Saturday, November 12, 2016

I Am Living Your Dream Life

This morning I walked outside to the crisp, autumnal, flow of an upstate New York morning. I tended to my small farm, a farm I bought. This is my land, and I walked outside my little white house like a proper Hobbit about to start on her adventure. I was adorned in a red plaid flannel and hand-knit hat. A hat knitted from my very own sheep! I grabbed hay from the red barn and fed it to those woolly beasts and my handsome horse. The same horse I could slide a halter on, tack up, and ride up a mountainside with a hawk on my fist and coffee in my thermos. (That is a real Saturday morning possibility here.) Instead, I fed the dairy goats and the chickens. I tended to the pigs and refilled the water tub their noses had turned cafe mocha I inhaled the air deeply. It was a swirl of wood smoke and ice-tipped grass. I smiled at the ten-thousand choices that lead to that hard-won attar. Then came inside and cooked a breakfast of bacon and eggs I knew by first names. Food grown right here fortifying me for a day of stacking and splitting firewood, mending fences, and sharing my story. What a dream. What a magical, lucky, life I live.

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.


Blogger bookkm said...

You are not living MY "dream life", Jenna. I'm too lazy to run a farm. Still, hearing about your struggles is, if not inspirational, darn fascinating. Keep up the good work! Keep blogging. I'll keep reading.

November 12, 2016 at 12:36 PM  
Blogger kbrow said...

I love this entry. There are so many ways to frame and re-frame one's own story.
Sometimes, when I panic, and feel my own life isn't going anywhere, and I am woefully stuck not where I want to be, I reflect on the past few years and see that I am a woman who spins her own wool, has not purchased soap or laundry detergent in YEARS, lives in a house she loves, and has a job that can be construed as "redeeming social action with a decent paycheck."
I have survived, and will survive, and will dig deep and find my joy, every damn day.
I know you will, too.

November 12, 2016 at 12:46 PM  
Blogger Ms. Brenda said...

Never forget, you still inspire your readers. You and your blog are a big part of the reason I did a really big container garden on my deck this year, turning my laundry room into a mini greenhouse to start veggies, herbs, grass, and flowers from seed. We've just had our first frost, and I still have lots of flowers that lift our spirits, and fountain grass that several types of birds are eating, and many memories of the hummingbirds our flowers attracted. And yes, lots of herbs and veggies were harvested, even if there was never a complete salad to pick. But mainly, we benefited wildlife and the garden made us much happier in a rather tough year.

November 12, 2016 at 12:58 PM  
Blogger Knit Picky Knitter said...

My Dear Jenna,

Although you and I lead very different lives, I feel like we are kindred spirits in many ways. Life is full of mess, mistakes, and moments of joy no matter what path you choose. I love reading your blog and hearing about the good, the bad, the ugly and the real story. My life in a major city with four kids and a full-time job has its own mess and there are days I want to stay in bed and stream Netflix all day (and I have!). But we get up (eventually) and continue on our journey, embracing those moments of bliss and joy when we can. Your farm gives you purpose and my kids give me purpose right now. I can't imagine my life without them. They are the loves of my life and my greatest heartache, but my life would feel so empty without them just like yours would feel empty without your farm. Finding the things that give us a strong sense of purpose does not mean we have found or made easy choices, but we have made choices that reflect the essence of who we are. My children are teenagers right now and I'm already thinking about where I want to be in my life when they have all left home. I actually hope to have a bit of land with some chickens, and a few goats and sheep. I'm an avid knitter and have been researching urban farming and homesteading for years. My circumstances are such that I can't pursue this dream now, but I hope to start within the next 6 years (before I'm too old for the physical demands!)
I'm always cheering for you from Chicago, Jenna. Many blessings to you this coming winter. Stay strong - you are an inspiration to many.

With Warmest Regards,


November 12, 2016 at 1:21 PM  
Blogger mdoe37 said...

I'm not sure I'm up to running a full-scale farm either.....maybe something to supplement. :0

I think everyone says that its their "dream", but it IS much easier in some regards to sit in a regular job with a steady paycheck and decent health insurance. Toil away the hours of life for a paycheck to purchase what the Joneses have. And while they would like to live a different life and dream, what the hell would the family and neighbors say?

We can't just up and quit, wouldn't be prudent (Bush era).

And somehow I did just that a few weeks ago. Nah, not running a farm anytime soon but made a bigly leap (ok had to use that term, snort). I will actually be looking for a job around the first of the year, enough to sustain my life, but not so much as to shorten my life.

I'm getting divorced and in one stroke of a pen went from six figures to no income. Times past, I would be in a panic without a source of income. Hate to say this, really haven't given it much thought.

Its really Jenna's fault. It takes brass to walk and do something totally out of the norm. And I just did (you should see the jaws drop). All I knew is that I want something different and the chain that bound was not leading me to the promised land. And a huge health scare over the past year put me over the top, wondering IF I did not get out of surgery, had I lived and done everything I wanted. I want to leave with no regrets. A craniotomy makes for a strange cheerleader.

In my case, the UP most likely. Where a few old school, learned skills will supplement the income available there. And plaid is a color. And fashion is a foreign term.

Will be going for a visit soon....deer hunting.....and fishing off the shore of Lake Superior. And scouting out potential land to buy. :)

As a young girl, I had in my mind a small cabin in the woods.

At 52, I'm starting the journey.

November 12, 2016 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger CraftyJeweler said...

I feel ya! I was hoping to transition to living of farm and small business income but I haven't been able to make my farm profitable enough. I have a 40 hour job as a jeweler. Between that and running my little farm myself, blogging, networking, learning, building I found myself tired, isolated, living hand to mouth, loosing my creativity and depressed.

What am I getting out of this? What is my goal? Is it bringing me happiness or bringing me down?

When i look at my friend's who's photos are happy farms with happy families, creativity and money to actually do stuff I get so jealous! It's dreamy to think I could have time and energy to do the things I want instead of just doing what i can.

Then I realize their success is funded by a husband and maybe their own part time job. Two incomes and two pairs of hands.

I, on the other hand, pay my way. My mother helps me finance things I don't have the cash for and on pay back. Otherwise it's all me. When happens on the farm. Good or bad, its my responsibility. It's my source of pride and guilt. I alone make the choices who stays, who goes. It's my little kingdom.

I don't know that I'll ever learn to get over my anxiety enough to really run a business smoothly. I recognize my 40 hour job gives me a paycheck rain or shine, health insurance and a place to interact with live humans. But it is physically and mentally demanding, so it drains my energy for the farm. But it pays for the farm.

It's all give and take. I'm working on finding that happy medium.

November 12, 2016 at 6:48 PM  
Blogger Sharon said...

Jenna, I love the truthful passages in this post. I think that life is hard for most of us. We all face making those difficult decisions. We don't have anyway to know how the future will play out. We just do our best, work hard, and have to accept the good and the bad. I think that you are very brave to make the decisions you have...most of us would choose to stay at paying jobs. I did. I chose that security for myself. I worked full-time to pay for the lifestyle, and it was difficult with the farm too. If I had all those animals...I don't know if I could have pulled it off. I had to let go of some dreams, and understand that I have more than many people...and to love my life. You are blessed, Jenna, in many your life.

November 12, 2016 at 10:01 PM  
Blogger Sparrow said...

I hear you - I just spent the last few hours before midnight working with my partner ( yes, in that way I am very blessed) testing our generator system that decided to stop charging our batteries 4 weeks ago. We live off the grid ( no power lines for miles) and if we can't charge when there is no sun then we don't have lights, heat or connection with the www. And people romanticize our situation and say - oh lucky you - you live off the grid - no utility bills. Horse shit - the effort to run and maintain the system is not really romantic and it's hard.

So I totally understand this post and bravo to you, a single woman managing what you do.
Diane (aka Sparrow)

November 13, 2016 at 3:54 AM  
Blogger Hannah said...

no. I'm pretty sure it's the donations you recieve year after year, time after time after time that keeps you going.

November 13, 2016 at 7:21 AM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Oh Hannah, I wish that was true. I would be so damn thrilled if reader support through donations and subscriptions did keep me going. Like a Patreon model. But the money that comes in through contributions doesn't cover a week's worth of pig feed. But I am flattered you think it does. Keep being positive, baby.

November 13, 2016 at 7:58 AM  
Blogger Melissa E said...

I think it is amazing and brave, the things you do and I enjoy reading your blog. I have never commented but felt the need to today for one main reason. Diabetes is a serious disease that you don't "get" from just anything. Type 1 Diabetes is an auto-immune disease where the immune system attacks and kills the insulin producing cells. A person with Type 1 Diabetes has no control over when this happens and nothing the person does causes them to have this disease. Diabetes cannot be cured, it is life threatening, and it alters a person's life forever. Type 2 diabetes can have some environmental factors, such as weight and diet, but it also has a genetic component which the person cannot control. Regardless of the type, the fact remains that making jokes or references to this disease in the manner in which you did is far from appropriate. It is statements like yours that perpetuate the misunderstandings surrounding diabetes and the lack of knowledge of this disease. Please spend some time learning more about diabetes, November is National Diabetes Awareness Month. You can find more information here

November 13, 2016 at 8:29 AM  
Blogger thecrazysheeplady said...

I love this.

November 13, 2016 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Jenna, I love your writing and your honesty. I wish you the very best and you can count on me to remain a faithful reader and buyer of your books. Thank you for being here and sharing your life.

November 13, 2016 at 2:06 PM  
Blogger Jenna Woginrich said...

Alexis, you have no idea how much writers need to hear that. thank you. And thank you all for the kind words here.

November 13, 2016 at 2:40 PM  
Blogger Kyler and Sylvia said...

You're Crazy, Jenna.


November 14, 2016 at 1:09 AM  
Blogger Christine said...

Forgive myself for being a mess - thank you , I so needed that comment. And you just keep on keepin on - Good Energy to You

November 14, 2016 at 8:57 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I do feel like I'm living vicariously through you, but not in the sense that I expect your life to be a perfect pastoral dream. If you had a partner who worked full time to pay the bills, a trust fund, or even a big self-made savings account, I would not be interested. Your honesty about the struggle is what keeps me reading, because I struggle too.

I am also a single woman trying to realize my goals while supporting myself. It's really hard. Coupled people don't understand how hard it is to do it all single-handed. The physical work, the financial responsibility, and the knowledge that every decision and every possible failure is yours and yours alone, is a huge amount of stress. The flip side is that every success is 100% yours!

I read your blog partly for a taste of farming life, but primarily because I admire your hard work and independence. I wish you success, but I'll be here even if things don't always go as planned. Thank you for sharing the difficult parts along with the joy.

November 14, 2016 at 1:34 PM  
Blogger hart said...

This is such a well-written post, I wonder if a magazine would buy it.

November 14, 2016 at 2:16 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

More friggin fantastic writing. Thank you! BTW my son has diabetes. To me your choice of words was great writing: sickness from overeating the saccharin-sweet "perfect" lives that are out there for consumption. More awesomeness please, I tune in every day

November 14, 2016 at 2:51 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I admire your life, but I do not envy it. You are stronger, and more determined than most people I know. The fact that you are willing to fight for your life, and your farm, make you successful already. I'm so sorry that readers criticize you, or tell you that they will abandon you because you supported Hillary. I understand that sleeplessness, as I have also been struggling to get by in the wake of the election. I'm so sorry your friend feels it's safer to live in a different country than to remain here. I live in Michigan, and am so profoundly hurt that this state voted for Trump. I also have transgendered friends who are terrified and looking for an exit strategy. Thank you for being honest and humble.

November 17, 2016 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

Sister, I hear you. I'm living a similar life in Maine, and I, too, am a Storey author (which is how I picked up your book in the first place--the great and gracious Deborah B). I write about herbs, which seems so witchy and natural and awesome. It is. But it's also bloody hard, complicated, confusing, and tough to make ends meet. I subsidize with farming, teaching yoga, teaching anything, really.

But, you know, I wouldn't have it any other way. Well. Okay. I'd take a bit more security any day... But that's my only complaint--my only real complaint.


November 17, 2016 at 10:06 AM  
Blogger Tiffany said...

After reading this and all the comments, it's nice to know that there are so many of us that are in a similar "boat." It might not be the same boat, but I think they're all floating parallel (even if they're sometimes taking on water).

Reading about what you're going through, the trials and triumphs, it's not so much a lifeline for us readers, but a reality check, letting us know that we're not the only ones struggling...we're not the only ones waking up in the middle of the night, fraught with anxiety, wondering how we'll make ends meet when there are more bills to pay than the bank account will allow.

Your inspiration to us comes from your stubborn refusal to give up. Every time I return to your blog, you're still there, just plugging away and sharing the good with the bad. And I appreciate your honest reality checks, just as much as I celebrate your wins when you share them!

November 17, 2016 at 3:21 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

To be honest, I check out your page when I am bored with my current life. I am a small scale produce farmer and in the fall I process deer. This year the big processor in my county quit and I have been chained to my table, cutting deer for 12-20 hours a day depending on when I get too tired. I hope to get to go hunting, but I doubt it will happen this year. All I can say is that I have learned to be flexible, see what makes money and what costs it. When everything is in place, it will take off like a trout eating a fly and running off with your line. Be patient, know when to let it run and when to chase it. This takes practice and a willingness to "observe self" and know your limits. They will be tested, many times you will question why you said yes, when you should have said NO. You'll get bit, and yes, you'll bite back, and sometimes, you'll just lose it. But remember that it was what you wanted. That's what I tell myself. DISCLAIMER: I have been drinking corn whiskey, AKA moonshine, I remembered I voted for you for the mortgage lifter lift, and I thought, hey, she won the people's choice, what the hey did she do? Probably good things.

After my wife read "Barnheart" and told me all about it, I thought, she should meet my brother. He has 14 acres, plenty of money and he's never home! He needs someone who can keep his fire going (literally, he built a boiler system and needs someone to load wood into it, he's a lineman at a local power company) and tend to his animals.

November 23, 2016 at 3:30 AM  

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