The Arrogance of Belonging

Musings

I admit I have been struggling to write for the last week or so. I felt like I had this ah-ha moment of beautiful writing clarity while writing about my forays into ranching and then I became sort of stumped. I felt like I had ejaculated all my good creativity into that post, and wondered if I had any more left? And then I began to sort of belittle my existence and think I didn’t have anything good to say anyway.

My days—though could be constituted as lazy—have been filled with all sorts of experiences, both giddy and slightly gruesome. First off I got hired to be a pizza delivery driver, as this ranching business is more of a learning experience and I am doing it all because I want to learn. However, I still have student loans and car insurance and a cell bill which won’t happily go away because I want to play with horses and cows all day.

At first I was relieved to have a somewhat mindless job, so as not to take away from my writing or ranching. That was until my first day when I had to watch training videos on my new role. Included in training was a detailed video on handwashing in which I mentally rolled my eyes, but then proceeded to fail the handwashing quiz twice, while it boldly proclaimed that I was ‘contaminating the pizza!’ In my defense, being a slight tree-hugger, I shut off the water in the wrong order, according to the quiz.

As the shifts piled up, my morale went down and I begun to feel sort of lousy about the whole thing: being critiqued on my overly chatty phone answering skills by a sixteen year old boy, making less than minimum wage, wearing the pizza tee and ball cap and looking like a husky boy. All this combined with my dwindling bank account and living off of my hosts leftover food supply of canned corn and beans was making me feel like a real life pauper.

But then you see, I snapped out of it. I can only play the ‘oh poor me’ game for about a half day, maybe a day and a half max, before I grow incredibly weary of myself. Because it is always about perspective.

Happily enough I had these things going for me:

A house stocked with a large canned food supply that I could eat until I had more fundage.
Incredibly kind neighbors that invited me over for dinner a couple of times a week. Just because.
A job that allowed me to make money on the side and spend mornings and days having coffee with ranchers and listening dreamily while they said things like, ‘I reckon,’ and ‘that’s life in the far west for ya.’
A girl friend that planned a whole day of adventure for me, combined with off-roading, canyon-carved rivers, a beachy bonfire complete with roasted hot dogs, brews and ice cream, dancing and cartwheels, coyotes howling in the night and a sheer giddy appreciation for Friday’s that didn’t involve delivering pizza.
This fella that I kiss sometimes. Don’t read into it. But after a night spent playing a rousing game of gin rummy, followed by a heated debate on Yankees vs. Confederates, mixed with two vodka cranberries, I burst into tears about my fears of ending up a spinster. He got me tissue and smiled at me when I asked if I looked like Swamp Thing and said no. “Liar,” I said, “I know I look like Swamp Thing… you like that look huh, you weirdo.”
“You know it,” he answered tucking me into his shoulder. And then he kissed my forehead, my cheeks and my lips a whole bunch of times until I was all but simmered down and sort of convinced spinsterhood was far, far away from me.
Having the nicest sisters in the world who don’t think I am a lowlife when I call them to confide that I am struggling and amidst my strife say things to me like, “I will always look up to you,” and don’t judge me, but only uplift and support me. Or who call me excitedly this morning to say, “I am putting money in your bank account today that is strictly earmarked for yummy groceries, a bottle of wine and a treat.” I then called my mom to tell her this and my mom says, “you’re welcome.” I know, Mom, ya did good on giving me my baby sisters. I can’t wait to make it as a really posh writer one day and call my sisters with news that I will be depositing funds into their bank accounts for yummy groceries, wine and treats.
Living in a place where bald eagles swoop, and mountains envelop, and coyotes howl, and cows move freely about the road, and ranchers say to me, “I’ve been praying for you,” when I mention trying to finish writing my book, and a community that includes me like I am one of their own, though I’ve only just begun here, and getting to deliver pizza because if I were truthful with myself, it’s kind of fun and working amongst teen boys with Bieber hair who talk about ‘Twitter being so out, while Instagram is so in,’ makes adult problems seem kind of trivial and far off, because teen boys are lighthearted and amusing.

Which all brings me to this term “the arrogance of belonging,” by David Whyte, which I read about in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic and loved it. She also said “you are allowed to be here, and that—merely by being here—you are allowed to have a voice and a vision of your own.”

Even if everyday I am not ranching and romancing the West with prose and possibility, I am here and I do belong. And the experience of being a pizza delivery driver, while still getting to go out and see baby calves, or have a chill shimmy down my spine upon hearing coyotes howl at dusk, or kiss boys merely because I feel inclined to, is a part of my experience.

And the thing is I chose this experience. I chose not to apply for big girl jobs, or newspaper jobs, or jobs with 401K’s and health insurance in order to have my own experience in the West and write my own way. Even if it humbled me greatly to fail a handwashing quiz and wear a pizza ball cap, I realized a humbling experience or two never hurt anybody. In fact I hope I am better for it.

“The arrogance of belonging pulls you out of the darkest depths of self-hatred—not by saying “I am the greatest!” but merely by saying “I am here!”
-Elizabeth Gilbert

Shoot the Crocodiles

Musings

I put all sorts of conditions on myself in order not to noget writing done. Here is a completely true compilation of things I have said or done in order to avoid my craft:

  1. I need a record player to set the mood.
    I lost the cord to mine and listening to music on Pandora isn’t scratchy or otherworldly enough, even when I put on Billie Holiday Radio. And trust me Billie Holiday has the right kind of croony old-timey scratch. I have her as my ringtone and once while taking a bath at my ex’s old farmhouse, I heard this eerie female singing in the other room, and having already determined that his house was indeed haunted, I presumed it was by the ghost of a Billie Holiday sound-alike. Until I remembered my ringtone, and calmly went back to enjoying my bath in relative relaxing peace and un-haunted quiet.
    I will then spend the bulk of my day not writing as I don’t have a working record player, so instead I pine for one while daydreaming about sashaying to Moon River in my mind on my imaginary record player.
  2. I need a seaside vista.
    Or a mountain view. Or a big wooden writer’s desk—I do actually own one but it is ever so inconveniently buried under an actual mountain of junk in my parents basement. Or better aesthetics. Or less distracting aesthetics. I have given every one of these excuses as to why I cannot write. I then have to pack up my things to find the better writer’s locale and then I am certain I can do it. Except I have had seaside vistas and proper writer’s desks and mountain views and lovely aesthetics and uninterrupted aesthetics and still I will avoid my craft and revert back to excuse number one. Or try out one of my most agonizing habits.
  3. I am simply too blasé or bluesy to do my work.
    This is my worst offense. I get all angsty tortured artist and simply feel being creative is too much pressure. I do things like cry, curl into bed in the fetal position, lay a blanket on the living room floor and lie there for hours feeling hopeless while staring at the ceiling, generally wear myself out with histrionics until I can force sleep on myself and not think about the pull to write. I have resorted to this one more times than I even care to admit. In fact I did this all weekend. My mom called in the middle of one of my meltdowns and I was already planning my fourth avoidance tactic:
  4. Run away. 
    I do this one probably the most. I decide to combine all the other steps, of this one place not being mountainous enough, or having a record player on hand or how I didn’t account for my blues, and I decide I need to pack up and find the new place that will make it all easier and better.
  5. I need to watch a sitcom I’ve seen 1,000 times to unwind.
    I re-watch about four sitcoms over and over and over again. I Love Lucy. Friends. The Office. King of Queens. These are my standbys and I have seen every episode of every season of these hundreds of times. They still make me chuckle and they give me ample amounts of comfort as I delight in their hilarity. But mostly they distract me from my work. I convince myself that I need to see if Ross and Rachel really were on a break. Or how Jim and Pam’s love story plays out. Or what sort of antics Lucy gets into to try and make it on Ricky’s show. How badly Doug will screw up and tick off Carrie this time. I already know. Ross and Rachel were on a break. Jim and Pam fall in love and it makes me happy and sick with jealousy over their fictitious love every time. Doug always ticks off Carrie. And Lucy never fails to get herself into wild blunders that make me smile. Funnily enough, however, I am loathe to start watching new television shows because I don’t want to commit and I don’t altogether like TV that much.

Now for the record the perfect place does not exist. The perfect place with mountains and the sea and record players and big wooden writer’s desks and no access to King of Queens. Okay, that place actually might exist, but the place isn’t the problem. The problem is me and my incessant fear over making it. That’s what stops me. That’s what makes me put grandiose declarations on everything I do, so I don’t feel so screwed up.

Lucky for me, I have a pretty tough mama and she encourages me when I need encouragement, but she also puts the kibosh on my hysterics when that is needed too. Which is exactly what she did yesterday when she said she wasn’t going to coddle me anymore, but was going to get all kinds of tough love on me. When I tried planning my escape route and said as much to her she said simply, no.

“You are going to stay put and do your work.”

I feebly tried reasoning with her that I could do my work better in Sheridan, three hours away with coffee shops and libraries. It was two in the afternoon at this point and I had spent most of my morning toying with a round-up of my five avoidance tactics for writing.

“No,” my mom insisted. “You’ll get to Sheridan at dark, half that stuff will be closing and then what? You can’t stay long because you have nowhere to sleep. Do your work where you are, right now. Anything, start with something,” she insisted.

I sniveled a little more and begrudgingly agreed with her, wondering indeed why I was such a baby brat? What about my writing, the thing I have wanted to do for the longest period of my life had me in such a state of upheaval upon facing it. I had all the time in the world right now to face it. For the first time in a long, long while I didn’t have my sisters nearby to distract me, or a gaggle of friends, or a boyfriend.

I have a new and small town, where I know next to no one, uninterrupted quiet, and mountainous landscapes. Sure no big writer’s desk, but I have a big wooden table in the kitchen. And no record player either, but really that’s not vital. My writing with music playing is actually a new-ish occurrence.

So what is my problem?

Me.

I am my problem.

I went and put on I Love Lucy anyway, but selected a disc I had just watched and turned down the volume low enough that I had a faint sound in the the background, mixed with the comfort of Ms. Ball’s genius, while I pulled my laptop into my lap and began to work.

Later that night, I journaled asking myself what in fact I was so afraid of? Having truly no distractions? Having to face the music? Turning 30? Making it? Not making it? I didn’t know, but I knew I couldn’t run away this time and I couldn’t watch endless sitcoms or lay on the living room floor and mope. I had to grow up and get it done, because no one else would do it for me, nor would I want them to. In fact that was what was sickening me the most. That I had all these ideas and that I may sit on them long enough for someone else to decide to manifest something wonderful while I merely thought about writing instead of actually writing.

Then I read this:

This is how it comes to pass that one morning you open up the newspaper and discover that somebody else has written your book, or directed your play, or released your record, or produced your movie, or founded your business, or launched your restaurant, or patented your invention—or in any way whatsoever manifested some spark of inspiration that you’d had years ago, but had never entirely cultivated, or had never gotten around to finishing. This may vex you, but it really shouldn’t, because you didn’t deliver! You didn’t show up ready enough, or fast enough, or openly enough for the idea to take hold within you and complete itself. Therefore, the idea went hunting for a new partner, and somebody else got to make the thing.
-Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic

Which is so true. I totally thought of FaceTime before Apple! But um… I was a kid and I also thought the Jetson’s were really onto something with their flying scooters. That is actually one of those ideas that I would’ve never been able to manifest though, because I don’t have a science brain. But I do want it on the record that I did think of a telephone in which you could see who you were talking to.

At any rate I digress. My point is I am laying it to you straight, readers, that I am going to write. And I aim to finish my book by my thirtieth birthday. Even if it sucks or bombs or no one cares, the darn thing needs to stop having a moat with crocodiles swirling around it, because if someone else does indeed write the thing I have been yearning to write, well I will have far worse problems on my hands than whether or not I have scratchy enough music on record and a big fat writer’s desk. Also I’ll probably shoot those crocodiles. I should probably shoot them now actually.

Guys, they are fictitious mind crocodiles, don’t worry I could never shoot a real animal. In fact my friend and I passed a meat processing plant the other day where I saw a man on a fence and another wrangling with a cow, and my friend said, “that’s the cow’s last day.” I stared on in horror wanting to go and set him free. But alas, that probably wouldn’t make me any friends in my new ranching community and I must remember this is all part of it. Death is a part of it. Hence why I’ve got a messy date in a moat and a book to wrangle out.