Fence Posts, Butter, and the Choices we Make

14 Mar

Before I was born, my parents used to work for a few days each fall for a neighboring family who raised cattle. They’d go up to the back of beyond and break down fences. The fences would then be put back in place every spring. It sounds inefficient, but it wasn’t really. The heavy snows in our part of the world would destroy fences left up over winter, and labor was cheaper than new posts and new wire. How cheap? My parents worked for 2 lbs of butter or 1 gallon of milk/hour. So with two days’ work they’d earn a winter’s worth of butter and fresh milk. My mom still talks with longing about the taste of butter that had been stored in a freezer with the huckleberry harvest.

I moved back to the rural area where this all happened and where I was born about six years ago. Very often I fence and snowwonder about that choice. When I couldn’t make it up my driveway two weeks ago and had to abandon my car and walk home through the snow and the dark and the cold I wondered why I was living here. The next morning as I cried in frustration and struggled to put chains on my tires with icy fingers, I wondered. But yesterday I bought a pound of fresh butter from the son of the people my parents worked for all those years ago. (Incidentally? It cost exactly what I make in half an hour.) Today I baked a loaf of bread, kneading it on the wooden counter my dad built. For tea I had warm bread slathered in that butter, and even though it didn’t taste of huckleberries, it tasted amazing. I felt connected to my life and my choices and the sacrifices I’ve made to live the life I want. It was nourishing in a way I needed, desperately.

How does this relate to writing? Well, it doesn’t, not really. Except that writing is one of the reasons I’m living this life in this place surrounded by these memories. Right now, at this stage, with nothing complete, I feel like I’m stuck on the ice, wheels spinning, going nowhere, fingers frozen, ready to cry with frustration and wondering why the hell I chose this. I want to get to the fresh bread and butter part of writing. My parents worked hard for their butter. I need to buckle down and work hard too. It’s waiting for me. I know it is.


20 responses to “Fence Posts, Butter, and the Choices we Make

  1. Liz Flaherty

    March 14, 2013 at 6:15 AM

    I live in the boonies, too, back a 500-foot lane that can seem like miles when it’s snowed shut, and I never thought of it being a part of my muse until we came to the Winter House in Florida this year, where it’s warmer and sunnier and…yeah, easier, but where my writing voice has been peculiarly silent. Maybe I’m stuck in sand instead of ice. πŸ™‚

    Loved your post!

    • Corina Mallory

      March 14, 2013 at 4:48 PM

      Thanks Liz! I think often any change in routine for a writer can make writing harder. At least for a certain kind of writer. I’d love to be one of those people who can whip out a notebook and write words wherever I happen to be, but I’m not there yet. Hopefully with time and practice …

  2. Janis McCurry

    March 14, 2013 at 7:05 AM

    Corina, I have no advice, just empathy. I know of talented writers who stopped, whether for personal choices, or because of the wall o’ cement that may never crumble. Stock answers are, ” don’t write for publication, just write because you have to.” Uh, sure. But, are we meant to be eternally rejected? At some point, the satisfaction of completing your best work, growing your craft, etc., diminishes and maybe dies, when rejection batters against the “need” to write.

    As a long-term unpubbed, I go through this all the time. Why write? I have a very rich life and know I’d find ways to fill in that space if I stopped writing. My solution is don’t worry about when that point might come. Do it as long as the satisfaction remains. Day by day, book by book.

    • Corina Mallory

      March 14, 2013 at 4:51 PM

      I appreciate the empathy Janis. I really didn’t mean to sound quite so sorry for myself. My wheel spinning is largely a problem of my own making. We can’t control what other people feel about our work, but I *do* control whether or not I finish my WIP. I need to remind myself more often that writing feels better than not writing, and I can’t get the butter without paying for it first.

  3. Judith Keim

    March 14, 2013 at 8:25 AM

    What a beautiful blog, Corina! I love the idea that you’ve chosen a certain lifestyle to fulfill a dream. With such purpose, you’ll succeed. But like everything associated with the writing world it won’t be easy. There are days when we all feel like we’re slipping on ice and others when we skate in wide loops atop it. Good luck with it. Persistence, persistence, persistence.

    • Corina Mallory

      March 14, 2013 at 6:41 PM

      Thanks Judy!

  4. maryvine

    March 14, 2013 at 11:22 AM

    Good blog post. I think to me I regret not writing until I was 36, but then I didn’t even think about it until then. I think I’ve wasted many years in that respect. Just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. I also noticed that I didn’t write more when I worked part-time instead of full-time. The gals I know who are cranking the manuscripts out are those that require the money to live on, on at least add to the budget. I know now that I can’t be one of those that cranks the books out and that’s okay. I’ll go slowly and enjoy the rest of my life, too.

    • Corina Mallory

      March 14, 2013 at 6:43 PM

      I love how kind you are to yourself. We need to do what’s right for us, but for me, sometimes, I don’t do enough. i have the time, I need to write or I’ll never get where I want to be.

  5. marsharwest

    March 14, 2013 at 2:17 PM

    It’s a journey, Corina, and while each of us follows similar paths, they are not the same. We each have to find what works for us in every aspect of the business. We can learn from others, for sure. But ultimately, we have to do what works for us.
    Liz’s comment was interesting. I’d never thought of one location or another as being important to my writing.
    Judith is correct, it’s all about persistence. Janice, when your writing is the best you think it can be, Indie publishing is just a step away. Sure you have to pay someone to edit (no matter how good you are yourself.), but you’ll get more of the profits. But I hear consistently now of folks who are doing really well with that.
    Corina, again as Judith said, this is a beautiful post. In thought and words. Thanks for sharing. I admire the independent life you’ve chosen. I’m pretty much a city-girl wimp. πŸ™‚ Not sure I could carry off what you do.

    • Corina Mallory

      March 14, 2013 at 6:45 PM

      Oh Marsha, I’ve done the big city thing too and there are MANY things about it I miss. Sidewalks mostly. I really miss stepping out my front door onto a sidewalk and following it to antique shops, movie theaters, grocery stores etc. I didn’t think I’d really last here for as long as I have.

  6. stephanieberget

    March 14, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    I love this post. I can see the area through your words. I know how well you write and have no doubt that you will be published one day. I agree with Mary. I didn’t start writing until I was 57 and I regret waiting so long. Have fun, enjoy writing when you do and remember, summer is almost here.

    • Corina Mallory

      March 14, 2013 at 6:46 PM

      Thanks Steph! I just have to remember that I’ve got lots of good writing years in me, I just want so much to take full advantage of them. And summer *is* coming. I saw my first robins yesterday.

  7. MK Hutchins (@mkhutchins)

    March 14, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    Loved your story about the butter — this made me hungry. Baking bread is one of those things that keeps me sane and happy. It’s hard to make a list of things more soothing than the smell of homemade bread in the oven.

    • Corina Mallory

      March 14, 2013 at 6:47 PM

      I could not agree more! My problem with bread is that I can eat half a loaf before it’s even cool. I have very little will power when it comes to fresh bread πŸ™‚

  8. Jennifer

    March 14, 2013 at 10:16 PM

    I feel the same as you do – spinning my wheels. Maybe we need to meet for coffee/tea and get our creative juices flowing again πŸ™‚

    • Corina Mallory

      March 15, 2013 at 8:39 AM

      Jen, YES. Let’s schedule one of those mini write-ins we talked about at the retreat πŸ™‚

  9. Lynn Mapp

    March 15, 2013 at 4:04 PM

    Oh girl, I hear you. Your piece had everything to do with writing. We get bogged down with the everyday and in the process lose the joy of what we have. Your writing will come. Your mind is in the processing stage.
    Now, I’m going to ask some hard questions. Are you ready?
    Why aren’t you writing?
    I know why I’m not. I’m tired. I’m tired. I’m tired. Do you see a pattern? It takes energy to write and mine is…strecthed thin. This weekend I’m meeting a friend at a coffee shop where we plan to spend a few hours writing. I get distracted at home.
    You’ve got to figure out why YOU’RE not writing. Think about this. Really.

    • Corina Mallory

      March 15, 2013 at 4:23 PM

      Lynn, this is SUCH great advice. Can I hire you to kick me in the pants on a regular basis?

  10. Peggy Staggs

    March 15, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    Ilove living in the semi country. I wouldn’t do well out in the sticks. I’ve always been an urban kid. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t enjoy a week or two away, but forever…not me. Lynn is right. The problem is it’s like sailing off without knowing where you’ll end up.


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