My Manifesto

Musings

I want champagne and fancy breakfasts. You know the kind I mean, the kind that Eloise at the Plaza would eat. Steaming sausage and biscuits, chocolate croissants, and fresh fruit bowls, all of which I prepared myself, lovingly and languorously. And I know Eloise can’t have champagne. But I can.

I want to be able to don an apron and experimentally bake all day just because it brings me joy. Then I want to share that bakery with all sorts of people who love having sugary goodness in their mouths.

I want to adopt a dog and know that I can take care of it. I want to be able to take care of myself without anyone else’s help. And then one day I want someone to help take care of me, not because I am incompetent but because that person loves me and knows things like: when I am sick I am a colossal baby brat and want extra attention.

I want to be able to fill up my gas tank and drive to far off places and not worry about bouncing my checking account. I want to stop and visit with old men in barbershops and men who are fishing in streams and waitresses in diners. I want all of their wisdom. I want to bathe in it like I want to bathe in a clawfoot tub. I also want a clawfoot tub.

I want to own my own home with my name on the mortgage, no one else’s because I did it all by my independent self. I want to own goats and chickens and horses and perhaps a cow or two. I want to know in turn how to take care of those animals. I want those animals to roam about my yard and lean into me when I visit with them, like they would lean into the sunshine. Because I will love them so much.

I want to perhaps turn my home into a B&B, or at the very least a cozy and open space where friends, family and even polite acquaintances are always welcome. I want that place to be in Wyoming. I also want that place to have a big porch, or at the very least big trees where swings and tree forts can be happily built.

I want land where I can roam. Where my animals can roam. Where I can ride horses. Where I can have fences to mend. Where one day, God willing, my children can roam and pretend to be the Boxcar children, Laura Ingalls Wilder, or the Swiss Family Robinsons like I did as a child. My children will know who all of these people are. They will also know about Lewis and Clark and the importance of explorers. They will know about Annie Oakley and fierce-minded, strong willed ambitious women, they will know about God and that highest and purest of unconditional love, and a whole bunch more.

I want to have a writer’s room or a writer’s barn or a writer’s workshop or even a writer’s nook where I can write novels and have my babies snug tight to me in little papooses while they sleep. And when they are not sleeping and creating a racket, they can go play with the goats or their siblings or their dad.

I want to learn how to garden like my mom does. Meaning, pretty much like Martha Stewart does, because my mom’s gardens are exquisite. I also want to maybe one day like gardening. And if it turns out I don’t, I want my mom to live right next door and I will pay her to make my gardens look as nice as hers.

I want to do nice things for my community like help organize events, or throw old-fashioned soirees, because I love an old-fashioned soiree, or be someone that my neighbors know they could rely on, because I love to help people. I also happen to think this is the best reflection of Christ’s love and if anyone I meet ever thinks more lovingly of God because of me, I will consider my time here a massive success.

And if I can somehow do all of this, I think I will have made it. And if I can do only some of this, but I have tried really hard, I’ll still think I’ve made it. I only say all this, because I do want it all deeply and therefore I never tire of saying it. Of dreaming it. And perhaps, with saying it enough, dreaming it enough, I can inch my way into manifesting this reality. It’s possible of course. We are living in a world where Donald Trump may become president—though I shudder to think—so the possibilities truly are there.

So here’s to champagne this weekend. I can’t afford all the things I want: champagne, and impromptu road trips, and ingredients to bake a lemon blueberry cake, and a horse, but I have opted to purchase for myself a cheap bottle of champagne to accompany my I Love Lucy marathon and cucumber face mask I forgot I owned. And then perhaps I’ll go star gazing in my backyard and feel unnaturally lucky anyway.

 

 

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

Bear Aware… And Other Concerns

Musings

I went hiking yesterday.
By myself.
I think bears were about.
And they probably would’ve liked to eat me, given the chance.

I contemplated bringing an old and probably very dull hatchet I bought for a friend—in order to encourage him to pursue dreams of becoming a lumberjack, but he left before I could gift it to him—I decided against the hatchet because I have a penchant for rock climbing and suddenly had horrific flashes of me not only falling to my death but severing my head in the process. The hatchet stayed home.

I arrived at my hiking destination, one I had been eyeballing for some time. Not only for its inescapable beauty, but its challenging qualities: namely a never-ending field of hills, atop of hills. I started out around 4pm, feeling charged on the idea of tackling this beast. I had asked a friend to come with me, but he changed his mind and not one to be deterred I opted to hike alone and informed my sister where I would be in case I did indeed fall off a cliff or got mauled by a bear.

Let me interject with the bear fixation here. Not only are there indeed bears in Wyoming, but I had recently been to Yellowstone where there were rumored to be Grizzly sightings. Also this particular spot I wanted to hike was an area in which I myself had spotted a black bear climbing along the tree line.

Furthermore, that morning at work I had been perusing a fishing regulations magazine in my downtime and saw an ad for bear spray with a particularly gruesome photo of a man who had been attacked by a bear. That image was now being replayed with every step I took toward that tree line and up the never-ending hill, to my point of interest which was naturally the tip top.

I also have read several cautionary signs in Wyoming that proclaim: Be Bear Aware!

So as I walked I repeated to myself, bear aware, bear aware, be bear aware.

This might have actually been a hindrance rather than a help because by the time I had ascended the first hill to make my way down into a valley to climb the second larger hill, I was almost petrified with the notion of being attacked by a bear. I had come upon a river I had no idea existed in between the two hills. It was nestled down a steep ravine. By this point I had mapped my route up to the highest point and wanted to be there, bad. So seeing the wild drop down to a river I could hear but couldn’t see, along with the fact that it slipped into forest, heightened my bear aware fever. But the thing about me is when I want something, I get slight tunnel vision over it and have to have it. In this case I wanted to be at the top of that hill. I hadn’t accounted for ravines and rivers, but my mind was already made up. So though I was pulsing with a slight paranoia over being mauled by wildlife I worked my way down the ravine anyway.

When I heard a tussle in the bushes nearby, I froze in crazed irrational fear, thinking, this is it; I was bear aware and it did me no good. Except it was just a deer. I continued down to the river. It wasn’t all that wide or fast flowing and there were ample rocks dotting the stream for me to climb across. I did come face to face with an imposing amount of scratchy brush, but I plowed through anyway, bolstered by fear-laced endorphins.

When I reached the other side, I could no longer see the golden hill that I wanted to climb. I only saw forest and rocks. I hustled up the other side, making my way over another tiny stream and was faced with a craggy rock wall. I breathed a sigh of relief as I shimmied up, getting scuffed and scratched while I huffed and puffed trying to outclimb the bears that were surely lurking and watching me in the forest behind.

And finally I was at the swaying field of gold that ascended right up into Wyoming’s crisp autumn sky. I was overjoyed and felt relieved, like I had escaped sudden death. But climbing this hill was its own version of death, because it was so arduous that I had to break and breathe about every fifteen steps while sweat gushed off of my face and I guzzled water and muttered profanities—my favorite way to deal with challenges. I pushed on, noting at this point my tenacity, simply to get to the top of a hill. I heard sounds that seemed to be rattley and hissy like a snake. The golden reeds were as tall as my waist and God only knew what lurked in there. The sun blazed down on my uncovered shoulders and still I was very much bear aware, looking warily into the forests to my right, while I heaved my girth upwards and upwards.

I got to the last peak, which was where the field was stacked with slate-like rocks. I was beyond spent at this point, shaking and sweating. When I went to reach for one of the rocks to climb, not only did it slip out of place and go careening down the hillside, but my arms gave way. I asked myself the question I often ask myself when doing something perhaps overly adventurous, and that is: Would Mom like this idea?

Nope.

I begrudgingly moved down the rocks a ways until I found a safer way up and when I hoisted myself up over the edge onto another field, I let out a euphoric yoop and got maybe a little bit teary. This field flowed downward into a deep valley going down the other side of the mountain with tremendous views of the valley, the highway and endless amounts of pines. I sat and stared for awhile. Maybe I did a few fist pumps. I can’t rightly recall in my state of exhaustion.

Then I scanned the hills, contemplating my way down. The way I came seemed a bad choice, so I outlined a different way down the mountain which admittedly was closer to the treeline and forest where I had spotted the bear months ago, but seemed less rocky. The only problem with this side as far as I could see were the cows grazing in the valley below. But I surmised that I could maybe bypass the cows, yet stay in the field far enough away from hungry bears. I started down feeling almost giddy with how easy it was going. Until I got to a dip in the hillside and saw the vast amount of cows and what looked to be another steep ravine. I know cows are just cows, but there were a lot of them, several with their babies and these are Wyoming cows, which is to say: behemoth and probably fearless.

I really didn’t want to be eaten by a bear, but if I was going to go out in an adventuresome blaze of glory, the bear attack would be the way to go. I was less enthused about coming to an end by cow. I inched away from the few cows who had heard my movement and were now eyeing me or running away. This placed me in a little cove of Aspens and closer still to the dense forest of pines I had been trying to avoid. Again I heard rustling and froze. I heard a growl.

My heart ratched up 17.5 notches while I seriously contemplated my life if a bear were to take off all my limbs. Again it was only more deer. I moved more swiftly down the next ravine only to find that the river I had crossed earlier with ease, was now about 3 times wider and deeper on this side of the hill. Also it was missing the convenient rock steps I had utilized prior. I was stricken. It was nearing 7 o’clock, which meant I had about an hour left of daylight as the sun was already sinking on the horizon. I had very little energy to go back up the mountain and around. Also I was now all but convinced a bear had smelled the sugar in my bloodstream and wanted me for dessert. I also was also in a mild upheaval over the cow situation as well.

I gazed at the deep and terribly murky river with floating logs covered in algae. I was almost as scared of deep seaweed filled water as I was of being taken down by a bear. I walked along the riverbed for a bit mulling over my options and trying to find a way across. I got to an area where the river was less wide and considerably less deep.

I knew what I had to do. I looked down and it was as if God was already one step ahead of me, helping me along. There was an old rusted sign that was long enough to be used as a sort of walking stick. I stuck it into the river to test the riverbed’s bottom, seeing if it was deep mud that I might sink into. It was firm sand. I took a deep breath, quelled my fears and trudged in. The water was chilly but I hardly noticed as I sunk up to my thighs while moving across trying not to lose my balance in what I had already dubbed in my mind as the Cow Shit River. I hadn’t actually seen any cow shit, but given the proximity of the beasts, I could only assume this wasn’t the freshest river in the Big Horns.

Once I made it to the other side, I used my rusty sign to help me up this last hill, which albeit small in comparison to what I had just done, was still a feat, as I was now beyond exhausted and soaked up to my underwear. My shoes were filled with river sludge and all I wanted was to be back at my car where surely no bears or cows were hanging out.

Now here is the thing I realized on this hike, which I gotta say was a doozy, and also maybe one of my favorites, simply for the death factors. Okay, okay, I didn’t actually come close to death, but my hyped up overly-imaginative writer’s brain thought otherwise.

The thing is: I am a pretty determined person. When I want something bad enough I make it happen. I remember when I first moved to Virginia, I discovered this beautiful winery that I decided I had to work at. They weren’t hiring because it was winter but they told me to come back the first of May. I was there resume in hand on the first of May and ended up getting the job.

But for some reason when it comes to my writing, the thing I love most, have wanted the most and think about constantly, I don’t give it rock climbing, heaving through fields and prickers, warding off bears, tearing up my skin and hair through Wyoming’s wild terrain and crossing cow shit rivers persistence. I give it a small nudge at best. So why, I was curious, when I wanted to get to the top of a mountain, was I willing to risk life and limb, convinced of bear growling and all, simply to meet my goal? Do I want to get to the top of a hill more than I want to make something of myself as a writer? No. I don’t think that’s it.

I know I am unafraid of the tangible challenge of tackling hills and all their surprise encounters. But for some reason the writing world and all its challenges, including agents, and query letters seems to scare me more than bear attacks. What is wrong with me? I am willing to get eaten by a bear, but I am not willing to submit my work to a bloody magazine…

There is something smelly in the water here and it isn’t the cow shit. It is my logic. It is all kinds of skewed and makes no sense to me. But I’ll tell ya this. The dawning of this epiphany has led me to believe that if I can tackle mountains and bears in Wyoming (alright I know! I didn’t literally tackle a bear, but I was willing…sorta) then maybe I should send someone out there in the universe my stuff and ya know see what happens.

Maybe nothing happens. Or maybe I face mass rejection. But at least I will be moving forward in my fear and accomplishing something. Instead of sitting pretty on my fear like I have been doing. I am taking one from my own experience and am going to become bear aware in the arena of writing. Agents and freelance contracts cannot possibly be more frightening than a wild bear. Just sayin.