The Re-Invention of Self

Every day is a re-invention of the self. It is a chance to start fresh. Every day is an opportunity to evaluate your beliefs about yourself and the world. In so doing, you can set the standards for the relationships in your life.

SETTING STANDARDS

What’s important is that you get to set the standards for those relationships. When others fail to meet those standards, it is not your fault. You are only capable of controlling your own behavior, not that of others. For some reason we so frequently need reminding of that. At least I do.

Set those standards. Leave the door open. If others choose to enter, welcome them with open arms, allow them to know and accept you. If they choose not to enter, accept their choice and know that you are living your own best life. Boundaries help maintain balance.

You get to choose the folks you surround yourself with. Remember the old adage that you are a reflection of those you choose to spend time with. I hope that is true because when I look at my circle, I see some mighty fine people.

I am well aware of the mistakes I make and have made in the past. That’s the cool thing about living; you get to start fresh every time the sun comes up This reminds me of The Four Agreements, a small book I recommend no matter your religious affiliation or lack thereof. It’s good advice.

THE FOUR AGREEMENTS

The four agreements:

Be impeccable with your word.

Don’t take anything personally.

Don’t make assumptions.

Always do your best.

I often fail the four agreements; we all do, but every morning we get to wake up and try again. We get to know that every single day we do our best. The thing is what your “best” is on Tuesday may not be the same as your “best” on Wednesday. As long as you know that on any given day, you did your best, you can strive to make the next day even better. The trick is awareness. Be aware of the words you use, remember that everyone has a story, and we all have burdens to carry. Be aware, evaluate daily, accept what you are offered and breathe.

A PRAYER

Such awareness is a daily prayer of sorts, a meditation. It helps you focus, keeps you centered. Think through the events of the day and take measure of your actions. Write about the days’ events in a journal. Read a poem. Enjoy your quiet time, if only for a moment. Give yourself grace by recognizing progress and remembering that if you trip that’s okay because tomorrow you get to start fresh all over again.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

This is a mantra of mine: be kind to yourself. When you are kind to yourself, you have more confidence which in turn makes you nicer to others. When you are kind to yourself, you are also kinder to others. It relaxes you, causes you to smile more, makes you friendlier, more likeable. This is true. If you don’t believe me, try it. Stop beating yourself up about every little thing and give yourself some grace.

Re-invent yourself every day and watch how you grow and thrive. Surround yourself with people who love unconditionally. Give yourself a break and say a little prayer.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz

Where Ideas come From

Ideas can come from anywhere and from many places. Rarely (at least for me) is a story idea generated from just one thought, but from an odd collection of seemingly random information or experiences.

Today I completed reading a remarkable book, The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell. It was the acknowledgments at the end that really struck me though. The author, Robert Dugoni, tells the story of how the idea for this novel came about. As a writer I relate to his experience about how ideas develop. In his acknowledgment, we learn about his growing up with a “special needs” sibling who was “different,” his Catholic upbringing and a news article he came across about a child with ocular albinism; all topics relevant to the novel and collected over time.

FIRST DRAFT

An especially important point that he makes, that all writers, myself included, need to remember, is that “a first draft is written for the writer and should never be shared with anyone.” That goes right along with Terry Pratchett’s quote: “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.”

THINKING IS WRITING

I am not sure if non-writers really understand the process; that even when we are not writing, we are writing. Recently, I was part of a conversation with fellow writers where we all agreed that thinking is writing. If you happen to share a household with a writer (God bless you), you may laugh and joke about this; you may see this as an excuse to not write. You would be wrong.

LAUNDRY IS WRITING

Stepping away from the desk to throw in a load of laundry is writing. Gardening and pulling weeds is writing. Even sitting among friends and listening to conversation can be writing. We are sneaky people, us writers! You never know when an idea is growing in our heads! But seriously, sometimes we need to get up and move around, perform a menial task to allow ideas to evolve.

WRITING IS A PROCESS

Writing is a process, something I was constantly reminding my students when I was a teacher and a librarian. You cannot skip steps! One of the most important steps, if not the most important is thinking.

IDEAS MORPH

Story ideas happen in an instant and simultaneously develop in the writers’ mind over a long period of time. Bits come to us from unexpected places sometimes, and sometimes they are right there in front of us having been with us forever. Ideas are not born whole and complete; they gestate. They begin as a seed and slowly grow until one day you have a story, whole with a beginning, middle and end. Ideas have no sense of time; they come upon us at once, in a flash and also slowly like molasses in the wintertime. This is why writers carry little notebooks. This is why we often appear distracted.

AN EXAMPLE

Currently, I am working on a short story whose ideas derived from many sources. I had an idea for the story based on a news article that ignited my imagination. Thinking about it brought up memories of events that actually happened to me. I took those events and molded them to fit the story, gave them meaning. I created a character who embodies what I believe to be some basic truths about humanity.

That story is not yet ready to be “born,” but it’s getting there. I have messes to clean up, the timeline is jumbled, and kinks to straighten. I have not completed the process. Non-writers have commented to me that writing must be fun for me. It can be. Most of the time it’s more like someone is ripping your fingernails off. Slowly. Still, it’s worth it.

Planning

Damn, am I ever behind. If you are a creative of any kind, then you will understand what I am talking about. You will especially get it if you are like me and struggle to settle on any one task.

Several months ago, I prioritized my writing projects. That helped me focus. Perhaps it’s already time for another evaluation.

Currently, I am working on three short stories, two of which are meant to be in an anthology. The anthology work is more than just a commitment to my own writing. I have a responsibility to the other members. I have fallen behind reading their work and that’s not fair. I am also working on a novel outline and a character arc for it. I write book reviews too which I have currently cut back to once a month.

Then there are my weekly blog posts which I skipped last week for the first time. I failed to post it that is; I’ve actually been writing several essays that will eventually make it to my blog. One is on a particularly sensitive and fragile topic and requires much thought and time.  

For the remainder of the summer, I have decided to focus on the anthology stories and calendar my novel work for the fall. I need to stop flitting back and forth between projects. I have got to focus. It’s going to feel so good to accomplish something! As I see it, that gives me six weeks to complete final drafts for two short stories. I am not including the week of my daughter’s wedding because I am at least that realistic!

Come September, I can return to the novel. Maybe I will even participate in Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) during November. I did that several years ago during the July event and accomplished a great deal (on another unfinished novel!).

I’ve got so many story and novel ideas in my head and so many incomplete on paper. I know that I am not alone; this is the life of a writer. The good news for me is that I have reached a place in my life where I can devote good chunks of time to completing some projects. One foot in front of the other.

Regina’s River Rules

The Guadalupe River is a destination for many. For us, it is home. We are privileged. We have the luxury to enjoy the benefits of river life as we please. We take out our kayaks, paddleboards or tubes at our leisure. No need to squeeze in all the fun in just one weekend or day. We try not to take it for granted; we spend a great deal of time on the water, especially during Texas’ long summers. In fact, several years ago, we boasted the fact that we had floated the river at least one day a month for the entire year including the day after Christmas!

NO ONE CAN KNOW A RIVER

However, we do not really know the river, not even our little part of it. I say this because no one can ever really know a river. Rivers are ever-changing and wild. Rivers, like all of nature, demand respect. Water level changes, rocks and other underwater debris migrate. Despite ordinances against glass containers, people bring them, drop them, break them. Even water chemistry changes so that one day a person can easily skip across the rocks from the bank to the island and the very next day a slippery film develops so that crossing becomes precarious.

NATURE’S BEAUTY

I can go on endlessly about the river’s beauty and often do. The turtles and ducks and herons and hawks. The fish, the hummingbirds and dragonflies. The sound of water flowing over rocks, frogs croaking and the cicadas playing their symphony. Majestic trees that shade deep pools. Early morning mist hanging low across the water. Yes, it’s gorgeous.

DANGER

But it can also be dangerous. Apparently, people forget this little fact all too easily. Over the years I have witnessed countless foolish behaviors and they never cease to make me cringe. The thing is, I am there to relax, to enjoy the company I am with and forget about the larger world for a time. I do not want to feel responsible for others (especially strangers). I am not a lifeguard. At the same time, I am certainly not going to sit idly by and watch a disaster happen right in front of me without trying to prevent it.

REGINA’S RIVER RULES

That said, here are Regina’s River Rules:

  • Proper shoes. I don’t care that you went barefoot throughout your carefree childhood (I did too). Rocks can be slippery. Stupid people leave behind broken glass. Find yourself a good, sturdy pair of river shoes.
  • Watch your kids! This one bears repeating.
  • WATCH YOUR KIDS. If you don’t feel like you can have a good time AND keep an eye on your children, then don’t bring them along! You are not familiar with the water flow and other river conditions. You don’t know the other people on the river and neither does your kid. There really are strangers about, especially on a holiday weekend. I should not have to watch your young child slip through flowing water, lifejacketless and unsupervised while your back is turned. That’s your job.
  • Don’t bring your kids unless they are strong swimmers or have lifejackets or both.
  • Show respect. Respect those around you, respect the locals (we live here) and most especially, respect the river. Don’t throw your trash in the river. If you accidentally drop your beer can, swim after it. When you leave, you should be taking all your trash with you.
  • Bring plenty of water to drink. Sure, enjoy your alcoholic beverages, but keep yourself hydrated.
  • Be friendly. Smile and wave as you pass. We will wave back!

If you visit many of the tube rental websites, you will find the following warning:

IMPORTANT… Guadalupe River tubing, swimming and river activities have both inherent and unknown risks and dangers. These include but are not limited to injury or loss of life. (https://www.riversportstubes.com/guadaluperivertubingchecklist.htm)

Take heed. Don’t be stupid. I beg of you, should you visit our river, give her the respect she deserves. Be safe. Have fun. Let us locals enjoy ourselves too.

Perfect Days

Today is one of those perfect days. Lately, I am experiencing more and more of them. This is how they look: Up early, coffee with my husband, we chat about everything and nothing. We tease and laugh. Then it’s outdoors before the heat sets in. We garden and weed, make our little world a prettier place and grow some vegetables. Today I even rode the riding mower. Before the sun climbs too high, I retreat indoors, quick shower, early lunch and then I sit down to write. As I write with the dogs at my feet, I watch the hummingbirds on the flowers outside my window. After hours of writing and some light housework, together we will spend the late afternoon sitting in the cold river water and reading or chatting with friends.

TEXAS TEACHERS FOR A SAFE REOPENING

I am part of a Facebook group called “Texas Teachers for a Safe Reopening.” This group was formed in the middle of COVID lockdown when many of us were concerned that Texas was in too much of a hurry to open back up safely. Turns out, we were right. Not only was it too soon, but in many districts, safety was in name only. Rules were made but not followed, nor were there repercussions for not following them. Granted, this was a matter of degrees depending on the district, but this Facebook group was proof that the problems were not isolated.

STAY OR GO

Many group members posted about leaving the profession, retiring earlier than planned or changing professions. Please understand, we are professional educators. We are dedicated and we love our students and teaching and learning. Also, understand that COVID was not the first or only problem we encountered over the years in public education.

Furthermore, let me make it clear that I do not speak for all teachers or even for this group. These are my thoughts alone based on over twenty years of experience including COVID lockdown and after.

BROKEN SYSTEM

While many states as of this date are still debating the opening of schools, Texas reopened a year ago. In the beginning, I saw the lockdown as an opportunity. It was a chance for all of us to slow down and finally get it right. That did not happen; instead what happened during COVID exposed the public education system for what it is and for what it is not. The very institution that is meant to support educators to do their best job of teaching and is meant to support students as they learn, has become the biggest obstacle of all, promoting only mediocrity and supporting the lowest common denominators.  The “system” blocks teachers at every turn from performing at their professional best.

In spite of all of that, I know many, many teachers who do a phenomenal job. Not an easy task and it requires tremendous energy and a strong backbone. It requires so much perseverance. It shouldn’t have to be this way, but after a while even the strongest begin to wear down and just get tired. Understand, not tired from teaching. Tired from fighting the very system that is meant to support us.

NO REGRETS

That said, a week or so ago a member of this Facebook group, “Texas Teachers for a Safe Reopening” posed the following question to the group:

If you retired earlier than you originally intended or left teaching for a job outside of public schools, do you regret your decision?

As of today, there are 78 responses including my own. The vast majority have no regrets. My own response was short and to the point as a Facebook response should be, but I feel like the question warrants a more in-depth response.

Someone in the group responded that if you left the profession, you would certainly say “no regrets” not because that is true but because you are rationalizing your decision. I can only speak for myself, but no. I have no regrets and I am not trying to make myself feel better.

I retired in December, after the first semester. I did not feel safe. Nor did I feel respected by administration, by some teachers, by some parents or by some students. My well-being and the well-being of others were of very little importance to too many people. I could not do my job at the level of expectation that I set for myself.

TWO THINGS CAN BE TRUE

Two things can be true at the same time. It is true that I loved my job. I was a school librarian and I got to do many amazing things such as talk books with students, teach a love for reading and research, purchase books and maintain them, assist teachers with curriculum and lessons. My job was great.

It is also true that I am over the moon with the life I have found after leaving public education. I work part-time at a job where I am appreciated, and I am writing every day. I no longer experience the anxiety or depression that was bringing me down before. I have the energy and mental space to write. I am a better writer, a better person and I have had the luxury to slow down and appreciate the world around me and the people I love. I also appreciate the fact that I am extremely fortunate and not everyone has the opportunity to live this way. I am grateful every single day.

So, no, I do not regret my decision. It was the absolute best choice I could make for myself and for my family. I will add that it was not an easy decision, and it was pretty scary. But was it worth it? Yes. Without a doubt.

I hope to have many days like today.

Summertime

Summer is my favorite time of year. When I was a child, it was the freedom of course. School was out and I spent most of most summers at my grandparents’ house on the bayou. Summer is nostalgic. Dinner was served at lunch time, we ran wild and barefoot through the woods, built forts, picked blackberries, went sailing in the bay whenever we pleased, ate watermelon on the back porch. Fond memories.

SUMMERTIME GIRL

More than that, or because of that, I am a summertime girl. Sunshine and water, beaches and rivers, close friends, good company and time for reflection; summer is all of that and more.

Today, I spent the early morning working in the yard and weeding, careful not to disturb the earthworms or skinks too much. Lovely start to a lovely day.

I write this sitting on my porch, listening to the birds and watching hummingbirds as they flit among the red jasmine. I sip sweet tea with my dog is at my feet. The farmer has mowed his field so the hay lays drying in the sun. All is calm. I love this life. How could anyone not?

The place where I live is meant for summer. As my husband sometimes says, “we live in a destination.” No need to travel; we are already here. We are so fortunate.

TIME AND PACE

As a teacher and a school librarian I always enjoyed my time off during the summer, but it’s different now as a semi-retired person. I don’t feel the urgency to hurry up and take advantage of each summer day before the new school year begins. I am living at a different pace.

Don’t get me wrong, every single day feels so packed. I am always busy, and time passes quicker than ever. My time is filled with activities I love and care about; writing, reading, sitting at the river, my dogs, gardening. And the best things of all: more time with my husband, daily phone calls with my daughter and my mom, time with loved ones.

No matter the time of year, I have found balance.  And balance feels so good. Still, summer is the best!

“How near to good is what is WILD!”

After a night of thunder and lightning and heavy rain, I sit on my porch taking in the wildlife that closes in around me. I watch a red-bellied woodpecker couple, a doe with her fawn stroll through the high grass, soon to be cut and dried as hay. Water drips like a metronome from the roof. I watch. And I read Thoreau.

NOT BORING

I remember reading Henry David Thoreau in school and falling into a state of near comatose boredom. As I read him now, I have a completely different experience. Recently I came across an essay he published in 1862 after presenting it as a speech several times. I’m not going to lie; it’s long, he rambles, he covers a multitude of topics. Oh but it’s chock full of treasures! He covers everything from conservation to politics, to literature and sense of place.

TO HAVE BEEN THERE

I wonder what it must have been to be a member of the audience of that speech back in the nineteenth century. Where they bored and restless as they sat in hard chairs in their stiff attire? Did they fight a yawn? Force open their eyes? Or did they hang on his every word, mesmerized by his poetic descriptions and advanced vocabulary? Were they in awe at his predictions of future America? They should have been; he was spot on.

This essay, which I never before heard of, fell into my hands as I was doing a little research for a character in a short story I am currently writing. Indeed, it helps me to get to know the character better, but it’s providing me with so much more food for thought. It’s called Walking. Look it up if you are so inclined but be patient and allow it time.

CHARMED, I’M SURE

Like I said, he rambles. Also, he lived a charmed life, clearly. Anyone whose daily stroll lasts four hours pretty much has it made in my book. We can assume that most of the remainder of the day was spent writing and reading. So, yeah, charmed. Not everyone has such luxury. I am glad he had it though because he had some important things to say.

CONSERVATION

His discussion of conservation was far ahead of his time. He saw in the future, an America depleted of its forests and wild space. He saw, even then, how we as humans were destroying our very home. He stressed the importance of educating our youth about nature and conservation; about the need for individuals to spend time in nature (both to appreciate so we will care for it, but also for how it benefits the soul), and the dire need for public lands. “Wildness is the preservation of the world,” he says.

AMERICA

On the subject of America as a nation, as a culture, as a people, he sees us as being shaped by the nature around us, by the wildness and unique flora and fauna. He brings up the idea of an “American mythology” which is fascinating. With prescience he states, “Perchance, when in the course of ages, American liberty has become a fiction of the past—as it is to some extent a fiction of the present—the poets of the world will be inspired by American mythology.”

I love his take on American literature and its place in the world. Our American experience lends a special quality, unique and rich. It’s good to own that. His nineteenth century mind is hopeful for a prolific and rich literary collection inspired by the American experience. Indeed, I think we’ve got that!

NOT PERFECT JUST LIKE AMERICA HERSELF

There are some things he’s gotten wrong, or rather failed to consider. Most notably, the contributions and inclusion of Native Americans. Imagine if Natives could have influenced conservation efforts back then! When commenting on our proclivity to go west toward the new as opposed to traveling east, he tells of his witnessing “the Indians moving west across the stream (the Mississippi River),” as if they traveled willingly. But that’s a discussion for another day.

ONE LAST THOUGHT

As I said, he rambles and now I am too. It’s raining again here, and the world is green and lush. I will leave you with one last quotation from Walking just to prove how varied his subject matter is and because I just love books: “A truly good book is something as natural, and as unexpectedly and unaccountably fair and perfect, as a wildflower discovered in the prairies of the West or in the jungles of the East.”

Thoreau, Henry David. Walking. 1862. Republished by National Geographic. https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2011/11/17/walking-by-henry-david-thoreau/

Refugees and Natives

How refreshing it is to experience American history outside the dry and bland story told to us in classrooms across the country and across time. Kathryn Haueisen brings the people who made history to life. She has made them real and believable, relatable. She puts them in context to the events of their times.

The Separatists are not the cookie cutter characters with crazy ideas, as I remember them portrayed in textbooks. Nor are the American natives a caricature of welcoming and naïve Indians standing on the beach. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the characters in this book and seeing the world through their eyes.

Tisquantum (we remember him as “Squanto”), upon his return to America, tries to explain the baffling life he experienced in London, the crowds and how people there acquire food by trading with small pieces of metal. He tries to understand the cruelty of public executions he witnessed while in England, as well as being captured, mistreated and sold as a slave.  Worse, he returns home to find that two thirds of his people are gone due to the “great dying,” as a plague wiped out villages. He is a person who experienced and witnessed incredible events far outside of his ability to imagine. We feel his pain and his bewilderment.

Likewise, the Pilgrims arrive to a new world that is equally outside their imaginings. Coming to America is not a lark but required years of planning. Like all immigrants, the decision was not made lightly. Leaving one’s home to make a new life in an unknown world only happens when there are no other choices. The struggle to be, if not accepted, at least tolerated by others, follows them, even aboard ship among the sailors. The heartbreak of leaving behind family and home, shows just how intent they were to live with religious freedom.

What is most striking about Mayflower Chronicles, to me, is how Haueisen places the story in the larger history of the world; she connects the dots. History is typically recounted in seclusion. We learn about the English Reformation, the influence of the printing press, executions. We learn about the Separatists and the settling of North America and the encounter with Native Americans. Rarely do we find them told together, in conjunction with one another. So much of history happens at the same time. The way history is traditionally taught makes it difficult to see how the pieces fit together. I appreciate that.

If American (and English, and World) history were taught as a whole, students would find it far more compelling, I think.

Haueisen portrays individuals, both English and Indigenous, experiencing a moment in time that is both unique and paradigm-shifting as they struggle to understand one another while maintaining their own identities. This kind of struggle among Americans of all backgrounds continues to this day; it defines us, even as we evolve.

  • Mayflower Chronicles: The Tale of Two Cultures
  • By Kathryn Brewster Haueisen
  • Green Place Books
  • 2020

978-1-950584-59-8

Slaying the Dragon

“Slay the dragon once, and he will never have power over you again.” –Steven Pressfield

Writing is like slaying a dragon. Be brave. Do it. Don’t stop. Don’t beat yourself up because you didn’t write 500 billion words last week but know your limits and keep going. I skipped a week. Since I hopped back on the blog horse, I have not missed a week until now.

DISCIPLINE

For me, writing a weekly blog post is an exercise in discipline. It’s a deadline. It’s a way to think out loud; a little more than journaling, but much less involved than writing a short story or an article or novel work. Blogging is intended for weeks exactly like last week, when life gets so busy it’s hard to find head space for creativity. It forces me to sit at my desk and churn something out.

I WILL “KILL THE DRAGON”

Yes, I missed one week, but I am back at it now and stronger than ever. I didn’t “kill the dragon” last week, but I sharpened my sword. I read up on craft, took a few notes, was observant in a busy world and sought inspiration. Sometimes the knight needs to back off, exit the cave and regroup.

My word count wasn’t much to brag about, but I committed myself to some important deadlines and took time to set priorities. A writer must have a frame to work within.

PRIORITIES

Lately, I have had so many projects going at once, I finally had to decide where to focus my attention. I will focus on short stories and set my historical novel to the side for now. I am outlining what started as a memoir and is now a novel about abandonment, shame and redemption. This is very exciting as I seek to understand American individualism, family and love. I was given the advice of “choosing the one you can’t stop thinking about.” That is what I have done.

ACCOUNTABILITY

Setting priorities and deadlines now frees me up to outline and churn out words like a crazy person! I am ready for this! A blog post by each Friday. A book review by the end of each month. A short story ready for peer review by June 10. A completed outline for my work-in-progress by June 12. Hold me to it World. I have my sword and I will slay the dragon.

Wild Dreams

Amazing quote from my therapist today:

“This world is too big for somebody’s dream to be too wild.”

When I asked if that was something she said often to her patients, she said no, that it just came to her. I said she might just be the next Bren Brown. I asked if I could quote her, and she said, go ahead.

Also, she said that I should not have to compromise my dreams for other peoples’ expectations. Isn’t this the very kind of thing I have been trying to teach myself? Live your own best life. Others can do as they please with theirs.

UGLY VOICE

I have the talent. All I have to do is put in the hard work.

Yet and still, in the back of my head there is that little ugly voice asking, “but do you have the talent?”  To that voice, I say, “fuck you, there is only one way to find out.”

All my life, I have heard “you should” from the people around me, from my family, from the very people who should encourage me, accept me and love me unconditionally. “Hey Regina, you know what you should do? Let me tell you.”

I know what I should do; follow my own heart. Fulfill my own dreams. Be me. I don’t mind a bit if you be you, just let me be me.

BE YOUR OWN MAIN CHARACTER

It is astounding to consider how the role you play in family, in other people’s lives can stick with you. It’s so easy to forget that you are the main character in your own life, that other people don’t get to be the protagonist in your story. It’s astounding how that can last a lifetime—allowing yourself to be second to everyone else. And it’s extremely convenient for others when you acquiesce so easily.

SELF-KINDNESS

As for me, I have no more time to waste. Getting older forces you to finally set things straight with yourself. My therapist is right, this world is oh so big and there is plenty of room for the wildest of dreams. Don’t make yourself small for others. Don’t allow it. Look inside. Do the hard work. Make those dreams reality. Be kind to yourself. Believe in the possibilities of what you hold inside.