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.

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

The Unexpected Runner

Gruene5K

Not quite a mile into my first 5K in over twenty years, I began to doubt myself. My muscles felt strong, but breathing was beginning to be a struggle. I looked around at my fellow runners and determination overcame uncertainty. There was the woman around my age running barefooted, another woman was a good 8 months pregnant and running at a steady clip, and the 80-year-old man with the long white beard embodied possibility. I was running in a crowd of people that consisted of all ages, ability and we each had our own reasons to run. I fell behind a man who wore a t-shirt that read, “I am over 60 and diabetic; ask me how I am ahead of you.” Every single person in that race, as far as I am concerned, is an inspiration. We each have a story. Even me. I decided that I was perfectly capable of continuing and finishing this race.

I told myself to focus on form and breathing. “I can do this!” said the good little voice in my head. The little guy sitting on my other shoulder, the one with the horns, could go back where he came from; from here on out I would listen to the little angel voice instead. I made it to the water station, threw my paper cup on the ground and picked up the pace. Just before 3 miles, I wanted to stop and take a little break, but I did not. I slowed to a walk for about a half a city block and moved up to a jog again. When I saw Inferno’s Pizza, I knew I was almost home free, so I ran faster! That’s when I heard my name and saw my husband, who finished about 10 minutes ahead. He was cheering me on with my trainer from the gym who had come out to watch. I am so fortunate to have people who support and encourage me to achieve my goals. That is another blog post. I finished the race in 32 and a half minutes, in my age group, I was 2nd out of 26. Pretty good, I figure, considering my goal was simply to finish. Now I could recover with sausage wraps and Shiner beer; we were at Gruene Hall, after all, the oldest dance hall in Texas and rich in Texas-German history.

Years ago, in my thirties, jogging and the occasional Fun Run was a healthy outlet for me but then I quit. For many years, I was sedentary and had myself convinced that I was too old, too clumsy, too busy, too whatever to work out or run or do anything too active. And I was. But now I’m not. I am younger than I used to be (it’s true) and through training at the gym, paddle boarding and running, I have built up enough stamina and enough muscle so that I can live an active lifestyle. It feels good. My body feels better, and I feel better in the head. I am a better person all around.

I have registered for three more 5K runs in the next several months and I am so excited about it! I even believe now that I can work my way up to a 10K and that is my new goal! I am fully aware of the hard work, sweat and time it will require, and I am perfectly happy to accept that. It feels so good to believe in myself.

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!

Origin Story

She came up out of the mud where the Mississippi River washes the continent’s silt into the Gulf of Mexico. The Mississippi Sound was her place of birth, her embryo, her mama’s womb. She knew the familiar cadence of languages mixed as in a boiling pot. There was the French providing spice, the savory meats of English and the Spanish paella blended to a sound so sweet and soft. A person didn’t have to understand the words, not if she was in tune with this small world and its past. Just listen to inflection, follow the pattern, the hand gestures and facial expressions.

Go sit on the dock at her grandfather’s wharf, pretend to check your crab traps, pretend to watch the boats go past and listen to the old men. There they sit in the shade, Jax beer in hand, talking quietly amongst themselves, a chuckle here, an occasional outburst of laughter there. Their bellies evince years of fried food and pie consumption; a life, if not well-lived, certainly appreciatory of the simple goodness their world provides. Their hands are large and calloused, their eyes deep and tender. They speak of fish and boats and family. They don’t know it, but they speak of love. They offer favors and shake on it. Using few words, they offer comfort when needed, giving each other a pat on the back and maybe slipping a handful of neatly folded bills when necessary. It will come back around.

Find a corner in the kitchen and allow yourself to be forgotten. What you witness will be much the same. Women sit around the table smoking cigarettes and talking about the children or the neighbors. Or the men on the wharf, their husbands.  A grandchild wanders in and is offered a bowl of warm blackberry jam and homemade vanilla ice cream—a reward for picking the blackberries. She is sent away to enjoy her treat on the shady porch. The women carry on with their gossip.

This is the world she returns to in her mind, the world that haunts her and follows her no matter where in the real and present world she might find herself. When she drives up the interstate in Texas, filled with thoughts of traffic, errands, politics, work, suddenly she is back on the bayou watching the shrimp boats go out at dusk. The briny, humid air is the embryonic fluid that kept her buoyant and thriving and she feels it draw her home. Ghosts follow her everywhere. The ghosts of those who came before, whose DNA she shares. They are trying to tell her a story. They want her to understand that she is here now, doing this because they were there then and because of the choices they made.

And what of the others? The ones who came long before the grandparents and great-grandparents? They also haunt this woman, this woman who came from the very chemistry of this American sea that curls into the continent like a bowl being protected in the arms of some great god. She sometimes looks over her shoulder to see a woman, her bare feet, sand encrusted, her skirt hem stiff from sun and salt water. How did she get off the island, ghost or not? How is it that she is here, this Marie, wandering through an air- conditioned grocery store complete with piped in Musak and computerized cash registers? Is she covetous of this new century or disdainful? And why is she so restless that she must follow this descendant, this Elizabeth, who seems so untethered herself?

Elizabeth sees the past through a filter. It appears to be idyllic. Oh, but it was tough! And her ancestors must have been fierce to survive the weather, geography and the culture!

Elizabeth is a child and she dives down for starfish and seahorses. She races along the beach, bare feet pounding hard packed wet sand. She plays and explores. Time is meaningless. Farther up the island, the sea oats dance in the breeze where the sand is dry and deep and thick. It’s hot too but her bare feet are tough and capable. Her thighs are capable too as she marches through deep sand as other children might march through snow drifts. Over on the gulf side of the island, the wind always blows. It whips her hair into her face, slapping sand and salt about. She watches the waves and she can see them all the way to the horizon, so much bigger on this side. It’s wilder over here and exciting. On this side, it is much easier to believe that she is alone, a lone remnant of humanity. This is her origin story.

Gautier & Byrd-Bait Shop, Boat Dealership

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

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.

Ship Island

When I was a child I spent a great deal of time at the beach. We would sail in my grandfather’s boat, the “Dixie Flyer” or my parent’s boat, the “La Moette,” to the islands off the Mississippi coast.  Ship Island was where we would go most often. When I need a place to go, when I need to make a mental escape from the world, when I am trying so hard to sleep at night, that is where I go.

I can’t remember the last time I was actually, physically there but I often go there in my mind. And the Ship Island of my mind and heart may or may not be what it was then or what it is now. I only know my reality of it.

I remember playing on the white sand beach for hours on end. I was sun-kissed and happy. My brother and I would dig trenches and have hermit crab races. Of course we would build sandcastles and swim. The water was so clear in those days. We would dive for sand dollars! I remember that.

Sometimes we poured Mountain Dew over the stern of the boat and watch the swarms of catfish the sugary liquid would attract.

Ship Island is unique because in the very middle of the island there is an artesian well with an old pump. After a day of sun and salt, we would run through the sea oats, take turns pumping and allow the fresh, pure water to pour over us. Wonderful!

I recently  took a trip (a mental trip) to Ship Island to see the little girl who was me. I thought I might tell her some things. Instead, she told me.

She runs along the beach, bare feet pound the hard, wet sand. Wet hair slaps her tan shoulders. Her tongue licks the salt and sun from her lips. She runs. She wants to see how fast she can be. Her skinny legs will take her far.  Her skinny legs will move her forward to the future.

But now there is a woman who wants to see her, talk with her and hold her little hands. That woman is me.

“Be kind to yourself,” the little girl tells me. She smiles.  “Look,” she says, “I swam deep as my brother and got these sand dollars. It’s hard to go that deep,” she says, “but this is what you get for it.”

I love that little girl so much.

She’s not surprised or disturbed by my presence. She is quite accepting that I’m there. In fact, she acts like I am always there with her—a companion, of sorts. She is astounding. She flits here and there. Digs in the sand for a while. Runs through the sea oats stopping to watch a flock of seagulls.  She finds a stick to write her name in the sand. My name. She writes it big and proud then adds a heart at the end. Drags the stick. Drops it. Runs, then wades, then swims to the boat for lunch. Sandwiches, Barq’s root beer, cold watermelon. I stand on the beach alone. She looks up and waves.

I have nothing to tell her. Her life will be good and sweet. It will be bitter. She’ll have long stretches of sunny days. She’ll have sadness and anger that seems unending. But the sadness will end to be replaced by more sunshine and calm. Back and forth, her life will go. Like any life. Like everyone to different degrees. That’s ok. She’s telling me the same thing. Be kind to yourself. Smile a lot. Look at the sand dollars and seagulls. Be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself. The rest will follow.

“Be kind to yourself,” she tells me.

Fraudulent Activity

“I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?”

Meryl Streep

 This is a cold, wet Sunday morning in the hill country. As I lingered in bed reading, I came across a new term. While I tend to steer clear and roll my eyes about anything with the word “syndrome,” this one   got my attention.

 Imposter Syndrome

Po Bronson in What Should I Do With My Life? The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question tells us that this is the “unqualified feeling of being an imposter at work.”  It is the feeling that you are fooling people into believing that you are qualified to do whatever it is that you do.  In other words, in spite of the fact that everyone around you has faith in what you are doing, you don’t believe in yourself. I know this feeling. I know it too well.

Years ago, I worked as a paralegal in a very large downtown Chicago law firm. I couldn’t believe they hired me. I couldn’t believe I went to work every day and fooled these smart people. I didn’t know what I was doing and they paid me pretty well.  I was just a little southern girl. I didn’t have much of an education (my grades weren’t great but I did graduate from the University of Texas which isn’t exactly “Podunk Community College!” HELLO!), and I did not consider myself to be a success. My perception of myself was not very positive.

Looking back, I see a very different person. I see a young woman just starting out in the world and trying her best in every way. She is quirky but smart. She is pretty and witty. She is determined and surprisingly strong for such a boney little thing. She never gives up. She burns to make a creative mark on the world.  This is a girl who wants a pat on the back of assurance but she never gets it from herself.  Today I give her the biggest hug! I like that girl. If I could travel back in time, I would tell her so.

Even as a mom I always felt like a fraud. I wanted to be the perfect mom. I wanted to get at least this right. I planned the birthday parties. I decorated the girlie bedroom. I took my daughter to church and to the beach, and the museum. I taught her how to sit properly at the dinner table. All the while I was looking over my shoulder wondering who could tell I was making it all up as I went along.

Well, let me tell you something about parenting: we all make it up as we go along. There is no other way to do it. And while my own life may look like a train wreck sometimes, my daughter is doing pretty damn well. She is amazing! I may have felt like an imposter sometimes but I am her mom and no one else in the world can ever be that.

As an educator, both classroom teacher and teacher-librarian, I feel like an imposter. I’m not good enough to be doing this, I often think. I don’t know enough. I’m not smart enough or patient enough.

It is one thing to suffer from this imposter syndrome in your work life or even as a parent, but when you think you are an imposter in your own life—well, that is pretty severe.

Living on my own and learning how to be by myself I often think, “This isn’t me. I’m not like this.”  I am not the kind of woman who mows the lawn, pays the bills, fixes the bathtub drain, remembers to get the car serviced, eats dinner alone, goes days without seeing another soul, depends on herself for everything, the list goes on and on. But I am that woman. I am. I am doing these things. I am independent and I am strong. I am even stronger than that young girl in Chicago.

I have always looked up to my dear friend, Therese. She is like a big sister to me. She personifies what it is to be a strong and independent woman. It always seemed to come so easy to her.  That’s who she was but I didn’t see myself that way at all. Thinking about it now, I not only see that I am, in fact, much like Therese, but she is much like me too. It is really, really hard to know yourself, to become yourself.  It isn’t easy for her either. She just makes it look easy! “Look Ma, no hands!” In the years I have known Therese, for the first time I am beginning to feel like her equal.

In my life I have accomplished some things. I have high hopes of doing so much more. I hope I can learn to play my new roles with confidence and with the knowledge that I am good at what I am doing, whatever that may be. No one should ever feel like a fraud in their own life story.