metaphorical acts that conjure the difficult and determined journey of the oddball.
Oh sure, detox smoothies, plant-based diets and yoga classes may be all the rage. You yourself may be training for a triathlon, practicing gratitude and freezing your own homegrown vegetables. And if you’re surrounded by other healthy, happy people who are doing similarly healthy things, you can count yourself lucky. I do.
But make no mistake: We still live in a country where the majority of the population is overweight, where most adults over 30 are on a variety of prescription drugs (especially antacids, depression and blood-pressure meds), where chronic disease is rampant even among young people, and where 85 percent of doctors’ office visits are stress-related.
We live in a country where sitting in front of a screen several hours a day is considered normal, where most grocery stores and restaurants primarily sell foods that do us far more harm than good, and where healthcare costs are so daunting that they threaten our entire economy.
We live in a country where fatigue and insomnia plague millions, and where, according to leading research psychologist Barbara Fredrickson, only 20 percent of us are flourishing, and the rest of us are getting by or “leading lives of quiet desperation.”
We live in a society, in other words, where living a full-vitality existence is very much the exception, not the rule. And as a result, committing to such a life can be fraught — at least initially — with inconvenience, expense, confusion, social awkwardness, frustration and doubt.
But you know what? It’s totally worth it. And it gets easier over time.
In fact, for the most part, living this way is delightfully rewarding. And sometimes — particularly when you making a healthy discovery or find yourself surrounded by a supportive social network — it’s an absolute blast.
So this is a blog about my experience on both sides of that journey. The agony and the elation. The loneliness and the camaraderie. The moments of clarity, befuddlement, hope, exasperation and everything in between.
This is a blog about choosing the road less travelled. It’s about the odyssey of making conscious, positive choices in a world that desperately needs more healthy happy people, but that often seems hell-bent on making their lives more difficult than they need to be.
It’s about my contention that today and in this culture, being fully healthy is a revolutionary act, one that requires courage, determination, experimentation and a deep willingness to find your own way and give your best gifts, even when it would be easier to settle.
In short, this blog is a travelogue honoring the meandering route that many of us are now walking individually — and yet increasingly, also together — and about what we’re learning along the way.
If you’re still reading this rambling entry, I’d wager that you’re a fellow walker on that path. Or at least an interested loiterer. And in either case, I’d love to hear from you (see the comments link below). What are your trials and tribulations, your breakthroughs and “aha!”s, your missteps and big leaps?
I can’t wait to hear all about ’em.
In the meantime, here’s to the journey. And vive la revolution!