I can’t remember a summer when I’ve hugged more strangers who know me intimately.
Start here: Sarah is one of my oldest friends, and a beta reader for me. Beta readers agree to read unfinished manuscripts and give their opinion, before the book is done. Sarah has edited for me in the past, is an avid reader, a lifelong librarian, and knew all the characters in my memoir, Stable Relation. Beyond that, she’s given me what we used to call a “permanent wave” and so I knew she had no qualms about humiliating me. You want that in a beta reader.
When she called me, her first words were, “You make the place sound so bucolic. Anna… I’ve been to your farm.” She spoke with a flat monotone to her voice and a bit of sarcasm salted on top for comic effect. As Sarah gets older, she sounds more like her mother. They both crack me up.
Sarah’s right, of course. Perhaps my greatest feat as a writer is to get everyone to see this
ramshackle humble farm through my eyes. Well, Sarah, your words have come home to roost.
The first farm visit last fall was for an newspaper article. I knew the reporter; he’d even been here before. I liked him. And I still changed clothes three times, trying to cross-dress and look like an author.
There has been a trickle of visitors this summer. One reader emailed me that her family was taking a road trip to the Grand Canyon and Mesa Verde; would it be possible to drop by and say hello? Of course I was flattered that my tiny farm with mis-matched fence panels would be listed with such famous landmarks.
When they arrived, Marcella jumped out of the car, shouted enthusiastic greetings, promised to not take my whole day, and acted like she wanted to hug me.
Disclaimer: if you’ve read Stable Relation, I think you know my people are not the hugging sort.
So, of course I hugged her, and greeted her husband and daughter. Standing there in the driveway, I wasn’t totally sure what to do next. After all, I’m there because of my ability to sit alone and type. I guessed they’d want to see the animals. In hindsight, you’d call it a walking tour, but I wanted to get to the comfort zone of my barn. We were strolling and talking horses, when Marcella recognized my Grandfather Horse. She recognized him! I’m not sure why that meant so much to me. Except he’s the reason for all of this.
I had more visitors the next week; a man who’d written me not long after Stable Relation was published. Chaz and his wife, Peggy arrived with a bottle of wine. I would have never thought to make such a kind gesture. Again, the walking tour and Peggy was honest to say that she was a bit nervous around horses. It was fair, we were in the gelding pen, where the short horse is 15.2 hands.
I could see Edgar Rice Burro waiting for her at the gate on the far side of the next pen. Once we got there, he took over with Peggy, Edgar’s a bit of a lady-killer with his long ears and sweet heart. The other equines in the pen mingled with us. We stood there talking like old friends at the neighborhood bar. Even Lillith, the shy donkey foster, wandered up and nudged Chaz.
As they were leaving, I was signing a book for a friend of theirs, when Chaz showed me his copy of Relaxed & Forward. He’d told me before that he turned page corners at spots he wanted to come back to, but when I actually saw it, it seemed like every other page corner was turned. What a thing. I tried to stay focused on signing the other book, but it knocked me back. The dorky ninth-grader in me fumbled. Why didn’t I ask to sign his book? Why didn’t I thank them for making me feel so special?
Then this week, a group of five visited. They were long time city dwellers, as interested in seeing the pond and re-imagining the distances from the blizzard chapter, as meeting the animals. Then the llamas were a bit rowdy. As they were leaving, one of the women came very close. She said she knew it wasn’t a big deal for me, but for them it was very special. Something they would never forget. She grabbed me for a huge, heartfelt hug. I mumbled whatever I could think of but I fumbled again.
How could she possibly think this wasn’t a big deal to me?
UPDATE: The manuscript for Barn Dance is with my editor. She edits lots of authors; I just like to call her mine. She’ll have it a few weeks, then I’ll incorporate her corrections. It’s grammar and punctuation and sentences that make no sense. In the meantime, I’m in a flop sweat knowing I’ll need a tag line, thinking about the cover image, and that paragraph that perfectly describes 80,000 wandering words. In other words, this is the time that I least trust my judgment. On the high side, I’m getting used to it. Barn Dance is on schedule for the New Year. As always, thank you for your support.
Sometimes it feels to me like I use this blog to apologize; to vent my lack of social skills and try to navigate my way in the human world. I constantly shake my head, marveling at the ways Stable Relation has changed my life. When it was published, I hoped the book would take flight but I didn’t expect this boomerang effect.
We love company here, especially the animals. But since the book, sometimes I don’t recognize myself. So if my eyes seem to go blank, I have only the flimsiest excuse. I’m rudely distracted, watching a foreign film behind my eyes. It has an embarrassed ninth-grader with gray hair and a slight limp; she needs sub-titles.
And Sarah, I notice I’m not any more “bucolic” than my farm.