Highs and lows and everything in between. Getting the axe from a comfortable job, navigating a crisis located smack dab in the middle of life, publishing a book, working to gain traction on a second, farming, painting houses, fathering, husbanding (animals, wife, children), book marketing, being the proud spouse/booster of an artist, and striving each and every day not to give in to a feeling of being cast adrift. It can be overwhelming.
I never went into this lifestyle expecting an easy or comfortable existence, but I’ve been surprised to learn that the life of an author (joining the 99% who aren’t famous) entails effectively transitioning between these many roles. Transitioning doesn’t exactly come naturally to me, either. The great task is to be fully engaged in the present, referred to by some as “The Eternal Now,” while cheerfully moving within these various roles.
A writer is an observer. The imperative is to suck the marrow out of all of life, which should be intensely interesting and surprising. There’s so very much to delight in, figure out, and process. The depth of my ignorance in every area of life seems to be bottomless, but on the bright side, this provides a lifelong opportunity for adventure and discovery. I really don’t know how to further my “career.” Farming at minimum wage, for example, makes zero sense/cents, especially when considering that an average roundtrip commute each day is more than two hours long (equal parts bicycle and rideshare by automobile). I return home to my other job as a part-time dishwasher for my family in the dark—bike trail illuminated by a light loaned to me by a good friend—exhausted at the end of a 12-hour-day. It feels good, though. After spending a dozen years in front of computers vocationally, I find that I love to get dirty while doing honest, wholesome work. In the picture above I am enjoying the farm’s impressive rope swing. In the lower-right hand corner you can see a bucket. It contains gleanings from vegetables that wouldn’t otherwise be sold. I love bringing these home to the family.
Here are my cabbage-picking buddies. Aren’t the coveralls great? I’d love to get a pair of my own along with some overalls now that I’m bona fide and all…
Book marketing is a mystery. It’s a tough slog, punctuated by unexpected moments of encouragement. Check out a recent review on Perfect Duluth Day, where my book was one of two featured for Fall reading (alongside our Mayor’s new release). Duluth Superior Living magazine also ran a two-page feature on me, which you can read here (navigate to pages 26-27).
I also got the endorsement of Mayor Don Ness, which was pretty sweet:
Most of my efforts haven’t resulted in flashy success, however. It’s more of a day in and day out slog to market individual copies. Here you can see a recent event I participated in near my house called the Lester River Rendezvous. The organizers allowed me to set up my “wares” at the last minute. My goal was to sell 10 books.
The event was a wild success. I liberated 11 books from their box, and had a great time doing it. However, this required sitting there all day long and hauling books and gear by bike. I sold nothing and hardly spoke to a soul for the first two hours. Hard work, indeed. Nothing comes easy. As with most things, perseverance paid off in the end. That said, the amount of effort expended certainly exceeded the bottom-line profit. However, it’s those first nudges of the snowball that are the most difficult. I hope!
I was proud of this little display. In the background you can see my bright red union suit flapping in the breeze. Nobody asked about this curious sight. It’s a subtle reference to airing out my dirty laundry. The tent, backpack, and bike are all featured prominently in the book. I sat in the chair, had an extra beside me, and invited free conversations. I partook in many, most of which were enjoyable. The goal was to provide a bit of an oasis from all the buying and selling (while hopefully unloading some books at the same time). I was located on the outside edge among numerous booths selling various crafts, toys, clothing, jewelry, and other wares. I was definitely the only author, so nobody else was competing for the attention of the few voracious readers walking by. I even gave away a copy of my audiobook through a drawing, which I have yet to market effectively. Listen to an audio sample here!
Each and every experience adds to our own patch of soil, hopefully growing in fertility with each passing day.
I pulled an agate out of the soil while harvesting carrots one day—soil so soft and rich that I couldn’t resist toiling in bare feet once—and looked up to discover that my fellow farmhand was sporting a shirt that I had previously donated to the same thrift store where she picked it up for herself. One of the broken buttons was unmistakable. What are the odds of that???? Helga and my old green shirt (donated during one of my purges) appear in the lower lefthand corner of this photo:
By the way, I dumped and washed all of those carrots (and another load just like it) in the carrot-washer. I kind of feel like Louis Anderson from Coming to America:
I started out harvesting leeks. I moved on to cabbages. Now I’m washing carrots and potatoes. Soon I’ll be driving the tractor!
This past weekend, though I have MUCH bigger fish to fry, obsession found opportunity after a neighbor cut down several large branches from apple trees. Inspired by my friends at The Duluth Grill (see most recent post), I decided to build a hugel bed. Very few things inspire me like rotting organic material! Hugelkultur is so weirdly counterintuitive that I just had to give it a try. It’s a simple concept, and is just a bunch of rotting, buried wood. My raised garden bed will be somewhere between three and five feet high. Logs and brush will slowly rot, inviting beneficial activity in the soil. I’ll post on this when it’s complete, but here’s to sweet beginnings:
Our gardening efforts have been uninspired for a couple years. This provides an opportunity to be inspired again. All this rotting debris is a lot like the stuff of our own lives, which makes us who we are. Rather than casting off memories and hard times like unwanted detritus, we can learn from them as they slowly become incorporated into rich, fertile, soil.
With that, I’ll leave you with these Thanksgiving turkeys, which are entering their last month of life. They have had a good life. Such sights help me to be thankful for so many, small things. High quality meat is less likely to be ungratefully discarded and wasted if it is greeted as a whole, living creature first. Like so many other blessings…