Friday, April 12, 2013

Biting Your Tail

I originally wrote this and posted it back in February 2012, but while jogging today this song came on the playlist and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I wanted to repost it again, both to restate some truths about this farm and what it is, and to share the music. This song is the best advice I ever received.

I recently talked with a couple from Canada who are coming down for the Plan B workshop in May. I'm excited to meet them, and to talk farm dreams together over a few cold ciders on the porch. While signing them up for the event we were emailing back and forth and through the exchange I was casually asked a pretty tough question. I'm paraphrasing, but what they basically asked was this: what was going through my head pre-Cold Antler that made me take the leap of faith? They are currently renting in the city and worried a mortgage would be too hard to meet on top of running a farm. These are serious concerns, and should not be taken lightly. I thought about that question most of last night. I fell asleep thinking about it.

Later that night I woke up around midnight, worried. I posted that short update about my decision in bed from my iPhone because of all this fuss about Merlin and the general readership of the blog. I was anxious reading emails and comments (some very helpful and kind, other not so much) offering all these doubts about that Fell. I woke up worrying in the dark about things I knew perfectly well how to handle in the daylight. But you know how everything is so much harder alone in the dark? That is how I felt. I fell asleep going back to the barn in my mind, a quiet place that calms me.

May your eyes be wide and seeing
May you learn from the view where you're kneeling
Know the fear of the world that you're feeling
Is the fear of a slave

You know what the funny thing about all that was? Until I read those doubting comments from various people, I had not second guessed that pony or my ability to own him for an instant. I had not made up my mind about him (I have not even seen him yet outside photographs) But the whole discovery of him felt like the Universe had delivered a wish to my front door. It was the same magic I felt when I held my first published book, picked up Gibson at the airport, and closed on my farmhouse. The same certainty through a secret smile of gratitude and answered prayers. I have felt this before, and emailing Merlin's owner was that same feeling of hope manifesting into reality. It was magic, and the fact that the animal in question was named Merlin... Sometimes God laughs while holding our hands.

May you know how the fight was started
Want as much from the snake as the garden
Wear them both like a glove that you can wave

When I was 27 I told myself a Fell would be my 30th Birthday Present (jokingly). I discovered them in the Northshire Bookstore. I was paging through one of those photographic encyclopedias of horse breeds and told myself to pick out my dream horse, as if it was a catalog. I paged through the heavy book and landed on a photo of a stocky, long-haired, coal black pony with his mane in his eyes, feathered feet, in a field with sheep behind him. It read "The Fell Pony" rare, ancient Celtic breed of northern England. Known as the shepherd's pony. That was my dream horse. A draft animal my size, a beast stocky enough to ride but strong enough to pull a big log. Then I read they were so rare in America that less than 50 had been imported since 1980. I closed the book. It was like wishing for a unicorn by staring at a poster on your pre-teen wall.

May your mouth betray your wisdom
May you get what they failed to mention
May your love be your only religion
Preach it to us all

Anyway, at the time it felt like a joke regardless of the breed. I could not even begin to imagine owning a horse. It was a bigger deal and commitment than owning a house. Where I grew up girls with horses were from wealthy families and a toy for the rich. Out here in farm country double-wides have a string of electro-tape around their 1/4 acre lots with a quarter horse. I have learned that horses are a passion and a priority, not a status symbol. And for a girl destined to live and toil beside working animals the rest of her life, they are just another step towards my dirty rendition of bliss.

May you lose what you offer gladly
May you worship the time and its passing
Stars wont ever wait for you to watch them fall

I bought Jasper without a doubt in my mind that he and I had some things in common. We were both scrappy, small, and tough as nails. He needed a home, and I wanted a horse. When I met him everything in my gut said he was right for me, just like everything in my gut tells me I should absolutely not have dairy animals, cattle, goats, alpacas or llamas here. There's nothing wrong with those animals, but they don't feel right and I won't have them here. I am not collecting trading cards. I am planning my farm. My choices are mine and make sense to me.

Now, back to the Canadians in question. There is a reason I am talking about pony books and a lack of alpine goats. How I am considering Merlin, my gut feelings, that sense of magic and possibility—that is how I run this farm. That is how I GOT this farm. There are no spreadsheets, budgets, rainy-day savings accounts, or surgery plans for 14-year-old dogs. What there is instead is a rock-solid faith, belief in my own ability, acceptance of good will from others, and a stubbornness to make it happen that could turn a mule into stone.

On paper I have absolutely no business owning my own land and home, a show pony (any pony!), book contracts, ad sales, a happy blog with loving readers. I have no marketing, writing, or business background in my education. My credit score is a joke. I have only enough money in the bank to cover what needs covering right now and it is all up in the air after that. And yet, I have these things other people don't for one reason and one reason alone.

I ask for them.

I asked Storey if I could write them a book. I asked the realtor and mortgage broker to help me get this house. I asked Red Top Kennels if I could buy a puppy on a payment plan. I asked countless companies to support this blog through ads. I ask for barters. I ask for donations. I ask in ritual, in dreams, in my every day choices and decisions and when I get turned down I ask some one else. When I saw Merlin on craigslist for thousands of dollars I emailed and I asked if we could work something else out? Maybe we will and maybe we won't, but this much I can assure you of:

I would have nothing if I didn't ask for it. From kisses to paychecks, I have asked. And I ask with total certainty the things I ask for will happen. I am not a sheepish asker, no sir. I know that every question is a prayer, and you don't waste God's time. Live your life with faith in what you are trying to achieve and with the intention of harming no one along the way and you can't not succeed in this world. I truly believe this. I live this. I make a decision with utmost certainty and work backwards from there. And when people tell me I am foolish or crazy, I stop listening. I go home and walk up to the top of my hill and look at 6.5 acres of what not-listening-to-warnings can get you.

So my dear Canadian Friends, what are you waiting for? Waiting for enough money to make sure all your friends and parents nod approvingly at your "hasty" decision? Waiting for the market to change? Waiting for a lump sum of cash to fall into your lap. I used to wait too, but then I decided to ask. When I signed the mortgage papers I had no idea how it was going to work out or how I could manage it. The farm was $500 more a month than my rent was, and things were tight then! I just knew it was going to work out because it had too. There was no question in my heart. The money came because I asked for it and was willing to work for it, constantly.

I put down my deposit on Gibson while being kicked out of the house I was currently living in that did not allow any more dogs. My future was completely up in the air. I made the decision for that puppy because he was a powerful choice towards an independent life. I knew, no matter what was going on in my current situation, if I didn't make constant decisions and choices that pointed me towards the future I wanted it would never happen. Foolish? Maybe. But I had paid half his bill by the time I closed on the farm. I was only in the Jackson house two weeks when I picked him up from the airport. The only life he knows is this farm, and every night as we fall asleep together I kiss him on the forehead and tell him he is a dream come true. He is.

There is absolutely no record of careful planning on this blog. Do not expect it, request it, or think a receipt is coming any time soon. Dear hearts, this short life is going way too fast for me. As I am reaching thirty, I am realizing how little time I have left. Some of you a few decades older may laugh at that, but how fast did those decades fly by? I was JUST at my college graduation and it is nearly a decade hence. I have (maybe, if I am damn lucky) thirty more years left to work hard, outdoors, like this. To work around heavy horses and hoes, run a farm, have a family, grab a black Celtic pony by the mane and ride into the forest. This beautiful place is ours too short, and who knows how long I will have here? How long I'll have two working legs and arms? How long a beating heart? If my life makes you angry because it seems totally ridiculous, that's because IT IS. All of our lives are, if we are lucky enough to let them be.

We're the smoke on a burned horizon
We're the boat on a tide that's rising
Both the post and the pig you're untying
Butcher gone for the blade
Someday we may all be happy
Someday all make a face worth slapping
Someday we may be shocked to be laughing
At the way we behave

Now, darlings. Now I want to talk about some very important things.

On Failing
I have absolutely zero fear of failing at this, at ANY of this. I have no fear of losing my corporate job, or my house burning down, or a horse breaking his leg in the field. I am lucky to be 29 as I write this, young enough to accept some serious failure if that is what life throws at me. If I lose my job I'll get another. If my house burns down I'll rent a trailer and rebuild it (that's why I pay for insurance). And if a horse I loved breaks his legs in the field I'll put a rifle to his head and shoot him. I'm not scared of loss, risk, or pain. Life is a sad, messy, and scary place and I accept the dark parts of it as much as the light parts. I refuse to spend a life setting myself up to not face these things are then label it "successful". I know a lot of miserable people with money in the bank and 401k plans who admittedly never really lived a day in their lives. They are already gone.

This is because people make decisions in their everyday lives as if they are planning on eventually running for Governor. As if someday down the line at a great, televised debate their poor choices will be pulled out of the ether and shoved in their faces. As if a moderator in a blue suit will whip out an index card while you sweat at the podium and read to millions of viewers: "Remember in 2009 when you wanted to buy that tractor, so you took out a home equity loan to buy it and build the tractor shed and the farm was foreclosed on 15 months later?! Why should we vote for you based on these horrible outcomes to your decisions?" Most people are terrified of things not working out, and being called out on them. It doesn't have to be a televised debate either. They're scared of being called out at a PTA meeting or dinner party, as if their mistakes are fodder for the sick comfort pot for those too paralyzed to make them themselves.

You can't go through life scared to fail. Lord knows I have failed several times with this farm, on this blog, and in life in general. I failed horribly in matters of the heart that I will never feel comfortable sharing on this blog. I failed my best friend Kevin, and I lost him. I miss him every day. I failed to keep that rental in Vermont because I insisted on this life. I failed at keeping my first sheepdog, Sarah. I failed at owning and raising a pack goat named Finn. I expect to fail some more. So be it.

The very best advice I can give is DO NOT be afraid of this. Do not let utter failure stop you. If your plans fail you will not be stabbed, or put in jail, or burned at the stake. Nothing happens but repairs and remorse, both heal in time. If someone points out a flaw, mistake, or risk then you raise a pint to that lesson and take a long drink. The correct answer to that moderator is "Damn right I got that tractor. Best 15 months of my life on my own land, there on than back of Ol' Green. Shame the farm failed, though." Had that example farm succeeded that tractor would have been just another risky, but correct, decision. Since it failed, it gets thrown in our faces by the other people safely watching from the docks while you set sail for a dream. Docks are miserable places, get off of them. You'll drown dry and standing.

May your hands be strong and willing
May you know when to speak and to listen
May you find every friend that you're missing
There's no check in the mail
May you end it bruised and purple
Know that peace is the shape of a circle
Around and around you go, biting your tail

On Money
I do not have a big savings account or a lot of money. I live paycheck to paycheck alone in an old farmhouse where the mortgage, utilities, upkeep, truck payment, insurance, taxes, and animal care all falls on my shoulders. My office job pays around $440 a week, take home pay. (There are waiters making more money than that.) I I keep my office job because I like it. I like the people, the design work, and I like knowing I have health care coverage in case of an emergency. It is a twenty minute commute and I can bring my dog with me so I consider it a blessing. The rest of my income is earned through Cold Antler. I run classes, workshops, webinars, CSA, yard sales, and go Six Ways to Sunday to get the bills paid. I have always managed to do it, even if just barely. I was scraping by just as tight in the cabin in Vermont with twenty chickens and three sheep on a cheap rental as I am now. Clearly, my expenses have gone up but so has my income. I am on my fourth book, holding a record number of events, and making it all work by the skin of my teeth no matter the time or energy needed to make it happen. I have always had enough, and I believe I will continue to make my choices work no matter what life throws at me. If things got tight I'd take on a roommate, sell antiques, teach music lessons, sell livestock, run more workshops, start public speaking, plan more book tours, and write, write, write till my fingers bleed and my computer lets out on last moan before the screen fades to black.

If supporting a farm that runs like this makes you uncomfortable, then do not support it. If supporting a dream that runs on fumes makes you feel as alive as it does for me, then support the hell out of it. I do the same for others like mine every chance I get.

Little children, the wind is whipping
Short hands on a clock still ticking
Both the egg and the red fox grinning
His belly full for the day

Someday we may all want nothing
And all forget we'll get what's coming
Someday I'll say the world was something
That we just couldn't change

On Being Realistic
I am not interested in what's realistic, never have been. Most people who say "realistic" are just using it as a synonym for conventionally manageable and emotionally safe. Let me tell you what realistic is. Reality is what is happening in your life right now. Not what you can afford. Not what you people tell you is manageable. Not what you have been advised, lectured, or ordered to do. My reality is a small farm full of animals in upstate New York. My reality is keeping the mortgage paid, animals fed, fiddle strung, and inspiration alive and breathing in a way that is always moving towards my true goal, which is an independent and creative life as a writer who pays the bills with her words, workshop and blog, and pays for her groceries in blood, sweat, and tears on her own land. In my fairly eccentric and unconventional reality, Merlin is as realistic as it gets. He is simply what may happen next.

I am a firm believer in jumping into life head first, naked, and scared. What's the point of being alive if you aren't testing your heart rate and taking chances? After all, nothing is safer than a person in a coma in a hospital bed. For me, being vulnerable, being risky, being afraid... this means you are alive. I am this way with my farm, my relationships, myself. If I love someone I tell him. I have yet to be told one loved me back, but one of these days it is going to stick. If I want something I go for it. And if I need something I make it happen or ask those who can make it happen for me. I do this fully aware that I may fail miserably and many might shake their heads. But I wake up every morning excited about my life, which to me is worth all the risks, all these and more. There is nothing stagnant or comfortable here, shit I don't even own a couch to sit on, but that's how I like life. I see my life as a moving animal: always hungry, heart pounding, blood hot and looking ahead. Always, ahead.

May your tongue be something wicked
Know your part in the calf and the killing
See straight through the captain you're kissing
Helm loose in his hand

May your words be well worth stealing
Put your hand on your heart when you're singing
The choir's sick of the song but they've still got to stand

Anway, Sam said it much better in three minutes and thirty six seconds: