I’ve danced in the Starlight Roof Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, and I’ve milked a cow in a shack on the side of a dirt road on a farm down a remote Appalachian holler. There are contrasts in my life that sometimes seem huge, and indecipherable to outsiders and even sometimes people in my own family. One of the things I felt as if I needed to answer in my book is why. I’ve written about that “why” here on my website before, but in the expanse of a book with a “full screen” I was able to delineate it more clearly, I think.
My search for challenge in my life has always led me in new and different directions, stretching my legs toward the next mountain. When the world around me flattens, leaving me with few obstacles or new things to learn, I can’t take it. The security other people may seek and embrace drives me insane. I love trouble. I don’t think that makes me a drama queen (though some people may beg to differ), but I do love a good challenge. Sometimes I’m a little extreme, perhaps. Most people don’t say, I need a challenge, I think I’ll move to a remote farm and milk a cow.
I saw the reaction to my story over and over at the booksellers trade show in New Orleans in talking to booksellers about my book. Booksellers told me they were fascinated by my courage, or maybe it was my craziness, but the truth about me lies somewhere in the middle, off the beaten path. I’m not courageous and I’m not crazy. I’m just a challenge junkie, which explains my attention deficit toward any given pursuit. I’m a jack-of-all-trades but master at none because I can’t focus on one thing long enough to become an expert. Expertise is not my goal; my goal is in the experience.
At Stringtown Rising, the experiences were about everything to do with farming. It’s why I had sheep, goats, pigs, cows, donkeys, chickens, geese, ducks, guineas. I tried milking and cheesemaking, spinning wool, making lard, making soap and candles, learning to keep a wood stove going, and learning to survive on the side of a mountain on an ice-trapped farm so remote we didn’t even get mail. Life at Sassafras Farm has been a lot easier, which quickly led me to boredom, and the pursuit of challenge in more personal ways than I’ve been able to write about here. I’m not a perfect person, and I tried be very honest about my flaws in my book. As is probably true with many people, my greatest flaws are within my strengths, opposite sides of the same coins. I have an enormous drive, and while that has resulted in many successes, at the same time, that drive can leave people around me–from my children to my lovers and, of late, readers who feel they aren’t getting as much of me as they used to–feeling neglected. My “all or nothing” pattern of behavior isn’t exactly admirable. (Just ask anyone who’s ever been involved with me.) Though, on the upside, it does, mayhap, make me entertaining. (Just ask anyone who’s ever been involved with me.)
In my book, the story ended with my move to Sassafras Farm, but of course that ending was just a new beginning. People frequently ask me if I’m going to write another book. I don’t have an answer to that question. All of our lives move in phases, multiple stories with beginnings and endings within the whole. I don’t even know where I am in the next story of my life. Maybe I’m in the middle. Maybe I’m still somewhere near the beginning. I don’t know if it will be a story that is meant for a book, or if it’s a story that’s only meant for memories. I only know that the story of my life I’m living now is very important–to me, because for the first time in my life, much of my drive is directed into my private world instead of my public one as a writer. Which doesn’t mean I’m through with writing about my life–one constant in my life is my writing, and Chickens in the Road is my precious, and I’ll stop writing this website when they take my dead, cold fingers off the keyboard and not before. After my kids, this website is the most astonishing thing I’ve ever created, and I’m always stunned and grateful for what it has become. There was a time when it was my whole world. That was not a good time for me (or for anyone who was involved with me).
These days, I’m trying to tame my drive toward balance. This means, I write here quite a bit, but I also take time off for my personal life. I’ll never be perfect, and sometimes my balance will shift more one way, then back the other way, but if I wasn’t striving for that better balance now, I wouldn’t have learned anything from the story I lived in my book. I wasn’t just guilty of neglecting people around me, I also neglected myself.
It was really important to me to be honest about myself in my book. It was embarrassing in some ways, but it was also important to me that the book be inspiring, on more than one level. I hoped to inspire on the literal level–to make people want to and feel as if they could do all of the things I did, or at least some of them, even if just canning some jam in their suburban kitchen. (I realize not everyone wants to milk a cow.) And I also wanted to inspire in a more personal, less tangible way. Perfection is not inspiring. It’s only from inside our own imperfection that we can confront real challenge, and the greatest challenge of all is always ourselves, and within every new story of our life created with every breath we take, we not only climb the next mountain, we shape it as we shape ourselves.
And the most important thing is to never forget that we can.
You can order Chickens in the Road: An Adventure in Ordinary Splendor now!