The Wildness in Me

Musings

I attended the Cody Rodeo last night. I even purchased a season pass, so color me committed. I ate overly salted popcorn, drank apricot beer and gabbed with my girlfriend from the ranch. She’s the wrangler there and would whistle with bursts of enthusiasm for the riders while watching raptly.

The sky’s brightness and the summer heat diminished and I begun to get chilled in my sleeveless white sundress. I watched the cowboys get flung from bulls and cowgirls turning a sharp corner on horses full of sinewy grace in barrel racing. I sometimes leaned back and hardly noted the action, instead just noted how I felt, which was charmed and at home, and other times I sat in wonder over the difficulty of roping a moving calf.

I myself started practicing roping a few months back, and it is no easy feat. I can only rope a calf if it is plastic and held fast in a hay bale, three feet in front of me and unmoving—which obviously helps if the calf is plastic. The idea that these riders can be swiftly moving atop a horse, swinging their rope, and catch a high-tailing calf is astounding and worth a whistle. If I could in fact whistle, which I cannot.

I had just wrapped up my first week at the new ranch, full of cooking up cheesecakes, biscuits, baked chicken, and cleaning cabins, learning to saddle and getting swept up in windstorms.

I felt as though I had hardly taken much of a breath as the night before last I stumbled up the barn steps and fell into a deep sleep at 6:30, not awaking again until 6:30 the next morning.

I was trying to keep track of all the newness, which had caused me to feel so breathless. Baking in a big old Western abode befitting a feature in Western Horseman. Riding horses up the side of a canyon while my nostrils inhaled an intoxicating amount of sage; I swayed with the horse and the sweet intensity of the smell and my surroundings. I heaved saddles on and hefted them off and felt that I belonged to the West and saddles and painting posts and sagebrush and that I always had.

And then when I had time to catch my breath my best friend told me she would go into labor soon. She is having twins and we texted back and forth in excitement. But then it started creeping up to me again. That feeling that I have tried to shake for months, but won’t go away. That my egg count is dwindling and motherhood is very far away from me.

I suddenly felt guilty about gallivanting up mountainsides on horseback and cruising around in a golf cart with a cow dog by my side with the wind making my hair look like Marv from Home Alone—because it is short again and the curls are as wild as my spirit. I felt like I had done something selfish somewhere along the line choosing to be so footloose and fancy-free. Had I chosen the wrong path, though it had felt like the right one?

Would choosing this kind of wildness prevent me from ever having something I had always wanted which was children.

I fear this kind of thing may not disturb men too greatly, or maybe even young women, because I don’t ever recall considering my egg count until my thirtieth birthday started nearing. And now I am somewhat obsessed with terms like egg counts and geriatric pregnancies—which for the record was the term for women who got pregnant after 35—adoption and egg freezing.

After many a meltdown as my thirtieth inched closer, and I masochistically read mommy articles and cried, I made a vow to myself to knock it the fuck off, and enjoy my present moments of ranching, making cheese, learning to fly fish and saddle horses, without thoughts of my egg supply or a geriatric pregnancy.

But all this rushed to the forefront of my mind again, while my bestie spoke excitedly of the impending birth of her daughters. I tried to keep a stiff upper lip, not portraying jealousy over her joy, while she consoled me that my time would come. I even marched on and went to the rodeo anyway, despite a sudden and distinct empty feeling in my uterus.

I watched the cowboys and tried not to picture little cowboy kids in my mind. I did anyway. I stared at the ropers and came back to my egg count. I looked at the running baby calves and tried to surmise if it were possible that I could live without children.

Which is when I turned and confessed all this to my very new friend who was very kind and understanding as I ranted about my barters with God: I will give up any lofty career aspirations and settle down as a respectable banker if it means I get to have babies. I mean it, God. I will stop being wild. Errr, I will try really hard to stop being wild, but I can’t make promises once the babies come, because I want them to ride horses, camp under the open Wyoming sky and go on whale watching adventures on the coast.

For some reason just admitting to my barters about being a banker in exchange for babies, while she laughed and said she understood, caused all the egg count and swaddled babies that I might never hold, and ideas that I could possibly be undeserving of a baby to disappear into the Western sky.

I stuck my hand back into the too-salted popcorn box, popping handfuls into my mouth and washing it down with my can of damn fine beer. The sky was a deep blue, yet the mountainous outlines were black against the blue, like a very fetching bruise.

I let out my breath again and decided I’d be okay. This was nice. The young wrangler girl was nice. And the rodeo sure was nice.

As we walked past all the corrals of animals upon leaving, I dreamily took in all their beauty. The wildness of the horses and bulls and even the baby calves struck me and I told my friend, “I want them all!” To which she laughed again and nodded, like why not?

Maybe, just maybe there will be a way for me to have the wildness, the West and little cowboys of my own. If I have learned how to saddle, make fresh cheese from scratch after milking a cow, not take my instructor’s eye out when learning to cast a fly line and rope a plastic calf, then I suppose anything is possible. At least, that’s what the West would have a girl like me believe.

My One Month-iversary

Musings

Yesterday was my one month anniversary of settling in Hyattville. I feel champagne is in order. Although, there are a lot of times I feel champagne is in order. Easter. Weekend brunch. Evening writing. Getting paisley shirts in the mail from a cowgirl friend. Any number of occasions warrant champagne in my mind, because champagne is so darn fizzy and delightful; very full of pep. This event definitely qualifies.

This week has been full of all sorts of forays into the ranching world too, which feels toast-worthy. On Monday I went to a friends ranch and got to see sheep getting sheared. I was even handed a prod shortly after arriving to help move the sheep along in the process. Though I didn’t really want to use the prod (it wasn’t an electrical prod mind you), I preferred the approach of simply cooing to the sheep, ‘c’mon,’ or ‘move along’ and surprisingly that about did it. Or if I simply dragged the prod along the gated chute they were walking through, that moved them forward, along with my shadow moving past which seemed to make them skittish enough to move along without incident.

Except for the obstinate ones. About one sheep, every 15 or so was not having it. And assumed—by his irrational behavior it seemed—that he was being led to a death chamber. He would go ballistic in the chute, trying to turn himself around in the narrow space and run back the way he came, therefore riling up the sheep behind him so they backed up in fear. Or a few particularly brazen sheep would charge the chute at the corner, leaping upwards and nearly scrambling over the gate before a fellow sheep prodder would catch the large sheep and wrangle him back in line. For being decently large creatures they sure can jump if they want to. So those were the sheep I ended up having to prod along. And I must say I admired this small and stubborn bunch a great deal. What gumption!

Then a few days later I got up before the dawn to go over to a friend’s ranch who had dairy cows and her own creamery. I must admit, there was something very Laura Ingalls-esque in my mind about learning to milk a cow. I naturally assumed I would have to sit on an upturned wooden bucket with a piece of straw in my mouth, and perhaps even be wearing red plaid and a tipped back cowboy hat in order to do this. I was wrong on all counts.

First of all, I bundled up in a sweatshirt, a fur-lined vest and brought gloves and coat as well, because when I left the house that morning, it was not yet 30 degrees. Also I had thrown on a baseball hat, not a cowboy hat, because at that hour I was too lazy to even think of cowboy fashion.

Upon watching the whole cow milking event take place—as my friend told me I could surely milk the cows myself in time, once I learned the ropes—I realized times had changed and no upturned bucket or straw in mouth was required. My friend was methodical about getting the udders cleaned and saying sweet things to her cow Daisy, before affixing Daisy’s udders with a contraption that hooked to a tall metal pail via tubes that would pump the milk for her.

Well, I’ll be. Who the heck knew?

And it seemed to not take very much time at all and just like that it was over. Once the milk was poured into jugs and put away, it was cleaning time. Cleaning the barn and sweeping it out, cleaning and sanitizing all the pails and equipment, mopping the floors and putting everything away, including Daisy. Although she was the first to be set free after her contribution was given.

After that I followed my friend up to her house where she was starting to make butter. Again, my brain latched onto the only image of making butter I knew. A woman dressed in Amish garb, wearing a bonnet and dutifully sitting with a large wooden chamber between her legs while she furiously churned away for hours on end.

That is one hundred percent not how butter was being made in this house. She started out with a large gallon of cream and attached another mechanical device to the top that started doing the churning for her, making the cream rise to the top of the jar. She told me eventually the white cream would turn yellow.

I was stupefied. I wouldn’t call any of this stuff easy. It was all time consuming; I mean milking cows at dawn required serious work, even if that work was accompanied by new technology. And then to make homemade butter to boot. I was sincerely impressed with this woman. She also made homemade cheeses and Greek Yogurt. Friday would be my cheese making lesson and I was beside myself over that notion.

I want to be that kind of pioneering woman as it is beyond impressive. Before I left she gave me a jar of fresh feta in oil and I about swooned. I wanted to throw my arms around her in deep gratitude. Honestly that is how I feel about anyone giving me cheese as a gift, much less fresh homemade feta (which is one of my favorite cheeses). I went home and had to stop myself from just tipping the jar into my mouth like a total heifer, pun intended.

I instead rationed the cheese, putting little dollops on crackers and trying to tamp down nirvana which was running through my veins at the taste of this cheese. And I took a note from Wisconsin and accompanied this rich treat with a bottle of beer.

Good job, Daisy. Or Bess. Or whichever cow had contributed to the making of that wonder. And good job Anheuser Busch. I have never liked your beer more. Although my beer was expired, so that’s really giving most of the credit to the cheese for taking the edge off of the beer.

At any rate, this week and this month here has been nothing but fruitful. I am beyond grateful to all the ranchers who continually let me shadow or participate in their work and experience a part of their livelihood. And then do wonderfully kind things for me above that, like giving me their homemade feta, inviting me to their homes for dinners and celebrations, including me in Lenten Luncheon carpools, having me over for midday bonfires and wine, and talking to me about my dreams and believing they are as possible as turning milk into butter. You are all what makes it easy for me to see that Hyattville is a place where graciousness and goodness are as large as your cattle herds. If not abundantly larger.

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

Covered in Romance

Musings

Green acres is the place to be
Farm living is the life for me
Land spreading out,
so far and wide
Keep Manhattan,
just give me that countryside.

You know what’s funny about this song lyric? I used to sing the other verse, Gabor’s line that went like this:

New York
is where I’d rather stay
I get allergic smelling hay
I just adore a penthouse view
Darling, I love you,
but give me Park Avenue.

Back when all I wanted in life was New York and Park Avenue. Don’t get me wrong I am still crazy about New York City. I love Zabar’s coffee and fondly recall every Sunday riding the subway all the way up from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to get me a bag. Then the whole subway ride home the smell of Zabar’s roast would fill the subway car and my nostrils.

I loved walking up and down the city streets looking for used book shops and bakeries, or the perfect slice of pizza. I once went kayaking on the Hudson’s choppy waters with my sis and we paddled to and fro in our small buoyed off area, giddy and light as the waves. Walks through Central Park midday and runs across the Brooklyn Bridge at night, will always make me happy that I at least tried on city life like a promising pair of jeans.

But see, I had it wrong. I don’t prefer a penthouse view, or Park Avenue, though both those things are perfectly lovely and I can appreciate them from a vacation-y standpoint. I do want land spreading out far and wide. And farm life, oh gosh, yes please. I will happily shovel manure or attempt to mend a fence, or lay pipeline. Which is what I got to try out this weekend. Well the pipeline part at least.

I worried before I actually began this new farming/ranching endeavor that maybe I was romanticizing it. I have been told I do this. I once spoke with a Navy recruiter on a whim and boldly told my mom some hours later that I was joining the Navy. She looked properly aghast as I had never once expressed even an iota of an interest in the Navy.

“Don’t be impetuous, Cassandra,” my mom said. I actually didn’t know what that word meant until that moment, when my mom expounded upon her point. “Why do you want to join the Navy?”

“I’ve always loved the sea and I would love a life at sea!” I exclaimed, getting my shackles up for what felt like non-support, when my mom truly is the most supportive mom out there. Especially in regards to my mostly rash decisions.

“The Navy is not romantic like you are imaging life at sea to be.”

And the moment she said those words I began to consider the version of the Navy I played out in my mind, versus what the Navy would actually entail. I saw myself in some sort of fetching romper and sea cap looking out of a telescope on a ship with sails. When in reality I would be on some behemoth steel vessel, probably in the bowels, and more than likely doing grunt work in a grey janitorial looking uniform that enunciated my plump midsection.

My mom simply asked me to consider my decision on the Navy for a month and see how I felt at the end of that time. A few days later, I had already admitted to myself that my mom knew me pretty stinking well. I was romanticizing the Navy quite heavily. And in all actuality, I would probably despise it. Especially all that authority and getting bossed around.

So, yeah, that was an instance—among many if truth be told—where I romanced the pants right off of something altogether not that romantic. Now people, have been hinting that maybe I am doing it with this ranching business; even the ranchers themselves have pointed out to me—when my face lights up with glee talking about how badly I want to learn ranch work—that it’s not all that romantic. And I politely nod, while thinking, yeah, sure okay. Says the person in a cowboy hat, covered in workin’ grit, working the land and cattle all day long. Sure, no romance my arse. You’re covered in romance!

Except I don’t say that.

Because, a small, teensie part of me feared maybe they were right. What did I know about ranching? Sure I understood it was buckets full of work and grime and sweat and uncertainty and feces and death, and maybe all I was seeing were the Western hats and cowboy drawls and horses and painting all this poetry when I had no right? What did I know?

Well, nothing really, until I gave it a whirl which I did this weekend. I went out to a friend’s ranch to help them with laying some irrigation pipeline. She had texted to ask if this was something I would be interested in helping with or shadowing. I said yes with all the enthusiasm that I had once reserved for attending  a Fashion Week event at the Plaza. Although I was so nervous about that experience that I needed to take half an emergency Xanax to muster up the will to hobnob with models.

I had ample nervousness about failing at ranching, or worse being wrong about it—that maybe there was no romance—and I would yet again be altogether wrong about myself and then what? But I had no emergency Xanax this time and if I had, I wouldn’t have taken it.

I threw on jeans, my cowboy boots and a somewhat worse for wear Wyoming tee and drove out to the ranch. My friend met me, introduced me to her husband and children while giving me a cursory explanation of the day’s workload. For the first half of the day I mostly just followed around dumbly, as I had no idea about laying pipeline or where to insert myself to be of help, when everyone seemed to have a handle on things. Though, once in awhile my new friends would ask me to hand them wrap-around tape or a pen, or a power-saw and I happily obliged.

Soon enough though I was climbing down into ditches to help maneuver pipeline. Then I got to help lift the gigantic pipes, handing them to the men at work in the ditches. I began to get just a smidge dirty and when hours later the sun began setting in the Western sky, I felt it. I felt the romance. It was there alright. Though I had done nothing fundamentally difficult yet, and while I was mostly an accessory to the irrigation process, I felt it. The fresh air on my arms, the hard dirt sloughing against my boots, the heaviness of the pipeline. And all that besides, I felt the importance of this work.

The importance of it to farm land, to grow a crop, to feed animals and therefore feed people. And I adored it. I adored all of it. I liked being in farm trucks that had a thin layer of dirt covering the dashboard; the smell of hard work permeated in the seats. This is how I remember my grandpa’s truck smelling when I was a child. He owned a drywall business that my uncles now run and their trucks too, have this smell.

I realized this wasn’t something new to me; this was something already intrinsically in me, that I had adored since childhood. Riding down dirt roads in trucks, having my uncles take me out to the woods beside my grandparents house to teach me how to shoot bow and arrows and guns. They were not only outdoorsmen, but working men and I idolized them not only for their work ethic, and love of God’s vast landscape, but because they could build something out of nothing with their bare hands.

This all came flooding back to me sitting in a dirt covered Ram that impressed me with its power in hauling massive farm equipment up a steep hill while I sat in the passenger seat, admittedly beside myself in the romance. Yes, I was not mistaken, the romance was there. It was in the work truck, in laying pipeline, in the Wyoming hills and in ranchers who believed in their work and purpose, even if it was grueling work with no guarantees.

I was deeply relieved to find that I had been right. There was romance here and I wanted to uncover more of it.

I came back the next day, eager to do more, to learn more about laying pipeline, to feel somehow instrumental in this process. And my friend’s father in law who was sitting high atop a John Deere excavator for digging the ditches, hollered down, “you came back for more?”

“I did!” I beamed, “I loved it. This is definitely the life for me.”

He beamed back and said, “I like her.” And then began to sing, “Farm living is the life for me…”

The Group Chat

Musings

I awoke this morn to my phone buzzing beside my bed. It was a group chat in which my best friend, Em, who was pregnant had sent two photos of an incredibly sweet newborn baby. Being that I had still been sleeping, as it was 6:40 a.m., I was taken aback and simply wrote, whaaaat? With a lot of a’s like that.

Em wasn’t due until the 18th and hadn’t even started maternity leave yet, so I knew this obviously had to be her baby, but still I was dumbfounded at the suddenness of the baby’s arrival.

Being that it was a group chat between Em, and my other best friend Ash and my sister Savvy (who wouldn’t be up for hours yet) the texts started pinging back and forth about the new baby arriving early and how beautiful she was (she really is exceptionally perfect) and that was all fine and lovely.

Though I was suddenly having trouble swallowing my wells of emotion over the fact that my best friend from childhood—my longest running friendship in fact—had brought life into this world. A little girl so radiant in her perfection that all I wanted to do was share in Em’s joy. I wanted to be there. I wanted to hold the little angel and already tell her embarrassing stories about her mom thinking she would end up a nun and how wrong those histrionics were.

Until the labor talk started. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about having a queasy stomach or not understanding that hideous pains accompany labor, no, no, that wasn’t the issue. The issue is the group chat.

See the thing is I have been on the receiving end of many a group chat with my pregnant friends and while I fully appreciate their including me and their time-saving techniques of messaging a bunch of close friends at once, there’s just this teensie tiny thing. It’s that one friend or other will inevitably start talking preggo things, like contractions, or cravings, or the sex or the lack of sex, and then they’ll go off topic agreeing with the cravings or the contractions or the shocking pain of labor and I am left doing that slackjawed thing, because uhhh… I know about none of this and therefore cannot contribute in any way.

And that is okay, obviously. I choose to be a restless nomad who wants to learn to rope cattle—or cowboys—in the West right now, but it still kind of stings. Because, it doesn’t mean I don’t want that one day. I want to talk preggo cravings and pregnancy pain. And yeah, I get it, my time will come, but in the moment, the here and now when in the throes of group chat with my married friends who have kids or are having kids and are talking about the twinkle in their husbands eye after they look upon their newborn daughter, well, it plain ol’ makes me want to sob.

My heart hurt. And it hurt for a variety of reasons. It hurt because Em’s new baby girl was so freaking beautiful I wanted to sob. It hurt because Em and I used to ride the school bus together and talk boys and dream of the one, and now she had the one, and she had a baby. But it also hurt, because I felt left out of the mommy elite group who knows about babies and birthing and contractions and doting hubbies.

And though I would never ever say so, or want to take away from any of their happiness or joys, I did want out of the mommy group chat.

And so I went back to bed, thinking about what it would be like when I had a baby, and the best my brain could come up with was having one of those surprise ‘I didn’t even know I was pregnant’ stories where you think you’re constipated and your baby drops in the toilet. But it comforted me nonetheless because it meant in my imagination I had a baby and that happily made me doze.

Until I woke up and realized, if I had a baby right now, I couldn’t go back to sleep until 9 a.m. if I felt like it. And I certainly couldn’t dawdle about the house all day, leisurely drinking coffee out of my french press and reading and writing. Or go on a really long run midday, in which a cowboy waved at me and my stomach did that giddy drop. He could’ve been 55 for all I know, but I didn’t care. When a cowboy waves at you, it’s stomach-drop worthy alright? I don’t know a woman that would disagree and I wouldn’t trust her if she did. Like women who say they “like” sports. Ohhh-k. Sure you do.

Well, to be fair, I think the women in Green Bay Packer-land like sports. And my cousin Heather seems to, which I can’t rightly wrap my brain around, but I digress.

And then I went to book club and yes, it was a lot of elderly people but they had wildly fascinating stories about war and Vietnam and ranchin’. And then I went to the local saloon and a woman agreed to teach me roping, as I had uhh… mentioned how much I needed to learn roping. As in I am now going to learn to rope stuff! Hopefully a cowboy. I kid, I kid. Not really. But anyway.

And then I met a cowboy who tipped his hat to me upon meeting me and though he was married and it wasn’t about that, it was about the Old West, and gentlemen, and cowboys and ranchers, and learning to rope, and making my way, even if my way was suddenly all about becoming a rancher.

And my way would one day include babies. And a smiling twinkle-eyed husband who gripped my hand while I let out horrendous screams during labor. Or at least that’s what I’ve gleaned from my married friends who talk about labor in group chats with me.

And it mattered. My life right now that’s fixated on chaps and saddles and the cowboy hat tilt and wave and roping cattle means a great deal to me, just as having babies one day will mean a great deal too. It matters. All of it matters.

As does my friends happiness. I am beyond deliriously happy for my married friends who are having beautiful little bundles of joy. And I am happy to share in their joy. Honestly, it’s just that stinking group chat. I can’t help but feel sorely left out of the Mommy Club and while I wouldn’t trade learning to rope right now for diapers, it still makes me yearn.

So, please, ladies, tell me all about your contractions, and your husband falling all over himself about his new little girl, and your hormonal donut-induced rages, but maybe just one on one. At least for now. When I too, am a part of the mommy club then please let’s all group chat til the cows come home—and I hope they do, because I’ll be a rancher—about the horrendousness of birth, followed by the sheer delight of a new baby girl.

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.

This Ranching Business

Musings

I have been living in Hyattville, Wyoming—population 75—for just under a week. On the first morning after I arrived, shaking the dust off of my nerves from my harrowing GPS debacle, I happily sipped fine coffee in an even finer log cabin.

The woman who the log cabin belonged to was a friend of a friend who I had been communicating with about ranching before moving to Hyattville. She insisted I stay with her when I first arrived, putting me up in her guest room, feeding me dinner that she’d set aside, and generally being as hospitable as people in Wyoming are known to be.

The next morning, her father was preparing to go to the ‘old timers’ coffee at the local community center, while my gracious hostess caught up on some work. She mentioned to her father, however that he should invite me along.

“Is that allowed,” I asked somewhat bemused.

“Oh yes, you can come,” her father said.

I was not going to decline an invitation for coffee—old timers or not—especially in my new town heavily populated by ranchers. There was work to be done, and step one was getting to know people.

We arrived at the community center where I saw two men already seated sipping coffee. They did the ol’ cowboy head nod at me—looking very rancher-esque in Carhartts and boasting weather-crinkled skin. The skin of the working man—and smiled while my new friend did introductions. They continued visiting, until a natural lull in the conversation occurred and they turned their attention to me, peppering me with questions. Being un-shy and someone who loves meeting new people, I happily answered their questions.

Another man ambled in, poured himself a cup of coffee, sat down and began to tell a story of a trapped cow. I listened raptly. The same way I was listening earlier when the men talked about cribbing horses, using the term, ‘cribbing old fool.’ I was delighted and wanted to take notes but didn’t want to seem overeager.

Then the new fella, a bit younger than the two old-timers and sporting a worn cowboy hat, asked my name, and offered to top off my coffee cup.

We delved into another conversation about how I really wanted to learn ranching.

“You should’ve been with me this morning then, trying to get that cow out,” the younger cowboy chuckled. I wish I had been there this morning, I thought to myself.

Then I piped in with my story.

“Ya know, a friend of mine gave me some ranching advice,” I said, “he told me all I had to do was remember to close the gate and make sure my truck was full of gas and I’d be alright.”

They laughed and said that was pretty good advice, but I kept on and told them the story of my getting to Hyattville, following the rogue Google advice and how I didn’t gas up when I had the opportunity, causing my extreme anxiety while being lost in the Wyoming wilderness, finishing with, “and so I failed my very first piece of solid ranching advice which was, ‘always gas up the truck!'” to which they all burst out in greater laughter and one of the old timers chimed in with, “but there’s a third piece of ranching advice you need to know…”

I looked at him expectantly.

“Never listen to your GPS.”

More rounds of laughter burst forth and the younger cowboy got up to go and commented, “Well I’m glad I stopped in today, this was exciting.”

I was glad I came too. I learned about cribbing. Sort of. And hobnobbed with real ranchers. And best part of all, made them chuckle with my idiocy. Honestly, I’ll take it.

The rest of the week passed in my learning my way about town. That took about 1.5 minutes. I went to Wednesday’s pizza night at the old saloon, where I met still more ranchers. My gracious hostess took me to see the Medicine Lodge archeological sight and upwards into the high foothills where I glimpsed every mountain range in Wyoming as far as the eye could see. Literally I could see the mountains as far as Yellowstone.

I went on runs to explore the hills and creeks nearby, and counted the cars that would pass. The most I saw was on a Friday night for a grand total of 3. I settled into my new and temporary home, which is a friend’s place he has on hand for Wyoming visits, while he resides in Texas. He also owns a ranch here.

I slept the first three nights with one eye open, reacquainting myself to the intense and deep quiet of Wyoming. The kind of quiet that comes with being able to keenly hear an animal sniff about the house, a deer prance past, or the bed creak beneath my weight. Every sound had me thinking: ghost! or scenes from the movie The Strangers which I am still kicking myself for watching.

I met up with an old cowboy pal of mine in Cody on Saturday and he told me this fantastic story about putting out a fire once on Halloween at an old hotel. He said that he and another firefighter saw a man in horns coming out of the smoke, looking remarkably like the devil.

“If that’s who I think it is, we’re never putting this fire out,” my friend said to the other firefighter.

Turns out it was the bartender in a devil’s costume.

I then went and checked out the dude ranch I will be working at this summer tucked neatly between Cody and Yellowstone, nestled between bluffs and canyons. I was in heaven and already picturing drinking my morning cup o’ Joe on the big homestead porch overlooking the mountainous terrain.

I drove back to my sleepy little ranching town and happily dozed by nine, my vigilant ghost-watch forgotten.

I awoke on Sunday excited about church. It was a short walk, as the church happened to be on my street.

Being heavily neurotic, I arrived ten minutes early to a completely empty church other than the pastor. Slightly stricken, I asked, “did I miss it?!”

She smiled and said, “no. It’s a small town and they’re like New Yorkers. They’ll all arrive at about two minutes til.”

I was relieved. The pastor asked if I was new in town and I told her yes, that I was here to dabble in ranching.

“Are you a writer?” she asked, taking me by surprise. Although instantly I felt flattered.

“I am,” I said.

“It takes one to know one,” she smiled, eyes twinkling. Color me more flattered, I thought sitting down. She then came back to ask if I wanted to read scripture in the service. I did and took my part very seriously, finding which scriptures I needed to read and marking them in the Bible beforehand.

I recognized one of the old timer cowboys from coffee and his wife, and waved. And several other townspeople came and introduced themselves.

The service was sweet and traditional and the hymns reminded me of my childhood and I sang them slightly teary-eyed as I am that way.

Afterwards, I met a woman who owns a sheep farm and I expressed my interest in seeing her farm, and another woman offered me fresh eggs, while still another woman asked if I wanted to carpool to a Lenten luncheon later in the month. Small town Wyoming. You gotta adore it.

And so here I sit. Upon a new week. I went to old timers coffee again this morn and was delighted when a rancher referred to a truck as an ‘outfit.’ I had brought my notebook this time, on the ready; though I was too self-conscious to take notes. But I listened and was gleeful when they would turn and ask me something, calling me young lady.

At any rate, no one has needed me yet, or maybe they aren’t taking me seriously with how eager I am about terms like ‘outfit’ and ‘cribbing,’ but they’ll come around. They’ll have me on board. And then we’ll see what this ranching business is all about.