Sometimes Kevin jokes that I must secretly be a much older woman. That’s kind of fair, because I drink a lot of tea and I’m usually in bed by ten o’clock, if I can help it. It’s also true because I like a lot of the same music as my mom, and by a lot I mean almost all the same music. She introduced me, at the tender age of twelve or so, to a folk singer named Dar Williams, and I have since then done my best to live by the Tao of Dar.
Dar Williams went to Wesleyan and has a strong relationship with the avant-garde. (Skip to about six minutes in. Or don’t, and understand Dar that much better.) She wrote a song about a babysitter that makes me cry if I listen to it alone. Her song “The Pointless, Yet Poignant, Crisis of a Co-Ed” is where I got the expression “stoned out to the edge of oblivion,” which I use whenever an opportunity presents itself. She has lots of songs about feeling like maybe you won’t survive a long winter, which is a feeling I think I’ll be very familiar with in about six months.
The Tao of Dar isn’t really something that can be defined precisely; it’s easiest to define what is Dar by way of example. Dar is everything groovy and transcendent, and things are either Dar or they aren’t. Adopting a mutt is very Dar. Purchasing a purebred shih-tzu is not, and for several reasons. Making a salad with veggies you picked from your own garden, drinking red wine while wearing a heavy patterned sweater knitted by someone you know, being a part of any sort of movement, all Dar. One time, when I saw her at the Boulder Theater, a woman ran up on the stage in the middle of her set and kissed her, right on the lips. It was all very Dar. Working at a co-op and struggling to make rent each month? Extremely Dar. Working at a credit union housed in a grocery store, while on paper not so different from being employed at a food co-op, is not at all Dar, although I’d say making rent isn’t exactly a sure thing for us either.
Despite that I sometimes suspect I’ve been sent to Wasilla to star in a long-awaited sequel to Deliverance, many of the people I’ve met in Palmer appear to be heavily committed to the Tao of Dar. (Not so much in Wasilla.)
In my grad program, the Tao of Dar is sort of relentless, actually. I mean, it’s not like people go around telling each other whether their behavior is Dar; it’s just sort of understood. Maybe some people have other names for the Tao of Dar—granola, crunchy, that sort of thing. Our classes take place in overstuffed chairs around the fireplace in the living room of a farmhouse, on a converted dairy farm that doubles as a homeschool co-op. Absolutely Dar. They’re mostly long classes, though, so lots of people bring snacks, and that’s where I tend to run into trouble. Last week I bit into an apple and someone asked me where I’d picked it. “Um…at TheFredMeyer?” I responded, and suddenly my honeycrisp tasted awfully sour. She bit into a carrot, which I’m pretty sure still had a little dirt on it from when she’d dug it out of the ground that morning.
“Yeah,” she said nonchalantly (Dar. Nonchalance is very Dar), “I didn’t think we had crabapples that big on the farm.”
I have since stopped bringing snacks to class, because I don’t have the time or Dar-ness to make my own granola bars or pick crabapples, which I think are gross anyway.
Don’t get me wrong. I was a vegetarian for many years, and when I eat meat now I make sure it’s free of hormones and antibiotics and that it was humanely raised. I make a habit of knowing where my food comes from, and I’m pretty careful about staying away from gnarly chemicals. (Preservatives are not-so-Dar.) I try to get as many of our groceries locally as possible. But goddammit, sometimes I just want a big, juicy apple, and those are hard to come by in the Great White North.
Anyway. Where was I? Right. Local produce = Dar. And these people aren’t, like, buying it in the “Alaska Grown!” section at Carr’s. (Yes, that’s a thing.) They are picking blueberries and digging up carrots and harvesting potatoes with their own hands and bringing them to class, still a little earthy, in empty Brown Cow organic yogurt containers. They have all lived and/or taught orphans in foreign countries, whose languages they speak and whose customs they reminisce about while I quietly contemplate whether I turned off the burner after making tea this morning, which is the most Dar thing I have to contribute to this group. They use mason jars instead of water bottles. They take off their shoes and sit cross-legged in the overstuffed chairs and discuss Montessori and Piaget and Vygotsky, all of whom they have a strong opinion about. These people are so much more Dar than I could ever possibly hope to be.
And so, because the Mat-Su Valley isn’t exactly home to a burgeoning arts scene, I was shocked and thrilled to see Dar herself on the roster of the super-groovy (and 100% Dar, as proven by her presence there) Vagabond Blues, which I recommend you visit should you ever find yourself in Palmer. Their German potato soup will make you see God.
We couldn’t afford tickets, which at a whopping $35 a pop (for a concert in a coffee shop!) were uncharacteristically un-Dar. No matter; I am the only beloved daughter of a mother who loves Dar, and I opened the mail one day to find tickets to what I’d thought was a sold-out affair. (Thanks, Mom!) Not very Dar, being a spoiled only child, but ask me if I care.
Since I haven’t managed to make any friends up here yet, poor Kevin was obliged to join me for the concert. He’s a sport, but I could see that he was crestfallen when he realized there would be no beer to take the edge off his suffering, only espresso. I think he finally understood what I’d been babbling about with things being “Dar” or “not Dar” all this time, and as she made a charming, long-winded introduction to her third number (she always does), Kevin leaned over and surmised that perhaps she was, as I am wont to say, stoned out to the edge of oblivion. I have no opinion on the subject; it would be Dar to have a toke right before going on stage and also Dar to not poison one’s body with drugs. The Tao of Dar can be complex.
Dar introduced her final song with an anecdote about Pete Seeger, with whom she is neighbors and who apparently takes out his own garbage. She imagined Storm King Mountain, which is across the Hudson River from their respective homes, telling Pete Seeger that he’s really groovy—See? Kevin hissed, She’s totally stoned—but really, it made sense if you were there. It was all the talk about Pete Seeger that made me think: maybe even Dar herself feels out-Dar’d sometimes. I know I would, if Pete Seeger were my neighbor.
And if Dar can’t always be Dar, then maybe my obsession with following the Tao is a little unrealistic. I’m not about to start shopping at Walmart or looking for jobs with Halliburton; some Dar principles are sacred. But would Dar judge me for working for the credit union (or, as I’ve been calling it, The Man)? Probably not. She would probably tell me not to be so hard on myself. She would probably tell me I’m suffering just enough to make for good stories someday, and that sometimes you just gotta pay the rent.
And maybe my self-consciousness among my fellow grad students is a little ridiculous. Sure, they’ve got me outshined and out-Dar’d in pretty much every way imaginable, but they’re nice. I mean, I’m sure they’re silently judging me whenever they see me eating something I didn’t plant or kill with my own hands, but they’re not, you know, mean about it. (That wouldn’t be very Dar, would it?)
And now, because tomorrow I have to work at the credit union AND be a low-achieving grad student, and it is several hours past my preferred bedtime, I’m signing off. Yes, I have just made tea. I know. Very Dar.