Thrilling Fear Replaces Depression

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One of the views from my family hay ride this past weekend

In the last several months, I have been plagued with crippling depression as the rejection letters from jobs piled up, and that after the huge rejection of my divorce.  Labeled the gamut from under-qualified to overqualified, it seemed I was no more capable of answering someone’s phones than I was of running someone’s department.  Getting out of bed became extremely difficult, and finding a modicum of positive self-talk to get me through another day of networking and applications was like tracking down Waldo.  Don’t get me wrong: the rejection hasn’t ended yet, and the depression is so close I can taste it.

But for the last several delicious days, the cloud has lifted, and been replaced by what?  Thrilling fear.  The job hunt is going well for the first time in a long time, and it’s all up near the family farm.  I don’t yet know if anything will pan out, but I’m feeling hopeful.  Additionally, there is the slightest possibility that Home Place could become available to rent.  Naturally, my mind has wandered toward all of these possibilities working out, and was then struck with worry.  First, there is the possibility that a job could work out before a living situation does.  That worry isn’t as fun, and could pose a real problem … so we’ll gloss right over that one for now.

The rich and velvety worries that have beaten my depression away are about living at Home Place.  At Home Place, heat is generated from wood stoves, the water runs from a well, and travel could prove precarious during bad weather, particularly snow, and particularly in my dumb low-riding sedan that I can’t trade in for over a year.

My mind naturally worries.  I’ve never been able to do much about that.  The difference between these new worries, and those from a week ago, are adventure.  When I worry about the wood stoves, I worry about getting cold in the middle of the night, needing to bundle up, and then wander out of the house in the pitch black to retrieve wood that I chopped earlier that day, and I better have been smart enough to keep it dry in this snowstorm!

Wonderful!

So very scary, but the most delicious worry ever.

I hope it all works out.

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Hay bails near Home Place

Home Place History

A lot has happened in the last couple of weeks, including my first visit up to the farm to look for work.  I was happy with how the trip went, but there’s still a lot to do before I’ll be ready to move.  I’ll tell more about my visit in my next post, but for now, I wanted to share a little family farm history.

After my grandparents died, we nicknamed their home and surrounding original farm “Home Place” since it wasn’t just my grandparents’ farm, several family members have lived there.  This house, which is currently being rented by non-family tenants, is my ideal farm.  On the one hand, I’m trying not to get attached to the idea of living there because I don’t know if it will ever pan out.  On the other hand, because of my family history with this house and farm, and because of its proximity to the one room school house, I can’t stop thinking about the possibility of living there someday.

The following is an edited and shortened version of my family history with the land that my cousin and uncle wrote several years ago…

In the 1830s or 1840s, Jeptha and Mary Thurman (née Muldrough) journeyed from Kentucky to Missouri, and were some of the first settlers in the North River area.  They lived in Warren Missouri, and later operated Thurman General Store from 1867-1870.

Jeptha and Mary’s grandson, Thomas Vincent Thurman, born in 1863, purchased the land that is now Home Place Farm with his young wife Lizzy Vannoy on October 31, 1904.  Yes, that’s Halloween, and in the year of St. Louis’ World’s Fair.  Thomas and Lizzy purchased 105 acres southwest of Warren.  The house had four rooms, wood heat, a wood cook stove, and a cistern for household water.  They had large barn where livestock feed such as loose hay, ear corn, and oats were stored.  The barn also had stalls for horses, cattle, and sheep.  Other buildings on the farm included a smoke house, a chicken house, a hog house, and a buggy shed.  Livestock for sale were sometimes driven on horseback to nearby Monroe City or Hunnewell, where there was a railroad.

Thomas and Lizzy had three children, Isabelle, Lillian, and my grandfather, Ralph Leroy Thurman.  Grandpa Ralph was born on September 25, 1912 in the family home (the Home Place house) where he lived his entire life.  He married my grandmother, Winifred Couch in 1935.

[end written history]

I had always thought that Thomas and Lizzie built the house, but my uncle told me on this visit that they did not.  So we know that they purchased the farm in 1904, but we don’t know who built the house or when.  For all we know, the original home could be pre-Civil War.  Which is a pretty exciting mystery!  There are original logs inside the house that could be analyzed and help us to determine the age of the home.

Oh the things I could do if I lived back at Home Place!

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A Haiku

There is a certain kind of urban traffic that I should be grateful for, based on the services provided. But…I’m just not.

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Chasing criminals
And transporting fresh organs
Hush, helicopter

Tour of an 127 Year Old Textbook

The National Series of Standard School Books, Manual of Geography, Combined With History and Astronomy, Designed For Intermediate Classes in Public and Private Schools by James Monteith.  2nd Edition Published in 1885 by A.S. Barnes & Company: New York and Chicago.

This book was either salvaged from the one room school house, or was passed down through my family.  I’m having a difficult time deciphering the last name as it is inscribed inside the front cover.  Either way, this was “Lizzie E.’s” book in 1886, and she almost definitely learned from it in a one room school house, if not my one room school house.

The first edition of this book was published in 1868.  That is one year after Laura Ingalls Wilder was born.  Laura was likely using a textbook very similar to this one in her one room school house.  At the time of this second edition in 1885, Laura would have been 18 years old, and already retired from teaching.  Mark Twain was 50 years old at the time of its publication.  Nikola Tesla was 29.  Depending on the month of publication, either Chaster Arthur or Grover Cleveland were President, though by the time Lizzie was using it, she had penciled in Benjamin Harrison as the current President.  Dr. Pepper was served for the first time in 1885.  Bicycle Playing Cards were introduced.  Good Housekeeping Magazine hit the stands the first time.  The Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor in 1885, and was dedicated in 1886.  Needless to say, since Lizzy’s home was both in the 1880s and rural, Lizzie’s household did not have electricity or running water.  (An ongoing debate in my family is which one of those you would rather live without.)

The first thing I noticed about this text book was how much I loved the way that it was designed.

One of the complaints I often hear from older people is how little young people seem to be learning in school these days.  And, indeed, the older people I know can rattle off country capitals, state leaders, geographic features, and dates of note with much more ease than I do.  And they have better handwriting, to boot.  Could it be that educational tools of the past suited more styles of learning than today’s tools?  I don’t have very much learning theory training, so take me with a grain of salt, but I was struck by how much the method of this old text book resonated with me.

I attended a nontraditional grade school that did not use text books, so my exposure to textbooks for children of the “intermediate” (3rd and 4th grade) age group is limited.  But this book is in stark comparison to my public high school text books, which sought to place every fact in a thick context.  The 1885 Manual of Geography contains between 2,000 and 2,500 rapid-fire questions and answers.  “Q: What is a Canal? A: An artificial channel filled with water, for the passage of boats.  Q: What are the principal Points of the Compass?  A:  North East, South, and West.”  And I LOVE that about it.  Growing up without text books made learning to use them in high school a special challenge.  Finding the facts in a paragraph, even if they were bolded, was difficult for me.  Each sentence seemed like the most important part of the paragraph, so I couldn’t retain the important parts for a test.  The way this text book is written, it provides all of the facts, and allows the reader to do more research on any one of the questions should they choose to do so, rather than place a heavy context around each fact.  I understand the reasoning behind both presentations, but I would have much preferred this one when I was younger.  I love to research and hunt for answers now, but it took years to develop that love.

Other things I loved about the book were the beautiful color maps, detailed pictures, and (mostly) clear diagrams.

“The Empire of Germany, drawn on four construction frames, each representing Kansas.” The image of Kansas was repeated over each U.S. State, and a number of different countries, to give a sense of scale. I thought this was a neat idea.

I also loved how State Capitals were described geographically by the river they were placed near.  I’m a river-loving girl, so I got a kick out of this.  “State: New York, Capital: Albany, Situation: Hudson River;  State: West Virginia, Capitol: Charleston, Situation: Kanawha River.”

As I was reading this book, I had no interest in laughing at my ancestors’ perception of the world around them.  At no time in history has the scientific goal post moved as much as it moves every moment of every day in the 2010s.  Technological development and scientific discovery are happening at such a rapid pace that we seem to be sure of less and less rather than more and more.  That certainly makes life interesting, but it doesn’t put us in a very good position to judge the scientific paradigms of those who came before us.  For the most part, I found the facts outlined in the book to be accurate, even now.

All of that said…

BIGGEST. WALRUS. EVER.

The book states, “The comparative size is here shown, as the animals, etc. are all accurately drawn according to scale.”  There is a measure around the outside border of the book indicating feet.  So in case you didn’t get that, on the top left is a polar bear, and on the top right is a walrus. TO SCALE.

I wanted to put a comparative photograph of an actual bear and walrus together, but I couldn’t find one where the polar bear wasn’t EATING the walrus.  So I leave that up to you and your own googling adventures.  But just in case there’s any confusion, walruses are much closer in size to polar bears than indicated here.  Much, much.  Can you imagine being a child (or an adult) reading this book, not having seen a walrus in captivity, or in a photograph, and believing that a walrus is two or three times the size of the largest animal you might have ever seen?  And even then, only if you had seen P.T. Barnum traveling through, or had a close call with a bear yourself.  For the benefit of sheltered children, there is also a deer on this page, and the walrus is four or five times the size of that fully grown buck.  Um …. can you say, giant fleshy bear-eating flipper-monster, kids?  My only theory is that the nice folks at the National Series of Standardized School Books were discouraging travel.  There were some other things in the book about barren foreign landscapes, savage cultures, and dangerous political situations, all far from home.  I think Mr. James Monteith might have been motivated to keep these kids local.

I did learn things from this book.  I learned one thing that made me feel really, REALLY dumb.  I generally consider myself to be a curious person.  And yet, somehow, I don’t think I’ve ever asked myself why the mass of land that I live on is named America.  I don’t know if that’s just me, or a lot of people, but nonetheless, here it is.  “Q: After whom was America named?  A: Amerigo Vespucci, an Italian navigator, who visited America in 1499.  Q: Why was this Continent named after him?  A:  His description of the country being the first published, many believed him to be the first discoverer.”  I know I’ve learned this name before, but if someone had asked me yesterday what or who America was named after, I don’t think I would have said, “Why, Amerigo Vespucci, Italian navigator, of course!”  But again, maybe that’s just me.

Naturally, several interesting things have changed since 1885.  These are just a few.

  • “Eastern States” were only comprised of tiny New England states. “Middle States” included New York and Pennsylvania.  “Southern States” stretched from Maryland to Texas.  And “Western States” started as far East as Tennessee.  And, of course, much of the land to the West was still divided by Territories.
  • At the time, there were only two continents on the globe, Eastern and Western.  This led me to a little light research, which revealed that the concept of continents has been through several incarnations, expanding and contracting to suit the times.
  • The American English spelling of the word Eskimo used to be Esquimaux.
  • Most interesting, I thought, was the little asterisk next to the diagram of eight planets.  The asterisk wasn’t for Pluto (RIP 1930-2006), but for the hypothetical planet, Vulcan.  The asterisk read, “A planet has been discovered between Mercury and the Sun, and named Vulcan.”  Some light wiki-research revealed that Vulcan was invented to rationalize the unusual orbit of Mercury, which was later explained by the Theory of Relativity.  Vulcan was supposedly observed several times.  A handful of unpopular astronomers still believe that Vulcan exists.  I kind of want to believe Vulcan exists, because how cool would that be?  Wiki-research also revealed that the Star Trek Vulcan was 16 light years from Earth, so no, it’s not the same one.

What’s in a Name

Like many bloggers, I think my blog title is obvious.  But of course it’s not.  If you’ve read back far enough, though, you may have figured it out.  The stars part is more apparent.  I miss stars, and intend to gaze at more of them after I move to my small town.  The slate part is a reference to writing slates that were used in one room school houses across the country.  This blog is at least peripherally about my long-term plan to restore the one room school house that my Mom attended on her parents’ farm.

(Somewhere in my family history is a story about someone who dropped their slate in a puddle on the way to school, and how that was the “dog ate my homework” of the pre-notebook age.  It is either a story that will likely be outlined in my Uncle’s book, which comes out at the end of the year, OR it’s a general small town legend that I’ve mistakenly adopted as my own.  I’m not sure which one, but it’s definitely one of those.)

What I Want and What I’m Getting

First, I have to preface this post.  This move is wading so tentatively in the shallows of the conceptual stage that I haven’t even begun to pack boxes.  So as I go forward with writing about some definite move from the city to the country, please know that things could change, and this blog could end up being about how a dream changed, or, god forbid, how a dream died.  If I decide to get really creative I might go back to the original concept of this blog, living out my fictional fantasy of moving close to my family farm, while writing it all from the comfort of the city.  Now, as this blog progresses, you may not really know if I’m up there or not!  Muahahahaha!

Now, with that out of the way, let’s plan a move that’s definitely without a doubt going to happen!!  Woohoo!!

Moving to a small town is a whimsical dream for many.  All the lovely small town dreams I envision aren’t too different than those of the city-slicker dopes who’ve never been to a small town and don’t know any better.  I have a few “dirt road smarts” from traveling and staying with my family.  But, that doesn’t really prepare me for living in a small town.  I just want to acknowledge that.  So, first I want to talk about what I’m getting.  The less than ideal things, or challenging things that I’m about to encounter.  These are just the ones I’m anticipating – I’m sure there will be more when I get there.

1) Even less job opportunities.  Though unemployment is generally lower in small towns than in big cities, job opportunities that match my interests and experience will be more rare.

2) Less amenities.  Internet and wireless service could be tricky – especially if I find a living situation that is outside of town in the country (which is what I’m really hoping for).  If it snows, the plows might not be there for a while … or a long while if I’m out in the country.  There are some things it will just be easier for me to learn to do myself in a pinch – like fixing plumbing or electric.  It’s not that there aren’t ample resources available, but if I am living far from town, and it snows, and something breaks, I’m going to need to be self-reliant.

3) Less privacy.  A lot of people think moving to the country will mean “getting away from it all,” including people.  Guess what?  That’s a lot easier to do in a city than in a small town.  In a smaller community, the grocery cashier might learn my name.  My neighbors might drop by.  Everyone will know who I am, and develop an opinion about me (especially since my Cousin is a pretty well-known guy).  The idea of this makes me wince just a little.  But then I remember how much happier I am when I am a part of a community.  That’s the dream, after all, right?

4) This isn’t going to be like my other trips to visit the farm.  I’m going to have to work while I’m up there – possibly more than one job, depending on how things go.  I’m not used to working when I’m in that part of the State.  I associate it with relaxing and adventuring.  I’m hoping moving there won’t be too much like getting a job on a cruise ship, which I’m sure would ruin cruises for me forever.  (Okay, that’s a terrible analogy because I would never go on a cruise ship, but you get the idea).  This isn’t a vacation.  I’m moving there.

With all of those realities acknowledged, on to the good stuff…

Even if I’m overwhelmed by needing to be self-sufficient, and being hounded by new neighbors, and working a job that I find less than fulfilling, I will still be in a place that’s magical throughout.

For one thing, the remoteness is absolutely terrifying.  In a wonderful way.  If I’m lucky enough to live in a place outside of town, it will be the most alone I’ve been at one time, ever.  I’m not talking about isolation from a community on a larger level.  I’m talking about being alone at night, miles (or at least hundreds of yards) between me and someone else.  The closest I’ve come to that would probably be solo camping in 6th grade, and even then my teachers were just one loud scream away.  Every time I stayed on my Grandparents farm, or now when I stay on my Uncle’s farm, I’m with people.  Usually lots of people.  I’m far from being alone.  I feel as though being alone in a farm house (most evenings, and some of the weekend) would relax me on a profound level, and allow me to be myself in a way I haven’t yet had the opportunity to do.  At the very least, it would be something new and different.

I imagine watching the sunset on my own, and listening to all the noises of the insects and animals.  Crickets, tree frogs, birds, and coyotes.  And among the wildlife I might not hear: bats, bobcats, deer, opossum, and turtles.  There are also rare mountain lions, and although they may not be quite that far North yet, black bear have been migrating up from Arkansas since a 1960s reintroduction project.  Recently scientists have found native Missouri black bears that were not part of that project, but just hiding really well.  So you never know.

I’m getting off topic.  And I don’t even know if I will be able to find an affordable place to live outside of town.  But in an ideal world, I would have that wonderful fear, and the shiver of bravery to look forward to.

Really, all the things I’m looking forward to are just things of the country.  Quiet, caves, wildlife, rolling hills, winding roads, streams, ponds, fall color, flowers, and laundry drying on the line.  Stuff I might pin.  For me, because I’m lucky enough to have beloved family there, there is also laughter, stories, digging through old photographs, canning projects, family antiques, and the best pie in the world.  Of all good things listed here, these are just the ones I’m anticipating – I’m sure there will be more when I get there.

One of the things I’m looking most forward to is the presence of stars.  I feel like I used to see more stars in St. Louis.  But I’ve been looking for months, and have barely seen any.  And this is during a drought.  When visiting my family farm during recent years, I’ve been having bad luck – always arriving during a cloudy season.  I miss the stars!  I need a chance to get acquainted with them.  From my family farm, they also claim to occasionally see the Northern Lights, which would be such a treat.

The Milky Way over Idaho

Epilogue: While writing this post, I took a break to go outside of my current St. Louis home to listen to the cicadas, crickets and wildlife here.  While sitting on the ground, a rabbit ran right by me, less than a foot away.  How often does that happen?

My Version of Thailand

My University has a number of international campuses, and I met some of my best friends while spending my junior year in Geneva, Switzerland.  Several of my friends in college studied abroad twice: first in Europe, and then in Thailand.  I missed out on Thailand, but I heard enough about it that I felt as though I had gone myself.

Upon graduation, those friends talked wistfully about moving back to Thailand to kick-start their adult lives, and from there, maybe on to China, Australia, and Botswana.  More than anything, they wanted adventure.  I was horrified.  Not by the international ambitions of my friends, but by the lack of a desire to put down any roots.  I couldn’t wait to feel rooted.  I wanted to start my adult life in a community where I could build friendships that would last a lifetime.  And not just the kind of friends that you email, but the kind who check on you every day as you get up in years.  To me, building a lasting connection with a community was the biggest adventure that I could imagine.

At the time, I figured I would do that in San Francisco.  And after college, my boyfriend and I did move to San Francisco to put down some roots.  As it turned out, he rooted, and I didn’t.  After five years in the Bay Area, I had had it with the homogeneity of the political scene, and the complete lack of thunderstorms.  I tried again by trying to put roots down where I grew up.  In St. Louis.  To me, moving home was the greatest adventure.  It was part time-machine because I was getting back to the places where my ancestors had settled, and part service-mission because there is so much to accomplish  in St. Louis’ civic frontier as compared with San Francisco.  I couldn’t wait to join the already strong movement of nonprofits and individuals making a difference in the social and environmental fabric of St. Louis.

Over the last several years, I have immensely enjoyed working with those nonprofits and individuals.  But something else has been cultivated too.  An intensification of my love of history.  I am a no holds barred social history NERD.  There are, I think, obvious connections between a love of history and a desire to put down roots.  In Missouri, my roots go back more or less 150 years.  I need to check exact numbers with my cousin, but I’m hoping I’ll have plenty of time to do that in the months and years to come.  My family has owned property in the same part of Northern Missouri for the duration of those years.  When I visit the family farm, I feel connected not only to my family, and to the land, but I also feel more in tune with what life might have been like before I was born.  I hope to explore that feeling more in the future as well.

I have always felt that putting down roots was the ultimate adventure.  I can’t say for sure that I will put down permanent roots in the small town to which I am headed.  But I can say that I’m getting closer to my family’s roots, and that takes my adventure of moving home even deeper.  My family farm is my favorite place on earth.  I have dreamed of moving to a smaller community for years.  I can’t think of a better adventure to plan for myself.

As It Happens

If this were a book, I could look back at this time in my life with sage wisdom and perspective, and explain my actions in a calm and knowing tone.  Better yet, I could put a spin on things and make it look like I knew exactly what I was doing all along.  Or, at least, had the good fortune of sound intuition.

As it stands, however, this is not a book.  It’s a blog.  And you’re along for the ride as it happens, for better or worse.  In truth, my life is a mess, and even I am not certain of my motivations for doing anything any more.  In the book version of this story, I would probably say that I relocated out of my home town because of a job, or because of some great opportunity, or because a dying relative needed my help.  But since this is not a book, you’re getting the truth.  There are a number of motivations for this move, but at the core, I’m not running toward anything.  I’m running away.

Man, is that hard to say.  I’m not without my critics, and I can hear them as I type this.  One isn’t supposed to run away.  It’s the weak and cowardly thing to do.  You’re supposed to stick with it, dig in, work hard.  I’ve been doing those things for months, and it’s been fruitless.  Fruitless, pulpless, seedless, and peeless.  I’m tempted to say that I could keep going, and should.  I know it’s what the critics want to hear.  It’s what my inner critic wants to hear.  But I’m not sure I can keep going like this.  The divorce combined with everything else that’s gone strangely in the last several years, well, has me about a month away from full-on crazy-town-banana-pants.   I need change.  I need adventure.  I need a great escape.  I want to save myself.  The path that lays before me runs straight out of town.  If I don’t follow it, I’m very concerned about what might happen to me.

When a friend suggested the idea for this blog, it really was supposed to be a “rural fantasy.”  Nothing real.  We were chatting over dinner, and I was telling her how intensely I longed to move 150 miles North to my family farm to restore the one room school house on my Grandparents’ property that now belongs to my Uncle.  But I was also telling her how I felt it was unrealistic to do so.  Restoring a one room school house isn’t exactly a money-making endeavor, and I had been looking for work since my divorce a few months earlier.  More on the divorce back story, here.  She suggested that I continue to look for work in our city, St. Louis, but write a blog about the fantasy of starting over near my family farm.  It was a fun prospect, I loved the idea, and I couldn’t wait to get started.

In the following weeks, life in St. Louis got harder.  Rejection was everywhere.  Networking opportunities slipped through my fingers, and a promising interview with a Nationally renowned public relations figure came to an abrupt end when he asked me, “Is your ex husband Royden Aglakti?”  And followed up with, “He’s a friend of mine.”  (That’s not my ex’s real name, so feel free to Google, you’re not going to get anywhere).

My background is in nonprofit administrative support and communications, and in the last five years, I have focused specifically on the local food movement by working with local farmers, community sponsored agriculture programs, urban gardens, and citizens living in food deserts.  I stupidly resigned from all of my paying work (and my second graduate program) when I got married, leaving me jobless after the divorce.  In the months since the divorce I have been interning at two nonprofits, and trying to bulk up my communications skills so that I could work in any organization as a communications officer.  I have been doing a small amount of teaching and tutoring, but the income isn’t anything I could live on.  And I’ve been blasting out resumes and cover letters like my life depends on it (which it does).  My divorce was only just finalized, and I have until the end of the year before my income runs out completely.  While dire, income until the end of the year is income until the end of the year, and I feel that my time is best spent continuing to network my ass off, intern, and work part time until I can’t afford to do it anymore.  If I were unfortunate enough to make it to the end of the year without steady work, I would secure a temp job.

But a shift in my living situation, and increased impatience from my local support network, combined with despondency about what seems to be a hopeless job hunt, has me looking for something else.  Something intangible.  I don’t even know what it is yet.  I will gladly trade my (questionably) budding nonprofit communications career for a job of any kind, as long as it is out of the city, and closer to that one room school house that I can’t stop thinking about.