Jeanenne is my assistant. Of sorts. It was unclear what her job was when I hired her. She is sort of the nanny, but I don't really need a nanny. I am with the kids almost 100% of the day. You might wonder how I can do that and still have a job. The answer is that I don't do anything else. So, for example, the kids broke the flyswatter and I wanted one right away before I died from fly annoyance.

I called Jeanenne, and who knows what she was doing, but she stopped whatever it was, and bought me a flyswatter and drove it to my house. She is my big city same-day service in Darlington.

The first half a year I lived on the farm, Jeanenne realized that what I really needed though, was a tutor for how to act in the country and a shoulder to cry on.

When the Farmer told me to leave, it wasn't the first time, but it was the worst time, and I took the kids to her house. Just for dinner.

When things calmed down enough so that I knew I was staying, she helped me create an org chart of who is related to who in the area (everyone is related somehow) and she even kept me abreast of essential gossip like which husband found his wife in bed with another guy. (Note about the country: In the city, gossip is the term for rumor and trash talk. In the country, gossip is confirmed truth.)

Once I was here long enough to know who I want to be friends with (I love the school principal, for example) I did not need Jeanenne for social navigation.

But I needed her for stuff like going to the DMV, and taking the kids to Madison when I couldn't handle doing the drive three days in a row for my six-year-old son's dance recital rehearsals. (Hip hop. By the way. And I know I'm really old when kids are learning dance routines to the Beastie Boys.)

And, now that Melissa is gone, Jeanenne has started taking pictures.

This one is my older son at the pool. But, don't worry, Melissa still has her hands in the photos on this blog. She edited the photo. So, it's official: it takes four people to write a blog post on my blog. I have me, the writer, plus my copy editor, a photographer, and now a photo editor. I'm just letting you know, in case you think you want a blog like mine. You probably don't. Mainstream media dominates blogging now, and my little site of four people masquerading as one is nothing compared to say, Pioneer Woman's site as two, full-fledged web agencies masquerading as one person.)

This is all to say that what Jeanenne does really well is to adapt to the reality of her job. She never says, “That's not what I was hired for,” (which, by the way, is one of the five worst things you can do to kill your career.) She never assumes that her job will continue unchanged as reality changes around her.

Look at this photo.

We eat three meals as a family, at the dinner table, every day. I cook all the meals, and most of the time I am cooking all farm-rasied food, which is the case in this photo. Pretty nice, huh?

Here's another thing I could tell you about this photo. The meat is corned beef because the farmer made a deal to split a cow with someone who took all the good parts of the cow since they figured I don't know what I'm doing with cooking a cow, so the bad parts were so bad that all we could do was make corned beef out of them.

And I could tell you that I don't eat meals with the family. I can't tell if it's Aspergers (most people with Aspergers like to do something while they eat — so sitting with other people eating is always unpleasant.) Or maybe it has to do with bulimia (I was hospitalized for it and I never seem to shake the sense that I should only be eating stuff I can throw up.) But either way, scientists have found that hunger makes people feel better, so maybe I'm on the right track.

I could also tell you that I had to fight forever to get those plates. I didn't even want these plates. I lived with my grandma growing up because my parents were total fuckups and my favorite dishes of hers were white and pink with blue flowers. I used them for my sweet-sixteen birthday party that was formal and stuffy in a way that only a girl living with her grandma could have. But I loved the dishes and when my grandma asked me what jewelry of hers I wanted, I told her I wanted the pink and white dishes. Besides, I knew the good jewelry was going to my grandma's only daughter. It turned out the pink and white dishes were going to the only daughter as well.

So I moped for fifteen years, or maybe my whole life, that I lived with my grandma because my mom didn't want me but I was never as important as my grandma's real daughter.

When I saw that my dad inherited the other dishes, the blue and white dishes, and his new wife didn't like them, I asked for them. The dishes go well at the farm.

You could see that in the picture. Or you could see our perfect, farm-family life.

This is true for everyone. Everyone can look perfect or they can look terrible. And it's true for every job, as well. Every boss. Every co-worker.

It's a pretty safe bet that we all live our lives somewhere between the perfect and the terrible. And nothing is really really good always. But there is still sometimes. Because the really really good parts exist only in brief moments.

So when you think you need to switch jobs, or switch cities, or switch spouses, or switch any of the other bazillion things that you might feel are not as good as they should be, remind yourself that your job, your family, and even your dinners are probably pretty much the same as everyone else's. And remind yourself to enjoy those brief, really, really good parts.


52 replies
  1. Janee
    Janee says:

    Why does Aspergers sound so much like ADHD? I have the latter. For real, not just for the meds, although they are nice. Anyway, this post reminded me of what I loved most about having money, which was the ability to pay people to do the things that I couldn’t do. When I, too, lived in the country, those “assistants” ended up being my closest friends. But, I ran out of money and I no longer live in the country, so my sister has taken on the role of being my keeper. Fortunately, her services are free.

  2. Kari
    Kari says:

    Man, I feel like you are peering into my soul – that last bit about how the really really good parts occur in the brief moments? So damn true. Finally at 45, I have learned not to rush into change just because I think I’m bored or maybe there might be something “better” out there. There isn’t. Like Paul Simon says, “life is what you make of it, so beautiful or so what.”

  3. Don B.
    Don B. says:

    I like the plates and think they fit perfectly at the farm we have seen in the pictures. I like you have an assistant/friend to be helpful. Surprised you would not sit with the family and enjoy such a nice meal as pictured but, heh, it’s your life. Somewhere between terrible and perfect seems perfect to me. Next time you split the cow make sure to get some blade steak. It would be considered one of the not so good parts but cooks well as bite size pieces made in teriyaki sauce with the lid on to poach the meat. Very tasty. My mom lives in the country and where she lives no one spreads rumors. If you hear some gossip it tends to be confirmed surprise truth.

  4. MBL
    MBL says:

    Jeanenne and Melissa make a great team. The photos look great. I doubt many people could pull off that look as well as your son. Adorable.
    First time poster, but I have been reading your blog since I realized that my 5 y/o daughter and husband have Asperger’s. I have ADD so we could use at least 3 assistants here . . .
    I love your blog and your book (238/1000) Unfortunately, I didn’t check the mail until I was on my way to bed at 4am and ended up reading a couple of essays right then. Did I mention ADD?
    My lyric tie in is Leonard Cohen’s “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

  5. Twister
    Twister says:

    My grandparents decided that when they died, my grandmothers possessions would go to my mom and my grandfathers possessions would go to my uncle (my moms twin).

    When my grandfather died, my uncle got all his things. When my grandmother died 10 years later, my uncles daughter got all her things.

    What neither my uncle or my cousin got was a good relationship with my grandparents, or the wealth of history that they shared with me and my mom.

    Oh. They also didn’t take a few “useless” items like my grandmothers bread board, which is so well used you don’t need to prime it with flour to roll dough.

    The best inheritance is history.

    • thatgirl
      thatgirl says:

      nicely put, and apt! i will say, however, that i had a similar experience. i was the one person in our family to go and deal with a mouse-filled house left idle after both my grandparents passed–three floors of possessions, one room piled to the ceiling, and lots and lots of mice. my father (their son) said that if i brought order to it enough to put it on the market, i could have whatever i liked. so i spend the better part of six months living in the filth and working to put it all right, only to find one day, while i was out, my father’s sister came in with her daughter-in-law, and took every thing of value–even dumped my clothes out of a cedar trunk. my aunt’s mother never liked her, and part of me thinks that this was her revenge. then her daughter-in-law divorces my cousin, and moves away with depression glass, furniture, linens and jewelry–the stuff of my childhood with my grandmother, who used to say she was taking care of everything for us. she wasn’t a woman of tremendous warmth, but she was generous. still, i’d like to have had a couple of things, by choice, to remember her by. people can be awful.

  6. Brooke Farmer
    Brooke Farmer says:

    I’ve been treasuring the really, really good moments with my son this summer. I know they are fleeting. Soon he will be back with his dad. I will be fighting once again to help him see the truth. But right now I don’t have to fight for that. It’s right there in front of him. And I am holding onto every hug, every “I love you,” every smile, with every ounce of my being.

  7. ResuMAYDAY
    ResuMAYDAY says:

    I appreciate your attitude shift towards finding good reasons to stick with a job vs. previous posts where you told people to bail when the job was no longer interesting. As a resume writer, the biggest resume obstacle to overcome is the appearance (or reality) of being a jobhopper, so I’m very happy to see this new, evolving advice from you! I’ve said this same thing many times on Brazen Careerist and always get flak from those who insist that daily-career-fulfillment-and-constant-delight (insert eye roll here) is so much more important than a solid career track and a steady paycheck. That flight of fancy only lasts so long before employers won't bother investing in you. If you’re unhappy with your job, change it from the inside, rather than looking for a new job from the outside.

  8. Susan
    Susan says:

    Hi Penelope,

    I read your blog primarily b/c I am in the field of ASD and am curious about your life with Asperger’s. However, I have a bigquestion: Just how in the world do you make money? You don’t seem to have a job, but you can hire people to help you.

    What’s the secret?


    • Yuse Lajiminmuhip
      Yuse Lajiminmuhip says:

      She is often hired to talk. In another post she quoted how much she can make for each talk. More than $10,000 for each of those. Not to mention the book(s) and ad revenue. Also, I am pretty sure she has a job: She is a writer.

  9. dl
    dl says:

    Penelope, you’re becoming so awesomely wise about life. In one year’s time, but mostly in the last six months, your posts have become almost serene. My question is, is this wisdom something we all have to wait for, do we have to live enough and long enough to finally learn this? Or do others just naturally have it? I’m 52 and feel like I’m just getting it. I’ve always been happy with my life, but always looking in new directions. I’m finally realizing I can relax and keep plugging away with what I’m currently doing.

  10. Lori
    Lori says:

    so true. you are on fire lately with the observations.

    people complain about how bloggers or photographers on flickr are trying to make their lives look perfect when they’re obviously not — but they answered their own complaint. they’re obviously not. most of us want to celebrate those happy moments sandwiched in with the mess of life. celebrating the good isn’t denying the bad.

  11. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    You mentioned joy and happiness again; that it comes in fleeting moments. And I can say that statement would apply to me. But I have to ask myself, what IS joy? And is it all or nothing? Are there different degrees of joy, like from a six through ten? As I get older, I’m feeling less sad and more to the right of five, more and more. No, I still I don’t wake up happy, as my wife does. But I don’t wake up sad either. And that’s okay. I’ll settle for a seven or eight anytime.



  12. Lori
    Lori says:

    “my little site of four people masquerading as one is nothing compared to say, Pioneer Woman's site as two, full-fledged web agencies masquerading as one person.”

    really curious — are you less enamored of PW? do you still envy her?

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Well, I like my life how it is — a combination of my blog and various startups. But I really really admire Rhee (the pioneer woman) for her absolutely outstanding marketing ability.


  13. Lindsay Lennox
    Lindsay Lennox says:

    The last paragraph sounds really, really close to telling people that it’s no problem to feel unhappy most of the time, so long as there are occasional ‘really really good’ times. Might be an okay bargain for some people, but sometimes unhappiness actually is a sign that what’s needed is change, not just a changed attitude (focus on the positive).

    Another way to phrase Penelope’s point (I think) is, the grass is always greener. But the thing is, sometimes the grass on your own side of the fence really is all brown and dead.

    • thatgirl
      thatgirl says:

      i’m convinced of the number one point buddhists would like us to accept: to live is to struggle. i believe that. life is not like it looks on television. so given that default of struggle, making one’s life bearable, and having those occasional, wonderful moments/events makes one appreciate them much more. 24-7 happiness is simply not possible, but one need not dwell in the negative. life, most of the time, is unremarkable–and that’s okay.

    • -k-
      -k- says:

      My reaction was the same. Her point holds, but needs to be qualified for those cases in which those thoughts aren’t about escapism, when it really is appropriate to make a change.

  14. Tony
    Tony says:

    I can’t get over how so many people are badly damaged in their early years by those expected to love them most. I see it in those around me – the hurt ripples through their lives, spreading out, damaging all parts of their lives and relationships, even their own children’s lives. It’s tragic and it makes the world a darker more miserable place.

    Even with love, repairing the damage is a slow and painstaking process. But I know, in my world, it’s the only way. You take the hit and return a small bit of love, turning brickbats into kisses.

  15. Erika
    Erika says:

    I’m a little thrown off by this post because it really seems so contrary to so much you’ve said before. First of all, it betrays a fidelity to the “good” as opposed to the “interesting.” I say this because you call these fleeting moments, which we should apparently use as fuel for our lives, “those brief, really, really GOOD parts.”

    Secondly, someone who really feels this way is someone who lives very much in the moment, not someone with big aspirations like you clearly have or have had. This is not to say that I don’t think these moments you speak of are wonderful. They are definitely moments of sweet, sweet redemption, but they aren’t what sustain goal-oriented people.

    Finally, you framed the quality of people’s lives as always on the spectrum between the two extremes of “perfect” and “terrible.” This definitely seems like “good” vs. “bad” dichotomy where an “interesting” quotient is nowhere in the picture.

    Am I missing something? I think I’m so distressed because I’m usually in agreement with what you write, or at least understand what you’re coming from. I guess that’s why I’ve never commented before, despite really, really loving your blog!

  16. Jonha | FriendsEat
    Jonha | FriendsEat says:

    Wouldn’t be surprised when quality or aura of the photos would change sometime soon but I really appreciate you letting us know and still letting us have a glimpse of your life P.

    While Ree may portray or may actually have a great life, I still prefer reading your real sometimes inane life. I think there’s something about it even more interesting.

  17. Joselle Palacios
    Joselle Palacios says:

    I don’t know if it’s the most useful comment when I just say I loved this whole paragraph:

    “So when you think you need to switch jobs, or switch cities, or switch spouses, or switch any of the other bazillion things that you might feel are not as good as they should be, remind yourself that your job, your family, and even your dinners are probably pretty much the same as everyone else's. And remind yourself to enjoy those brief, really, really good parts.”

    But I so needed to read this today. Thank you.

  18. Nancy
    Nancy says:

    I had a talk with my Aspie son tonight about why he wanders off during dinner time and eats in front of the computer. It’s been a sore spot in the family. Anyway, after reading your articles about why you eat alone, we talked it over and made peace about it. He’ll eat with us for 10 minutes till he can’t stand it, then he’ll go elsewhere. No more fighting over it.

    So, thanks.

  19. Dannielle
    Dannielle says:

    I enjoyed this post. Will you tell the story about Melissa leaving the farm? Or maybe I missed it.

  20. Diana
    Diana says:

    Pioneer Woman is not just one farm girl?
    I love those plates.
    I’m happy that you have an assistant. I felt bad about Melissa leaving, since I was one of many who responded negatively about her and the farmer. But I’m really glad she is trying something new. Or maybe she saw the need for change.

  21. Helen
    Helen says:

    I can’t believe someone else has voiced what I have always thought. That life is a series of blissful moments strung together with a lot of S)_T!! On the flip side, I also believe that when you continually try to make something work by changing your attitude, and you continually fail (especially if you are generally a committed and realistic person as I feel I am) then it is time to make a change. This is why I am quitting a job after 20 years to focus on a sideline business I have. I just could not motivate myself after many attempts, to be invested in the job anymore. Now THAT is how you recognize the need for change. I think what Penelope is trying to say is that if you ALWAYS feel that need for change frequently, then you have to realize that it is YOU and not the surroundings that need to change.

  22. Maureen Sharib
    Maureen Sharib says:

    When you said you were throwing out all your dishes so you wouldn’t have to wash them I boldly asked for them.

    If I had known where they came from I would have never asked!

  23. Audrey
    Audrey says:

    Wow, quite a story behind that simple photo. You are very courageous to reveal so much of yourself. As neighbor said yesterday when we were crying on each other’s shoulders “it ain’t Mayberry, honey”.

  24. Helen
    Helen says:

    Could you please give us an update on Melissa’s horses (or pretty ponies as the photos seem to indicate)? Are they going to stay, unridden, in a paddock until they founder / colic / get sent to slaughter? And why did Melissa take on such a responsibility only to leave?

  25. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot
    Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot says:

    Oh, laughing a lot. Thanks for being so honest Penelope. Four people working on your blog sounds great and just the way it should be. Great blogging calls for a huge range of skills. You and your team have them:)

    Amazing about the Pioneer Woman blog too. Hopefully she sold out for gazillions.

    Alas, there is only one seriously distracted woman working on my blog (me). However, despite the madness of starting a second blog I find having two blogs has helped me manage my own (self-dagnosed suspected,possible) ADHD.

    So there you go – maybe starting a second blog about pig raising/healthy family meals/how to hook a hunky farmer would be fun for you?! And us of course:)

  26. someone
    someone says:

    So true about Pioneer Woman. I realized what was really behind the curtain when she posted a full-fledged marketing survey and pretended like it was something she just made up ‘cuz she wuvs her readers and wanted to get to know ’em all so much better…even their income levels grouped by $10,000’s.

    I left and never went back.

  27. Jo
    Jo says:

    My brother once told me: “Don’t judge your insides on someone else’s outsides”. I remind myself of it almost every day.

    Because we’re all a bit small and scared and lost and messed-up about something, aren’t we? And oh, the relief when we find those who are able to be honest about their lot – they’re the people we need to keep close.

  28. Bjorn Karlman
    Bjorn Karlman says:

    Thanks for the highly engaging post. I’m new to your blog so I’m not sure how characteristic this post is of your other writing but I definitely enjoyed your thoughts on change and transition and being comfortable with both. Definitely easier said than done but I suppose there is something to feeling the fear of change and then simply pushing through. As you said, remembering that everyone else probably goes though the same dramas also helps.

    Here’s a question. Your move to the country is a big change for you and you seem to take it in your stride. You seem to expect and be OK with a lot of change. I moved from Los Angeles to a small mountain town in Northern California and I felt the rush of a thousand changes as well. However, do you now feel that you on some level still crave continuous change but that your new environment is more resistant to it? At least where I now live, change is generally not welcome. How do you keep this state of affairs from stifling your creativity and leaving your restless?

  29. Nola
    Nola says:

    You never have only 3 comments. And the twitter feed for this post is stuck on Brazen Careerist. I wonder where the problem is?

Comments are closed.