Fearless

 

Recently, a stranger paid me one of my favorite compliments to date:

He told me I was fearless.

I was at the Buffalo Bill museum in town covering an art discussion for work. I had my notebook and photographer (my boyfriend, Raym) in hand. The older gentleman had ambled over to talk to Raym before the presentation. He’d then reached over to shake my hand and tell me he greatly enjoyed my columns for the newspaper.

I write a column on adventure, called This Wild Life, in which I generally do wild and crazy things that scare me. Not every time is it crazy, but I have written about going over my handlebars while mountain biking, flying in an aerobatic plane and taking a dip in the frigid waters of the Shoshone River on New Year’s Day.

At first, this person shaking my hand with no proper introduction (he hadn’t asked my name) and professing to like my writing thrilled me. I get compliments from time to time, mostly from women, though it means a great deal to me all the same.

But this was different. People who have paid me compliments in the past generally know me or I’ve interacted with them on some occasion. I had never seen this man. Somehow that already seemed greater, as he had no stake in reading what I wrote.

And then he made that fearless comment.

At first I was stupefied. Does this man know what he’s talking about? I am the most scared person that ever was.

Truly. Everything scares me.

I feel a weird lump on my head and become alarmed; I WebMD cancer. My boyfriend is late in getting home and I fear he’s gotten in a wreck. I write a story that deeply moves me and the New Yorker doesn’t call and I am afraid I’ll never make it.

And that’s just everyday nonsense. That isn’t even my “wild and crazy” adventures. I had a coworker recently joke about how much I profess a fear of dying in my columns. I don’t think I am a dark person per se…

Please reference my favorite movie here:

Harry: When I buy a new book, I always read the last page first. That way, in case I die before I finish, I know how it ends. That, my friend, is a dark side.
Sally: That doesn’t mean you’re deep or anything. I mean, yes, basically I’m a happy person…
Harry: So am I.
Sally: …and I don’t see that there’s anything wrong with that.
Harry: Of course not. You’re too busy being happy. Do you ever think about death?
Sally: Yes.
Harry: Sure you do. A fleeting thought that drifts in and out of the transom of your mind. I spend hours, I spend days…
Sally: – and you think this makes you a better person?
Harry: Look, when the shit comes down, I’m gonna be prepared and you’re not, that’s all I’m saying.
Sally: And in the meantime, you’re gonna ruin your whole life waiting for it.

While I feel a little like Sally in my happiness inclinations, I can relate to Harry’s need to prepare for the end. I suspect it’s moreso my dramatic flair rather than any real darkness, yet it is something I worry about incessantly.

It mostly stems from this deep seated fear about my life being cut short before I have accomplished it all. I almost have to believe in reincarnation because I know I can’t get it all in in this life alone and that’s with me really trying.

So the fact remains. Nearly every time I do any adventure I inevitably plan for my death just in case. I try to make peace with God, kiss my boyfriend, or not kiss him, because I am a believer in the jinx, and usually tell my mom what I am about to do. Like a chairlift evacuation on a ski hill.

A black cat crossed my path the day before I did this and I had to try really hard not to read into it. The amount of scenarios that ran through my mind on that mere adventure were nothing short of a doomsday prepper.

I was fine. It all went so smoothly as to be laughable.

Then later that night I ran into the stranger surmising that I must be a fearless person.

While I loved that a word like that could be used for me, one that so bespeaks of bravery, my mind couldn’t help but think this man had gotten the wrong impression. I am a huge scaredy baby.

But then later that night I asked myself the question I always ask myself when doing most things that scare me straight down to my underwear.

Why do it? Or better yet: Why constantly put myself in situations where I am afraid?

The answer, I realized is twofold.

If I do something that terrifies me and I don’t die (which has been every time to date), I call on that experience for the next time. I remind myself what it’s like to be truly terrified and how I conquered it.

It makes me feel stronger and somehow braver when I know myself to be the polar opposite of brave.

This works for adventures, all kinds. But it also works for when the everyday fears kick in. When I am not rappelling off mountainsides or sliding myself off a chairlift midair trusting someone has me down below, well it’s all a little more bearable.

I feel like I am living my life to the fullest. Or at least 3/4 of the way full as I sometimes am still miffed I have yet to run with the bulls in Pamplona or master croissants in Paris.

But I feel as though, slowly but surely I am getting there. One fear-filled day at a time.

Then when I do run with bulls, or learn to mush sled dogs, or birth a child, or ever get to have an all important book editor look at my work, I can remind myself:

Girl, you’re fuckin fearless.

At least, one time that stranger told me so.

 

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An Eager Beaver

I have never been good at playing it cool. I am the quintessential wear my heart on my sleeve kinda gal. Some of my sisters (I have 6 of them) tease me about this and how if, say I like a guy, I don’t really dally about being coy and waiting to see what will develop. If I ever do seem coy and cool or mention that I don’t much feel like shaving my legs, then trust me, I do not have a crush on you. If I did have a crush on you, I would certainly be a red-faced, stammering fool as well as pretending my legs are about to be featured on a Venus Razor commercial.

For the record, I am never cool.

I was once wearing my running shoes: Asics, in a hippy community and I was chastised for it.
I am usually sweaty. Even if it’s wintertime. Even right now, whilst writing. In air conditioning.
I have a rock collection.
When I dance, there is always one point where I am compelled to snap my fingers. My sister tried teaching me what to do with my hips during a sultry dance at my brother’s wedding and I fiercely shook my head no. I can’t even practice how to be cool.

My sisters are all unspeakably cool, though. They go to concerts of popular bands before they are popular, dress like they belong in an underground L.A. hipster movement, though they’d kill me for saying so, and they are who I look to, though I am the oldest, because they are my muses.

So it would stand to reason that if I can’t be cool, I certainly couldn’t play it cool. With men or otherwise. This is where my eagerness comes in. Men and otherwise. Especially of late.

I am real excitable, see? Sometimes if someone seems passionate about a topic that I too am passionate about, my words come out of my mouth, tumbling over one another, like kids just released for recess, fighting for the first to be on the swingset—wait are swingsets still cool?—and I bulldoze the person with my words and giddiness.

I later feel terrible, though it was merely my excitement, my eagerness to share in passions that leads me to sometimes talk over people. I did this with a guy I liked a couple of months back. He taught me how to fly fish and I packed us a picnic, though it was too windy outside, so we went and sat at his kitchen table and talked for hours. He was so easy to talk to and wanted to talk about things like bears, donuts, making homemade jam, and our grandparents.

So naturally my excitement levels were that of effervescent champagne bubbles, bursting, simply bursting. At one point, in a flow of words I couldn’t stop, I was trying to make a point about how I’ve heard childbirth is nothing like the movies—thanks always for the grim details, Ash.

I kept going though, trying to further my point, saying, kind of how my introduction to the real ins and outs of sex as a teen were from reading Harlequin Romances. You know, those ones where the woman on the cover is in a too small dress and the man has too-large muscles (there is such a thing, sorry Ryan). And those sex scenes lead you to believe that orgasms are always multiple and simultaneous. And then when I really did have sex many, many years later, I thought, wait what? WHAT!? This is an outrage!

This is when I realized I was sharing too much, getting too excited, and I stopped myself abruptly. Talking sex wasn’t something I had had on my agenda, even in a cheeky comparison manner. I wanted to keep going to explain that my initial disappointment in sex had gone away, but I didn’t want to dig myself deeper.

So I shut up, red-faced and mumbled “TMI,” while sipping my second cup of coffee.

He never called.

I figured it was one of two things. My overflow of words. Or my sex anecdote.

Either way, I shrugged it off. When I later relayed the story to my sisters, much to their constant amusement on my treacherous love life, I noted that if a man isn’t in love with my words or my wild and inventive ways of accidentally embarrassing myself, well then he probably isn’t my fella.

But the thing is, I cannot help it. I am easily and overly excitable. I am an eager beaver. I am an antsy-pants. All these are my nice turn-of-phrases on the reality, which is that I am mostly just good old impatient. And the only time I have noted that my massive impatience was a good thing, was when I lived in New York City and it seemed everyone there too was also an eager beaver.

How this plays out lately? Well. I am impatient, err, very eager to make some friends. I know this isn’t something that can be rushed. Especially because I value quality over quantity. It’s simply that I am a social gal. I like having word-athons with someone. I like when people like what I like: hiking, fly fishing, photography, books, Hemingway, bourbon, donuts, animals, humanitarianism, trees and mountains, orgasms, ya know, all the good shit.

And it’s tough, when all my people are, well, not here in Cody, Wyoming. Then I find myself offering up abundances of information with near perfect strangers, like my fly fishing coach. I told him the other day that I was down to five pairs of underwear and not my good pairs, because the thought of doing laundry at a laundromat would lead me to going commando—something I despise more than underwear that aren’t boy shorts—before I caved and actually washed some clothes.

God bless him, he didn’t kick me out of the store. And even seemed mildly pleased when I showed up for fly-tying later in the week. But yesterday when I was about to peruse potato salad options at the local grocery store, which happens to be near the fly shop, I found myself going in, out of sheer eagerness to just be near another human who wanted to talk to me. I told myself I was being an eager beaver. Not being cool at all, trying to harass my fly fishing guide into hanging out with me after hours, just for the sheer camaraderie that is having friends.

He wasn’t there, which I think is for the best. If I didn’t embarrass myself with the underwear story, I surely would have trying to reel him into a forced friendship.

But, see that’s just how I am. An eager beaver. An antsy pants. Someone who is very excitable and wants to share passions: words or big O’s—hard won though they may be—or both, when I do meet that fella.

And realistically, uncool or not, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

How to Be Alone

I listened to this song by Jason Isbell this morn per a friend’s suggestion and here is how it starts:

I been working here, Monday it’ll be a year
And I can’t recall a day when I didn’t want to disappear
But I keep on showing up, hell-bent on growing up
If it takes a lifetime

I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime

When I heard that line about learning how to be alone I stopped what I was doing, which was heating water on the stove for coffee in my french press. Which funny little thing about that. I have a morning ritual of talking to my best friend every morning around 7:30 a.m. She is basically my alarm clock and the only person I would deign to talk to at that unholy hour, especially before I’ve even had my coffee.

I grumbled to her the other day that I am negligent about cleaning my french press after my morning coffee and then I am mad at myself the next morning when I have to clean it out before I can make coffee, to which she responded deadpan, “wow, first world problems. I don’t even know what a french press is.”

Anyhow. Back to that line. Learning how to be alone. I loved that line and admittedly thought about it all day. Though if truth be told I had already been giving considerable thought to my learning how to be alone before I even heard the song.

Admittedly I have never really enjoyed or relished the prospect of truly being on my own. And not in the way of singlehood. But being without my sisters or my friends. Now initially the thought sounded novel to me, before I had experienced it. But once I had experienced ‘on my own’ for the first time when I moved to New York City, I warmed to it with all the excitement of having a cavity filled.

I blame growing up in a big family. Because of this, I have always been surrounded by people, chaos and noise. And this has always comforted me. As a child if I fell asleep to silence it meant I was the last one up and I hated that. I would strive to go to bed before everyone else, that way I could still hear the TV downstairs and kids chattering. A silent house put me on edge and frightened me.

Now there have been plenty of experiences I have done on my own and loved. I set off for college seven hours away from my family and after the initial shock, adjusted accordingly. After college I moved to Green Bay and while my only friend there was at work, I took myself on museum dates, movie dates, I even once did a wine tasting by myself. I like myself and I like spending time with me. It’s just the whole truly being on my own thing, as in falling asleep alone and coming home to my computer, book collection, and stuffed giraffe somewhat heebs me out.

But that is where I am at these days and I will admit, I initially reacted in much the same way as I did in New York. Funnily enough I wanted to be back in Wyoming bad. Oh something fierce, so I shouldn’t have resorted to pissing and moaning about it, but that is exactly what I did after the new and novel wore off a few days in.

The intensity of being alone, coming home to an empty house, having no one ask me about my days adventures, and then the nights, oh gosh, nighttime was the worst. Mostly because I am a giant toddler who thinks every noise is something about to snatch me or kill me or both. Also, I am woman enough to admit I am sort of afraid of the dark. On my own in the dark, okay! The first couple nights I slept with one of those fake plastic tea light candles in my bed as a makeshift nightlight.

And then one night I looked in the mirror across from my bed after I’d shut off the lights and remembered that childhood tale about Bloody Mary. I became intensely overwrought that I would accidentally think Bloody Mary the obligatory three times and what if it wasn’t just a legend and I was stuck in a house by myself with a bloody apparition in a town where all my nearest neighbors were deer and the elderly. Although, let’s be real, this is Wyoming, people here have guns. I would totally be okay. But if it’s an apparition… Anyway.

Besides night frets and an overly quiet house that caused me extreme discomfort, I forcibly settled in with that discomfort, set on this being the one time I would not run away from any of my fears. And they are plenty. Reference my earlier blog on highly irrational fears.

I would face doing my work. I would face a quiet house. I would face being hundreds of miles from my comfort zone of friends and family. I would even face the dark without Nyquil or whiskey, though I considered both viable options if I wasn’t big girl enough to handle all my fears. Though turns out I am.

Last night was my epiphany moment in bed. You know that scene in Home Alone where Kevin is irrationally afraid of the furnace in the basement? Well one day he goes down there, still sort of afraid and then has his ah-ha moment and tells the furnace to shut up and he’s over it. Yeah if Kevin—an eight year old—can do it, I probably could too.

I was lying in bed exhausted, watching The Office on my laptop when I heard a noise. I suspiciously paused The Office listening intently to see if I was about to be murdered and I was about to press play again to drown out my worries in Steve Carell’s nonsense, when I got fed up with my own nonsense.

I shut the computer, enveloping myself in complete blackness, because I was tired. I told myself the noises were normal house noises and if I were about to be murdered then so be it. Go to bed, you idiot, I thought. And I did. I just went to bed.

That was kind of huge for me.

Not only that, but I have adjusted. While I do want to come home and tell someone stories, there is a certain empowerment in coming home, tending to my own needs, cutting potatoes, cleaning the kitchen, jotting down notes in my journal and curling up to watch I Love Lucy that makes me feel, well… kind of like an adult.

And the loneliness thing? It’s easy to see it that way at first, like the loneliness would swallow me whole, but it’s hard to feel lonely in a town of 75 people. It seems the opposite would be true but it’s not. In a town this small, people care. People learned my name right away and use it when they see me. Everyone waves. All. The. Time. Which is my favorite thing.

In fact I have been running daily and if someone passes me from behind they make sure to hold up their hand and wave anyway so I still get a wave even if I didn’t see them head-on. I get waves from tractors and hellos from people in town who I haven’t even met yet, but they will take time to stop and ask me how I am doing or comment on my running or that they heard I was a writer.

The friends I have made include me and ask me to do things with them or text me to ask about my day. Or perfect strangers offer to teach me how to rope because I mentioned wanting to learn. And that in itself is incredible because the woman who offered to teach me to rope is a rancher and this is a busy season for the ranchers. The fact that she would haul a hay bail, cow dummy head and rope over to my house and give me a roping tutorial when I am sure she has better things to do is mind-boggling.

And it has made me fall in love with this town and feel the furthest from being alone when in fact, I am alone. If this being alone, I don’t think I could’ve found a better place to give it a whirl.

I’m learning how to be alone. I fall asleep with the TV on
And I fight the urge to live inside my telephone
I keep my spirits high, find happiness by and by
If it takes a lifetime

I Believe It To Be Worth It

I do a lot of stupid stuff. Really I do.  I once bought $160 worth of vitamins per my nutritionist’s instruction and then proceeded to only ever take the vitamins when I thought I was getting sick. I recently just threw out about $155 worth of expired vitamins.

A few years back I was somehow convinced to become a Mary Kay consultant when all I wear is cheap mascara and all I wash my face with is bar soap. First I spent some $236 on the princess package of makeup and face care. Then I paid another $130 in startup kits, which then sat in my basement, for, well forever. My sisters got a lot of Mary Kay as gifts that year. I never once hosted a Mary Kay party and was therefore never gifted with a pink Cadillac.

I have cut my own bangs multiple times, and multiple times it has resulted in my looking like Ringo Starr, circa, well whenever he sort of looked like a prince boy.

I continually move to new places with anywhere from $3-$73 in my bank account and a bunch of board games, books, lanterns and ceramic whales and horses strewn about in my backseat.

And I always give my heart very freely, even if it has recently been crushed like a Valium that’s about to be snorted.

Which brings me to today. I am not bummed about my absence of a Pink Caddy, nor the look of my bangs which I just cut this morning and look A-okay, very non prince boy, and somewhat chic. I will admit I am a little bummed about the wasted vitamins as I have a slight tickle in my throat but I suppose I will survive.

But about the move and the breakup. Here is where I am at there:

Blissful.

Yeah I said it, blissful. I know, bliss, and anywhere in the vicinity of bliss were not my sentiments just a few short weeks ago. I was much like an unraveled piece of yarn being demolished by a rambunctious kitten.

But I tried this new thing I had never tried before. I threw up my hands in utter exasperation and said, “you take over, God!” I had said it a few times before, but as things seemed to continually throw me for a loop in a most disconcerting way, I figured I was still fixating on having all the control. I wanted all the control but with God being nice to me in the mix.

But it didn’t seem like it was going to work out that way. I am big on life lessons and if this was one of them, it was becoming abundantly clear to me that the lesson was one about trust. And I was battling a huge lack of it.

I finally decided to give it a whirl.

It’s not to say I hadn’t had practice trusting God before with the wild whims of my life. All I had ever done was new, bold, spontaneous things with God being my only safety net. And that is perhaps what led me to flippantly jet on back to the West with no real game plan. But when things started to go awry, I began to fret. I wondered if I had gotten too cocky with how many times God seemed to get me out of binds.

Maybe this time He was going to teach me to be a better planner and that’s why things were feeling so grim. In fact one of my favorite personal trainers during The Biggest Loser, once asked me my game plan, as the show was wrapping up and I was inching toward the wilds again. I beamed and said, “I am a vagabond gypsy…” waving my hands like that was explanation enough. He responded straight-face and deadpan, “that’s just a fancy name you gave yourself for being a poor planner.”

At the time I found it hysterical, but I began to wonder if indeed the time had come for some sort of reckoning with my gypsy soul?

Before I could decided if God actually wanted to teach me a lesson about being a better planner, I decided to let it all go. The lack of job, and money and boyfriend and wholeness of my heart, and now vitamin supply should I come down with a cold.

I prayed: hey God, I trust you. I do. So if this is a big fat failure lesson… got it. I will recover. If I don’t get a job at a dude ranch the second I want it, or am not hobnobbing with ranchers in the foreseeable future, I believe you will help get me there eventually, and you know what’s best for me. You timing is right on all things and I trust your will.”

That phrase: God’s timing is perfect, has always brought me both comfort and dismay. On one hand it has given me ample hope that He is working things out in my favor. On the other, more baby brat hand (which I have a tendency for from time to time) I get a little cheesed when things aren’t on my timetable.

But the whole God’s will thing was definitely something new to me. I had heard this phrase a ton of times before too, and always kind of took it with a grain of salt. I thought, well, I have free will, and God knows what I want so if I am going after it, He must support me, because He loves me. So we’re all good. 

I had never considered to do what I was doing in life, meaning try as I always had to manifest my goals and desires, but to also not be disappointed if those things didn’t manifest right away or in the way I expected. And I began to see that perhaps that’s where God’s will came into play.

So I gave this new experiment a whirl. I put myself out there with jobs, while maintaining hopefulness and gladness in my circumstances, attempting to let go of my worry. When a job interview that I had sort of counted on to lead to a job didn’t pan out right away, I let it go and said it wasn’t meant for me. Not God’s will. When a babysitting job landed in my lap right when I was about to run out of money, I thought, well, isn’t God’s timing perfect indeed. When I got my car tremendously stuck in a snowy ditch one day when I had an interview and began to panic as to what to do, some gent just came along, hooked my vehicle up to his truck and pulled me out. No questions asked. He saw I was in trouble and helped me. Meaning, God saw I was in trouble and sent him to help me.

And it went this way, back and forth in a beautiful ebb and flow of my trust and gladness in God and the way He was working on my life for me and not against me.

And this is when I started to see different lessons altogether.

Maybe God didn’t want to teach me a lesson about being a better planner, like some rigid school marm about to slap me in the corner with the dunce cap because I was a letdown. No, I suddenly didn’t think that was it at all. God made me! He didn’t mess up when He crafted me into a free spirit. I mean I don’t profess to know everything about God, but I suspect being the creator of the universe and all, he wouldn’t want to undo his handiwork. Unless it was about Ohio, because I mean Ohio… need I say more.

I’m teasing… Sorta.

No. I think this was a lesson on my willingness—in the midst of what felt like some serious strife—to trust that God had a handle on it.

And when I began to do that, which meant at the same time giving up my stronghold on worry, I began to feel lighter. I handled things not going my way with aplomb. And when I started to feel fretful, I asked God for Grace and He gave it to me.

And that brought me to yesterday. A day in which I felt downright jubilant with the circumstances swirling around me. Some pleasant things were happening in the way of jobs and epiphanies (and I cannot reveal too much as I am a firm believer in the jinx) and sunsets and Trader Joe’s and finding my way back.

You know what one of my favorite God quotes is: God will make a way when there seems to be no way.

And while there a lot of nice things to be said about God and His ways, sometimes words don’t cut it. Like this quote for instance which has always brought me great comfort:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Initially post breakup, this brought me no comfort. In fact it kind of irritated me. Hope and a future, my arse, I thought. I had hoped to have a future with the cowboy and that ended rather dismally.

All that aside, though, my little experiment had worked. Because what was interesting about yesterday wasn’t just circumstances aligning in my favor, a purple and orange mountain sunset and yummies from my favorite grocery store, it was the epiphany I had about the cowboy. And my future and my hope.

Suddenly I felt very sure of what God was doing in my life. I no longer suspected Him of foul play, or mucking up my life, or withholding love from me. Contrarily I felt entirely certain He knew what He was doing. And if steering me off-path from love, meant steering me back to the path that included mountains and ranching and horses and wildness and writing, then maybe He was onto something in the vicinity of love after all. Just a different kind.

I have never been secretive about how much I love and admire God. Or adventure. Or the mountains of the West. Or my writing. And yeah, I get those kind of loves can’t spoon me or kiss me real proper, but they do count. So if God redirecting my course meant some muck and resistance at first but ultimately led to my trusting Him—for real this time—and the haphazard course of my life, then I believe it to be worth it.

All of it.

Eyes on the Mountains (Part 2)

The first time I visited Wyoming was… Honestly I am at a loss for words. Really good love stories do that to you. Encountering Wyoming was one of those real top-notch tales of romance, like the movies. I may not have always had that kind of storybook romance with my men, but damn if I didn’t have it upon meeting Wyo.

But I fear I am getting a wee bit ahead of myself. I left off in my last post still living in Virginia. And before Virginia, New York City. I felt shaken up and beaten down from my time in NYC. It jarred me having to come to the realization that maybe big city life didn’t do it for me. I craved solace in the mountains. That seemed the logical antithesis to my post city blues.

Ray Lamontagne has this song called, New York City’s Killing Me. And while I have always been a big fan of him, prior to living in NYC I thought Mr. Lamontagne had it all wrong. Until I left NYC did I really appreciate that maybe Ray and I had something in common.

I get so tired of all this concrete
I get so tired of all this noise
Gotta get back up in the country
Have a couple drinks with the good ol’ boys

I just got to get me somewhere
Somewhere that I can feel free
Get me out of New York City, son
New York City’s killin’ me

At any rate, the mountains of Virginia were a proper salve to some of my problems. But that aforementioned deep discontent inside of me wasn’t about Virginia lacking something, it was more so about a wrongness in my relationship there.

Let’s just fast forward to when I left the relationship, the apartment with the mountain views, the man who once cared and who no longer did, Virginia, and my beloved mountains. I had to get away again. I took a brief respite in Michigan feeling displaced and wondering what the plan could possibly be now that New York and Virginia were both busts.

I had no ideas other than my gypsy soul telling me the natural solution was to wander until a new place to love came along. That’s when I started to hear the West calling me; it was a faint murmur, but I could hear it. I hadn’t ever given much thought or consideration to the West before. But when some of my friends and sister planned a road trip out West, it seemed as good a time as any to see what the fuss was all about.

We first landed in Denver, staying with our friend there. She took us out on the town. We ate dinner at a snazzy restaurant that used to be a morgue and didn’t have cheeseburgers on the menu. It drizzled rain, and we went thrifting. I thought Denver seemed neat enough, and the mountains were grand to be sure, but I didn’t feel it yet… Then we saw Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National.

I was inching nearer to properly boggled, especially when I saw the night sky in Rocky Mountain National, and yet…

The next day we were headed to the Tetons and I remember being drowsy as we left Colorado. My friend was driving, so I dozed in the warmth of the sun rays in the front seat. When I lazily woke, to still more sunshine, I could feel something was different. In my core, something was thrumming. I looked around me out the windows. The landscape was open and vast, hilly and dry looking.

There wasn’t anything of note, yet I felt different.

“Where are we,” I asked.

“Wyoming,” my friend beamed, as she pulled off an exit to get gas.

All the openness for miles was already seducing me in such a way that were Wyoming a man, I would’ve open-mouthed kissed him.

I got out of the car and ambled into the gas station. And this is when I knew, what I already knew from waking up in Wyoming and having my body lean into this place like a long lost sailor leaning over the rails upon seeing shore.

The man behind the counter wore a cowboy hat and had a handlebar moustache. He nodded his head at me, and said, “howdy, ma’am.”

I wanted to squeal. I wanted to ask if he was a real cowboy. I wanted to persuade him to marry me immediately.

And with the simpleness of a cowboy and waking up in a wide open space that felt like it had been untouched since the settlers first started moseying West, I was in love. Sometimes love at first sight doesn’t work out, sometimes, it’s initial vanity and there’s no real substance there.

This was not one of those cases.

The further I delved into Wyoming, the further I fell. By the time, I had seen more cowboys, men in chaps, beards aplenty, horses by the dozen, ranches, hills, canyons, elk, bison, and oh the mountains, sweet God-built pieces of jagged splendor, I was done for.

On my way out of Wyoming several days later, I was driving, winding my way up through the Bighorns. My heart was hammering in my chest with each mile spent ascending up into the clouds.

I knew I would soon be back in the Midwest and I was trying to brand every image of Wyoming in my mind and on my heart. I joked with my sister to leave me on the side of the road and keep going, even though we were in my car. I saw a sheep-herder riding his horse with his trusty dog trotting along behind him and I wanted to weep, it was all so perfect and all so meant for me.

At the time, this song called Red Canoe was playing on my sister’s iPod, and I remember playing it over and over again, so that whenever I heard the song in the future, I would see Wyoming, the Bighorns, the sheep herder, the cowboys and invite it all back to me.

That song and that sentiment created a fervor in me to come back. Leaving was heartbreak, but I knew it was only temporary. I, of course, did come back, nearly a year later, to the exact lodge I had passed in the Bighorns on my trek back to Michigan. And the fact that I left Wyoming a second time, is slightly unfathomable to me still.

I had found myself staring at the cowboys in line at Starbucks and Walmart, with their bandanas wrapped around their necks, cowboy hats and cowboy boots donned, trying once more to brand these people and this place into my memory bank. As, I certainly never saw a man with a cowboy hat and a bandana around his neck at Starbucks in New York City.

And what happened that cowboys and ranchers and cattle and sheep-herders and fly fishermen and rodeo stars suddenly had imprinted themselves on my being? I can recall loving nature from a young age. And horses. And the outdoors and even outdoorsmen. But this seemed excessive coming from a girl who used to dream about brownstones on cobbled streets in NYC boroughs.

But with leaving Wyoming a second time, it seemed that this life was all I wanted, perhaps all I had ever wanted, and leaving it was all wrong.

Hence why I only lasted about two weeks back in the Midwest.

And what’s remarkable to me, is how I haven’t actually changed at all. If I had really been paying attention I would’ve seen the signs all along. I picked the college I attended based on its proximity to forests, rivers, and lakes. I spent my time as a child reading about high adventure and then trying to recreate it in my backyard. I bartered for riding lessons as a sixth grader with my neighbors who had horses. Every birthday and Christmas I either tried asking for a horse and when I wisened up that Santa wouldn’t bring one to store in my shed, I started asking for riding lessons instead. I even almost bought my own horse once in college and thought better of it, because uhhh… I had nowhere to put it.

So I guess it shouldn’t amuse and delight me so much now when I find myself picking up Western Horseman magazines or stalking— that’s a harsh word, let’s say perusing—every cowboy, farmer, and rancher I can find on Instagram, lapping up their horse posts, fresh egg posts, cattle-roping and wilderness packing posts.

I, of course have been singularly applying to work as a ranch-hand though I have no ranch experience. I understand that, but I fervently tell the ranchers that I want to learn to mend fences and tend cattle and maybe lasso—please don’t laugh I want to lasso so bad—and that I’ll prove to them how much of a Western gal I really am at heart.

I used to want to sashay into a top magazine office in Manhattan in a sharp suit, riding up the elevator to my posh job that required heels—or if not required, then strongly implied. Now I find myself aching to get up at dawn and feed animals and work on things with my hands, and get filthy, and ride a horse somewhere far, far off, and wear myself thin. Seriously I really wouldn’t mind wearing myself thin, I have a slight penchant for chocolate croissants. You’d be doing me a favor, guys.

And who knew?

Well. Me, I suppose. I guess I knew all along this is where I belong. So hey, uh ranchers, if you’re reading this, c’mon, give me a go. I won’t let you down. I mean if you’re not convinced by this love letter then I am not sure what will convince you. Hmm… maybe my ax wielding skills. They are on point. Ish. But in the hearty ranchess sort of way. Not in The Shining madness sort of way. Aaaaand, I think that’s my cue to wrap up.

If You’ve Got Worries

I worry constantly. If worrying were a payable endeavor, I would give Bill Gates a run for his money. I don’t enjoy this little facet of my persona. In fact I worry about the long term effects on my health. So then I try and combat the worry with yoga, deep breathing, regular chats with God, and good-vibe mantras, like chill the fuck out, you’ve got this. I recently saw that one on a greeting card which I promptly sent to my best friend who enjoys the F word as much as I do.

Currently I am an almost 29 year old who lives with her parents and babysits for a living. Okay to be fair, I also teach the children writing while I’m there and I freelance for a magazine, but still. I work three days a week and TurboTax has definitely classified me as poor. Okay, fine, they didn’t say it outright, but they ever-so-helpfully hinted at certain tax breaks I can receive for being below the poverty line. I appreciate that TurboTax. Way to have my back.

At any rate, my artsy soul is constantly conflicted with a deep desire to be true to my art and not have my soul ripped out by The Man and then uh, being an actual adult who pays her bills and has health insurance and can afford her penchant for almond butter and fancy coffee but has to have her soul ripped out by The Man, because that’s the way to afford almond butter and bills. It is very disconcerting all this warring back and forth, between soul and The Man.

As any starving (though I never starve, I could never allow that. Not because of prolonging my life reasons, though that’s of course important, but because I genuinely am mad crazy over food) artist would tell you, being a slave to your art is not for the easily discouraged.

Right now, however I am at an impasse. I just regretfully watched a Ted Talk video on why your 30’s are not the new 20’s (I never believed that anyway) but the video made me very uncomfortable. Why haven’t I figured my shit out yet? What is wrong with me? The speaker gives all these examples of 20-somethings making their big life decisions. Getting careers and finding love and paving the way for their 30’s. And I don’t have any of that figured out.

Sure I know I want to be a writer as much as I want my next sip of expensive coffee followed by a bite of chocolate, but making it as a writer who also has a 401K and can eat for good measure… that’s the big times.

My best friend just turned 30 and while I heartily enjoyed picking out a card mocking her last days of youth and leaving her messages reminding her that she’s old, it was all in good fun and truthfully I envy her. She pointed out to me that a whole bunch of her major life decisions were made in her 20’s and how great that was (the speaker in the Ted Talk points this out as well). She went to school, settled on a career, got a job in that career field, found her husband, bought a house, brought home a dog. By society’s standards and turning 30 standards, she’s fucking killin’ it.

And there’s me who has one year and a handful of months left in my 20’s to make some semblance of it count and all I can do is worry. Here in no particular order are all my worries right now:

Why don’t magazines want to hire me? Is it because I’m sort of chubby? Wait, they can’t profile like that. Don’t be absurd. But maybe… Or worse is it because I’m untalented? No. Take that one back. I’d rather be sort of chubby and know it, rather than believe myself to lack any real talent.
Am I unlovable? Also, is it the sort of chubby thing?
Seriously when will I be gainfully employed by someone who doesn’t make me memorize the new french fry menu, or isn’t paying me under the table? (We’ll talk about that next year TurboTax).
Why can’t I finish my blasted book already?
Will I even write a bestseller? Of course I will. Don’t be an idiot.
Am I an idiot? Could be… the other day I was mildly unclear on the rules of communism and had to look it up on Wikipedia.
Why do other almost 29 year olds have pensions, houses, dogs and love lives, or have already invented a new billion dollar website? Where is my motivation? Where is my drive? Where is my love life?
It’d probably be easier if I was a singer. Then I could just go on the The Voice and…
Wait how would life be any easier if I was a struggling singer instead of a struggling writer? I don’t know, but it might be. At least they have open mic nights.
Maybe I should start reading my writing aloud on street corners. Could I be discovered in that way?
Why hasn’t anyone discovered me yet?
Seriously have I been negligent in the love department? Was I supposed to set my intentions and look for my mate? But I always hear it happens when you’re not looking. Should I be looking or not looking? Coy or aggressive? Coy is better right? Always be coy. Except I am not coy. I am super obvious and out there. Dammit! Why didn’t God make me coy?! All the coy girls are the ones finding their life partner. Instead I am failing at my 20’s.
Do I eat too much peanut butter? It has protein, but it’s also fatty.
Where do people find cowboys? I mean, more appropriately, where are women finding cowboys who are interested in marrying them? Why haven’t I landed a cowboy and how come life is so unfair? I have so much cellulite and no cowboy. I mean shouldn’t there be a cellulite cowboy trade-off? It only seems right. I did my time with the cellulite now I should be rewarded with a man who rides horses and then rides… the rails you pervert. Gosh, any good cowboy obviously has to take the train sometimes for business.

Ughhhh. There are so many more worries. I am worried I’ve forgotten some of the best ones. Sometimes I find myself utterly at peace and content and I suddenly start, like when you’re falling asleep and think you’re falling out of bed. I think, what were you just worrying about ten minutes ago… I can’t recall, so I backtrack, oh thank God, there you are worry, finances, you were worrying about finances. Oh that one’s a doozy, we could be here all day with this one. Alright, let’s get started.

Honestly writing this post in some ways has inflamed my anxiety to the point where I am having fantasies of dancing Xanax, but in others I realize how truly absurd most of my worries are. Also the fiery optimist in me is seriously chagrined by all this worrisome talk. Hence why this post got written. She was not having any of it and every time worrisome me mused to the universe at large that maybe it’s impossible for someone to love me, really love me as in also want to take off my clothes at some point and acknowledge my cellulite while still maintaining that love, she battled back with ferocity saying, of course it’s possible you ninny! You are fully worthy of love, and not just love but great love, cellulite and all! And any cowboy worth his beard and boots would be lucky to have you. Also you’ll get a job and sell your book.

She’s nice, the fiery optimist. I ought to talk to her more often and maybe have her stronghold the worrier and lock her up in a closet under a staircase, Harry Potter style. Yeah, that’ll shut her up. Anyway I have a homemade almond peanut butter cup with my name on it. And nothing says drowning my worries like chocolate and almond butter, so I’m going to get to that. Besides. I am only an almost 29 year old. I have one full year and some odd months to get my 20’s right. I am not worried… Ish.

I am Not Offended by Pies

Not too long ago, I had an interesting experience while in line at Target. I was eyeing up the brightly colored magazines with pies and holiday décor on the covers and had commented to my friend that my mom had almost every single one of those magazine subscriptions and oh how I envied her. It was my turn to check out then and the cashier started talking to me about one of the pie’s taking up the entire cover. I nodded in excitement thinking she was just as jazzed as I was about pies, the holidays and women’s magazines. But right as I had started to smile and say, “I know, pies!—” she rolled her eyes and started in on a long tirade about how disgusted she was with the pie. She sneered like the pie was a known criminal who’d just been set free.

I faltered. What was wrong with pies? I didn’t understand. Maybe she was a health nut… As she was bagging up my items, she kept going on about the pie and how much it aggravated her. I looked back at the magazine and the offending pie for clues when she then started in on Woman’s Day in particular.

“I mean, come on, Woman’s day? Why does it have to be a woman’s day? Making pies?” she enunciated the words woman’s and pie while waving her hands zestfully. I swiped my credit card.

And bingo was his name-o.

“So you’re a feminist?” I commented.
She beamed, glowing as warm and bright as a freshly baked apple pie.

“Exactly!” she smiled like I got it and went on. “Why are they assuming only women want to make pies?! And why is it called Woman’s Day? It should just be called… Day!”

“Right…” I nodded and though I completely did not feel that Woman’s Day should be entitled Day or women’s inclination for pie making was all wrong I wanted to be helpful and show my support of her passion and chimed in, “men can make pies too!”

She looked downright exuberant now and like she might grab a protest sign hidden behind her cash register that said, Men make pies too! and start marching around the store.

By this time my transaction was done and my friend who had been ahead of me in line was waiting near the exit doors. I smiled politely again and waved goodbye. She looked deeply relieved like she had gotten through to me—made me understand that women’s magazines and pies were a throwback to the 50’s when women served their men whiskey and lit their cigars while wearing pearls… all of this after a long day of vacuuming, of course.

Little did she know that she was preaching to the wrong lass. It’s not that I am not a feminist though (those types of things simply don’t rile me up). Am I all for women’s rights? Absolutely. Do I think Lena Dunham is the shit? I sure do. But I am offended by the idea of being barefoot and preggo in a kitchen baking a pie for my husband? Nope. I think that sounds delightful. Do I therefore belong in the kitchen baking pies? No. I don’t belong any one place in particular, not to a kitchen or a pie or heck even a man. I belong where I say I belong and my mind changes daily on that. Sometimes I do belong in a kitchen baking pies, you better freakin’ believe I do. I love pie! And other days I belong to the open road. And still others I belong to my laundry basket that is overflowing. I belong to my keyboard and my camera. I belong to the forest and the sea. I belong to God.

I will tell you what does offend me though: the idea that women should be just one thing. They should be career women and be offended by Woman’s Day insinuating they should spend their days baking pies. That’s preposterous. Woman’s Day is simply celebrating women, however they want to spend their day, making pies or not making pies. Okay fine, then they should all be mothers and they should all love to cook. Nope still wrong. Not everyone wants to be a mother and that’s okay too. I personally don’t relate to that one, but I also don’t undertsand the allure of cottage cheese; the world is just incomprehensible sometimes. Now wait for it, here’s a real doozy, what if you want both?

I do. I want a career. I want to write novels and travel the globe and live out of my car and soak up every human experience possible. But some day I want babies, loads of ‘em and a hubby too. I would like a house with a front porch and a big kitchen for cooking meals for that family. I’d like a dog and maybe some goats.

Lately though, maybe it’s because I am nearing 30 and people have taken it upon themselves to worry for me, I have gotten in a lot of conversations that utterly baffle me with how insulting they are. I am going to combine all of these very real convos into one for you now:

”So are you seeing anyone?”
”Nope.”
”How old are you?”
”28,” I answer because I am not ashamed of my age or sharing it.
“Ohhhh… do you want me to set you up with anyone?”
”No thank you. I am footloose and fancy free.”
”Are you sure you want to do that?”
”Be footloose and fancy free? Yes. I love being footloose and fancy-free”
”Yeah… but you’re not getting any younger…”
”I appreciate your concern but I am really not worried.”
”No you’re right. I would start to worry by 35.”
”Um. No I am not going to worry then either.”
”But don’t you want kids?”
”Yup. Six of them.”
”Oh my gosh! Your eggs are probably already dwindling! You should really get on this.”
”Yeah… no. I again am not worried. And if I have to adopt half the orphans in Africa and Vietnam with or without a man, I am comfortable with the fact that I will one day be a mother and I also would like to be a writer as well.”
”Well… kudos to you…” they say begrudgingly.

The problem I have with these conversations besides their being wildly offensive in nature is that people are implying my life sans man or sans children right now is cause for worry. It isn’t right. It’s against the grain. Aren’t I a woman? Isn’t that what all us womenfolk want?

Yeah, some of us want that. And some don’t. And some want the career and some want the babies and some want the pie and some want a little of all three and some want none of the above. Leave us alone! Leave Woman’s Day alone! Leave our bloody egg count and our want for pies or adventure alone! No woman who wants to be a mother and only a mother should be labeled un-ambitious because she doesn’t have inclinations other than to procreate. Being a mother is beautiful. So is having lofty career goals. And so is wanting both.

And guess what the very best thing of all is? Women who have the confidence to go after what they want whether or not they are getting older, their egg count is dwindling, their other friends happen to be married, have babies, houses, dream careers, but still they press on knowing who they are and what they want out of this crazy life.

Hmmm. Got a bit soap-boxey there. Maybe I’m a feminist after all… Just not one who is offended by pies.