On Having It All (Just Not All At Once)
By Axie Barclay

I used to hate platitudes.

“It’s always something.”

“It is what it is.”

“It was (or wasn’t) meant to be.”

And, my personal favorite, “You never run out of work on a farm.”

My grandmother is most notable for these. They drove me crazy when I was younger. They still do on occasion, but I deal with it better now. Maybe it’s because she’s almost 91 and still has the wherewithal to babysit the Offspring. Or I’ve gotten more patience with age….

Naw, that can’t be it.

Anyway, I’ve found over the past two years that I’ve developed my own set of platitudes.

“Women with clean houses do not write novels.”

“Do what you can, the rest will keep until morning.”

“It’s ok if the kid eats cheerios off the floor, so long as you sweep every other day or so.”

And, probably the most important one for me, “You can’t do it all.”

I have a real problem with this one. My Spousal –Type Creature actually made me visualize what my expectations of “getting it all done” would look like.

The picture goes something like this: stay up late writing Wonderful Creative Manuscript and/ or short stories. Sleep a couple hours. Be up at 3:45 to write before Offspring wakes up while simultaneously cleaning the house (silently, obviously), doing the dishes and laundry, and having everything in its place when the babysitter comes at 7:30, whereupon I whisk merrily off to my day job, to cheerfully offer rural mail delivery, staying upbeat no matter what the weather conditions or state of the roads. (I do my job perfectly every day, of course). Upon arriving home, the rest of the day is packed with farm labor, which I am magically able to do despite a twenty pound barnacle, who has his own ideas about the schedule and wants to do anything other than be carried or sit in a stroller. I can also get the grocery shopping done, the lawns mowed (all three acres of our cumulative family lawns) or snow shoveled, the chickens butchered when need be, and the cattle fed round bales or moved on pasture with the greatest of ease. Then it’s time to put up food, can, knit (yes, there’s even knitting in my fantasy), get a workout in (because you know, I need to move more) and make dinner with one hand, while writing book reviews and/or this column with the other, and putting the kiddo to bed with my foot. In this fantasy, the basement would always be clean, the dishes always put away, I’d never miss deadlines, and the baby would probably never poop either. Oh and let’s not forget that I’d tend the winter garden I’m experimenting with and my perfectly plucked eyebrows.

If you’ve read any of the fencing exploits here on the farm, with baby or otherwise, or on the writing of book reviews, you have an idea about how my days actually go.

The problem with having these two versions of reality is that the first one is rife with faulty thinking. It’s an ideal world where, basically, I don’t sleep. This makes the second one faulty as well because I’m holding up an ideal for myself that I fail to meet every day, when really I’m achieving a whole lot just by keeping my child alive. (Let’s face it, that’s basically a parent’s only job, or at least that’s what I tell my kid when he’s having a tantrum. “My job is to keep you alive, not make you happy. That’s your job.”)

I should also be taking my own advice here. Life is pretty good right now. Granted, there are a lot of other things that I want in order to be “successful.” I want to sell more beef and feeder steers every year. I want to grow and sell more eggs and chickens. I want to sell fiction on a regular basis. I want to have a winter garden. I want the dead mice out of the basement.

But every time I achieve parts of how I define success for my life, I move the goal posts. For instance, “I want to can tomatoes today.” And I proceed to can one batch of tomatoes. Then say to myself, “Well, you only did seven quarts, that’s hardly anything to write home about. If you’d tried harder you could have canned fourteen.” (Or 14 quarts = two batches.)

So once I achieve something, I immediately move the goal posts.

(See Shawn Achor’s TED talk for more on, what I’m calling, Goal Post Theory.) http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html

You’d never tell a friend, “Wow, great job on those tomatoes, but if you’d tried harder you could have done more.” (Or at least you wouldn’t say that without your friend being justified in kicking you in the teeth.) Maybe we need to modify our definitions of success, stop hanging our happiness on “when” statements (“I’ll be happy when someone finally gets around to getting the dead mice out of the basement.”), and start focusing on what we’ve handled well (keeping the child alive, fed, changed, engaged in the world, and soothed when he waves the empty Jim Beam bottle around and clocks himself in the head with it) instead of what we didn’t get accomplished (again, dead mice in the basement). Someday when the Offspring is older and the STC’s schedule is less hectic, there will be time for a winter garden and brewing hard cider. Someday I’ll have time (and help) to keep the basement vacuumed free from a layer of cobwebs and dead lady bug beetle type things, and to organize our house to its best efficiency. Until then, may the lawn be long, the baby not go too many days unbathed, the basement belong to the spiders, the raised beds remain unbuilt, and the barn stay a gross collection of other people’s abandoned crap.

You can have everything you want, just not all at once – Paula Davis-Laack (I think)


*The STC wanted recognition for his help in “bridging” this article for me. Since I was pulling my hair out until he put all his training to use. So, my dear, yet again, thank you. (Now get on your knees and tell me you luuuuve me.)

**Apologies to Paula Davis-Laack and Shawn Achor, whose ideas I’ve referenced in the above post, for reducing your wonderful and informative work to dead mice and canned tomatoes.


Book Recommendations:

Lexicon by Max Berry. This I listened to as an audiobook and apart from the atrocious Australian accent that the female narrator attempted, found this to be a really awesome book. Some reviews said that it didn’t delve deep enough into words or the power of words, but I didn’t find that at all. It was fast-paced, original, with characters that were easy to identify with and powerful motivations on all sides. A great mixture of the weird and the mundane. I simply loved it and plan to also buy it in paperback.

In Meat We Trust by Maureen Ogle. This was an eye-opening book in the food debate going on in our country. It chronicles how we’ve gotten to where we are, from a historical perspective. Oddly enough, it all makes sense when you look at it that way. [We can’t have both cheap, plentiful food and be environmentally responsible “boutique” style food at the same time.]

And, if you’re an erotica fan, try out Lexi Maxxwell. I read her ebook, The Future of Sex, over Christmas, the latter which ties into The Beam series by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant, loved it. Smart, sexy erotica with that horror edge that gets under your skin. Perfect mash-up of very original writers with vivid imaginations.

Axie_Barclay_100Axie Barclay is a Michigan writer with a cow-habit. Having discovered the joys and potential for growth inalternative agriculture, she quests ever longer and harder for ways to combine farming and writing into a business. When not milking cows, making disgruntled noises at the latest disgusting thing the heeler dogs dredge up, riding horses, or keeping the fence up around her small beef herd, she’s holed up reading an eclectic array of books or tapping out pages. When not working, she enjoys kicking back with her honey, family, and friends at a bonfire with some beers. Chat her up on Twitter and Facebook, /axieb, or http://barclayfarmsandlit.blogspot.com where she delves into literature and agriculture with a relish… and occasionally ketchup. Soon to be homemade.