What is it like to be Catherine in the Middle? Catherine Friend, a middle aged woman, living, farming, and writing on a small farm in Minnesota explores that personal question in a larger, sociological and environmental framework. Friend, a celebrated author, recounts tales of her fifteenth year raising sheep with her longtime partner, Melissa. Friend finds herself at a crossroads, both wanting to abandon farming for a care-free life of RVing, and trying to hold on to what she values about farm life. Her partner’s health forces the decision. From fifty sheep down to seven, she gets ready to reboot for the second half of her adult life.
Friend’s work is worthwhile on its own as a funny memoir, but it also serves to introduce a variety of sociological topics such as the baby boomer demographic, dramaturgical theory and post industrialism. Friend’s book would make a good reading assignment in a sociology class studying demographics or life changes. When teaching sociology, I would assign book reports to students to encourage a deeper understanding of concepts. This book would appeal to both environmentally conscious younger students as well as non-traditional students in the baby boomer demographic.
Friend understands her unique demographic position as a baby boomer. She wisely states that she is a member of “possibly the first generation to grow old without actually maturing.” She speaks of her original distain for hormone replacement therapy to pleading her doctor to prescribe them. A member of the “Why me?” generation, Friend discusses the decision of Americans to take the easy way out–such as our penchant to toss aside cheaply made clothing only to buy more cheaply made clothing.
Friend’s internal struggles reveal a woman who worries about what others will think when she fails to take her recycling to the recycling center or when she does (or does not) wear wool clothing. She wonders how she appears to others now that she has become a “fiber freak.” Her internal dialogue and outer actions humorously illustrate the sociological theory of Erving Goffman termed “dramaturgy” or the notion that we live life as if on a stage.
Post Industrial Society
American sociologist Gehard Lenski discussed pre-industrial eras and industrial eras, but Friend’s life introduces the concept of a post-industrial era, a time which balances ecological concerns with industry. Friend readily acknowledges that making woolen socks by hand is not an efficient activity, but yet it is one that is meaningful, and ultimately, enriching. She borrows the term “the quality of life era” from an article in the Journal of Animal Science.
Having enjoyed learning about Catherine Friend’s life choices, I too am excited about ringing in the quality of life era.
Friend, C. Sheepish: Two Women, Fifty Sheep & Enough Wool to Save the Planet. Da Capo Press: Philadelphia, 2011.
Macionis, J. Sociology, Prentice Hall: Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 2011.