Sometimes, I am sure the donkeys are jeering at me. When I scolded them for eating the barn, all three started braying at me, as if I were some foolish man trying to tell them what to do. Donkeys are the most independent minded animals I know. They can be gentle and loving, they can be wicked and stubborn. If donkeys know you don’t want them to do something, you are in for it. They delighted in annoying people and finding work to do that you don’t want them to do. They don’t seem to care much whether I approve or not. Donkeys cannot be bought, although cookies and carrots will distract them.
So the wicked donkeys are eating the wood on my barn. It’s the most challenging environment for curious and restless donkeys. There is snow and ice, so there is no grazing and they are in the pole barn all day so they are bored. When donkeys get bored – border collies are like this – they find something to do, and you usually will not like it. They were always trying to eat the barn wood at Bedlam Farm, so it’s back to playing chess with them. Ben is coming over and we will replace some of the wood or we may put up wire mesh or metal sheeting. Otherwise, they’ll chew right through the barn wall. Red loves to pose for the camera these days, he saw me pointing it and rushed it for his calender shot.
You won’t get this story on cable news or the weather channel. I invited myself to crawl into the roost with my wide-angle lens to visit with the chickens, who are riding out the wintry weather up on their roosts, clucking and muttering all day (and not laying any eggs either – roosting box to the rear), They seem pretty happy up there, the design of the roost sends all the warm air up to the top where the roost is. I enjoyed our visit. Chickens seem to have it figured out, dumb as they seem.
Winter is here, as my front porch makes clear.
I put up some photos of Bedlam Farm yesterday and wrote about Maria and I going there to thank the farm for all of the blessings it brought us – including one another. I love the farm and am eager to meet the people who will love it and live there. As often happens, I was surprised by some of the responses to my photos and writing. Why, asked several people, as they have often asked, would I ever leave such a place? Perhaps, said some, the farm was trying to lure me back? Perhaps I would return? The farm looks lonely, said another. Some missed the photographs from there. How could I leave the place I lived with Rose?
I have been working and thinking about authenticity and what it means, and standing in one’s truth and what that might mean and so I think I ought to speak here about my reasons for leaving the farm more directly. When I started the blog, I promised to be open. Here it is.
I can’t tell you how much I loved that farm or how much it meant to me. It saved my life. I wrote seven books there. Can you imagine what that means to a writer? Bedlam Farm was always a fantasy to many people – me too, maybe – the beautiful farm on the hill, the life with animals, the beautiful views and barns. It is a magical place, for sure and I loved it and the creative and other things it brought me. I awakened there, came to life.
But life is not a fantasy, and a farm does not make a perfect life. Not even a farm with appealing animals. People who wonder how I could leave it are not really worrying about me, but maybe are missing their own daily fix of what the ideal life might be. Nothing is that easy. I wish I could give that to people.
Maria and I left Bedlam Farm for a number of reasons – we wanted to choose a new home together, we wanted a smaller place, one easier on my legs and knees.
But there was a much more urgent and elemental reason that we moved.
We could not afford to live there any longer. We were sliding into debt just to pay our bills. When you get divorced at age 60 and are paying alimony, and you get divorced in the middle of a recession, and when your life’s work – in this case publishing and hard cover books – is completely upended by new technology and radical changes in marketing and reading – then your life may change.
My life – our life – was hit by several storms at once. To keep going, I was plowing through savings and IRA’s until that was no longer possible. My blog is strong and successful, but it is also free. I made my living selling hard cover books, and hard cover books sales have plunged radically in recent years. Mid-list writers like me have been especially hard hit. The Internet is wonderful, but people are now reluctant to buy books that cost $20 and take three years to write. Books now sell for less than cups of coffee and writers like me have a big red bulls eye on their backs. And I am one of the lucky ones. I have a book contract and some very loyal fans. Perhaps out of hubris, I never saw these changes directly affecting me, a five-time New York Times Bestseller. But they did, and a 90-acre farm did not make sense much longer. I began scrambling to change my writing life, I am scrambling still. I mean to get there. I will get there.
I also did not imagine a real estate market so constrained that we would not, after a year, have sold the farm, either. I always thought selling the farm would bring a lot of cash to settle things. I was not correct. In fact, I didn’t imagine most of the things happening in my life. This is not a complaint. The one thing I most wanted – to find love and share my life, I found. The most precious thing of all. That doesn’t make my life perfect either – there is not such thing as a perfect life. But it makes it a meaningful one.
I didn’t mention money much because I am uncomfortable with the subject. Because some people told me it was a kind of bad energy to say I was leaving the farm for financial reasons. There is a sub-culture in the spiritual world that posits if you imagine something, it will happen. One spiritual counselor told me if I imagined having a million dollars, it would come. I don’t think so.
I have moved beyond that idea. And I needed some battering, I think. My ego kept assuring me that I would write the big book, land the movie deal, be discovered by Oprah, get a segment on the Today Show, light up the Internet with my books because of my powerhouse blog. Magical thinking all, even though a lot of that has actually happened to me. Remember the movie? Money was always a place to hide for me. Because I always made a lot, I could avoid reality, park my fears and confusions elsewhere, bury them in stuff. I needed to be broke, it forced me to finally face the reality of my life.
What does taking responsibility for one’s life mean, if it does not mean speaking truthfully? When I ended my marriage of 35 years, I knew I was upending myself financially. That was a conscious choice. I didn’t really anticipate all the rest of it – who did? I do not regret my life, I am grateful every day for awakening, coming to consciousness, finding Maria, my photography, ending up in this precious old farm that we both love very much, and which fits us like a glove.
Perhaps that was the real problem with Bedlam Farm for me, as wonderful a place as it is. Maybe it became my fantasy as well as yours. It is a beautiful farm, it will make a beautiful home for people ready to live in the country and share their lives with animals – everything is all set up, the fences, barns, water and fences. How wonderful to have a mile-long path in your own beautiful woods? And a gorgeous hill to climb to look out at the world?
But for those wondering why I really left, here is the long and short of it: Bedlam Farm was a fantasy I could no longer afford. I couldn’t pay for it and neither would anybody else. I see that it is perhaps past the time when I ought to say that. I left Bedlam Farm because I couldn’t afford to live there any longer. I am tired of people who posture and pose and cannot speak their truth, I see them on the news every day and they call themselves leaders. I was one of them for too long.
I am sad when people pursue fantasy lives, especially those of other people. No one ought to covet someone else’s life, it is a surrender of their own. If you are not in it, you never really know what it is like. A good life comes through change and struggle and risk, not fantasy. It is there for anyone who wants it. You don’t need a 90-acre farm with a view to have it.
Enough said. That’s why we left Bedlam Farm.