2 July 2021

The Rural Diaries by Hilarie Burton Morgan

In my dreams I live on acreage with chickens and goats and have no responsibilities each day except checking on them, cutting fresh flowers for my dining room table, and pulling the occasional weed from the garden (my dream garden doesn't really get that weedy). I feel a dark envy in me when I see other people with chickens. It doesn't seem fair. I of course had to read Hilarie Burton, who I already obsess over from One Tree Hill, recount her life on her farm.

I paid an outrageous amount of shipping to have this book sent from Rhinebeck, NY when it first came out because Burton was signing any copies ordered from her local bookstore. I'm mostly just an insane fan but I tell myself it's nice to support small bookstores and also that one day it will be worth kajillions because it's a signed copy... lol. All this to say, I am a big P Sawyer fan and obsess over all the lovely female leads from One Tree Hill still to this day. But Burton is not just an actress, she's also an activist and a FARMER and a businesswoman, and a mom, wife, sister, etc., and largely, this book has nothing to do with her acting career.

Hilarie Burton as Peyton Sawyer in One Tree Hill, one of the best teen dramas of all time (fight me)

The book reads as the title suggests, like a diary. It's not in diary format but it's a 1st person memoir of Hilarie finishing up on One Tree Hill, meeting her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and the life they built together over time on a farm in New York. If you're looking for her account of her time playing Peyton Sawyer, you will be sadly disappointed, but if you want her recipe for spicy pickles and to learn about alpacas, you will maybe enjoy this as much as I did. 

Pickles and alpacas aside, Burton touches on some more difficult topics as well such as her and Morgan's marriage woes, her difficulties with infertility, the  Me Too movement, and her work with Astor House. I really enjoyed how candid she was about the low points in her marriage because on socials and in the press they seem very happy and perfect but it's important to know that there were many long periods where they were very disconnected as a couple. I think it must be true for all couples but nobody really wants to talk about it. 

Jeff was only home for short bursts of time. When he was, I wanted everything to be pleasant and fun. I never raised any issues. I didn't talk about going back to work, or Gus's doctor appointments, or anything hard that was going on in our lives. Then, when he was away, I would text him and bring up all the issues."

Burton with her husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan (yes, that's Denny from Grey's) and their kids Gus & George

Another aspect of the book I liked was Burton's honesty about her career. In recent years, her husband Morgan has been working as an actor way more than she has and in more popular roles. Burton is open about her feelings around that, her aspirations for herself, and her initial embarrassment at the thought of doing Hallmark Christmas movies, which is where you'll see her working as an actress the most lately:

At first, I was defensive about doing these kinds of jobs - it's only three weeks, they pay women what they're worth, they don't make me take my clothes off- rather than just admitting that I liked doing them and that I also liked to crochet, garden, and watch old movies. There was so much pressure when I was in my twenties, when independent film was ascendant and everyone wanted to play a heroin addict or a sex worker, to make "art" films. But in this odd little holiday genre, I unexpectedly found my power-woman roles." 

I actually love a good Hallmark Christmas movie, but I wonder if this was written pre-homophobia scandal, because the Burton I know (lol) wouldn't support them afterwards.

My only 'complaint' about this book would be that her life seems too Hallmark-y in itself. Heck, she talks about how when the owner of the Rhinebeck candy store died her and her friends (including Paul Rudd and his wife Julie) worked together to buy it. So yeah, now she is a farmer and candy store owner, doesn't that seem like a cheesy movie plot? 

She does discuss the letter her and her One Tree Hill co-stars wrote during the Me Too peak about the show's creator, but it doesn't overpower the book. 

There is a moment of absolute freedom when you realize that the things that used to scare you have no power over you anymore. I had the freedom to tell the truth. My daughter had steeled me. I was a farmer. A shop owner. A soccer mom. A board member at Astor. I was finally a person that I sorta kinda liked, and all the creeps out there could go straight to hell."

I found Burton's voice really comforting. She has a dry sense of humour, isn't afraid to curse (even in writing), and gutsy in a lot of ways but also timid in ways that humble her and make you want to be her friend. And I cannot believe for the life of me what a hard worker she is. She does all their home renos, works all of their gardens, takes care of all their animals, raises two kids, volunteers, and runs a candy store. She's honest and grateful about the help she does get but the amount of just painting alone she did throughout this book makes me tired to think about. 

I don't think you'll enjoy this book if you're going to it solely based on a love for One Tree Hill, but I think it's a pretty perfect "diary" of her developing life on Mischief Farm. It also has some of the prettiest cover art I've ever seen and multiple full page spreads of her and her beautiful family just frolicking with cows and dandelions. 

Mischief Farm had been the game changer. We'd tell people where we lived and they'd say things like, "Oh that's our retirement dream," or "We wanna do that someday." But with all of the loss we'd known, I wanted to scream,
No! Do it now. Don't you realize we only get one chance? New people we met assumed that Jeff and I could handle this lifestyle because we came from agricultural upbringings. No! We just wanted it, so we reinvented ourselves."

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