The Challenge Within


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.


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Posted by Suzanne McMinn on October 3, 2013  

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14 Responses | RSS feed for comments on this post

  1. 10-3

    What a beautiful, honest post Suzanne. I admit I have been disappointed that your posts are less frequent at times, but I also know you have a private life that you are enjoying to the max. I’m very glad when you do post and so very excited to read THE BOOK!!!

  2. 10-3

    Nice! :)

  3. 10-3

    :wave: I have said it before.I am so proud of you. You have taken the good,bad and ugly and learned from it.
    I see in you writing the difference some times your up sometimes your down But you are always willing to laugh at most of the things life throws at you and move on. :sun:

  4. 10-3

    People are voyeurs. They love to read about other people’s trials and tribulations. It often makes them feel a little better when someone is having more problems than they are. When the trials are over… ehh.

    I have a friend who’s a great local writer, and his blogs keep you spellbound because his life is such a total wreck… that you wonder if he’ll make it out without committing suicide. Lately, he’s been doing much better, but his writing (and life) is not nearly as exciting. Everyone’s happy that he’s doing better, but his everyday life isn’t exciting anymore.

    It’s the extraordinary life with all the bumps and warts that’s exciting, and even though you’re “happy happy happy” right now, we all have faith that you will somehow manage to catch us off guard with whatever crazy notion you’ll manage to dream up next, and off we’ll go again!

  5. 10-4

    from Amazon: Best Books of the Month, Biographies & Memoirs: Mark Twain, Johnny Carson, Norman Mailer, Jack London and SUZANNE MCMINN. Way to go girl.
    Just a reminder to us readers that it IS your life. We are grateful you share it with us. But you have to live it to be able to share it.

  6. 10-4

    I love it. I have a similar outlook, and quite a few similar experiences. I have said, that if I don’t have a challenge, I’ll marry one. I’m a West Texas girl, so mountains aren’t my cup of tea, but here’s to the challenges in our lives that keep us sharp, keep us focused, and provide contrast and punctuation to our daily existence! Not to mention keeping some of us from marrying that next challenge! Congrats on the book.

  7. 10-4

    Re bonita’s post: WOW! That is some rarefied company to be in, Suzanne. Way to go, indeed!

    Just can’t wait to get the book!

  8. 10-4

    I sit here and write this long reply to your post and then decide NOT to post it.
    You have done some GREAT things and I am so glad for your book and happiness.

  9. 10-4

    you need spell check here…change that mistake to…anyway…

  10. 10-4

    It is available on Kindle now!

  11. 10-5

    Loved this post but had to thank you for the wonderful welcome this morning. I woke up to find the first chapter of the book in my inbox. Yay–it is getting close. I can’t wait till my book arrives and I can sit on the side porch and read. Thank you Suzanne for sharing your life and thank your kids for not dying of embarrassment for having a mom who shares so much about them. Congrats on the first grandbaby. You are going to be so in love and I can’t wait to read the book. Btw, I love Clover. :sheepjump:

  12. 10-6

    Got the first chapter of your book through your newsletter to my email.

    This is going to be a book that I won’t put down until I finish reading it.
    You are a very talented writer.

    I keep checking Amazon to see if they may have accidentally (LOL) mailed my book early!

    Can’t wait to get it in my hands!

  13. 10-6

    @craig: Just so you know, there were times when Suzanne did not have two nickels to rub together which makes her adventure all the more amazing.

  14. 10-10

    All I can say is thank you…for being you, for sharing your good, bad and ugly. You are an amazing woman, and I admire you~

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