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.

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

Rubber Band

The smell of dust, body odor and overly sweet air freshener permeated the air within the stuffy cab. Cabs always made her want to bathe after even a short ride. The driver watched the road. He didn’t speak. His disinterest in the passenger precluded him from noticing her profound sadness that brought her close but not quite to tears. She sat completely alone and empty in spite of her swollen belly. She was not capable of a simple smile, much less her usual small talk toward a stranger. Any mention even of the weather would cause her to break down uncontrollably. So she sat silently and watched the city pass her by. She observed her immediate surroundings of the cab’s interior—the dark-skinned man at the wheel, the dusty plastic seats, a photograph, perhaps the driver’s daughter, clipped to the sun visor. Also on the visor was a large bunch of scraps of paper, receipts perhaps or licenses, held together with twenty or so rubber bands. Maybe he was an avid reader of the daily paper, she thought, and each morning when he unwrapped the rubber band from the paper he would wrap it on the visor from habit. She watched pedestrians cross at a red light. She thought about her husband whom she just left. She thought of him returning to their empty apartment, alone without his pregnant wife. She wondered if he would bring his girlfriend there while she was away. Would he cook for her? Play her records on the stereo? Her face went red and burned at the thought of that. As she stared through the front windshield one of the rubber bands, old and rotting, suddenly cracked, broke from the papers and shot into her face. She was startled. The driver didn’t see. They drove on.

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.

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.

How I Came to be Here and Why it Matters

“Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry. That is why I have laid so much stress on money and a room of one’s own.”
– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

From the time I was a very young girl I had an ideal of living far away from any civilization where I could have solitude and think about things. I had other dreams too; I wanted lots of animals and lots of children. I wanted a man to love who loved me in return.  I wanted family and friends.  I wanted to live in the city and be anonymous. I wanted to live in a small town and be known and loved by everyone.  I wanted it all.

I read Thoreau and Emily Dickinson. I read everything and voraciously. I let the waves of life push me along the beach, sometimes gently, sometimes with more force until I was nearly drowning.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have many experiences. I have attended cocktail parties at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House in Chicago, I’ve traveled the locks in Amsterdam on my parents’ boat, I’ve hauled hay and mended fence line. I have inoculated pigs and cows.  I have given birth to a perfect child.  I’ve read the best books and speak several languages. I can sew and knit and can pickles.  I’ve danced the two-step (albeit not well); I’ve attended punk rock concerts in Austin and the symphony and opera in Chicago. I’ve walked the streets of Paris and I’ve walked the trails of the Texas Hill Country.

I’ve been beautiful and young. I’ve been ugly and I’ve said things I regretted. I’ve been happy to the point of elation and so sad that I had to be scraped from the very bottom of humanity and put back together. I have loved people and sometimes not loved them enough. I never loved myself enough.

I never stopped to take care of myself, to know myself. For a long time I have been busy trying to make other people happy.  I never really believed that I could have a “room of my own.” In the homes of my failed marriages, I tried to make a space for myself—a corner or room—but it never felt right. It was never truly mine. I realize now, it wasn’t about the physical space. The space in my heart was far too crowded to allow me the “room” to right down my words. I never imagined that it was really possible for me to have a little place all my own just to write, create, and think about things. I never imagined that I deserved it.

I came about having such a place quite by force. A big wave pushed me there and said, “there you are—you asked for it!” So now I am happy counting my pennies to make ends meet, using my little space heater when I must, going to the Laundromat, and heating my food on the stovetop (no microwave). I also watch the sun rise and set, observe the deer and quail, and listen to the funny birds. I am truly so incredibly happy.

I don’t worry so much about money but I am taking care of it.  I’ve given up the man who is my best friend, the love of my life and I miss him terribly but for the first time in my life I have myself.

When I am not at work or attending classes, I can write, I can heal my relationship with my daughter, I can heal myself, and I can make of this life what I was intended to make of it—something very good.

I have no apologies for sounding very selfish. I am being selfish. I also want other women to know that they don’t have to go through an entire life feeling insecure or insignificant. You can learn about yourself and take care of yourself. You can know that all the things you do hold tremendous value in this world.

This blog is intended to be the story of my time alone in my little cabin.