Interesting People: Calamity Jane, Alaskan Homesteader

Calamity Jane is the author of a blog called Apron Stringz, a gloriously irreverent and thoughtful hub exploring the shit and the diamonds of what she calls ‘punk housewifery’. Smart and honest, CJ is never afraid to probe the ugly and difficult aspects of motherhood and domestic life. 

‘I walk a weird line between wholesome organic crafty mama and ranting punk bitch,’ says CJ, ‘and it’s sometimes hard to know quite where to set my bags down.

Apron Stringz is largely sleeping now, although CJ occasionally pops back for a little brain-dump. Now living in Alaska, she is studying permaculture.  Today, CJ talks about what blogging has meant to her; how ‘yielding to motherhood’ works, and what it like to spend winter on an Alaskan homestead.  

The experience of writing a blog has been complex and fascinating.


I started out wanting to write a how-to blog, but as it evolved I found that I gleaned so much more from my introspective, nitty gritty, too-personal posts. I am a writer by default I think, really what I am is a thinker. A deep thinker, who loves to share the process with others. Blogging allowed me to do that. Even more it gave me the opportunity to voice those tangly emotions that so many of us feel, but cannot put words to. Apron Stringz became a place where I championed, not so much the housewifery, as I had expected, but the women behind the aprons. We mamas are so hard on ourselves. So I became a cheerleader of sorts, with a foul mouth and a quick sense of humor.


I genuinely loved feeling a part of a community, leading a community even, in a sense. I loved feeling like, even though I might never meet them in person, might never get to stay up until 2 am talking about everything under the sun with them, there were a handful of ladies out there who really got me. That’s a classic internet allure. Now matter what kind of freak you are, there are other freaks like you, and you can find them and “chat” with them.


I had always sneered at internet communities before, but I really did feel something there. I felt like the friends I made were at least some part real. Not as good as a flesh and blood, lives down the street friend, but not just ‘better than nothing’ either. It was meaningful, and wonderful, and absolutely my favorite part of blogging.


I had a small readership by many standards, a few hundred regulars. But it felt big to me, I felt moderately famous. Fame is a strange thing. It’s intoxicating, to be sure. These few hundred people give a shit what I have to say? These people listen and care. But more complicated– these people think I am awesome, they think I am amazing, they admire me.


No one seems to talk about this aspect of blogging, but it is a massive ego stroke. And I am a person who thrives on praise. I used to be obsessively attached to my “stats” and checked them several times a day. I watched for comments with almost angst. If I didn’t get comments on a post I felt so disappointed. And like any addiction, the more I got the more I needed, until 3 or 4 comments saying “yeah, sing it sister” were not enough. I needed someone to wax poetic about how I had changed their life, they couldn’t understand how I could write so eloquently, and mine was the most amazing blog they had even read.


There were even a few times when I only got one or two comments on a post I had worked hard on, and I felt mad at the readership, under appreciated, used. I had put myself out there, poured my heart out onto the page, and barely gleaned a thank you. The comments where people offered advice especially irked me. Rather than lavish me with the praise I deserved for my brilliant work, they were telling me how to do better?


It was petty, and small. I admit it. I knew those folks were just trying to help. But I needed the adoration. I always need adoration (therapists in the audience, feel free to tell me why), but particularly at that time in my life, when I was feeling so less than fabulous. So mundane and average. I needed people to think I was hot shit.


I don’t mean to sell it short. There are so many parts to my experience of blogging. That part sounds ugly, or at least cheap, and maybe it was. There are many more noble parts, and many incredibly enriching parts about writing a blog. I often miss it, and often think about starting again.
But, it always comes back to how many hours are in a day, and how many other things I want to do in my hours. I am not a super high energy person, and I need a square 8 hours of sleep. Once I finish the banal chores of daily mothering, there just doesn’t seem to be time left for me to do all the cool shit I want to do, and write about it too.


On yielding to motherhood


I do feel like the intense yielding phase is done. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of yielding left to do, and every day is still filled with the challenge of it. But I don’t feel like it’s breaking me anymore. I am an incredibly independent woman who does not like to have to bend my own life and desires around anyone else. I also have a visceral reaction of repulsion to neediness, so the small years were extremely hard for me.
Life is distinctly more possible these days, and certainly a lot of that is directly in relation to my kids ages. They are now 4 and 6, and they hang off of me a little less.


But to be fair to myself, another part of the easing is due to my semi- successful learning process. I still have a long way to go, but I have gotten way better at yielding, at accepting the compromise that family life necessitates. I have gotten it through my thick skull, at least on some level, that all those words– compromise, yield, submit, bend– are not bad words, indicative of my failure to be a strong woman. Rather, yielding your own ego to something greater is a unique strength, which I have come to see as ultimately feminine.


On Alaskan life


It’s really not all that. True I sleep with firecrackers on my bedside table all summer, in case a bear gets into my coop in the night. True, we also eat black bear for dinner at least once a week, as well as moose and wild caught salmon. True, we have unbelievable mountains right outside our window, and our tiny town is surrounded by hundreds of miles of absolute wilderness with nary a Wal-Mart to drive to.


But for the most part, our life is more or less like any middle(-lower) class family, in any other first world country. We have a car, and a house, and all the regularly obscene accumulation of stuff. We have “devices” up the wazoo, our kids watch an embarrassing number of cartoons in a day and My Man just bought himself an X-Box for Christmas! Our life is really a mash up.


My “homestead” consists of a backyard with chickens, ducks and a few large garden beds. Yes, the spring purchase of almost 50 little peepers was ballsy. I may or may not regret that move, the jury is still out. But, I’m now in the ‘reaping rewards’ stage– getting 10+ eggs every day and roasting a bird from the freezer at least once a month. It is fun, I like to have something to obsess about, and the poultry project has been a good focal point for my thinky tendencies.


I am still keen on permaculture, and taking this winter to go back over the design I made for our property last year. Do you have real winter where you are? It’s a marvelous season of amnesia, in which a person is able to forget all that she didn’t get done last summer, and truly believe that this year, this year everything she plans out on paper will become a reality. And then, since spring is still months away, you get to maintain this delightful amnesia for ages and make even more, and even better plans! Winter is a season for brains like mine to flourish, in blissful ignorance.


Here’s to the boundless possibilities of summer yet to come!


You can read more from CJ at Apron Stringz here. I recommend this letter to new mothers, and this post explaining why washing dishes is a radical political act. You can also read about her adventures in Alaskan permaculture here.


Thanks CJ!


Previous Interesting People posts:


Carly Findlay, appearance activist
Jo Thornely, internet celebrity
Lexi Campbell-Kentmann, blogging superstar
Gerri, Claire and Carmen, mums of nine kids