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.

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.

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.

Time and the Writer

Don’t allow for disruptions, that’s one thing. Give yourself grace too. I tell myself these things and yet still, when I allow distractions to interrupt my train of thought, my time to write, when I allow the everyday existence to interfere, I am not happy with myself. In The War of Art, Steve Pressfield tells us that, “the amateur takes it so seriously, it paralyzes him.” Don’t be an amateur.

HEAD SPACE

To be an artist of any kind, you have got to do the work. To do the work, yes, you have to put the time in, you have to practice, you have to think about it even when you are not “doing the work.” When you put the time in, you absolutely must have the head space for it. There lies the problem for most of us. Head space.

When you are thinking about your “day job,” when you are thinking about your car needing an oil change, your family’s needs, when you are thinking about how long it’s been since you cleaned the toilet—all of that takes up head space. And head space is a pie. All of those things matter, they really do. Your family has to be cared for. By you. The car, you are dependent on it, you’ve got to take care of it too. The toilet might become disgusting, but more importantly, it will become unsanitary, unhygienic. You’ve got to clean the toilet. So, stop thinking about it and do it. If you just do it when it needs to be done, it won’t take up that head space. Get it?

PROCRASTINATION

Easier said than done, I know. No one wants to clean the toilet, so we procrastinate. Hey, procrastination takes up head space. Procrastination is a luxury most of us cannot afford. Procrastination is an excuse and it’s lazy. I get to say that because I just happen to be the queen of it. Time passes so quickly when you have so much to do; try not to become overwhelmed by it or procrastination will be your death. The death of your work, your art, your writing.

BALANCE

I keep coming up with new ways to balance my life—writing, family, home, work, daily maintenance. Yes, I have a planner. And, yes, I use it. I block off time to write, but I don’t always follow through. Stuff comes up. I set the timer. I try to feel in control. Sometimes it works. Lately, not so much. When I get off track, I tweak the plan. (Also, I hate that word, tweak.) I have notebooks and folders, both real and on my computer. My ideas for projects are so well organized that I sometimes lose them or forget them, stored so nicely in their proper place.

TIME

The thing is I want to complete all of my projects at once. Einstein said, “the only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.” But I feel an urgency for the world to see what is in my head. It’s amazing and beautiful and honest and raw. I think you’ll appreciate it, if I do say so myself. The only way I can get the time to get all these ideas out, is if I slow down and take one step at a time, allow for the head space no matter what and stop procrastinating.

ALL OUR PARTS

I am talking to myself I know. I also know that all writers struggle with this.  The thing is, we cannot wallow in it. We must overcome it while also giving ourselves some grace. After all, we are all more than writers; we are so much more. It takes all our parts, not just our writer part to tell a story, to do it well. We live and interact in the world and that is what makes us good at telling our stories.

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.

On Being Frail and Mowing Grass

March 4, 2012—I started the mower and mowed the grass today. I am empowered.

To mow the grass may not sound like much but it is. For me it is a physical and social triumph. I grew up with older brothers. They mowed the lawn, not me. When I was married to a rancher, I often assisted in heavy physical labor but I was never wholly responsible for it myself. I helped with building fence, or repairing a water gap. I drove the truck while others hauled hay (my petite daughter included).  I helped with the cattle sometimes. If I thought my husband was asking too much of me, I threw a fit and quit.

But the key word is “helped.” Now, it’s just me. If I don’t do it, it doesn’t get done. It is my responsibility as a renter here to mow the grass. It’s one reason why the rent is so cheap. I’m not good at estimating such things, but I will tell you the yard is very large.  When the yard became tall and weedy, I went into the shed to get the lawn mower, a small and primitive lawn mower with dull blades. I made sure there was gasoline in the little tank and I pulled the cord. I pulled again. And again.  It would not start. I have very little upper arm strength and I’m left-handed. I did the Lucille-Ball-thing. I wrapped one leg around the handle and tried to pull across my body with my left hand. That did not work.  At this point I was dripping with perspiration, breathing heavily and determined not to give up. I cursed. I yelled at God. I begged God. I screamed, “with your help, I can doooooo ittttt!!!” I pulled. The motor began to run and I let out a rebel yell. I mowed.  When the motor stopped I coaxed it sweetly, “come on, baby, you can do it.” I got the job done.

Then it rained and the grass grew. It seemed like the grass was growing faster than I could mow it like a Dr. Seuss character. There is much irony in this considering that we have been suffering from the worst drought in Texas history.  A few weeks later, I pulled the mower out again. Again, it would not start. No matter how hard I tried or cursed or prayed it would not start.  I sat down, covered in dirt and perspiration, and cried. I cried a good cry. I cried loud, and ugly, and childishly. Snot ran down my nose.  I called Vanessa. Rodger asked me about spark plugs. He asked about, I don’t know, other things. He didn’t know and couldn’t fix it over the phone anyway!

A few days later, Maggie and Justin came over. Justin cleaned the spark plugs. He diagnosed the mower as being “a piece of shit.” He started it for me. I mowed the front, leaving the rest since it was a week night and I was tired from the day.

Saturday morning I tried again. It started on the first pull! Don’t ask! It just did. I mowed half of Texas that day (the other half being desert)! I mowed until gasoline started spewing out of the tank like a sprinkler.  Yesterday, Nathan, the landlord showed up with three buddies. Each took a turn trying to start the mower. It wouldn’t start, not even for these big, strong men.  It wasn’t just me being frail and helpless after all. Nathan took it home with him after declaring it a “piece of shit.” I am hoping he returns with a brand new mower so I can mow the world.