I’ve written over the years about how this place, my life here at Cold Antler, felt like a marathon. If I could see the hardest parts as just a rough section of the race, grueling but impermanent, I could get through it.
This is what I told myself on -20 degree winter mornings when the fire went out at 3AM and the toilet had ice in it. This is what I told myself when there wasn’t money for root canals, and the abscess pain was so bad I paced around the house screaming, cursing myself for leaving a life with health insurance and co-pays on oral surgery. This is what I told myself when I looked at my reflection and hated what I saw, for decades.
Just. Keep. Going.
I would say that to myself, over and over: I can’t tell you what you’re running to, but I promise it will make sense if you just keep going...
Those are the kind of things you tell yourself so you don’t go clinically insane. We all do. We do it on a horrible Thursday at work, chanting in our heads over and over; It’s almost 5pm It’s almost 5pm. We tell it to ourselves in awkward social situations; get through the party, the meeting, the dinner, the bad date… And some of us even tell it to ourselves about life in general. Suffer through mortality and heaven’s gate awaits us at the end (I do not recommend this option, death cults are not a net positive).
Point is folks, a woman needs something to look forward to. She needs to know the place she's headed. At least I did.
But I had no idea where I was running. I guess the hope was that life would get easier, make more sense? If I'm honest that meant finding my person that would want to run beside me through all this, that life would be easier if I wasn't doing everything alone.
When I started this blog I thought that meant I would find a man I could tolerate being with. Someone funny and kind, even if I knew deep down inside I had zero interest in them romantically. No part of me desired men, or yearned for them. They are perfectly nice people and I wish all you men the best, but I always knew the magic wasn't there.
But accepting I was gay was too much. It was too far hidden, something I woke up terrified of in the night. The shame and shunning we were taught as kids, it's real. It's poison. I see all these horrific laws trying to keep LGBT stories from children as if some of those children aren't already gay and terrified. My life, my family, my entire story would be different if I was shown as a little girl that I could be happy and it would be okay, even if I was different. Instead I watched more movies where more talking lions fell in love with each other than women...
Let me be clear, I am not blaming my parents. My parents did the best they could with a weird kid that talked too much and ran away into the woods at Girl Scout Camp. I'm talking about society in general. Where I grew up being gay wasn't "bad" as much as it was "other" and all I ever wanted to be was to be liked, accepted, maybe even someday loved. Being different meant that would be so much harder.
I already knew changing my life from corporate designer with a 401k and respectable career to dirt farmer was enough of an identity shock for my friends and family. And it took (this is so embarrassing to admit) ten years of isolation on this mountain to feel comfortable enough to come out, to just myself, at 35.
I needed to survive that, overcome that, learn to ride and harness horses, train hawks, shoot arrows, hike mountains.. I needed to become the woman who walks into a bar knowing exactly who she is and what she is worth. I needed to prove to myself I was the character I was trying to portray online: the brave girl following a dream. And it took all those years alone, struggling to make this place work, to finally realize I was capable of coming out. That happiness, not just goal-achievemnet, was possible.
Which is so sad to me now. The only person holding me back was myself. And my worst day since coming out has been better than my best day closeted.
Read those three sentences again. I mean them.
I can’t tell you how that poisons a person, living in that fog. That is why I drank too much, worried too much, threw myself into endless hobbies and distractions. Because if I sat too still not only would I stop running the marathon and give up, I might start asking myself why I was running in the first place, which is fucking terrifying.
That said, please don't misunderstand—homesteading is and remains my passion in life—it wasn’t something I did in spite of needing to come out, but it was something I needed to do until I could. And I don't see myself leaving this life anytime soon, not if I find a way to keep it.
There’s this myth in homesteading, reinforced by capitalism and the cult of American Individualism, that self reliance is strength. That if you can manage to grow or store enough food, have your own safe drinking water, arm and protect yourself, tend your shelter, provide heat, etc - you’ll be safe no matter what happens in this uncertain world. It’s why I still have a soft spot for preppers. I mean, I get it. Hell, I lived it. The illusion of control is intoxicating. Feeling safe on a primal level, is probably the most important high we’re all chasing.
But if anyone reading this has spent any real time homesteading, ranching, or farming - you know that self-reliance is a fantasy. The real strength is in community, skill sharing, the people you learn and grow with along the way. Building a bunker isn't happiness, it's protecting yourself from what you're too scared to run towards.
I want to talk about that fear now.
I remember standing in the checkout line at Northshire Bookstore in Vermont in 2015, holding a vinyl copy of 1989 and darting my eyes around the store worried someone I knew would see me. I was embarrassed to be purchasing a Taylor Swift album. At the time I convinced myself it was because she wasn't cool (she isn't) but the truth was I didn't want anyone to know I wanted to spend time alone with a woman like that. Quietly listening to her words about anxiety, fear, and hope. It was all too on the nose. I felt if anyone I knew saw me they'd know I was gay.
I’d spent years seeing myself as something different. I wanted everyone to think of me as plaid shirts and cowboy hats, old time music and archery, Avett Brothers and Radiohead, Tolkien and The Hunger Games.... not Taylor Swift. But I found myself reading her lyrics like you read this blog, a window into someone else's vulnerability.
I knew that when I heard her music, not the production and guitar and drums, but the lyrics, I was hearing the same terrified song I was living. That made me feel less alone.
I was also making a living sharing my most vulnerable thoughts and feelings in public (albeit to a far smaller audience), but we had that in common. Her music always sounded like it was full of secrets and fear of herself, anxiety, self-deprecation, over-sharing. All the things I wrote in my blog, that people hated. I remembered hearing songs on 1989 and understanding how insanely angry Wildest Dreams was (why do people think this is a love song?! They aren't LISTENING) and how terrified I Know Places was. All those stories in those songs felt like the last ten years.
I did buy that record that day, the first of hers I ever bought, and within a year I was able to be honest about why I was relating so hard to her music.
If you don’t like Taylor Swift, well, theres probably a lot of reasons. Most people my age (including me) have or had too much internalized misogyny to give yourself permission to even type her name into Spotify, much less openly listen and feel what is being discussed. It’s not your fault. It's what we were taught, especially us women. It’s so ingrained that we don’t even realize why we roll our eyes at pop stars and fashion models. If a teenage girl becomes a star writing music for other women, it must be garbage, right? That’s what everyone in my art classes in college practiced. That's what all the cool boys I convinced myself I was supposed to like said.
I’d decided I hated her before ever even reading what she wrote. Which is laughable, looking back. I was also a terrified woman from Pennsylvania, who moved to Tennessee to start her adult life, who then moved to New York and was finally getting comfortable enough with myself to let go of my reputation.
All those years on the blog sharing every feeling and hope and heartbreak with strangers, because I wanted someone reading it to relate to it, and together we could feel less alone. Taylor was just a lot more successful doing it and dating way more women than I was. But like I said, some of us are still running our races.
I was able to come out thanks to Taylor’s music. That's why I never shut up about her till this day. She allowed me to stop running and just fucking listen to what was being said.
When reputation launched I couldn’t believe the things she put in her lyrics. It was so much braver than anything I had ever shared online. I remember hearing Don’t Blame Me for the first time and knowing exactly what that felt like. To grow up in a religion and home when you knew who you wanted to love would be crossing a line. The anger at what you were conditioned to believe. The need to be exhausted from defending your feelings, simply owning up to them, admitting the most secret things even if the rest of the world thinks it's wrong.
And I remember hearing other people, smart people, talk about how they still don’t like her music, and how it “wasn’t for them” and "just about breakups" and I remember being so angry hearing that. This always comes from someone who can't name ten of her songs. I would fume at the audacity. Of course it isn’t for you, none of her music is meant to be for you… it’s hers.
You’re given the option to listen and relate to it or not, no different than any other writer’s work. But she was a young woman making money, so she better explain herself, huh? If we're all going to pay attention to a woman under 30, it must be something that makes everyone dance or horny or whatever it is the public demands from a woman to be worth the space she takes up, right?
If you're still a person who cringes at Taylor Swift, for your own sweet sake, stop listening as if she's a product to consume and start listening to the lyrics as a the soundtrack to your own story. Stop fucking running. Listen.
Five years after listening to 1989 in my old F150 (which I named Taylor. It was a 1989 model), I kissed a girl for the first time. We had a summer together and it was pure magic. I wish a summer like that for all of you, honestly. It changed my life. Showed me what was possible.
The relationship didn’t last, as we weren’t a good fit for longevity, but relationships don’t have to last long to matter. I finally got to feel what romance was supposed to be. What kissing was supposed to feel like. What safe and wholesome intimacy could be. It was overwhelming and powerful and … honestly, at times too much, too much happiness. And I never once thought about the root canals or bank threats that summer. I was finally running towards something that made sense.
Her and I talked about Taylor, a lot of queer women do. Lover was coming out that summer and I bought her the album. She listened to it on the long drives to the farm. And when the relationship ended (I wasn’t sad as much as inevitable) we didn't talk for years after.
But when my last relationship ended, she reached out to check in on me and talk as a concerned friend. That summer after that awful breakup, she was the only person who came to visit. No family came, no far-flung friends. I had my local friends who were lovely and amazing, but I mean come and stay for days and hear me pour my dumb heart out, over and over. She stayed at the farm three weekends that dark year; spring, summer, and fall. I could talk about heartbreak and other girls to her, hear about her dating adventures and life in return. She will never know how grateful I am for those weekends. To be someone worth the effort to come back to.
And now, four years later, she and I are still friends. And last weekend we saw Taylor together live for the first time in the pouring rain. Full circle.
I wish I could tell myself that would happen while waiting in line, terrified, to buy 1989 at the bookstore. Scanning the isles, the record clasped against my chest like every secret I had. Sometimes I think everything good that has ever happened to me since, has happened because I owned up to wanting that music in my life. That I chose caring more about what made me feel less alone than what anyone thought of me.
I wonder if the reason I am able to keep some people in my life and not others is their ability to listen to TAS. Not because of being fans, but because choosing to listen and hear someone, despite reputation and bias, is the hardest thing we ever do.
Folks, we’re all running marathons, and some of us don’t even realize it. I think of all those years I was dealing with an eating disorder, alcoholism, hiding in the closet just blaring Taylor Swift in my earbuds on ten-mile runs… literally out there running towards something I didn’t understand. But I look around at my life now and how much growth has happened. How much better the farm is than it was back when I was so afraid of myself.
And this morning I am sitting on this porch in the sunlight. I wish my ex could see it now, watching my horses graze on the lawn and my hens scratch at the soil. Everything is green and warm, and while I’m not dating anyone at the moment, that doesn’t mean there isn’t romance. Because I have been falling in love with my home, my life, my farm, my body in ways I never could.
I feel like I can see where this marathon ends. It doesn’t end with a storybook romance. It doesn’t end rich and famous. It doesn’t end with a healed past and forgiveness and diagnoses or silver linings. It ends accepting myself for exactly who I am and deciding I deserve to be loved regardless. And knowing that love isn’t anyone else’s responsibility but my own.
And if a once broken, terrified, bulimic, closeted, alcoholic woman can write to you on a Sunday morning as a healing, proud, soft, out, sober lesbian strumming You're on Your Own Kid on a ukulele - darling, anything is possible.
I feel closer to happiness than ever before. I needed help along the race, for certain. I needed patrons and patience. I needed horses and F150s. I needed music and lyrics and how it felt to finally place my hands on a woman's hips and pull her close. I needed sex during summer thunderstorms, exhausted hikes up mountains, and driving with the windows down and heater on. I needed all of that, but most of all I needed to keep running. I needed to trust that things would get better if I never stopped being honest about, well, everything.
We get where we’re running to if we just keep going. Even with broken ankles and foreclosure notices, with ignored phone calls and 3Am panic attacks. Life will never feel like you're crossing a finish line, not really. But you will get stronger and find people you can keep pace with along the way. Use the music, use the words of people with similar stories, trust your gut, and just. keep. going.
Thank you to the six(!?) people who sent a small writing contributions yesterday! THANK YOU!!! Someone wrote in their note to spend their contribution on something fun. I want you, the person who did that for me, to know I used it yesterday to buy a BIG roast beef sandwich and a fancy soda and I sat on the banks of the Battenkill river before fly fishing having an absolute FEAST. It was so good, and I appreciate the permission you gave me to indulge a little. The rest was spent on diesel for my hot water boiler. Hot showers and good sandwiches go a long way around here.
I just wanted to be clear that no one has to pay, I will still write here and it's always available for free. But if anyone wants to volunteer to venmo/paypal at least one dollar, it means I will write a post the next day. If no one does, then I'll update when I feel like it. Might be the next day, might be in a month.
Please understand, that I do not mean a dollar for every post or from every reader! I mean, quite literally, if a single person anywhere in the world sends a single US dollar, and that's all the money I earn that day, I'll write tomorrow.
Venmo: jennawog (preferred)