....was what my Optometrist said to me, after inspecting both of my dilated pupils with those giant alien-autopsy face machines they are somehow allowed to use on us civilians. Not exactly normal patient/doctor chit chat, I know, but it was warranted. Before the exam I told her how I always am nervous about going to the eye doctor and have been ever since I was eleven years old...
I'l never forget my first eye appointment. I was a chatty kid. (I am a chatty adult, too. And I talk fast and often to others when I get nervous.) I was telling my hometown Optometrist about how I thought what she did was so great, because nobody ever leaves her office worse off. Everyone she helps out; through glasses and contacts and what not. What a great gig! Then she went grim, looked me right in my 11-year-old eyes and told me sometimes she has to give people horrible news. Sometimes she can see right through to the brain and see a mass of cancer that will kill a patient in weeks. They come in expecting a new pair of frames and leave with a death sentence.
If she wanted me to stop talking, it worked.
And that's why till this day I prefer the Dentist to the Optometrist, both of which I had to visit this month. I had a hole in a molar the size of a peppercorn that needed to be filled in, and my last pair of contacts were about to wear through my retinas. My eye wear prescription was out and I couldn't chew. You can only put off self-care for so long.
I know the Eye Doctor and Dentist isn't a big deal to most of you out there, but to me these are watershed moments. Heathcare was the biggest boogeyman of self employment to me. It was the monster under the bed that even the most hearty of friends and supporters warned me about leaving behind for a life of farming. But if you can live your dream life and afford a new pair of glasses - that is my humble definition of success. So today I had my first eye exam in over four years. I paid the $170 bill for the doctor's time and effort, and was happy to do so. I earned the money for that visit. I had $20 in reader subscriptions come in through Paypal and I sold a piece of artwork for $150. This day I made exactly what I needed to cover that visit. So I felt amazing. I felt like I was doing it. I felt like this was something I could pull off....
And then I went to check my mailbox.
It wasn't a big mail day from the USPS. Inside was a package from a blog sponsor, a bunch of pamphlets about my wood stove to hand out at workshops or to inquiring guests. The other piece of mail was a plain, white, letter addressed to me (with my last name spelled wrong) and instead of my house number it just read:
Cold Antler Farm
Cambridge, NY 12816
And I will admit it had the EXACT effect intended. This person pressed my shame button, hard. They basically were saying; Jenna, how dare you live this life? Stop talking about it. Stop celebrating it. Shut up, Don’t expect patronage, get a job. Go away. And I felt small. I stood there, by my metal mailbox that I painted Cold Antler Farm on six springs ago. I stood there holding that job application on the land I am facing foreclosure on if I don’t get lucky, soon. It made me feel sick inside. Who the hell does this?
This was a kick in the ribs while I was already down. I folded up the blank application and went inside the house. On the doorknob was a hanger notice from the electric company: final disconnection notice. Another kick. I wanted to throw up.
All the good news about lack of brain tumors, the art sale, the pride of self care, and hope for new glasses in the future went out the window. I went inside, sat down in the living room floor, and cried. Gibson came to me, instantly, and collapsed in my lap. Friday watched from her crate, head cocked and curious. I had a prescription in my pocket, a head without cancer, and I still let a nameless stranger knock me down a peg. How long before the lights went out? How much longer before I quit, sell the animals, leave the farm, go away?
Not sure what else to do, I took care of some farm essentials, let out the dogs, and then changed into running clothes and ran five miles. These days, that is a very short run. It was a hot day, and it didn't take long for sweat to coat me like the mandatory baptism I demanded. I ran and I thought. Did I deserve that? Was it a sign? What am I doing here holding onto a ghost like this? Maybe I should throw in? Maybe I should start over?
When I got back home in record time, I finished evening chores early. I refilled everyone's water and checked the flock, goats, and horse. I moved the chicken tractors. Then I came inside a dripping mess to that job application on my bench, like it was supposed to be dissected for posterity. I gave it a closer look.
What? It was totally blank.
I looked through the pages, all of them. It had no assigned job. The person who mailed it wasn't clever enough to fill in a position they thought I belonged in. They thought the gag was enough, but what they gave me wasn't a scolding - it was a canvas. And I sat down covered in deerfly bites, sunburn, and sweat and applied for the job I wanted:
It turns out that this 33-year-old woman actually has a decent shot. I have put out five nationally circulated books from two major publishing houses, and was working on wrapping up my first self-published novel. I had a BFA in communication design from a four-year University with a minor in Illustration - two degrees I use daily to help keep the lights on (literally!). I had traveled around the US and been to both coasts promoting books, speaking at huge events and fairs, and had nearly a decade of farming experience under my belt. My order didn't seem that tall now that it was all on paper in front of me. That piece of snark mail turned into a spell book.
After the application was done, I read it as if I was the person hiring (I kinda am), and felt pretty great. I set it down like it was a decree of faith, gently and with love, and then went to my rotary phone to call the electric company. I called them with calm confidence of a tumorless eye patient, and we worked out a half-payment now and the rest in two weeks. It is a pinch but the lights and internet stay on so I can continue to work from home. I let out a silent prayer of thanks. Someone out there has my back.
People send things like this and want to hurt me. They want me to feel shame for the life I want, work for, and crawl uphill with bleeding fingernails to keep. Fine. I get it. You aren't happy, and you don't think I deserve to be either. But honestly? What were you thinking? You don't send a box of kindling to an arsonist. You don't send white gloves to a mime. You don't send a 6-pack of beers to an alcoholic - these are not avatars of shame. These are evidence of validation!
I am well aware I don't have a normal job you Agents of Caution associate with the kind of approval that helps you nod behind crossed arms. But your stupid letter was a badge for my sash, a light in the dark, and it made me feel strong. Really, really, strong. And I say that as a woman farming alone for nearly a decade. I say that as a five-time author. I say that as the qualified applicant in the running for the most amazing life of all time, and I am just getting started. Did you think your adorable letter was Kryptonite? Well, it wasn't.
It was spinach, bitch.
And I am framing this application and putting it on the wall.