Author Wendy Jehanara Tremayne shares how writing and touring with her book has influenced her understanding of what it means to be a maker.
Wendy Jehanara Tremayne was a creative director in a marketing firm in New York City before moving to Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, where she built an off-the-grid oasis in a barren RV park with her partner Mikey Sklar. In this Q&A, she shares how writing and touring with The Good Life Lab, her book about that profound shift in lifestyle, influenced her understanding of what it means to be a maker.
The Good Life Lab covers a span of many transformative years in your life. What was the most challenging aspect of capturing your experiences on the page?
Because I wrote a memoir, I relived the events in the book while I was writing it. The stories still contained their emotional energy. This was challenging and also important because what I have to share includes my firsthand experience that we do not gain anything unless we take a chance. For me, this meant embracing the unknown and standing by a vision of something I had not yet seen in the world. As the saying goes, the hardest things are the most worth having. When I wrote about getting arrested in New York City, it brought back feelings of being trapped, and feelings of betrayal I have experienced as I’ve learned how the legal system works. Quitting my job while not knowing what was to come created a grumble of nervousness in my belly even as I recollected it. Likewise I continue to enjoy reliving the stories in the book that show what followed — stories of real adventures, creativity, celebration, and abundance.
You’ve been on the road a lot in the last year, doing readings and talking about your book. Were there any reactions you encountered from your audiences that surprised you?
I was surprised by the loss of faith in the American dream. No matter how hard people work there is a feeling of not being able to create enough time for their families, earn enough money to repair their homes, or create a savings to fall back on. Young people seemed downright hopeless about life after college. Many people expressed disappointment about the industrialized food system and the corruption caused by the power that corporations hold today. When talking about alternative ways to live, the idea of making one’s life into their job resonated deeply with people of all ages. There is excitement around the idea of seeing the results of our labor directly in the quality of our lives: food, clothing, and domestic goods; power and fuel. There is a fairness and also a self-satisfaction in it that employment is not providing people. The people I met helped me to realize that being a maker of things is more than I’d thought. It is something we need to do in order to counterbalance the effects of consumerism, but it is also fundamental to who we are. We need to be makers for our own emotional wellness. It is part of what makes us human beings.
If you had the opportunity to add one new chapter to The Good Life Lab, what would the chapter be about?
I might add a chapter on the etiquette of activism. More than ever, people’s common sense tells them that what they’re being asked to do is not sensible. Today, making a common sense decision can put a person on the margin of what is legal. For example, making cheese at home using raw milk could remedy lactose intolerance. Yet to do so is illegal. When we ask why this is so, we discover that requiring pasteurization gave an advantage to industries capable of providing pasteurization. What followed has been that our reliance on industry came at the cost of our knowledge, our common sense. When we are the cheesemakers, we naturally know how to make cheese safely. Ironically, as it turns out, pasteurization is only necessary when food is processed by large industrial systems that can’t assure the standards of cleanliness that we can create when we make cheese ourselves. To act on this and break the law by purchasing raw milk from a farmer and making cheese out of it, one becomes an activist. The cost of not acting is the loss of the common sense. I believe that in this time when everyone is prompted to act in some way, etiquette is essential. Not just because etiquette is beautiful, but because we know an unjust system by its lack of beauty—it does not honor life. In this way, beauty is a barometer. Also, when we wish to change the world into something new, it can be hard for any individual to see the whole picture. But if we each aim for a beautiful world we’ll find that there is a lot we can agree on.