The first time I came to central Mexico, I was here for 6 months to complete a portion of my dissertation research at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). As often happens in such situations, I made fast friends with a few colleagues, and we spent quite a bit of time exploring the various landscapes and markets of Mexico City and beyond. These adventures were the basis for my now very strong friendship with Rachael Cox, a dear friend and kindred spirit. While hiking one afternoon—Rachael and her partner at the time, and our another colleague and his family, and I (single of course)—stopped for a picnic lunch. Rachael had brought some food to share, but only enough paper plates for “each family unit” to have a single plate. We all had a good laugh, as my family “unit” only included myself, so it seemed weird to call it that. However, five and half years later and having coached each other through many moves and professional transitions across continents and even between continents in Rachael’s case, and she and I are now definitively a family unit in the “the family you can choose” kind of way. We’ve spent many Christmas’s and New Years together, vacationed in beautiful places, coached each other through shitty break ups with jobs and people, and been told we were laughing too loud in Airbnb’s, hotels and campgrounds in three countries.
Rachael and I have both dedicated ourselves to trying to improve farmer livelihoods—and happen to be extremely high energy and focused type of people—hence our attraction to each other as friends and as a family unit. But one of the things I love most about my time with her is our ability to have great laughs and great times being ridiculous, making up dance moves or inventing a line of cocktail garnishes, dubbed “Coxtails” as a play on her name (she did not like my suggested name at first, but I have broken her down and it’s starting to grow on her!). With our “intense” personalities, it’s very important to find opportunities to be playful as a way to stimulate creativity in our actual work, and as a method for reducing the overall stress of working in a solutions-oriented space. There are many reasons to do the work we do—increased access for the rural poor to quality and quantity of food, for example—but also for reducing the drudgery in the day to day lives of people across the world. If Rachael and I can find ways to keep our energy levels up, we are much more likely to be effective in bringing our passions to our jobs to affect change within the communities in which we work, while hopefully bringing a little bit of joy to our colleagues and friends, as well.
While Urban Dictionary would lead us to believe that the “farting around” that Rachael and I sometimes do when together is a poor use of time, for me, it is actually an opportunity to keep my spirits high in what could be a depressing career choice . I love the term, as it reminds of me one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes: “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different.” For me, Vonnegut’s stories and essays have always been helpful for maintaining patience (something I am especially bad at) or kindness with people, even if I’m at the limits of my energy or feel like I have no idea what I am doing. Likewise, he frequently encouraged people to acknowledge joy in the simple things (“If this isn’t nice, what is?”), like laughing at a fake line of garnishes.
I honestly feel like it is a little cliché to mention Vonnegut at the start of a new year, but part of the reason he has been in my thoughts lately is because the new year is a great time to acknowledge that things “are nice.” However, if Vonnegut weren’t a contender for the title of greatest American novelist and considered fiercely intelligent, it would seem to simplify human existence a little too much to discuss the reduction of human drudgery and to use the word “fart” in the same post. However, farting around as the year ends can also allow for “farting out the bad” of any weird aspects of the previous year (another one of my mine and Rachael’s ridiculous jokes of the previous week) and opening up to the good of what will come in 2019. On this last day of the year, another one of my very dear friends (Miles!) has arrived in Mexico City to climb a volcano with me tomorrow, and I am so stoked to do a little more farting around in Mexico with an activity that I know will bring me joy and prepare me well to start a new job. May all of your 2019s be filled with wonderful work, and lots of opportunities to fart around with your family units, as well!