“You don’t show enough cleavage,” I was told by some cynical veteran writers one night after a bottle of wine. “You’ll never make it as a popular writer.”
“You don’t do lunch,” I was told by a New York publishing insider. “You’ll never make it.”
Long before I faced the brutal realities of a writing career, one of my earliest memories was watching my older brother struggle to sound out the words of a book with Mom while I hid, breathless, behind the kitchen counter. I would shout the missing words out across the kitchen, frantic that he pick up the context clues, rabid for my own chance to put letters into words… into sentences… into stories.
I always wanted to have the family farm, and I always wanted to write.
But coming out of grad school with that dream at the fore wasn’t as realistic as I’d assumed.
The publishing industry had a way of operating that felt impenetrable from my mountain home.
There was the matter of having the right connections (which an opinionated introvert such as myself will naturally struggle with); and then there was the matter of being commercially viable.
Doing lunch was about making the connections. Cleavage, it seemed, was about being commercially viable…..About having immediate appeal to the masses.
While struggling along on both fronts, I kept writing every morning while Bob, Mom, Dad and I kept pushing forward with the farm. I gave birth to Saoirse and Ula, managed to get a niche publisher to take on The Grassfed Gourmet, and experienced my first mild rush of popularity as farmers lined up at conferences to let me sign their stained, dog-eared copies.
And then came Radical Homemakers.
Maybe it was the extra cleavage from all that breast-feeding. I sure as heck wasn’t doing lunch with anyone who wasn’t willing to cut my food for me while I bounced a babe on my lap. The only thing I know was that the zeitgeist changed. And suddenly, I was commercially viable.
I had public radio invitations, New York Times interviews, visits from documentary film-makers. To keep up with home schooling and family life, Bob and I had to limit interviews to Tuesdays and Thursdays. All day.
The sales of my books were soaring, and I was an emotional wreck. I was making money, true, and our long-neglected house was seeing some major repairs. But I was chronically fearful, guilt-ridden, conflicted. I was preaching a simpler life, and that preaching was making my life extremely complicated.
And then came Thanksgiving of 2012.
I got the biggest break yet. In the course of 24 hours, I was invited onto two different prime time shows. The networks would send drivers upstate for me. All I had to do was get in the car and go.
And miss our annual turkey pick-up.
“Do it,” Mom said. “This is your chance.”
The annual turkey pick-up is our biggest, most important farm sale of the year. The money that comes in from those sales gets squirreled away in the bank so that, come January first, we are able to pay all the annual bills that come due. It is our farm’s last “sure bet” sale to bring in money for the winter.
But it’s more than that. We spread the pick-up over three days to allow ourselves ample time with each customer. We see neighbors, family, and long-time friends. We see people who have supported our business all season long.
And for our family, it’s hard work. Everyone gets tired from all the running around; we have to find ways to keep ourselves fed while all hands are on deck. We need to perpetually clean to make sure everything stays presentable as people come and go. And back then, we needed to keep Saoirse and Ula on a schedule so they wouldn’t break down crying while we helped our customers.
“We’ve all worked hard for you to have this success,” Mom told me. “Go. Do it for us.” She was trying to assuage my guilt.
I didn’t go.
And the publicity machine seemingly came to a grinding halt. Books backed up in the distribution pipeline, then piled up in the warehouse.
I’m not sure I can fully articulate why I let this opportunity pass me by. I think part of me had become calloused to the media attention, assuming that more opportunities would come along if I passed these up. But there was a darker fear. Somehow, saying yes to that opportunity represented something bigger. Even with my family’s support, saying “yes” felt like I was turning my back on what mattered. I knew I couldn’t smile for a camera, no matter how good the cleavage was, and feel good knowing what I was missing. Somehow, saying “Yes” for those three days felt like a defining line: that I would always be saying yes to commercial viability, and it would always take precedence over what I had at Sap Bush Hollow. More commercial success, in my mind, would only breed more and more conflicts within me.
Maybe that was a stupid move. Maybe it was a path forward to share my message with the world. But I couldn’t share a message that I wasn’t living myself.
The financial costs of that choice were pretty severe. I was back at square one, puzzling out that magical combination of cleavage, commercial viability, and staying true to my heart.
Could a writer be a success without being commercially viable?
And that’s when you stepped in, telling me yes.
You kept coming back to this blog, week after week, year after year. And when I asked you to consider supporting me directly, many of you came forward, showing me that this could work: That I could raise a family, run a farm and write.
For those of you who have been supporting me all along, please know that your ongoing patronage has been a boon to my creative spirit. I no longer sit beside my fire and fret about the marketability of my ideas. I don’t worry about getting my big break. Instead, my mind goes directly to the question, “what is life asking me to learn right now?” And in between putting chickens in the oven and teaching Ula her times tables and laughing as Mom tries to remember her customers’ orders and talking to Saoirse about her dreams and walking down the road with Bob and reviewing processing schedules with Dad and putting food on the cafe tables for my neighbors; my mind spins, and it finds the lessons and the stories. Then, each week, I sit at my computer and write them down. That’s what your patronage does. It tells me “Stop worrying about the cleavage. Don’t worry about connections. Do what’s in your heart.” I don’t have to allow advertising. I don’t have to allow ghost bloggers to peddle products. I don’t have to use my platform to write paid endorsements.
So I am writing today to thank you for that.
I am also writing to ask that more of you consider offering your patronage. Farming is a way of life that I share with my family. Writing is my personal livelihood. Being paid for it is a matter of pride and straight-forward business. Knowing that the hours I pour into it are compensated fuels my fire to keep going, and helps my family to remember that it’s important for all of us. As of today, I am paid $345 per month for my blog. In order to cover my expenses, I would like to bring that number up to $800.
In a few weeks, this blog will go dormant for the winter. Just because you don’t see a weekly post doesn’t mean I’m not working. I do this every year to allow myself to switch from the short weekly essays to the longer works: my book projects. Your ongoing monthly patronage supports those, as well. I work on my ideas until they are solid and ring true. Only after that will I consider publication. That means that commercial viability doesn’t enter into the equation until the writing is complete. Your patronage through the winter months enables that.
Please, if these weekly essays lift your spirit, if you look forward to seeing them in your inbox, consider signing on as a patron. We have some nice “thank you gifts” we’ll be sending out in the next month to express our appreciation. If you prefer to make a one-time donation, that works, too. Just use the appropriate buttons below.
And know, that with your gifts, as the winds blow and the snow falls, I’ll be at my desk with my cleavage (and all the other gravitational wonders that come after the age of 40), writing what matters…even if it isn’t commercially viable.