When we would talk about our future in private, I would ask Mark if he really thought we had a chance. Of course we had a chance, he’d say, and anyway, it didn’t matter if this venture failed. In his view, we were already a success, because we were doing something hard and it was something that mattered to us. You don’t measure things like that with words like success or failure, he said. Satisfaction comes from trying hard things and then going on to the next hard thing, regardless of the outcome. What mattered was whether or not you were moving in a direction you thought was right. This sounded extremely fishy to me.
—Kristin Kimball, The Dirty Life: A Memoir of Farming, Food, and Love (bold emphasis mine)
I’ve been thinking about these words since I read them in Kimball’s memoir about building a farm from scratch in upstate New York, with the man who is now her husband.
Before they met, Kristin was a New York writer, with a closetful of high heels, an apartment in the East Village and a fast-paced, urban life. When she met Mark, it was nearly love at first sight – but it still took great courage (and not a little blind faith) for her to pull up stakes and move to the boondocks with this energetic, low-tech, handsome, stubborn farmer.
Her memoir gives the gory details of their first year of farming: watching a cow give birth, finding kittens dead in the barnyard after a weasel sneaked in, all sorts of weather- and equipment-related disasters. But the book is also suffused with joy: the sheer and simple joy of creating a home, out of dirt and seeds and tools and hard work.
Although Kristin freely admitted her doubts, she gradually came to believe that this difficult, exhausting, bone-wearying project they’d taken on would be worth it in the end. More: she came to believe it was worth it in the present. Even as they ran into setback after setback, she had never been more fulfilled in her life, or believed more deeply in anything she’d undertaken.
These days, I have a hard time believing in Mark’s recipe for satisfaction. Regular life – commuting and working, grocery shopping, surviving another Boston winter, keeping in touch with friends and family, finding time to spend with my husband – seems to take a monumental effort. At the end of the day, I rarely have enough energy left over to write, or to do anything creative and fulfilling. I spend a lot of time wishing things were easier, simpler. I am dreaming daily of hopping a plane to Oxford or Paris, or the more humble plains of West Texas. Escaping my life, instead of digging into it.
But Kristin’s words, and recent posts from Addie about “the messy middle” and Sarah about finding wisdom in the everyday, are nudging me to reconsider. To try the hard things, again and again, even if they’re as mundane as getting up in the morning, dealing with paperwork and unanswered emails, or as intimidating as doing some real writing, the kind I’ve been avoiding for weeks now.
I don’t want to spend my life spinning my wheels, or avoiding the hard things because they’re hard. I want to try them, even if – or when – I sometimes fail. I want to be brave, and keep showing up for my life. Even when I’d rather be anywhere else.