Closing the Gap

Junior woodsmen
Junior woodsmen

Eight below this morning, which is just about cold enough that it’s pretty much impossible to forget you’re alive. Not that I’m prone to forgetting, but still… a little reminder never hurt no one none. It was my morning to milk, so I bundled up real good and bee-lined for the barn while Penny made the rounds. I could imagine her every move; I knew that every footfall of every step she took landed in the prints I’d left the day before, which in turn had overlaid those of the day prior and the day before that and so on, going back for well more than a decade, now. Closing in on two, actually. We live a life built on repetition, to the point that we’ve actually worn paths into this piece of ground, the meandering trails of our daily practice. I can see how some might view such a thing tedious, and I occasionally wonder why it does not feel this way to us.

Last night Fin and I went down to feed out at Melvin and Janet’s, rolling a big round bale down the lane separating the rows of milkers. We’ve gotten in the habit of doing this  a few times a week, me and one of the boys or both, depending. Melvin and Janet think we’re doing it to help, but the truth is we’re not that generous. We just like it. There is something about being in a barn full of cows on a winter’s evening, those lumbering long-necked creatures stretching for the night’s ration, throwing off waves of mammalian warmth and the sweet smells of hay and shit. Last night there was the littlest Jersey heifer calf I’ve ever seen, wandering the barn and nosing our legs as we fed out. It’s real hard to forget you’re alive when you’re in a barn full of cows and you’ve got a calf following you around. Real friggin’ hard.

Of late I’ve been feeling a bit less than totally secure about the future of my so-called career. I’ve got work enough for a good while – nearly a year, actually – and I know this to be more security than many self-employed people enjoy. But I sense a precariousness that’s somewhat new to me. Part of it might just be that I’m getting older, and with my aging, the understanding that perhaps I am not impervious to desiring a certain level of material security. Or at least, not as impervious as I’d like to think I am.

I’ve done what I’ve done for nearly 20 years, and it’s always just sort of happened for me. I fear this might sound arrogant, or simply disheartening for those who struggle to make a living with their writing or art or whatever, but the truth is, I’ve never really had to work at it. Or if I have, it’s been work disguised as pleasure, and I’ve never really stopped trusting in the process. For that, I am wickedly grateful. I mean, really: Two decades of bumbling my way through making a living doing something I love to do. Not everyone is nearly so fortunate.

I suspect I’ve got some bumbling left in me. I know I do. It’s not so much that I worry my writing “career” is going to dry up and blow away. It’s more that the closer I come to aligning my work with the core beliefs that define my days on this craggy hillside, the more I feel compelled to not deviate from that alignment. I wrote about it a little here. I think this is what draws me up and out early on an eight-below-zero morning, to milk with bare hands while my wife follows the beaten paths of our life with this land. I think this is why, after I finish our own evening chores, I feel drawn to Melvin’s barn, where my son and I  struggle to roll a 1000-pound round bale down a dimly-lit passage, a day-old Jersey heifer following in our wake. It’s probably what I like about writing in this space: There is no distance between what I believe and feel, and what I do. That’s a beautiful thing, right there.

When you get right down to it, I think that’s where the sense of precariousness comes from. It’s not so much that I’m worried about earning my keep in the same manner I’ve earned my keep over the past 20 years. It’s wondering if I can continue closing the gap between what I believe and feel, and how I make my living. I’ve gotten a taste of it with some of my recent work. And the unflattering truth is, I want even more.




25 thoughts on “Closing the Gap”

  1. I mostly write comments to you like I know you. And like you know me. Sometimes I feel like a troll. And I read that you’re not supposed to feed trolls on the internet (see Anon & Church of Scientology). But sometimes I don’t feel like a troll. It’s a weird medium. Its not Facebook. Its not email. Its not pen pals or editorials and responses to editorials. What is it?
    Anyway, writing, as I do, like I know you and you know me, I usually take things for granted. I maybe don’t complement. Or something is aimed for ‘other people’ (course nothing is aimed at me) and I ignore it cause, of course there are things that are given – like interconnectedness, being here now and whatnot. Sometimes I comment something and then I read what the girls say afterwards and it sounds so rough coming off of my keyboard and so nice from them, and wasn’t I saying the same thing?
    Anyway, setting the record straight. Like the friggin alive parts. Yeah, nothing better than being nuzzled by baby animals. Course those bottle fed ones can catch you in the wrong spot sometimes.
    Whatever you wanna do is all right. I think driving a truck would be fun (I’m serious). I’ve done a lot of things. Sushi in board rooms to flipping pizzas. I think it was living in 3rd world that changed my perceptions on material security. I just ain’t scared anymore.
    Whatever you do I hope you keep writing here, there, and everywhere. Now, lets see what the girls say…

    1. As always (even if I don’t always say it), I appreciate your comment. And your support.

      What do you do to make a buck, anyway? And I agree truck driving would be fun. For a while, anyway.

  2. Profound words indeed and they are not unlike my own experience in this crazy world so far. If we believe and stay the course, it seems it will “just work out”.

    The uncertainty or precariousness can be nerve wracking but its really akin to the minus temps we are in the midst of. We know its really freaking cold and we Really know we are alive.

    Ps. I did a little writeup on “Saved” on my site, http://www.themoceanproject.com. Been reccomending it lots so hope you might see a spike in sales to help keep the balance.

  3. “It’s wondering if I can continue closing the gap between what I believe and feel, and how I make my living.”

    For the first time, I don’t get it. Do you mean you want to write about what you believe and feel for a living? I thought you were already doing that. At least that’s how it sounds to me. Heck, maybe I haven’t had enough coffee. I guess I need to go out to feed the animals and mull it over.

    1. I do to a certain extent. But that’s not all I do. I still gotta take a certain amount of work simply for the $.

      Believe me, it could be worse. I ain’t complaining. Just musing.

      1. What? Are you writing jingles for Domino’s Pizza? (Ha!) No worries. Whenever I need to do something for a purely commercial reason I think of Winslow Homer, the great American watercolorist, who illustrated many a newspaper back in the day. There’s pul-lenty others. Worth a musing or two, or three.

  4. Sounds like that day-old Jersey heifer has imprinted on you Ben. Better watch out . . . she may be nosing at your front door!

  5. We live with “real” jobs here, good health insurance, the 401k’s, etc. But the “security” is all an illusion – they can and do change the rules all the time. I know you know that.

    Better to take your chances doing what you love than to suffer what you hate and end up losing it all.

    1. I don’t know if you all are “youngsters” but I’ve learned the lesson you all are talking about at age 63. We went back to the land last year and let me tell you about insecurity. Yet, we’ve found that there are worse things than insecurity. There’s living your whole life in dharma that is not yours and feeling everyday of your life “why am I doing this?” How about getting to the end of your life and having that for a legacy? I’d rather live with insecurity than live another day in a life not of my choosing.

      1. “How about getting to the end of your life and having that for a legacy?”

        At 38 and my wife 35, son 9, this has been getting much attention in our home as of late. Thank you for your post!

      2. Thank you so much for sharing this – it is such an inspiration to me, which I think is what I need most right now. Seeing and learning from those who have already or are currently choosing to “aligning my work with the core beliefs that define my days on this craggy hillside,”

        And yes, we are “youngsters” I suppose, relatively speaking (in our 40s and 50s, my spouse and I).

      3. To Jules, Aaron and Seeking Joyful Simplicity, I offer my humble gratitude that I might have encouraged or helped. To Jules: yes, I do have a blog although I think it pales by comparison to Ben’s. Grindstoneranchweekly.blogspot.com. Soon I will be blogging in the family of bloggers at Grit and Capper’s Farmers.com but I haven’t submitted my first blog. I will be doing so in the next few days and I’ll be offering the link in Grindstone Ranch Weekly. Ben, I hope this is ok that I post this in your blog page. My blog is completely different. You’re the benchmark for quality and content.

    2. I totally agree that “security” with lucrative “real jobs” is more of an illusion than many think. I learned first hand (like a hit hard enough to knock you out…) during the middle of the recession that even if you think you are core to the organization and completely safe, you’re absolutely not. Any day could be your last.

      At this point my lifestyle may have recovered but my thinking will never be the same again. It may be scary to follow what you feel because there are thoughts of security in doing what you think is needed but the worst thing that could happen is that you would have to change direction. Besides, I think the more you write what you think, the better it gets.

      Happy New Year.

  6. So many details to make each of us unique and yet so similar. I can understand your desires for closing the gap and share them with respect to my own personal goals. It’s funny how we each negotiate desire and personal goals, especially here in the US where earning money is such a publicized endeavor. Where for some (I’m thinking of huge personalities like Tony Robbins who I’ve personally heard brag about how much he earns in a single hour) it’s perfectly reasonable to want all that and heaven too, while for others, wanting a steady income doing honorable work that clearly contributes to our collective advancement feels like maybe it’s asking too much. Anyway, it takes all kinds of us here on this little planet. May you have many more years of paid writing so that we all may derive enjoyment!

  7. In the time it took me to post a comment there was quite a lively conversation here. I’m inclined to respond to Seeking Joyful Simplicity since I’ve had a beef with our collective attention on what defines “security”. When the economy went bust in 2008, I had to cut back but I still earned a living as a small business owner. And yet when we hear newscasts and economic indicators the majority of the economic activity that goes on in this country isn’t acknowledged, I’m thinking of the transactions that happen at ground level amongst regular people, many of whom are small business owners. Now I hear about banks that won’t grant mortgages to people unless they have jobs, and yet you can lose a job in the time it takes to say “you’re fired.” And these days finding a new one isn’t so easy. What I have as a small business owner and Pilates instructor can never be taken away from me, I will always have the potential to earn money for myself. To me that’s security. I may have to hustle, I may have to continually learn and evolve, but would I really want it any other way? In spite of my frequent frustrations, no. I wouldn’t. Ben, you certainly are a thought provoker. There’s got to be some sort of earning in that!

  8. Ben – I am new to your writing, and I have to say that I am so grateful that I followed a link on another blog I love, to this space of yours. I hope that you keep devoting your precious time (or at least part of it) to this medium of communication. I do not live in New England, but was born there. I have always felt a calling to that part of the country although my life choices have kept me in the Midwest (my parents moved our family out here when I was a teenager). Your words, as you choose to use them to form the stories you tell us, are music to my heart and soul. The way you express yourself is such a gift, and I am glad that I get to bare witness to it on the days that you choose to post something here. I find that although your life is far from simple, I do think that it possess a certain kind of truth that many of us (myself very much included) only dare to dream about. How many of us get to say that we have the boldness to live our lives not as other see fit, but rather as we see fit? Thank you for sharing a part of your life with your readers. I know that I have been forever changed by the eloquence with which you expose your inner thoughts to us.

  9. I’ve noticed that these especially reflective posts of yours elicit the most interesting comments. That alone should let you know that what you are doing is making a difference in lives of people you have never even met (though I agree with Eumaeus, you write in a way that makes the reader feel as if they know you. I mentioned this in my Amazon review of “$aved:, I think) All I know is that the times in my life when I have been the least happy are when I have been living the least like my true self, for whatever reason. It is an unfortunate thing when people develop desires not supported by their true selves. A sure recipe for unhappiness is there ever was one. Lucky for your readers, you seem to have this all figured out and we get to be inspired by your words. Thanks, Ben.
    Peace, Dawn

  10. Ben,
    I agree with the thoughtful folks above, that getting a “real job” or whatnot doesn’t insure security. Anecnote: my hub has a PhD and is a professional therapist, but with fed gov shenanigans, his industry changed last year so suddenly his income was cut in half, and we lost our (already-expensive) health insurance. What was the constant in all this disheartening change? The fact that I was able to raise enough food in my garden and hoop house to feed our family (with a few additions) for the lean year. So a “real job” or even just a different set of circumstances doesn’t insure security. I do appreciate your doing what you do. It’s an encouragement for me and for many others.

  11. That is what wisdom and aging is all about, Ben – becoming less (or no longer) willing to compromise one’s values between how they live and how they survive monetarily. I see it as, simply, a symbiotic process. It’s good to find the community of others who are at that place – it is food for the soul, I think. Thanks for feeding us! 😉


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