Determined Fig

Sometimes my husband goes a little crazy purchasing plants for our yard. He can be a bit over-zealous shopping at the nursery. When he brings plants home, he has a habit of setting them at the side of the house, between our house and the neighbor’s privacy fence. Sometimes he forgets about them. 

Several years ago, he bought a small fig tree. The tree was maybe a foot tall, and came in a plastic disposable planter. You know the kind. He set it by the fence and left it there. This fig tree was ignored. It was not watered. That is to say, we did not water it; we did nothing to care for it. It sat in its little pot and waited.

It waited until it became tired of waiting and finally took responsibility for its own well-being. The fig tree began to grow. The roots, determined and strong, broke through the plastic planter bottom and dug into the earth beneath. The fig tree branched out reaching for the sun, its leaves wide and green and healthy. It grew against the fence, such was its strength, it nearly knocked the fence over. Before that could happen, because we were not interested in building a new fence, my husband chopped down the tree, right down to the plastic pot.

Guess what: it grew back. Again, right through the pot. Not only did it grow back, but it withstood our infamous winter storm that took so many other trees and plants in our yard. Once again, our determined fig grows thick and healthy and strong. Nothing can stop this tree! It wants to live. The pot still encircles it.

Over the years I have had to restart my writing life over and over again. I have always been a writer. In my head. Due to a myriad of circumstances, I have gone through periods of not writing, but I never considered myself to be anything other than a writer. The thing is, a writer is always writing even if it’s just in our heads. It’s what we do. It’s a way of viewing the world. My writing life has been “chopped down” in so many ways. Earning a living, raising a child, caring for family—all legitimate and positive reasons for not writing. I embrace all of those things, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade my life experiences for the world. In fact, without them there would be nothing to write about.

The biggest “chop down” for any writer I think, is getting past the events in life that serve as triggers. Some stuff is really hard to write about and those are the things that most need to be written down. The hard stuff. So often, I used to get to the hard stuff and just quit. Going deep is scary. Downright frightening. But when you push through, like the fig tree, you grow. You push those roots down and reach for the sky, you write through the hard stuff and suddenly you find you have become a better person but you have also produced better writing! Those things go hand-in-hand. 

Sometimes we all have to be like that fig tree and soldier through. Life will cut you down. No one is going to water you. You’ve got to do it yourself. To grow you’ve got to do your own hard work.

Where We Stand Now

Even the most cynical of us thought it would be over by now; didn’t we? And yet, here we are.  I have to think it through: it began in earnest in March of 2020, isn’t that right? This is September 2021. Not only are we still in it, but it seems it’s really bad again.

MASKS

When the state of Texas unmasked, I continued to wear mine in public and still do. It’s annoying. A lot of things that are good for us are annoying. No big deal. It’s a big deal to be sick, to suffer, to find yourself alone in a hospital. I don’t intend for any of that to happen to me or to any of my loved ones. Death does not scare me; pain and suffering terrify me. I wear my mask.

CHANGES

The world has changed so much since the Covid outbreak. There have been big changes on a global scale and also on a personal scale. My life is completely different today than it was a year ago. Oddly, for the better. I am extremely fortunate; for many the changes have been and are catastrophic. If you were already living from one paycheck to the next (or worse), the pandemic pushed you down even farther on the socio-economic scale. I don’t think it’s supposed to work that way, but this pandemic has done many things including exposing our flaws as a society. We have a lot of work to do.

BE SAFE

At our house, we will do our best over the upcoming months. Already, we don’t leave the house much and when we do, we are as careful as we can be; we, of course, are vaccinated, we mask in public, hand sanitizer after filling the car with gas, so much handwashing. I don’t hug as much as I used to.

TRAVEL

A few weeks ago, we flew for the first time since before the lockdown. We were apprehensive about it and wouldn’t be doing it at all if it weren’t for a very important event: my daughter’s wedding, something I would not miss for the world. While traveling we distanced ourselves from others as much as we possibly could. We wore our masks. I always shower and change clothes first thing when I leave an airport. The airports were crowded. The planes were filled to capacity. The airline was not cleaning the planes between flights.

When we got there, we smiled and celebrated and danced for the happy event! It was worth it!

GOD BLESS US ALL

The wedding and the trip are over now, and we are home. We will wait and see. School has started. There doesn’t seem to be anything in place this time around to keep students and teachers safe. Last year, safety protocols were “in name only,” at least where I am, but this year it seems the powers-that-be are just pretending none of this is happening. My heart goes out to all the teachers, students and parents who will be at risk. I am grateful to no longer be a part of the fiasco that is public education right now.

I can’t believe more is not being done. What will it take? How many people will die and suffer? At what percentage of death does empathy set in for a society? For our society?

Lean on Me

These are exceptional times. There is no doubt. The political is personal. Not being able to get to a polling booth to vote is personal. Not enough beds for a hospitalized loved one is personal. Feeling unsafe in public spaces is personal. Losing a job is personal. Protecting vulnerable loved ones from a debilitating, even deadly virus is personal. Watching police officers who we depend on for our safety being attacked during an insurrection at our nation’s capital is personal. Watching climate change occur in fast forward is personal.

WHY AREN’T YOU CRYING?

 Everything on the news seems to land right on our doorsteps. In the old days, it landed in the form of a newspaper; now it arrives as actual events happening to us all. We are not talking about a faraway war or disease and starvation in an unrelatable third world country (which is awful enough). No, gone are the days of first world entitlement. The pandemic is here. Racial strife is here (always has been, but why still?). We actually had an insurrection at the U.S capital; who could’ve imagined? Climate change is happening so fast we can’t keep up. Fires, floods, drought, extreme temperatures, hurricanes, melting polar caps, animals quickly becoming extinct.  If you haven’t cried lately while watching the news, then I have to ask: What is wrong with you?

CALL ME

Today one of my dearest friends, one of my most favorite human beings on the face of the Earth (she knows who she is) called me. As soon as I heard her voice, I sensed stress. Tears. I immediately “got” it. We both acknowledge all the zillions of blessings in our lives. However, the early 21st century is hard. Yes, it is way easier for us than it is for most people on the planet. Neither of us deny that; in fact, the recognition makes it all the more difficult. When did this start? The intensity?

YOU’VE GOT A FRIEND

What’s important here is that she called me. She reached out. I was able to be there for her, but in doing so she did something for me in return. She reminded me that I am worthy, that I am someone who can be depended on. Sometimes it is just as important to know that you can be depended on as it is to know there are people you can depend on. It’s a two-way street. It feels good to be needed. She is a person who has been there for me. I love that I can finally reciprocate no matter how small.

HEY SHITHEAD!

You know a friend is family when you go for a period of time without communicating but when you do get in touch it’s as if no time passed at all. It might be months or years or weeks or days. It doesn’t matter. We are always right where we left off. We can talk about today and refer to decades ago and it all makes sense. That is love. Who else can call you a “shithead” and you know it is a compliment! That’s better than family.

TOUGH TIMES

We are living in a time where we are touched by everything. Everything is connected. The insurrection of January 6, being laid off from a job, climate change, a divorce, a friend becoming widowed, the economy, the pandemic. Every single thing hits so very close to home. It’s knocking on your own effin front door. For this reason, we especially need to be reaching out to one another more than ever. Let’s be there for each other, even if it’s just to provide a smile.

GOOD TIMES

There are all the good things too; an impromptu trip to another state to visit a small-town bookshop, a wedding, college graduations, laughter, a phone call, an early morning run, watching your dog swim in the river, a job you like, a night out with your daughter. I promise, this list is much longer than the bad stuff. That’s the thing. A conversation that starts with tears and ends with laughing so hard you snort! No matter what happens, with some people life is just so beautiful. It’s always beautiful with beautiful human beings.

Hey Shithead, you are one of the most beautiful humans on the planet, and I love you.

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

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.

About Dogs

Dogs have made me a better person.

COCO

I first learned about the gifts and needs of dogs because of my silly chocolate cocker spaniel, Coco. He was such a mess! Born in a puppy mill, sold in a pet shop, as inbred as the Prince of Wales. He was a well-meaning thing, but he loved to run off every chance he got.

He was with me through a bad (duh, aren’t they all?) divorce. Then, when my life fell apart, I had to give him up. Oh, the guilt. At the time, I could barely take care of myself. He was a gift. In more ways than one. He was a gift who taught me things I needed to know. Coco was a runner. Every chance he got he would bolt out the door. But then, I was a runner too.

Coco was living proof that a dog should never be presented as a gift, especially if it’s a surprise. The day he was brought home to me, Coco ran, jumped into my arms and proceeded to give me puppy kisses all over my face. Irresistible. He was a city dog living in the country with his thick curls all stuck with sticker-burrs and mud. He needed grooming constantly. He was all energy and not the smartest kid on the block by any stretch. Chasing balls, he would slide into walls. He chased cows and cars. On a leash, he was a kite in a hurricane. Coco was cute and he made me laugh, but I was not good for him. When I gave him up to go to a better home, I was wracked with guilt and just so sad to see him go. It was the right thing to do. Coco taught me that I love dogs.

BONNIE

Later, Bonnie came into my life. The best dog ever! How I love my Bonnie Lass. She is smart and loyal and protective. She is so devoted to us, and we to her. Bonnie was the first born of a litter of 12 females. Her mother is a yellow lab trained hunting dog. Her father was the golden retriever down the street. Bonnie is beautiful, inside and out.

Bonnie’s passion is chasing tennis balls; she lives for it, but she will only play if there are two balls. One is not enough and two is all that will fit in her mouth! Second to ball-chasing, she loves to swim. Combine the two, and she is in heaven.

Every day at 4:00 sharp, she nudges me, puts her paw in my lap and demands attention—it is ball time. She knows words; she knows “ball” (of course), “river,” “toy,” and I swear, she understands everything we say. She knows when we are happy and when we are down. She is there for us. We do our best to reciprocate her love. It’s hard to love as good as a dog. A dog’s love knows no bounds. It is unconditional and perfect.

MIA

Mia is special. She is some sort of cow dog mix. My daughter rescued her (or the other way around, I think). Mia is not a city dog, so she came to live with us. Here, she prances about off leash and smiles a lot. She chases squirrels.  She’s a finicky old woman and can be passive-aggressive like a cat. I love Mia because she took such good care of my daughter. Also, because she is herself and a sweetie pie. She is our winky dog because she has one eye, and she is old, requiring much care.

LOVE

The dogs in our family mean so much to us. They teach us love every single day and remind us what is important. There was a time when I did not consider myself to be a “dog person,” now I cannot imagine life without them. Our lives are richer, simpler, and so much better because of the dogs we know.

Balance: This is for Tara (conversation through blog)

When I put too much on my plate, I become anxious and insecure. The worry of it all overwhelms. I worry that I won’t have enough time to do justice to each task. I worry that something important will be left undone; it’s all important. This is when inertia begins to set in. Deer in the headlights. Panic. Breathe.

LISTS

I try to control it. I am a big list maker. Lists for everything. There is nothing more satisfying than crossing something off a list. Nothing more disappointing than scratching something off a list because you know it just won’t happen. If it will not get accomplished, it doesn’t get to be listed.

CALENDARS

Calendars are the same as lists. And I don’t use the calendar on my phone or my computer. I need, really need, the act of writing it all down. That’s a brain thing. Also, I actually enjoy filling in the spaces. Calendars steady me, allow me to see ahead just a little bit, but not too much.

ADHD

Much of this has to do with being ADHD, I think; not that I have ever been diagnosed. That wasn’t a thing back in the day. ADHD usually conjures up the idea of little boys who can’t sit still. Now we know that ADHD manifests differently in girls: incessant talking, daydreaming, easily distracted, short attention spans (unless it’s something that impassions her). Hello! The ditzy little girl I just described? That would be me! And you know what? She was a pretty smart little cookie once you got past societal expectations and the dreaminess. Recently, much has been written about girls/women and ADHD; it’s high time. I could cite many sources here, but that would send me down a whole “nother” path so that this post would never get finished.

DEADLINES

Which leads me to this: I made a promise to myself that I would post on my blog site weekly. I gave myself Friday as my deadline. This is the first week that I have been late. I have two excuses (my husband says that I am the queen of excuses, but they aren’t excuses, but reasons). My first excuse/reason is that I spent a day resting with mild side effects from my second COVID shot. Fair.

My second excuse is more complicated. I began the week writing what was to be this week’s post about all the dead stuff in our yard that the winter storm caused. However, as I wrote, I began to think about bigger issues. I went from our frozen plants to the depletion of lightening bugs and monarch butterflies and climate change and drought. It was not a post, but four or five posts. I became overwhelmed and put it aside.

BE KIND TO YOURSELF

Please understand, I have lots of pots on my proverbial writing stove. I am excited about them. I want to do them all. Now. And I want to do them well. Blogging, for me, is an exercise in discipline. It helps me focus (believe it or not). I guess that makes a third excuse.

We must pace ourselves. Make those lists. Fill in the calendar. Roll up our sleeves and make these dreams real. Learn to balance those dreams with the hard work that it takes to make them real. That is what we do. Most importantly: be kind to ourselves. Give ourselves a break and enjoy the experience of just being.

I give myself permission to be a day late with this post in the name of learning balance. My hope is that the upcoming week will find me just a little more grounded so that I can fly! There is too much to do to stand still.

Texas Unmasked

Earlier this week I began to write about what I dream of doing when it is once again safe to unmask and go out in public. But yesterday the governor of Texas announced an end to the mask mandate and declared that public spaces can return to 100 % occupancy. We aren’t there yet. I wish we were, but this is not a safe measure based on Science. We have not reached herd immunity. Think about it: unmasked at capacity. Sometimes I wonder if people like Greg Abbott want the pandemic to continue. It makes no sense.

As much as I look forward to enjoying many activities outside my home, I will not be comfortable doing so until we get this thing under control. Because of yesterday’s announcement, I will not be going out in public at all unless absolutely necessary and I will be even more diligent about wearing my mask (if that is possible).

OLD NORMAL

While I am pleased that my husband and my parents have received their first shots of the vaccine, I still don’t qualify. Even with the vaccines we know we need to remain cautious. So many pieces need to come together in order for us to resume as before. If the governor thinks this announcement will bring life back to “normal,” he’s wrong. He is only postponing a return to what we once thought of as “normal.”

POLITICS

This makes me especially angry when I think of loved ones working every day in public. So many of my friends are educators who already lacked the appropriate support for staying safe. Now it will be even worse. My sister-in-law is a grocery store cashier where she will still be required to mask but customers will not be made to wear them. The State of Texas is putting its citizens in harm’s way.

Someday, though, I guess it will be later than sooner now, we will get to enjoy the outside world once again. As much as I actually enjoy being at home, there are some things I miss.

AFTER COVID TIMES

After COVID times, I will go to a concert and dance! I will have a big party in our backyard. I will spend hours browsing a good bookshop. I will go to the beach and travel. I will participate in 5K runs and attend writer’s workshops in person. I will sit at a bar with my husband and strike up conversations with strangers. I will go to the movies and order a giant barrel of buttered popcorn. I will hug everyone I see!

MY PLEA

Please everyone, keep yourselves safe and healthy and do your part to bring this pandemic to an end. Wearing a mask is an act of kindness. I look forward to seeing smiles again, healthy and bright. Mask up now so we can see your big smile later!

The Writer Defined

Who is Regina the Writer?

LIFE ROLES

Throughout life I have worn many hats. I am daughter/sister/mom/aunt/teacher/wife/friend. I am librarian/ paralegal/manager/student/caregiver/provider. Until now, I have not thought to distinguish my writer self from the others. Until now, I have not allowed myself to take myself seriously as a writer. So, I ask myself, what does that look like? Who is Regina, the writer? I must know her so that I can be her. The writer hat must become my primary hat now. In order to do that, I must know that person.

GOALS

First, as Regina the writer, I have dreams and I have concrete goals. I have on-going projects.

MEMOIR

Because I currently find myself in a transition period of life, my memoir is now front and center.  The memoir serves as a vessel to fill and explore how I came to be where I’m at now. In order to write other things, I have to understand how I got here and why certain problems have reoccurred throughout my life. There is a cycle that must be broken, not only in my own life, but also intergenerationally. After some pretty intense therapy and difficult digging deeply into my soul, I can now give a name to the monster that has haunted me for a lifetime and that has colored my relationships, that has shape-shifted into drinking, low self-esteem, self-sabotage and a myriad of other masks. The monster is abandonment. When I write about this, when I use my own life as an example, I can help others to understand their own abandonment issues. Through sharing this pain, my daughter will understand me better and together she and I can break the cycle of abandonment that has been passed down from one generation to the next in our family.

A NOVEL

When that is done, as I see it, I get to roll up my sleeves and do the fun stuff. Several years ago, I set aside a novel I started. When I don my writer hat, I have so many questions about the plot and the characters of this story. I struggle to know these people. There is a connection, I believe, between my Cat Island story and my memoir. There must be, they are my ancestors. after all. Getting to know these people in my head is so difficult because they did not leave behind diaries or any written artifacts to help me. Not only were they illiterate, but amongst themselves they did not even share a common language. On a small island, three generations spoke French and Spanish and likely Choctaw as well as English.

There are other topics trying to find their way out of me too. Finally, I have reached a time in my life when I can make my stories a priority. My next step is to get organized. My desk looks like my brain.

IDENTITY

Who am I as a writer? I am a woman who is deeply passionate about words. Like other roles I play, as a writer I hope to serve others, that is to help others find a better way. I hope to weave stories that fascinate, empathize and explore our amazing world. I love sharing my discoveries with others and that is what I want to do as writer.