I quit the farm.

I had made a commitment to stay for two full weeks, and at 7:15 a.m., the fourth day, I left.

I loved the farming part:   feeding the animals, collecting eggs, working outside, strolling with purpose around the farm in old jeans and work gloves. In three short days I got pretty good at milking goats. And while this may not be a particularly strong brag, I chased down and outwitted an escaped chicken. Caught it. Re-caged it. On Monday, I scrubbed 74 eggs free of chicken and duck poop and surprised myself by enjoying the task. Jumping from a desk jockey to outdoor laborer for eight hours a day was a shock; my bones and muscles protested a bit, but I could handle it.

I liked it.

Inside the farm house was another matter.

Swarms of flies filled the house. Walking from room to room meant keeping my mouth closed and waving my hand before me to clear a path. The windows and walls were spotted with years of specs of shit and dead flies. And not just flies…the kitchen was filled with rotting food and sticky, uncleaned spills. Fresh veggie nubs lay scattered across the floor. The whole house lay in shambles:   laundry on the dining room table, dusty piles of crumpled clothes, old papers, and empty plastic containers, stacks of glass jars and various half-started projects. A spilled cat litter box sat in front of the fireplace. A dozen wasps roamed the downstairs rooms, lazily looking for outside access.

My first night there, I thought, “I can’t live with this,” and spent two hours scrubbing the kitchen. I scrubbed down the oven, the counters, dared to put away a few things that seemed unnecessary in the kitchen, and threw out some moldy food. Within 24 hours, the kitchen was a disaster again, egg shells, cooked food in pots, and unclean dishes everywhere again. A farm accumulates many dirty items over the course of the day; I get that. But this was excessive.

I spent two more hours on Monday scrubbing the kitchen. My third day, I decided to put a dent in the fly population and killed 50+ in the main downstairs rooms. For a while I just stood in one place and randomly swung the flyswatter through the air, killing several every time. But 50 dead flies later, there was no impact.

I tried to roll with it, tried to tell myself that “it’s just messier in a farm kitchen.” But that’s not true: my Aunt Barbara’s farm house was spotless.

My hostess cooked some good meals, but I could barely eat knowing that most dishes and silverware sat exposed in the kitchen, and who knew how many flies had landed on this particular plate or meal? I couldn’t eat. One evening when we found ourselves alone in the farm house, my fellow WWOOFer, a 27-year-old former engineer now living out of his VW van, looked at me with mournful eyes and said, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”

I quit.

Was I justified? Maybe. Maybe not. I made a commitment and did not keep it. Mentally I justified leaving with a dozen loopholes, such as “they didn’t keep their commitment to me to provide a clean place to live.” Still, l made a commitment I did not keep.

Last night, I sat in an Italian restaurant finishing a book called Mindsets. The premise is simple but profound:   whether we identify more with a fixed mindset (I am a collection of certain qualities) or growth mindset (I am someone who grows and evolves my skills, attitudes, self-perceptions) influences how we thrive in tough environments, how we learn, whether we are devastated by setbacks, how we love. The entire book devotes itself to exploring how self-perpetuating stories limit who we can become.

I wrote this first half of this blog early in the day after I left the farm.

When I came back to this piece of writing after finishing Mindsets, I looked at the title, in a new light. Why did I title this piece, ‘Quitter?’ Apparently, my first instinct was to label myself as someone who quits – I am someone who looks at a challenge and says, “I can’t do this.” I give myself no credit for recognizing a physically, disgusting environment and getting the fuck out. I gave myself no credit for taking a risk, driving across the country, and spending three and a half days doing hard work. I even tried to clean the environment several times before giving up.

Now, I choose to view this situation through a new filter, a growth mindset. I learned how to milk a goat. I can clean shit off five dozen eggs and enjoy it. Hell, I can outsmart a chicken. (Again, should I brag about this?)

And I learned a new dimension about myself when it comes to keeping commitments.

8 Responses to “Quitter”

  1. Alesia Says:

    Congratulations for doing what you needed to do to take care of yourself! My grandmother lived on a farm and her kitchen was spotless. You could literally eat off the floor in that kitchen. There is no excuse for having such a dirty house…especially when you have ‘strangers’ in the house that you are feeding and housing. Good for you for looking at the positive side of what you’ve learned in this experience.

  2. Jenna Says:

    Dear Farmer Edmond,

    At first, when we read that you had bit the farm, so to speak, we said, “NOOOOOOOO!” because we so much love reading about your adventures. But you know what? Reading your blog is an adventure no matter where it’s set–and I mean this most seriously and in the nicest possible way–because of your perspective. I left two situations that sucked for me: one being a chambermaid on Nantucket one summer when and where I knew nobody and felt too abysmally lonely; the other a cabin in CO where I had gone to write only to discover I had panic attacks because a) it was so isolated that time melted and b) I forgot I had nothing at the time to write about. I have never regretted leaving situations that weren’t right for me and not only went on to use the time more constructively but gave myself credit for sticking up for myself. After all, if you don’t do it, who will.

    Now please come hoe my garden.

    Mistress Fear.

  3. Tony Says:

    I love this piece Edmond. Through what lens do we view our actions. This situation rather speaks oceans about your committment. The Sparkling Spirit gave this to you.

    And completely agree about “spotless”.

  4. Brett Says:

    Edmond — Seems to me your choice illustrates the difference between accountability and integrity. Accountability is not to be prized if it places my integrity at risk. And mindless accountability is a path to extremism and imprisonment.

    Bless you, my dear friend, for once again being a teacher for me.

  5. Edmond Says:

    Wow, thank you everyone for the supportive comments! I really felt like a loser for ‘quitting,’ and the night before I left, I couldn’t sleep pondering what to do.

    I really appreciate the range of observations. I hadn’t considered the difference between accountability and integrity, this ‘gift’ from The Sparkling Spirit, and more.

    I feel loved.

  6. Edmond Manning » Blog Archive » Is There A Problem, Officer? Says:

    [...] Two weeks ago, I drove to Oregon to work on an organic farm. The week prior, I confirmed that the farmer needed wood chopped for winter. I eagerly suggested I bring my axe and in his reply, he wrote, “Sure, if you want.” [...]

  7. Keith Says:

    I am a complete and utter slob. I did NOT get the stereotypical gay genetic assistance regarding the urge to clean & decorate, to dress well, to exercise and moisturize…

    But FLIES?

    Even when I’m in the dumps and my kitchen sink is full of dishes and I’ve not cleaned the cat box in a week, I do not have FLIES in my house. Well, apart from the stray ‘the door’s open’ invader-type.

    Glad you left. Hope you told them WHY!

  8. Edmond Says:

    Yay for slobs!

    Keith, I did tell the folks why I left their farm. The husband explained, “I don’t think it’s that bad.”

    I said, “I know you don’t. That’s part of the problem.”

    Two weeks prior to my visit, a woman had shown up, stayed for two days, and left, citing the overflowing garbage and flies as the main reason. At the time the farmer told me about this, he rolled his eyes as if to say, “Can you believe her?”

    Uh…yeah, I could.

    I wished she had written a review of the farm on the WOOF website so others (like me) would have had a better idea of what the place was like.

    When I got home, I wrote a review for the WOOF site.

Leave a Reply