Cow Tippin’

Earlier this year I introduced myself to my classmates in a university tutorial by telling them I wanted to be a farmer.

Looking back, people probably thought I was trying to be quaint, quirky, or charming. Those kinds of getting-to-know-you speeches at uni can be really competitive by your final year. It’s not enough to just say “um hi, I’m so-and-so… I’m doing Arts and Education… I’ve got a dog,” and then giggle self-consciously like we all did in first year. You’ve really got to bring it these days. Justify why you’re still at university in your mid-twenties. Compose a funny and insightful verbal self-portrait in twenty-five words or less.

But actually I think wanting to be a farmer sums me up quite well. It’s one of the only economically viable ways to be a recluse these days. If you’re a twenty-four-year-old student who chooses not to participate in social media or club-going or meeting friends for coffee every Sunday, you’re probably a bit weird or a bit pretentious. If you’re a farmer who chooses not to do these things, you’re just being practical. I want to be a practical recluse.

I’ve been living alone for three months now. To give a clear idea of what this means in real terms: I’m far enough down the path of isolation-induced insanity to be sitting at my kitchen table wearing nothing but a Santa hat and listening to Phil Collins, but not so far down it that I don’t have a logical reason for doing both.

It was a long series of circumstances involving the expatriation of siblings, interstate relocation of housemates and my parents returning to the motherland (Western Australia) that led to my living alone. It was a shockingly abrupt period of mass-abandonment that I had to try very hard to not take personally. Since then I’ve gone through several distinct stages of mental deterioration.  I discovered that I have no self-discipline whatsoever. I always kind of knew this about myself, but living alone has thrown it into even sharper relief. I drink constantly. I eat constantly. I sleep until 2pm. I answer the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses completely naked. When I drop something on the floor, I only pick it up if I was in the middle of eating it.

It was after about six weeks that I really started to lose touch with reality. I was having extremely long and detailed conversations with myself. I went to bed exhausted; dry-mouthed after talking my own ear off for hours every night. More recently I’ve been driving my car to football fields across town and sleeping there for a few hours before waking up in the early hours of the morning and driving home again. When you live by yourself, there’s a danger that you’ll start over thinking everything. Instead of just doing the things you need to do each day, you start thinking things like “what if everything I have ever done has just been part of society’s hegemonic plan? What if the true meaning of life lies in something I would never even think to try?” and that’s when you start doing handstands against your living room wall.

If I  were a farmer I could get away with the same level of eccentricity in my search for meaning without also leading a completely pointless existence. Right now my survival depends on my ability to go grocery shopping, show up at my job in childcare three times a week and move the money they give me for doing so into various other accounts to pay my bills and rent. None of this requires a huge amount of personal motivation. If my survival depended on tending to land, livestock and machinery on a daily basis, I could do as many handstands as I liked and still be considered a productive human being. I wouldn’t have to pretend to like coffee or understand sports or watch My Kitchen Rules because there would be no propagators of small-talk in my life to quiz me on these things. The prospect of what I’m going to say to my boss every time I arrive at work and she asks how my weekend was fills me with dread. I don’t understand what the protocol is in this situation. I probably spent my weekend doing things she wouldn’t approve of. Am I supposed to make up something wholesome to have done on the weekend and tell her I did that? Do I just tell the truth and watch the disappointment flicker across her face? I always suspected you were not cut out for childcare Rhiannon, and here is the proof. 

A farmer does not have these kinds of problems. A farmer has always done something wholesome, even if he or she has also been involved in unseemly sexual acts or neo-Pagan rituals. When your physical subsistence depends on real, tangible work, you get a free pass in terms of fulfilling society’s other expectations. “I ear-tagged eighty head of cattle, killed two kilometres of lantana and fixed a barbed-wire fence today. Leave me to drink my illegal moonshine and talk to myself in peace.”

3 thoughts on “Cow Tippin’

  1. I totally relate to this! I would definitely like an excuse for the unsociable ways I end up spending my free time. Especially when those unsociable ways include socialising with anthropomorphic bitchy animals in pointless 3DS games. That one is really hard to explain to some people.

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