I continued to throw myself into my newly rural identity with gusto. Because that is what people of strength do — they adapt; they bend and sway in the breeze while more intractable sorts snap in two the moment they step outside their comfort zone.
Which is to say, I studiously read the assigned Bible passages, I jubilantly sang the hymnals at church. I scribbled in the blanks of my Strong Queens, Tough Choices workbook.
I also joined the YMCA, a no-frills exercise facility housed in an old auto body shop located in a strip mall. The first time I went to the Y, I was greeted by the sight of a fifty-something woman running really fast on the treadmill in her jeans and I realized I had moved to a place with no cult of fitness. But I gritted my teeth and became a devotee of the Y's Body Blaster class anyway, a strength-training class taught by a joyful older woman who said things like, "Okay, peeps! Who's ready to sweat out the jams?" ... During squats, the joyful Body Blaster instructor would look right at me and say, "Go lower! Lower! Imagine you're hovering over a truck-stop toilet! That's it. Now smile!"
When I wasn't pretending to hover over truck-stop toilets or immersing myself in the Bible, I was in my home office trying to come up with story ideas for various magazines, a somewhat tedious exercise since high speed Internet wasn't available to us, only a clunky satellite connection — and the economy had entered a deep contraction by that point. Editors weren't returning my emails, let alone phone calls. It was clear more stories were being produced in-house, so freelance work was becoming a lot more competitive. But instead of pitching more stories to make up for this new world order, I found myself becoming more listless and disconnected, like New York City was this great dark planet in a faraway galaxy that had no bearing or relevance on my new life whatsoever.
My attention was turned to more pleasant distractions: my cute little house, my gorgeous property and my marriage. Because I was having a hard time ginning up work, we agreed that Jake ought to work more hours to make up for my faltering income. This was something of a conceit since Jake already worked a lot of hours — he and Cowboy usually left the house at seven and returned by seven — but now he left earlier and returned later and worked either Saturday or Sunday. He was also still very active in the Army Reserve so he was gone at least one weekend every month for army duties, leaving me and Cowboy a lot of time to figure out what outlandish meal to prepare for dinner. Granted, I was thankful Jake had so much work and opportunity when so many others did not, but the yawning days without much company made me realize the extent to which I lacked skills. I didn't know how to do anything in the country other than dabble in the kitchen and wander around my property. It was during those slow, meandering turns that it occurred to me the characteristics that had made me successful in New York — surfing the Internet, imbibing, downward dogging — had no currency here. What's more, in New York, that was enough. Life came at me, not the other way around. I was propped up by the energy of the street, the caustic wit of my friends, the dysfunction of the workplace. Hitting enter, ordering the right selection of cheese for a cheese plate and reading the New Yorker were the extent of my qualifications for living. But in a rural environment, where cows counted as my closest neighbors and long hikes in the woods were considered the wildest part of my weekend, I began to feel handicapped, like my hands were stumps — useless appendages at my sides.
Faced with this realization, I left the house and fired up my motorcycle and rode toward town. I wasn't sure where I was going — I couldn't really think of anywhere to go — so I ended up at the Walmart, so filled with people and sounds and light and color that maybe if I half shut my eyes it would feel like wandering through Times Square, but not. I found myself in the fabric section of the store, when I noticed a collection of Project Runway sewing patterns — mod-inspired shift dresses that looked relatively easy to make. A lightbulb went off: Must learn to sew. I purchased a few of the easiest looking patterns ... Sewing was tactile, it was precise, it required full concentration. I could get lost in it, in the same way a craftsman gets lost in a building project. I started out making aprons; kitschy reversible aprons with ribbon, pockets and fanciful buttons that I made for every remotely domesticated female I could think of. I began scouring yard sales on Saturday mornings and was delighted to discover that mint condition vintage sewing patterns from the '70s that would cost thirty dollars on Etsy.com could be had for as little as fifty cents. I found Halston and Pucci patterns and even scored a rare Sonia Rykiel tunic dress with bell-bottom slacks ... I'd sit at the dining table, surrounded by colorful fabric and printed tissue paper, sipping yerba mate tea and struggling to sew a collar big enough to sail a boat with onto an A-line dress with mutton sleeves. If that sounds less than exquisite, it was, but I didn't want to waste my time making anything that looked like it came from Ann Taylor Loft, which I felt defeated the purpose of making clothes from scratch. My prêt-à-porter was all about maximum style and high drama (and it took me awhile to admit that '70s patterns in wild prints were more Halloween than haute couture).
Jake looked at the small stack of aprons next to my sewing machine. "I was thinking — maybe we should get you a dog.
From Rurally Screwed: My Life Off the Grid with the Cowboy I Love by Jessie Knadler. Copyright 2012 Jessie Knadler. Excerpted by permission of Berkley, a division of Penguin Group USA.