The Shapes We Mae

ON SELF-SUFFICIENCY

Kate WeinerComment

When I was younger, I used to spend every Monday from March through November at a Wilderness Survival Skills Camp. As a student and later as an apprentice, I learned how to build a debris hut and start a fire without a match and forage for edible berries. It was a tremendously powerful experience, one that helped me connect more deeply to our environment and to myself.

During my first overnight camping trip with four older boys from the program, I got my period. I was still new enough to the puberty thing that every time I bled it was a fresh source of surprise. Unprepared and without an arsenal of Ibuprofen on hand to help me through the debilitating cramps that used to plague me as a teenager, I marched alone to the park's indoor bathroom and fashioned myself a toilet paper pad (we've all been there). I didn't have a way to mitigate the pain, but I knew that staying in constant motion soothed me. And so I spent an infinite day and a half in the drizzly woods of the Northeast careening between the dingy bathroom and our bare bones camp site, perpetually bobbing on my toes and stretching out my hips and suggesting we all go for a nice hike. I remember curling up into my sleeping bag that night--it was warm enough that we had simply laid out our mats on a stretch of moss-latticed rock--and breathing in the moon above. I can relax now, I thought. I'd made what had been a paralyzing realization--I am bleeding and I am the only girl and I am unprepared--manageable. I woke up that morning to a turkey in the tree above me, eyes bright and head bowed.

Years later, I still feel a tenderness toward my twelve-year old self sleeping on a rock and wishing her body and brain were in alignment (for a year or so after I got my period, I still felt way too young to be a woman. I liked childhood, liked jumping rope and my parents kissing me good night). And I feel pride too. It was one of the first times in my life I had been on my own and had to make things work without the support of those I loved most. 

I've lost some of the skills I've learned during those distant Monday afternoons. I've gained others--gardening in particular--that have opened up my life to surprising joys and challenges. Self-sufficiency is both an active practice and a philosophical perspective. Learning to do something by yourself, for yourself, is a powerful part of any young feminist's toolkit. Self-sufficiency isn't just about knowing how to change a tire or pay bills or fix a flooding bathtub (although those are important basics). It's about trusting that you have the capability to take care of yourself, to assume an active role in your own growth. It's nice to know that if you wanted to do something, you could (e.g. if you don't enjoy cooking, totally fine, but know enough that you could prepare something with leftovers if need be). 

Make it your intention to learn a concrete new skill. You will find that developing your internal reservoir of things that you can do will make you feel stronger in your self and more assured in this world. And let us know what you learn--we'd love to grow together.