First Day of School

For the first time in known memory I’m not getting ready to go back to school. At twenty-two I have my requisite Bachelor’s degree and, for now, I’m done with classes and research and late-nights in the lab.

It’s mildly terrifying.

I’m not cramming in last-minute summer reading assignments, carefully buying up notebooks and pens,  or double-checking my stockpiles of paper clips. (Yes, I was one of those students who carried an entire school supply store in their backpack. Maybe I loved school. A lot.) Friends talk about how odd it all feels, even friends  who’re heading right back to school for graduate degrees.

Until now, life’s rhythms have largely been marked by school calendars: teacher workdays, early morning study groups and after-class meetings, and those lovely lazy holidays.

Mama always got photos of us kids on our first day of school ever year. She wrote in a letter last week that this is the first year without new school pictures for my twin brother and me.

The very first first-day-of-school. (L-R: twin, Mama, and me).

To find myself living outside of academia is unnerving, and sometimes I have to pinch myself and wonder, “I have a college degree? I have a degree?”

I have a degree.

And here I am on a farm. Two whole months have passed and it has been marvelous. There really are no other words for it.

Field Work

Good Earth Farm is the perfect place to ponder life after graduation (and, admittedly, freak out about it every now and then).

A large part of the internship program involves discernment. You hear this word frequently at the farm, as it’s central to the life of the Common Friars. Discernment has roots in “separating” or “cutting out”—to discern, then, is a lot like pruning tomatoes or raspberry vines.

As you might guess, I’ve done quite a bit of pruning.

When morning chores and garden work are over, we have lunch and a siesta to read, relax, or nap. (More often than not, I set out to read and wind up passed out in my cabin still wearing my work clothes and boots). Afternoons are largely devoted to individual projects. From the beginning I’ve worked closely with Paul and Brad, who oversee the internship program, to set goals and develop projects for these afternoon work periods.

One of my undergraduate majors was in creative writing, but as my second major it often took a back burner to the research, presentations, and reports I did for my primary psychology major. A major goal during this internship period at Good Earth Farm is to explore and expand my knowledge of writing theory and practice, work on my portfolio (or lack thereof), and to read and write. A lot.

This summer, I’ve read Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, a smattering of Modern poets, some chapters on poetic form, and a few memoirs and non-fiction essays. Some afternoons I’ve met with other people on the farm to share our creative work aloud. I journal almost every day and spend a lot of time writing about the future, the past, and what’s on my mind.

I’ve also developed this intern blog on the Common Friar’s website. Though quite a few of my undergraduate classes involved mandatory blogging, I’ve never set up a WordPress page and have only dabbled in the shallow-end of HTML formatting. This internship, then, provided an opportunity to try blogging and to dabble in very basic WordPress design.

Work, Study, and Prayer

You hear these words a lot at the farm, too. Work, study, and prayer are central to the Common Friars’ daily life.

Study, though, is anything but boring.

The farm hosts weekly discussion groups where anyone can gather to read and discuss essays, poems, and more.  (Come out on Wednesday’s at 5:00 p.m. to join us! Stick around afterward and we’ll even have supper.)

We’ve listened to radio essays about theology and mental health communities, read Mary Oliver’s poetry, discussed essays about monastic living, and even watched a new documentary about transgender people of faith.

But our learning doesn’t stop after afternoon work periods or Wednesday study groups. At any given moment you might hear people on the farm critiquing films, talking about sustainability, sharing theological ideologies, diagnosing tomato problems, swapping stories about sheep shearing techniques, composing music, or writing poems.

Trial and Error

Trial and error is a large part of work here. Aside from reading and writing, I’ve also worked on a few applied projects, such as installing new temporary fencing for a chicken yard, and designing and building a new garden gate (or trying to at least—it’s a bit on the narrow side). What I love about projects like these is that they involve on-the-job learning, a degree of imperfection, and a lot of ingenuity.

That, and quite a bit of sweat.

In the upcoming months Laura and I are going to collaborate on more video projects and I might investigate an opportunity to use my psychology degree via volunteering.

Even while the calendar ticks ever closer to the start of a school year I won’t share in and even while my younger siblings get their new photos on the first day of school without me, I haven’t really quit learning. There might not be a classroom on the farm, but the lessons here are phenomenal.

I may have traded in school supplies for work jeans and muddy boots, but it’s a decision I don’t regret.


Robert Meissner

2012 Summer Intern