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Grow Up

It’s a rainy morning here at the farm. When I look up at the living room ceiling I can see where loose slates are letting rain in. I can see the first stains of water, and made a note to call the slate repair guy soon as money allows. I add it to the list of other odd jobs, like a friend's son that may come Saturday to cut back limbs on the big King Maple tree outside, which has grow out over the roof and I worry about storm and winter damage if left as is. I add it to the farrier appt, and the check I still have out for lumber and supplies to repair the sinking kitchen floor last week. If I think about all that needs to be done at once I start to spiral. The caffeine doesn't help. So instead of panicking I am here, once again, writing to you.

I am happy to report last night was the best sleep I’ve had in weeks. This past weekend I was able to pay the July mortgage, and while I am well aware there’s only about 24-48 hours left in the month (depending on when you read this)—and catching up to September is impossible short of a miracle—I am proud I was able to get that payment out.

I still need to earn the money for winter heat, and get a cord of dry firewood delivered as soon as possible. So far I only have one green cord stacked, and it was full of boring beetles I needed to spray for to keep them from burrowing into this house's foundation. I also need to get hay in the barn, and hoping to get some of each delivered this week, if sales pick up. It’s always stressful here, as you know. The price I pay to live and create on my own farm, surrounded by nature and animals, is incredibly high. I still think it’s worth it. So I keep going.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t hear about it. I hear about it from everyone, especially people online. Every time I post about pet portraits, pork, logos, anything I can make and sell here on this homestead - that my posts advertising what I sell are begging for money, or pathetic, or embarrassing. The fact I need to solicit money, something most people never talk about publicly, is crass. I am constantly told to grow up. To stop trying to scrape together a living and get a “real” job. That real grown ups aren't depending on the internet to support their livelihood, and how long can I possibly sustain this? I've heard about this from family, friends, exes, strangers... for years.

I don’t know what brings a person to email a complete stranger they will never meet to tell them how horrible their life is, but I no longer think it has anything to do with me. It has a lot to do with what makes people uncomfortable, and I think even if you’re just reading about this farm from afar, the stress gets to some of you too. But if you are worried about me, here’s what I have to say:

I am not the one who needs to grow up.

I quit working a full-time job when I was in my late twenties. I left a job with health insurance, and a 401k, and all the things I was told a person needed to be safe and happy here in this hellscape we call late-stage capitalism. I left because that life was making me miserable.

I had a thing I called Barnheart, an infliction of my own creation. Because back in my idealistic early-twenties I believed life didn't have to be about the 40-hour work week and asking other adults for permission to go to the dentist. I wanted to be outside, in nature, my own boss and in charge of my own time, passions, and hobbies. And without a trust fund, savings, or independent wealth, that's a dream most people wouldn't even dare consider alone.

What can I say? I had barnheart, and I had it bad. I will admit those first few years were a mess. I tried everything and anything to stay on my farm: workshops and classes, crafts and private archery lessons, freelance writing and design work. But despite the struggle and issues I was dealing with (a brutal eating disorder, alcohol dependency, and extreme unmedicated anxiety) I was never lonely or afraid - I was too busy pulling this off.

The biggest thing in my way was myself; this terrified woman who didn’t understand yet who she was, just where she needed to be to figure it out. The farm kept me focused, safe, and created a real sense of home and community while I struggled with giving myself permission to accept who I was.

It took me a decade alone on this mountain to come out as gay. By far the hardest thing I have ever done.

And things got so much better when I did. Remarkably so. Accepting myself helped heal trauma and find a shot at happiness. I stopped the bulimia and drinking, as those things were coping mechanisms fro being closeted and hating myself for it.

I can honestly say that my very best days of my life before I came out were worse than my hardest day’s since. Pretending to be something you aren’t is the loneliest, saddest thing a person can put themselves through. I will always feel shame at how long it took me, how much isolation I needed, how much self-acceptance I needed to figure out before I could even imagine a life that wasn’t alone. But I got there, and still believe that someday I might find the woman I’m meant to spend the rest of my life with. Even at 41, I remain hopeful.

Can’t say I’ve been lucky in that department so far. The woman I’d been courting all summer ended it last week. It caught me by surprise, though looking back it shouldn’t have. I don’t know how or if I’ll ever find someone I like who sees this farm as a paradise like I do, and not a hindrance. Those weren’t her words (and honestly, why she ended it is none of my business) but that’s my personal fear. That the life I chose to find safety and meaning and happiness is the exact reason I’ll never find it with anyone else. So I’m back on the apps and dusting my shoulders and lifting my chin directly into the wind with some hope I can still find her out there, whoever she is.

What I need to remind myself is that, despite what anyone else thinks, or emails, or calls me - I am doing a hard thing.

How hard?

I want you to imagine that tomorrow morning you wake up in the same house, with the same bills, and the exact same life. But take away your job and any forthcoming direct deposits, insurance, or savings. Take away the credit cards. Take away any family you can call to borrow money from. Take away your spouse, roommate, kids, cash in the mattress or that boat in the yard you can sell. Take away anything or anyone that helps you pay your bills. All you can do to make a living is to reach out to the general public with the skills you have and the resources in your house, like your phone and computer - backyard and property.

Now - imagine you just made a late mortgage payment and you’re back to about $118 in your bank account. That that is all the money you have in the world and you're still behind and you have no idea how you’re going to make the next mortgage payment. Don't panic. Don't commit a crime. Just use whatever skills and abilities you have and start marketing them and making money.

Now imagine you're running a farm alone. Imagine you haven't had a vacation in 20 years. Imagine the animals and customers depending on you. Because you still need to buy the feed to fatten pigs you already sold even though you have no idea how you’re going to earn the money to cover the vet bills, feed bags, firewood, hay deliveries, hell - even the shipping on the next box of soap you sell. All you have is yourself.

Could you pay your mortgage with what you can offer the world? Could you be vulnerable enough to try? Could you shed the dignity everyone else gets to pretend they have? You better baby, because you're all you've got.

Now, get up every single morning, alone, and figure it out, because winter is coming and the kitten has a booster-shot appointment and the boys from that farm are loading their dump truck with dry wood and hay is about to reach sky-high prices from our wet summer… and know no matter how bad or good it gets, there is no plan B. There is no credit card to swipe, or parent to slip a check into your back pocket, or savings, or anything but the brain and abilities you have to figure out how to make that electric bill payment before they shut it off in a few days. There is no one but you to handle all of the duties of running a home, a farm, a business, and somehow maintain a social/dating life.

Could you do that? Could you pay all your bills this coming month if everything you had was gone and you had no one to help you? Because I have done this, every month, for over ten years. And I did it while dealing with root canals and broken down cars or no car at all. I did it while figuring out home repairs, taxes, and insurance. And I did it without someone to cry on and hold, because even if I was dating someone, admitting how scary it was only made me less desirable. So even when I thought I had someone to be honest with, I couldn't be.

And I still fucking did it.

The sun just broke out, and now the room I am writing in is filled with light.

I don’t know if living my dream life was the best decision. I don’t know if I’m being punished, karmically, for getting exactly what I wanted. Maybe the price for that bliss is finding out no one will ever share it with me, because they can't imagine this farm sustaining itself. And it doesn't matter how many years of proof positive I accumulate, because to most people - this life is insane.

So I do what I can and adapt, and so far, I am still here. And I believe I will continue to figure this out, even if it’s without dignity or meaning to you. Because it’s what I have. It’s all I have.

The sun is hiding again.

What I know is that for the past decade I have done this. A life that most people think is reckless; I have fought for and kept. I have done this through stalkers, threats, criticism, and police sent to my door. I have done this through homophobia, misogyny, screaming pain, and heartbreak. I have done it while slowly healing myself, getting over addiction and self-hate. I have done it without hurting anyone, at least not intentionally. And I have done it while consistently creating art and sharing my story.

I have gotten this far, and I did it by whatever legal means necessary with the resources I’ve got. I did this while voting every election, without a criminal record and while engaging in community and trying desperately to find love. I have done this with horses under me and hawks above me. I have done it finding peace casting to fish and finding mushrooms. I've done it while giving up any traces of a safe and normal life and knowing it means I'll probably remain alone.

And even today, with the rain falling and sun hiding, I know next week will be dry and hot and the hay fields will be cut and there’s still hope I can get some in my barn and curl up with a coffee this fall. There's still time to feel that peace and safety again. The exhale of a barn full of dry grass and a shed full of seasoned wood. And if I can pull this off, perhaps earn another magical fall to walk my forest path and cast to lurking trout on this mountain's stream and train a new wild hawk that will distract me from how afraid I am waking up alone at 3AM.

I am writing a book about fish and falcons, about love and loss, about hope and nature. I am going to publish it regardless if any publisher wants it or not. And I am going to hope that book lifts this farm to a safer place, because what I do know is through all of this I have only had myself to count on, that that woman has been pretty fucking dependable. I’m still here, 13 years into owning this farm, and when I look around the house and animals and land I see a place that has never been better; a quiet thrill that makes me feel strong.

So, I'm heading into the last days of August with a prayer this full moon; that I still have the strength to keep going. Because if I can keep on, there’s wings to train and horses to ride. There’s a kitten to cuddle and pigs to fatten, pullets to tend, and sheep to harvest. There is still wood to stack, hay to store, and supplies to buy for winter. I don’t know how many people make an Oregon-trail inspired list of supplies for winter but I have learned to buy flour by the 50lb sack, and coffee by the 5. I have learned to store cheap things I can make, and that a life without a commute and 40-hour distraction means I have time to bake bread and make a stew and watch the snow fall from my kitchen window on a Tuesday morning.

Those days are why I live like this, what I work towards. And while I know to many it seems foolish, how many people do you know that have made it this far on nothing but their own determination and the internet? Yes, of course people have helped me over the years - amazing support! But they found me because of my words, my books, my putting myself out on a platter to be harassed and judged. How many of those farm blogs you used to read 15 years ago are still active? How many businesses have you seen rise and fall right on your own main street? How many dreams have you seen people quit because it was too hard, or the work too lonely, or too much?

I am still here. And I will figure out this month. And I will pay for August. And I will be okay. And I no longer care what names people call me or what my reputation is, loser or hero, because I have always taken care of myself and those who love me, even if they’re just cats and dogs. And I don’t care what people with direct deposit jobs and in-laws they borrow 10k a year from think of me, because most of them would fold in three months if they had to live like I have the last decade.

I am no longer young and I was never attractive. I am no longer clever and I was never calculating. But I am stubborn and loyal and certain as the stones that make up the foundation of this farmhouse, and so far we're both still standing. And I love the woman who has accomplished all this, despite her flaws and embarrassing social media, because she is the hardest working woman I've met in the face of uncertainty and loneliness and fear, and still manages to make art instead of threats to strangers.

So tell me this? Which one of us is the grown up? The one who will lose everything the moment they lose their job, spouse, savings and can't borrow money? Or the one who has never had any of those luxuries and has taken care of everything alone since she left home at 18?

I am a grown up. I'm Jenna fucking Woginrich. And I am doing a hard thing.

Okay, back to work.


Consider supporting this farm if you can. You can email me to order farm goods like meat, eggs, and soap.You can leave a tip over venmo (jennawog) or simply write some words of encouragement - I know times are hard for many of us. If you can't support the farm monetarily, please share my story with someone who might. Getting my words out is most important, and there are social media links to every blog post for sharing. It costs you nothing, takes a second, and might reach a pork or logo customer, or better yet, a publisher.

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