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

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.

Workout Queen

My most athletic moment until now happened during the first week of junior high. Much to the frustration of the gym teacher and my teammates, I was the scrawny girl who ducked when the volleyball came my way. I was the last to be picked for a team and also the last to care.  So, imagine my reaction the day the school librarian came to the gym in search of a girl to volunteer to be the student library helper. Not only was this a chance to avoid the torture of PE class and the humiliation of the locker room, but to get to spend time in my favorite place at school! Ah! Such an opportunity. I stood up faster than you could say “foul ball.” I raised both hands and waved them about. I am sure some shouting was involved, maybe some pushing and shoving too. That year for the first and last time in my life, my report card showed straight A’s in PE since officially that is the class I was in.

After that, physical activity for me came and went in phases. In high school I bravely took ice skating lessons. I was the gangly string bean on the rink trying her best to look graceful. In college, I donned leg warmers and attended aerobics class on campus—always in the back row where my inability to keep a beat might not be noticed as Marvin Gaye belted out his song about dancing on the ceiling. After my daughter was born, I began to run and participated in 5K’s for a while. I really enjoyed that, but life got busy and I allowed my body to depreciate.

Finally, at 55 I wanted to get in shape. I wanted to get in shape because my husband gave me a paddle board for Christmas and I wanted to feel confident when I used it. To get in shape, I purchased a DVD for a “12-minute work-out.” For a while, every day I got up extra early and did my quicky workout that was supposed to be a miracle. “Get the body you want and your life back,” the DVD cover said. The trainer on the video instructed the viewer while three athletes of varying ability modeled the moves. However, I quickly became bored and resentful of the buff man telling me what to do. But more than that, I was never sure if I was holding a position correctly and I would sometimes hurt myself.

I had to try something different. My husband had recently joined the gym and gotten a trainer. He was not only losing weight but was becoming muscular and had more energy. I joined the gym and signed up with a trainer which is something I never imagined myself doing.  The cost for a trainer is absurdly high and far beyond my budget but I did it anyway.

All the time I was thinking that I would learn from the trainer for three or six months until I got the hang of it and then go it on my own. But then, I began to see dramatic changes, not only in my body, but in my confidence, my self-esteem. My posture improved. I became less clumsy and more coordinated (I have always been one of those people who trip over their own feet and break things). I lost no weight, but I was able to fit in clothes again that had become too snug. I was gaining muscle weight and loosing fat. I became aware of my body in new ways. I learned about diet and exercise and anatomy. I learned what to do for a pulled muscle or an injury. I learned to make mistakes and not care what I looked like at the gym.

That is when I realized that I was capable of being a truly active person and that I actually enjoy working out. By working out, I can do more every day. I am more focused, and I am happier. My trainer works me hard. She pushes me beyond anything I ever imagined, using kettle bells, ropes, machinery and doing things I thought was only for athletes. She also has a sense of humor which is so important to me. Sometimes it seems like laughter is intended as part of the workout! She smiles a lot and acts like she is proud of my progress. That makes me feel good and makes me want to work harder.

I committed to another 6 months. On any given day, you are likely to find me at the gym with my trainer, paddle-boarding or kayaking and jogging. My lifestyle has changed dramatically. I am eating healthier and drinking less. I am busy. When I workout now I feel like I am better at everything I do; I am a better me.

While I know I cannot go on forever paying for a trainer, I have changed the pattern of my life and exercise has become second nature for me; something I will always do now. Without one on one time with a trainer, none of this would have happened.  It really is possible to change your lifestyle. I highly recommend joining a gym and finding a trainer.  And, by the way, paddle boarding is great fun!

Chasing Squirrels

 

Sometimes I think writing this historical book is a trick I am playing on myself, a sleight of hand that isn’t working. It’s a distraction from what I am really supposed to be writing—something close and personal and oh so painful, a raw story that reaches to the very bone of my existence.

In high school speech class, we were asked to choose a poem or speech to recite to the class. Others chose the obvious such as MLK’s dream speech. It was supposed to reflect something about our identity. As painfully shy and insecure as I was, I was terrified to reveal anything about myself—that is what my teacher later told me, and he was right. I chose a poem from my favorite book of all time which, I guess, is revealing in itself, but the poem was literally nonsense. I chose “Jabberwocky” from Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. My teacher felt I was hiding behind it and he encouraged me to express myself, to search myself but that is something, even now I tend to avoid.

When I try to write about the events in my life, both my own mistakes as well as things I may have had no control over, I freeze up. I don’t want to face it. Sometimes even the good parts (and there are many) are difficult for me. Why am I still so afraid? Afraid of myself? Afraid of what’s inside of me? I doubt my own goodness, that is why.  I feel deep down that I am not a good person; but why? The crippling effects of self-doubt prevent me from accomplishing what is most important to me—self-expression. That mean voice tells me, “no one wants to hear this self-loathing, self-absorbed blabber. Stop whining.”  But sometimes I think the world needs to hear it, at least some people. Sometimes I think that by sharing what is deeply personal, I might be able to help others get through life more easily.

And then I think that might just be an excuse. I convince myself that I am lazy. That if I worked harder I could get into the minds of my characters and they would guide me through this novel. These characters, like me, refuse to reveal themselves. We all wear masks.

My first memory of writing was the age of seven. I was given a little white and pink diary with a tiny gold key. I loved that thing and I wrote every day. I have been writing ever since. That is not entirely true; I have been writing in fits and starts ever since. The excuse is that life always gets in the way. That, and the fact that I am forever seeing squirrels. I am an idea person. I’ve got lists of amazing ideas for novels, for a memoir, short stories too. Year after year, I flit from one idea to another, never settling on one project to focus on. I have tried, am trying. All my writing will be devoted to this one amazing novel. No, too overwhelming. I will start it as a short story and move on from there. But then I chase rabbits, I see squirrels and I am off on something else.

Then I wonder if perhaps I am meant to blend these personal experiences into my novel. Maybe there is some sort of connection. Perhaps the character is me but in another time? The story is there in my head but the events occur now in the 20th/21st centuries but the setting is in the 19th century on an island in the Mississippi sound.

Hey look, a squirrel!

ChasingSquirrels

Return

Perhaps returning to my blog will create a higher level of commitment, some structure and purpose to my writing.  So many ideas and so little time overwhelm me. The thing is, I have much more time than I am willing to admit. I waste it because I simply never know where to begin. I suffer from attention deficit, this I know. Everything interests me, so I constantly become distracted by the proverbial squirrel.

Also, the writing here does not have to be perfect. I must tell myself this or I will never put anything out there at all. So, apologies in advance for imperfections.

My blog, I have decided, can be that place where I write about anything and everything as it flits through my little mind. My list of novels that need to be written, the memoir that I feel a compulsion to write, my opinions and simple observations—all of these can be placed in this junk drawer blog. Weekly or monthly something can be placed here. Eventually, I will reach out to a larger public and see what happens. People will be interested or not. It doesn’t matter a lot if I am writing. Because, if I am writing in this way, I will write what matters to me which is the above-mentioned novels, short stories and memoir. In addition to writing about them, I will write them. One at a time.

Why would any of this matter to anyone else? Well, because I have been through some stuff and I know others suffer in the ways that I have suffered and maybe what I share will be helpful to someone else.

I am going to keep the name. It’s bad luck to change a boat’s name and this is my little ship of life. Besides, My Little Cabin holds a special place in my heart. I lived there during a very important time in my life. That cabin changed me. I am a better for having lived there. I am myself for having spent so much time alone up on that little hill. Place matters. Places are like people; our relationships with them shapes us and the places we love, we love like the way we love the people we love. They fill our hearts. They complete our souls. So, the name stays.

I will write about writing; the importance of reading and books; bookstores; library adventures; dogs; my writing and research journey; drinking; motherhood; running; gardening; kayaking and paddle boarding; nature; kindness; life; book reviews; geography. In other words, anything goes.

My hope is that this will lead to structure, practice and accomplishments.

Today’s Gift

Eighty something degrees and sunshine. Today I walked. Living all alone on I-don’t-know how many acres of ranch, I can walk for a long time. I see no one. I see no cars. I can hear the traffic in the far off distance but only because I live on a hill. I am the only human being.

The only beings as domesticated as myself (and decidedly more domesticated, I might add) are the cattle.  I see the deer and the squirrels and the multitudes of birds daily. When I walk I see different kinds of droppings. I see the prints of animals in the dusty caliche road. I recognize some. I know a turkey print, deer, raccoons.  I see others too—perhaps porcupine, opossum, rabbits, coyote, maybe even mountain lions. I am surrounded by wildlife.  It is impossible to be unaware that they are here.

The birds especially force notice. They are so noisy! They make the funniest, most beautiful and interesting sounds. When I scatter stale bread in the yard the ground moves like water with every kind bird—quail, mockingbirds, cardinals, and doves.  Lots of them.  

Today I should be studying. I should be writing a paper for school. Instead I am living in my present. I am feeling the warm sunshine and fresh air. I’m listening to the birds and allowing butterflies to flutter by.  I prepared a beautiful meal only for myself and now I am playing with words.  The paper will get written. Work always gets done somehow. This moment, however, this day, will not repeat itself. Unless I take it now, embrace this life as it is at this very moment, I’ll miss it. I want to grab as much of it up as I possibly can.

I saw a mockingbird alight a cactus in a sunbeam.  That’s enough of a gift for one day.

Staying Warm

How can you expect a man who’s warm to understand one who’s cold?
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

While I certainly don’t pretend to have ever experienced the magnitude of cold that Solzhenitsyn did, I know I really hate being cold.  When I’m cold, I can’t do anything. I can only think about the cold. From my icy toes to my wet and runny nose, it’s an excuse to do nothing. It could be that I’m just too skinny. I have not an ounce of fat to insulate my bones! But it’s much more than that. Warmth is oh so psychological. Good things warm us—like laughing, and love, and snuggling, and soft wool, and sunshine, and chocolate chip cookies, and holding babies and good wine. When we are wanted we are warm.  When we aren’t lonely, we are warm.

My physical state affects me greatly and I will go to great lengths to maintain a just-right environment. That’s easy to achieve when you live with central air conditioning and heat which I’ve had most of my life. The brief periods that I went without were just that—brief, or so I thought.  I don’t pretend that I have not been spoiled and pampered in many ways.  I’ve never been able to help that, right? It’s what I was born into? Something like that? Whatever.

The first night in my little cabin didn’t feel cold. It was New Year’s Eve and I had been warmed by a bit of champagne and probably exhaustion. Vanessa and Rodger were asleep in the next room providing the emotional warmth we all need. Even though we slept on the floor that night, cold was not an issue.

The second night I froze half to death. Ok, Solzhenitsyn is rolling his eyes now. This is Texas not Siberia, but isn’t it relative? Ok, so I’m spoiled for not living in Siberia. I was cold that night and the little window unit made a lot of noise without making things the least bit toasty. I kept wondering how much electricity it was using to spit cool air into the room.

I had my bed now and began piling on the blankets. For Christmas my brother and his wife had given me silly bunny socks that were thick and soft. My toes felt like popsicles inside them.  I put on my flannel jammies and found my silk long underwear leftover from camping long ago.  I lay under the covers and didn’t even read a book. I lay there. I thought about what a long winter this would be, coming home every night and hurrying to get under the covers. Somehow I survived the night.

The next day, my daughter and her boyfriend came bearing gifts.  They brought me the cutest little portable radiator. It’s electric and has oil running through it. It makes no sound except for an occasional thick, oily drip.  I can pull it by its cord like a toy horse. I wheel it into the bathroom every morning before my shower.  It’s perfect! I’m learning other little tricks too.  I keep cookie dough in the fridge so I can bake on really cold nights—an excuse to turn on the oven.  I close off the extra room so I don’t have to heat it. I’ve learned that I don’t need that room anyway. Funny how I thought this place was so small and now I’m not even using all of it! Sacrifices I once thought to be huge have turned out to be no big deal at all.

Anyway, today reached 83 degrees. What will I do come spring without central air conditioning? Solzhenitsyn knows nothing about Texas heat!

Vanessa and Rodger: Moving Day

“And that’s the only thing I need is this.  I don’t need this or this. Just this ashtray… And this paddle game. – The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need… And this remote control. – The ashtray, the paddle game, and the remote control, and that’s all I need… And these matches. – The ashtray, and these matches, and the remote control, and the paddle ball… And this lamp. – The ashtray, this paddle game, and the remote control, and the lamp, and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need too. I don’t need one other thing, not one… I need this. – The paddle game and the chair, and the remote control, and the matches for sure. “

The Jerk

 

Vanessa and her husband, Rodger, came to visit in the spring of 2011. It was so wonderful to spend time with them.  My boyfriend made margaritas and we had a good time. Actually, I drank far too much that day. Vanessa and Rodger knew something was not right but being the least judgmental people in the world ever, they didn’t say a word.  Their discreet actions led me to know that I had friends and that they would be there for me if I ever wanted to help myself.

Vanessa and I graduated from high school together. We were close. She came from Port Arthur and I was from Biloxi. We were both the youngest in our deeply southern families. We both grew up in yacht clubs around sailing. We shared a silly, goofy sense of humor. We have never agreed on politics but that never got in our way.  She is sensible and I, well, I am not.  We were in touch on and off through the years. Really more off than on.  But we were there. Somewhere.

When I talked to Vanessa, she never judged me or my boyfriend, or the living situation I was in. In fact, she embraced him and liked him. She saw, however, that it wasn’t the healthiest of relationships, that I was not making the best choices. She waited for me to realize that I had to make changes. She never said “this is what you must do,” but when I explained the situation and what I would try to do to solve my problem, she told me she was glad that I saw it that way. The name Vanessa is synonymous with the word supportive.

When I finally found my little cabin the logistics of moving became yet another obstacle in my attempt to fix my life. I was trying so hard not to spend much money. There was no one in the area who I felt comfortable asking for help. I didn’t want to hire movers when I was moving to a tiny place to save on rent. I couldn’t do it alone although me being me I actually thought about it!

So one day while sitting in Starbucks, Vanessa and Rodger gave me a call. It’s just one of those “just calling to see how you are” kinds of calls. No sooner had I told Vanessa that I was moving than Rodger asked if I needed help. I am embarrassed to say that I responded with a very quick “yes!” Probably too quick.  This was just before Christmas.

Vanessa and Rodger are so amazing. New Year’s weekend and their 28th wedding anniversary they drove up from Houston (excuse me, Perland) and helped me move. Rodger even brought a bag filled with good books and music cds for me.  After I spent a week giving away three full car loads of stuff to Goodwill, I packed what I needed and Vanessa and Rodger, and I loaded up a U-Haul truck. They waited patiently while I stood in the front yard of the house I had lived in with my soul mate and cried.

Together we lifted, pushed, pulled, rolled, dropped my large sectional, my awkward-shaped entry table with the large mirror I was sure would break on New Year’s Eve, and a bed made of mesquite and iron.  Together we took the door off the hinges in order to get the washer and dryer out. We drove the 25 miles to my little cabin and unloaded. For all the heavy lifting, packing, and maneuvering, the most important thing they did for me was be there. No hired movers could have understood the meaning behind the move I was making. This wasn’t just a move from one dwelling to another. This was a life changing event and it was intentional. I was taking a bold step in my life and Vanessa and Rodger were there to see me through.  Rodger never once lost his patience and Vanessa kept her sense of humor throughout. This is what friends do.

I am learning that I can’t live this life alone. No one can. We all need each other. Part of learning to take care of yourself is learning when to ask for help. As stubborn as I am, I could not have moved my furniture without help.  Without the help of a long list of friends and family, I would not be living independently and alone in my little cabin. 

We spent New Year’s Eve together, the three of us, sipping champagne under the big Texas sky on the porch of my little cabin. Well, actually Rodger hit the hay pretty early and Vanessa and I caught up on “girl talk.” But the stars were infinite in number and clear and perfect.