🦊 The Farmer's Secret
QBF #45 — A new fable on the fallacy of shortcuts, exploring the meaning of work in a post-pandemic world, and the poetry of Amanda Gorman.
I hope you’re staying safe and doing well. I hit a bit of an exhaustion wall this week. After several months of consistently exercising, I felt too tired to keep going. So I took the week off. It was tough to break all my activity and workout streaks, but I reminded myself that the whole point of healthy habits is health. When my body needs a break, I need to listen to it. More than that, I need to forgive myself. The muscles of self-compassion also need regular exercise.
In today’s edition, I’m excited to share a new fable I wrote: The Farmer’s Secret. I’m still new to the practice of writing fiction, so I hope to keep learning and improving by sharing stories in my newsletters. I also share a new video on contemplating the meaning of work, as well as my thoughts on the powerful poetry of Amanda Gorman.
As always, feel feel to reply to this email, leave a comment on Substack, or DM me on Twitter with your questions, thoughts or observations. I’ve really enjoyed hearing from a bunch of you via Twitter DMs lately — some of those have evolved into deep conversations and calls. I’m so grateful for all the connections that I make through this newsletter and look forward to many more.
The Farmer’s Secret
There once lived an old farmer in a small town near the river bend. His farm grew plentiful crops year after year. One day, a young farmer from the next town went for a swim in the river, near the old farmer’s lands. As he bathed, he noticed the lush growth of the old farmer’s crops. He was bewildered by them, and felt jealous, as his own crops paled in comparison. He decided to seek out the old farmer to learn his secrets.
“Tell me, old man, what is the secret to your crops? I suspect it must be the location…” said the young farmer. “Being near the river must feed your farm. How lucky you are!”
The old farmer pondered his question. “I’m afraid I have no secrets to share. Every day, I tend to the crops and feed the animals. I nurture the farm, and in turn, it nurtures me.”
The young farmer was unimpressed. “An old man like you cannot grow crops like these through hard work. There is more to your farm than meets the eye. I’m sure it’s the river that feeds your farm’s growth!”
The young farmer resolved to start a new farm next to the old farmer’s.
A year later, the young farmer came to visit his neighbor. “How strange! My farm is right next to yours, yet it does not grow even half the crop. I must be using the wrong seed. Where do you obtain yours, old man?”
“The seed is from the market down the hill, sold by a young boy. He cannot afford the best ingredients, but he toils hard to make his seed.”
“Aha! So the secret is your seed. You have stumbled upon a seed specialized for river farms, and you don’t even know it. What wonderful luck!”
The young farmer raced to the market, and bought all the seed the boy had in his stall.
A year later, the young farmer came to visit his neighbor once again. “I have moved to new lands, and planted new seeds. None of your secrets work! You must use magical spells to aid your farm, or make agreements with the devil. Tell me the truth, old man, so I too can join your scheme!”
“I have no secret to share. Every day, I do the work. That is all I know.”
The young farmer sighed. “Can you teach me?”
The old farmer smiled. “Grab your shovel. Let’s get to work.”
Contemplating Meaning, Leisure and Total Work
I've been ruminating on the nebulous topic of meaning and purpose of work for years. I've really struggled to find the structure to write about it. There are so many different avenues I can go down and it’s hard to focus them down to a single thesis for an essay. I finally decided to try talking through the problem on video. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, as it helped clarify a few of the key points I really want to convey within this web of topics:
Complexity: There are no simple answers to questions of meaning and purpose.
Timing: Joseph Pieper noted in his book Leisure that, even though he was writing just after WWII ended, it was the perfect time to talk about leisure. I think the sentiment he shared applies to our situation today in a global pandemic. When this is ‘over,’ will we just go back to work as if nothing happened? I can’t imagine that being likely. We are forever changed.
Optimism: I sense that lots of folks are feeling these kinds of deep inner questions arise within themselves. This means there’s an opportunity for a broader awakening.
Amanda Gorman’s Powerful Poetry
It was incredibly heartening to watch President Biden’s inauguration, and the actions he has already been taking in his first days. There is much worth noting from the significance of this transition, but instead I want to focus on a shining beacon that stood out on Inauguration Day: the voice and words of Amanda Gorman. It feels like an eternity since I watched her share her beautiful and moving poem — The Hill We Climb (live performance | full transcript) — with America and the world.
We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation
rather than share it
Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy
And this effort very nearly succeeded
But while democracy can be periodically delayed
it can never be permanently defeated
In this truth
in this faith we trust
For while we have our eyes on the future
history has its eyes on us
I’ve watched and rewatched her performance, and am still in awe of it. Her power, grace, energy, beauty, courage, and wisdom are just a few of the traits from her delivery that put so many in a trance. Gorman reminded the world of the power of words.
It’s also worth taking a moment to consider the stakes. Gorman was given the Herculean task of writing a poem to address a broken nation. She had to overcome all the biases, judgements, and stereotypes that come with being a Black woman in America. She had to persevere past the fears, doubts, and struggles of a speech impediment. If that wasn’t enough, she had to rewrite her poem mid-flight as she watched the attack on the US Capitol building play out before her eyes. When you factor in these conditions, her shining work becomes even more blindingly beautiful.
Gorman gave us hope in a dark time — something only the greatest leaders can do.
P.S. You can support Gorman’s work by purchasing her books from an independent bookstore (including printed editions of her poems, and an upcoming children’s book). You may also consider donating to youth poetry programs — there are many budding Amanda Gormans out there who could use your support.
Until next time,