I Am Living Your Dream Life
This is all horse shit. You know that, right?
The most common thing I hear from people who discover my book and blog is that I am living their “dream life” or they are living vicariously though me. I am flattered and understand the sentiment, but that is never easy to hear. It gives me far too much credit. It assumes my life is heroic and not compulsive. Words like dream life and the mantle of your vicarious astral projection is a fucking terrifying responsibility. Mostly because what sounds like a fantasy in print, isn’t. It isn’t magical or lucky. It’s the combination of white privilege, stubbornness, naiveté, and the accumulation of ten-thousand selfish decisions that put my lifestyle above any other alternative realities. Everything in the above paragraph is true — that all happened just a few hours ago — but it is not the whole truth. The whole truth would read like this:
This morning I woke up alone. The house was cold since the fire went out around 2AM and I had slept until 7:07. The first emotion I felt was guilt for sleeping in. I walked outside to the crisp, autumnal, flow of an upstate New York morning. I tended to my small farm. The same farm that keeps me up most nights scared I will not manage to keep it. This is my land, for now, and I walked outside of my little white house like a proper mess. I was in the same red plaid shirt I had been wearing all week. A hand-knit hat covered my greasy, unwashed, hair. I grabbed hay from the red barn and looked up at blue sky though the holes in the slate roof. I paused and worried it wouldn’t make it through another winter. I fed the hay to those woolly beasts knowing that two of them are sold, four of them were slaughtered, and the rest need enough feed stored to make it through winter. Oh look, my very own horse is standing next to them. I need to call the farrier because he is due for a trim and is standing in the soft mud that makes hooves chip. I sigh and let out a weak smile. He’s the same horse that turned half my readership on me because he was seen as idiotic to buy after just quitting my corporate job. The same horse so few people know saved my life, a story too hard to admit. Sure, I could slide a halter on him, tack up, and ride up a mountainside with a hawk on my fist and coffee in my thermos, but that idea seems so overwhelming right now I wouldn’t believe it if I saw it in a movie. What I really want to do is crawl back into bed as soon as the animals are fed and watch a marathon of Orange is the New Black under the covers. (That is a real Saturday morning possibility here.) Instead, I fed the dairy goats and the chickens. I tended to the pigs and refilled their water tub their noses had turned filthy. I inhaled that air deeply, because I don’t want that feeling of sleeping-in guilt to pile on with an anxiety attack. I count 4 deep breathes and smelled wood smoke and ice-tipped grass. Ice? Smoke?! Shit, winter is almost here and I don’t have all the hay and firewood I need. My eyes go wide. Breathe, woman, BREATHE. I force a smile at the ten-thousand choices that let me huff my drug of choice - resourcefulness. Then go inside and cook a breakfast of bacon and eggs. I feel guilty for eating too much in one sitting. But at least I’ll work it off because I have a day of physical labor paired with design work. I will not have the binge session on Netflix. I might be selfish but I’m not stupid. I have too many clients to catch up on. Maybe I’ll catch a lucky break. Maybe by 3pm I’ll have a bill paid or book a fiddle lesson? I better get to promoting more. Are Facebook ads worth it? If I need to listen to another person on Facebook tell me they are no longer reading my blog or buying my books because I voted for Hillary I am going to snap. Where is the hand cart for moving firewood? Does it still have air in all the tires….
Listen, there are plenty of times I fall into the romance of my own story. I am proud of it. When things are on the upswing I do feel like that first paragraph. A little fiscal security and a new book deal or magazine article and I am residing on cloud nine. If I write something like that it is because that is what I am feeling.
But you know what? I am even more proud of that second paragraph because even with the starker reality; it’s still what I want. I might wake up alone, guilty, and cold in a place I struggle to keep - but there isn’t anyone else or anywhere else I’d rather be. My life is messy and anxious, but all that mess was my choice. I own it and wear it and it fits me perfectly. Every morning I wake up with the real fight to keep this dream, our dream, alive. All I want is to get better at it and feel more comfortable in my own skin. That's my dream life.
That wasn’t a joke up there, my biggest thrill really is discovering my own resourcefulness. This spring will mark five years of working on this farm full time. FIVE YEARS! I have driven past storefronts that have open and closed in that time. I have seen neighbors foreclosed on. I've seen constant evidence that the struggle is pointless and I should give up. But I am still here. And without depending on anyone but my own wits. Of course, I make a living from book sales, blog ads, graphic design, farm goods, and such - but that is how I make my money. I don’t get any government assistance or tax break. There isn't some trust fund or 401k to fall back on. It's just me and my big mistakes and little victories. I am still open for business.
I am lucky about some things. I am not up to my ears in college debt or maxed out credit cards. And even at my most stressful of times I would rather be shaking alone here than in some heated loft with a person I wasn’t in love with. Maintained comfort scares the shit out of me. Pass me the slate tiles, please. I’ll figure out the roof or buy a blue tarp. I am not quitting today.
Maybe someday I’ll become the woman in the first paragraph for longer stretches of time. Maybe I won't. I don’t know. All I am certain of is that working for this life is what gives me purpose. If I am honest about my story, I don’t see how I can fail as long as people will still listen. My success has very little to do with how many readers I have and with who those readers are. If I can cultivate a community that believes this is possible - that encouragement is priceless. I feel you expect me to be honest and would rather cringe at my blunders than get day after day of paragraph one. Writers like that can give you diabetes. My words might be harder to swallow but even a bad meal tastes better than horse shit.
If you're also on a farm "living the dream" or doing anything that others assume is lovely and perfect - I am sure you can relate. No one's life is perfect. Some of us are just better at faking it. If my life was perfect I might go insane from how boring that would turn out to be. I like my flawed, scrappy, life because it's my honest life. I like waking up with the hope that possibilities are swirling and love could be just around the corner. I like treading water and feeling restless. It's real. It's mine. It's now.
Now go out there and forgive yourself for being a goddamn mess and work on making your dream happen. The decisions you make today can lead you to some wild places. Just don't forget it's a fight as often as it is a dance, and if you can be just as happy punching as you are waltzing you may have this life thing figured out.
Anyway, I am working on it.
Thank you for being a part of it.