Some of the People in My Life, Vol. 9, Renegades, Part 2: Kassie Finneran

I briefly introduced you to Kassie Finneran in my previous “Some of the People in My Life” post. When I contacted Kassie about featuring her, she responded with a beautifully-written testimony of her life story since high school. Therefore, I decided to get out of her way and to let her words speak for themselves as to her choices in fashioning her life’s journey to this point. What follows are Kassie’s words with only a few minor editorial fixes. I apologize. I just can’t help it.

There is an inherent shift that I believe every young adult reaches after high school. We are thrown into the world like a baby learning how to swim and are expected to know how to function in society. After high school, my family forced me to attend college at Cleveland State University where I majored in music education. I knew I did not belong there, but I did my best with the given situation. I figured if I were to attend college, I may as well pursue something I enjoyed. Taking on the challenge of twenty credit hours, extra curriculars, managing a Starbucks, maintaining a social life, and holding up a healthy relationship with myself — my mental health began to decline. I did not have time to take care of myself or give the appropriate amount of energy to my studies. When the semester came to an end and it was time for exams, I had lost an unhealthy fifteen pounds and was clearly struggling. My professor stopped me halfway through my test and looked at me dead in the eyes and said, “Kassie, are you sure you want to pursue music?” If his intention was to motivate me to do better, his attempt failed. I walked out of the stuffy music room defeated and immediately went to drop out of school. I had reached rock bottom, and it felt like no one could even recognize it. I felt like I had just lost a battle, but I knew the plan that lay ahead had something great in store for me.

Kassie performing at the Jubileego Music & Arts Festival in New London, Ohio, in 2019.

I remembered a moment in my freshman year of high school when a young woman came into my science class and told us about her journeys across New Zealand. She introduced me to a nonconventional lifestyle that I longed for. She spoke of the program World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms (WWOOF) that connected people across the world to organic farms, where they provided shelter, work, food, and community. I knew this was the path I was being called to walk. As a child, my family never lived in one place for more than three years and often traveled. Being a nomad was in my blood. It is what I knew. I signed up the next day. Possibilities began to swirl in my head with vivid color. My vision was becoming clear.

I found a small orchid farm outside of Hilo, Hawaii. I did not have a plan, but I knew I had to trust. The plane ride was long and exhausting. I arrived with no cell service and, honestly, no clue. Luckily, I had a met a kind man on my flight who offered to give my partner at the time and me a ride to our farm. We climbed into the bed of this man’s truck while he blared Jack Johnson and drove through paradise. This moment lives in my head as clear as day; the land was full of life, and unknown possibilities lay ahead. We arrived at our farm after sunset, and I honestly felt a bit scared. I did not know what I was walking into.

Kassie’s Kitchen in Hilo, Hawaii.

The farm hand, Mike, greeted us with a smile and a joint. He led us to a screened in hut built with 2 x 4s. I knew it was home. Our kitchen was the roof of a greenhouse with no walls. Everything was outdoors, including our shower. The land was full of vegetation unlike anything I had ever known. Our daily activities included weeding orchid plants, planting seeds in the garden beds, and harvesting green onions. George, the owner of the land, was a surfer from California who crossbred orchid plants and shipped them around the world. He showed us the beauty that the island had to offer, including Waimea Valley, a sacred valley between two mountains, where wild horses roam and natives thrive.

Waimea Valley

A short two weeks passed before a 6.4 earthquake struck, and lava began to flow just five miles from our farm. The vog (a form of air pollution naturally occurring with volcanic flow) made us sick. Feeling unsafe and unsure of what to do, we fled to the other side of the island. With our bags packed and no plan, we sat on the beach in Kona hopeless. A woman, named Kathleen, offered to take us in on her coffee and macadamia nut farm. We arrived on the side of mountain to a three bedroom house with a bathtub and shower in the middle of the woods. The farm was magical, ten acres of trees and coffee bushels. I knew I was in heaven. I began working at Menehune Coffee, exploring the island, and working daily to tend to the farm’s needs. It’s a beautiful moment when you begin to recognize that when you tend to a need daily, something is sure to bloom. That lesson inspired me to reflect on my life. After two months in paradise, the mainland began calling me back.

After returning home, I moved back to Cleveland. I felt as though it was unfinished business, and I still needed to prove myself. I moved into an apartment with my partner and looked endlessly for work. That feeling of defeat began to resurface. I went for three months with no job in sight until I interviewed for the Phoenix Coffee Company. Although they didn’t hire me, they sent me to a new business they were outsourcing to called Brewellas Coffee, Crepes, and Collectibles. Walking into the space, I instantly knew I belonged. My interview was successful, and I was officially their first hire. I saw the beginning of a journey unraveling before me. Chris Murphy, the owner, instantly became one of my closest friends and mentors. He opened my eyes to the importance of mental health and boundaries. Inspired by his transparency, I began therapy. Chris made me feel at home, and the people in my life became my family.

Today, I manage Brewellas, and I love every minute of it. I’m a firm believer that what you put into the world will come back to you. Helping nourish this business has brought nothing but prosperity and blessings to me. Chris and I recently had investors of the West 117th Foundation reach out to us about opening an LGBTQ+ cafe and safe space in Lakewood, Ohio. Based on the 70s feminist movement, we named it Golden Hour. There, we hope to help build and empower Cleveland’s queer community.

In my most recent endeavors, I’ve traveled to the coast of Oregon, staring in Portland and road tripping down Route 101 with my friends. I then made my temporary home at an animal farm, where I tended to goats, horses, and garden beds. I stayed in a tiny home on a mountain surrounded by woods with my best friend. From there, I visited Tucson, Arizona, and moseyed through the desert. I have pursued a personal music career, releasing my most recent album, Bird Feeder, and I’m working on my second album, What’s to Come. I perform regularly at small Cleveland venues. I have also begun operating my own non-binary vintage clothing line and released a podcast on the important of sex education.

In the future, I hope to one day own farmland of my own and host WWOOFers. I’m hopeful for the future, and I know it shall be fruitful. I continue to trust my journey, and I’m looking forward to the horizons that lie ahead.

I want to thank Kassie for such a candid sharing of her fascinating story. Whenever I think of Kassie, I associate her with the Jim Pepper song “Witchi-Tai-To” from 1969. It’s based on a Native American peyote chant that translates to something like “What a spirit spring is bringing round my head Makes me feel glad that I’m not dead.” In the quarter century of her life, she has accrued the experiences and the wisdom of someone twice her age. The world could use a lot more Kassie’s. Knowing Kassie makes me feel glad that I’m not dead. Be sure to check out the video for her song “Tales of a Golden Heart.” I’ve also linked “Witchi-Tai-To.” Give it a listen, I guarantee it’ll make you glad to be alive.

“Tales of a Golden Heart”

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https://tyroth.com/

Published by tyfroth

My primary passion and vocation is teaching literature and composition on both the high school and university level. My avocation is writing novels that explore contemporary themes/issues relevant to both young adult and adult readers.

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