Automatics of Home

Written By: Shanti Escalante-De Mattei

What is home but automatic? Automatic means deep knowing, and deep knowing connotes intimacy. I recently brought a friend out here for the first time, and I asked him if seeing this place had changed the way he thought of me, interpreted all I had said about myself in relation to this place. He said, not different, just deeper.

Shklovsky said, “[…] as it becomes habitual, it also becomes automatic […] held accountable for nothing life fades into nothingness. Automatization eats away at things, clothes, at furniture, at our wives, and at our fear of war”

Shklovsky wrote in a time of political turmoil, when the numbness of his fellowmen was not only disturbing, but also incredibly frustrating. This numbness, he claimed, was the byproduct of automatics, present, of course, in the deep rhythms of home life. His solution was estrangement: to see the life you have lived through a dissociated lens, and in this manner, make it new. By seeing your life as unfamiliar you could now see it objectively, or respond to it in a different way. Stagnation of thought is defeated.

What is modernity but individualism and the flight from home? The new is seldom found in one’s own yard, and the pursuit of discovery is not often a family saga. So I should say, what is the myth of modernity? But Shklovsky in forced exile wrote only of the return to home.

The automatic, far from being an outright enemy, possess enormous potential. An ideal that leads one away from the picture of will you cannot possess-the will necessary to build a life from nothing, from no roots, no culture, no path. Which is to say, alone. We escape the burdens of responsibility to the other as we pursue these infinite futures, and it is like this that we fight for a place in a hierarchy when we could be building a collaborative and symbiotic relationship within our own community. This latter option often presents itself as unsustainable, or unattainable. There are changes in the political and ecological landscape that we fear but feel resigned to. In uncertainty, it is difficult to set one’s mind to permanence. But in automatics there may be a path for cultivation. Laborious, habitual, the creation of an untouchable space for now.

After all this time being raised here, I couldn’t give the answer to the question of where my home might lie. But the rhododendron near my house is blooming late, and I explain to a visiting friend that this beach may be rocky, but the ocean will fine. I splash water onto dry muscles along the bay shore so he can hear them at their work. I come home with him and my intimacy becomes obvious. As I began my work on a farm in Amagansett, the fields I thought I knew so well from all my time spent at the car window become incredibly interactive. Home is not different the more I learn about this land, but the knowing has gotten deeper. What a stupid miracle it was, to see radishes pulled from the ground. And this garlic is named Amagansett Peach because ‘We figured, after having it grow in our soil for so many years, we could give it a name. See, how the color’s changed from white to this’. The farmer’s market is slow this year, we borrow equipment from a friendly farm, one of the dogs is getting chastised for being too rough when he herds the chickens. We pick to the palette of a store opening. Members drive up for box shares or can be seen in fields. Wholesale orders from people and businesses make their way onto lists and into the harvest flow. As a spot of time makes itself known, a co worker pulls out some zinnias and rudbeckia. Not perfect enough to sell to resellers or restaurants, but too pretty, too whole to waste. Bouquets are made anyway and we find them a home at a women’s shelter. There are drop off days for the food pantry. A popular day apparently, as someone described the people waiting for fresh food as a ‘feeding frenzy’. Another comment I can’t quite forget, “I’m not about to crack open my wallet for some Mexican family in a green SUV”. But this was about three years ago, posted in reply to a local newspaper’s article on food pantries.

I think that too often we get caught up in the resentment that exists around the riches that often define the Hamptons. But there is something to resent. The development that goes on here too often leads to dead ends. Dead ends in dead automatics. My father plants a tree for a rich man, mows the lawn but bags the clippings, rakes the leaves at the homeowner’s request. The tree has nothing to live on so copious amount of fertilizer are due. Many of the plants are non-native, and are grown in somewhat counterintuitive ways. Irrigation systems are needed to keep everything green, and are kept on their timed cycles, rain or shine. This fertilizer ends up in the water, where eutrophication cycles propel towards toxic entropy. People often speak of the entitlement people feel to state and federal aid, and yet are blind to the entitlement they posses in thinking they are separate from the community. In other words, people landscape their lawns with unsafe practices and think that they shouldn’t answer to the poison leaking into the water. A bad habit makes itself known despite the ease of its recurrent manifestations. A resistance to change isn’t a sign of “should” or “naturalness”, it is simply a denial of the labour needed to adapt to new conditions and ideals.

It goes without saying that the people who have the luxury of making this their summer home also possess the means to educate themselves about the ways in which they impact the ecology and community with their actions. Locals here should consider the ways in which they too profit from participating in these cycles and hope to fix it with their dollar. I don’t mean to make this an attack based on financial privilege as it is often those who have means that are able to create and support alternative spaces. Many of the people who support the farm are those with means, who are happy to go out onto the fields and harvest basil or lettuce or whatever else may be ready this week. These are the same people who support the efforts made to preserve farm land instead of seeing it divided up into lots. The laborious process of estrangement is something we owe ourselves and each other.

In school we are taught everything but how to live on the land under our feet, and maybe this should change. I grew up thinking that staying home was shameful. To think this myth reached me here, a place people strive to end up! I think it’s time to think about the automatics of home. Where do we want to take ourselves everyday? What foundations do we want to lay down for our children? What environment are we creating for our neighbors? Where does a good habit lead? Neither here nor there, but now, maybe deeper into the love we have for ourselves and for our homes. Whether it be seasonal or not.