The Grand End-Year, End-Decade Round-Up of Grandness

Dear you,

This post is not my usual. I debated whether or not I should do this grand round-up of good things post because I know the slew of grand good things announcements all across the ether can be taxing for those who feel like they don’t have a grand round-up of good things. I was that person at the start of this past decade who felt like she didn’t have many good things and hearing about other people’s good things made me crazy. But in the spirit of things getting better and troubles, even the worst ones, being temporary, I want to take a moment to appreciate the path this decade took for me, because it was winding, full of bullshit and the best shit, the very lowest lows and the very highest highs.

2010 was the worst goddamn year of my life, preceded by 2009 which was the other worst goddamn year of my life. (Cue my mother’s flashbacks to a two-hour long car ride in which I cried the entire time for seemingly no reason at all other than the fact that I couldn’t not cry.)

2009 was economic collapse, college graduation, moving into a house out in the country with my boyfriend, commuting hours to Dallas to a grown-up job that was everything I feared it would be, in that it was a soul-sucking mess where nothing I did mattered and the people there were awful. Cue my own flashbacks of waking up at 5:45 am so I could throw on clothes, get in my car at 6 to get into Dallas before traffic, clock in at 7:30, take a 10-minute lunch so I could clock out at 3:40 and get back home before traffic hit at 5. That job lasted three months. I quit without anything lined up because I worried that if I didn’t quit, I would die on the highway. Cue the next three months of tears, every-single-day tears, what I didn’t know then was panic attack after panic attack. Cue a memory of chopping tomatoes in an afternoon with nothing else lined up to do and the tears coming on again and me wondering what it is about tomatoes and the time of day that has anything to do with anything and yet here I am, upset to the hilt about it.

2019 is a new house, one that I own. 2019 is a new library that I got to open. 2019 is The Porch, the year of my first stage reading, more journal acceptances than I ever expected. 2019 is some of the best friends I’ve ever had. 2019 is anxiety medication. 2019 is so much fulfillment it almost seems to be too much and yet I still want to eat it, gobble it up like there’s no tomorrow.

The decade of the ’10s was the decade of my 20s and holy fuck were they 20s. A rotating door of friends that would get close and then move out to yet another city, job promotions in a career I wasn’t sure about, a masters degree I was so unsure of I dropped out three times before I finally finished the goddamn thing, a marriage that I had been sure about since day one, a husband that has taken me to Holland, Wales, Germany, and New Orleans for the greatest experiences of my life, and now finally has brought me to Nashville where I end this decade feeling like I’m finally home again. This decade was the one where we gained a hateful cat, loved her, lost her, and grieved her, and gained another much less hateful cat (but not nearly as smart and cunning… she has much to learn.) I began this decade grieving a grandparent and I will very well end this decade grieving grandparents again.

And this was a decade of trying to figure out what it means to write. I blogged myself into oblivion, kept a written journal when anxiety wouldn’t let me put words to a computer screen. I vowed I wouldn’t write when I decided to get my library degree and wrote poetry instead because I couldn’t not. I wrote my way through my grandmother’s death because I couldn’t not. I turned that grief into a novel because I couldn’t not. I learned that I write simply because I will always write. The publications and successes are just perks. The real prize is every morning spent with my fingers to the keyboard, every page that is honest, every lesson learned through time spent with the words.

Fuck, the 20s are going to be grand.

And because I am goal-oriented and I like to honor the path, here were my writing goals for 2019, here’s how I did, and here’s what I’ve got on my roster for 2020.

2019 Goals

I had a lot of big goals for 2019, mostly having to do with production. I had spent the majority of 2018 on an R&R for my book and a huge project at the library which left me with a busy year of writing but not a lot of finished work to show for it. So 2019 was all about producing more pieces for submission and getting on with book 2. Best laid plans hardly ever make the cut of reality but this year truly went above and beyond my expectations for writing. Here’s how I did with each goal:

1. Finish a first full draft of book 2, AKA “Wheelchair Cowboy.”

kinda finished this one. I got 60k words out for the beginning and part of the middle, and then a basic outline to the end. It’s absolutely a Draft 0 and I’m counting it… Kinda. My excuse for this one is that I followed a whim to drop everything and re-work book 1, AKA SAY, WOLF. In September, I sent the book to a wonderful editor (K.K. Fox) for a developmental edit after letting it sit for a year not quite in a trunk but just about. With KK’s guidance, I re-structured the book, queried it mid-October, and had three offers of rep by November. I signed with Kerry D’Agostino, sent her a wolf-themed thank you card, and now we’re off to the races on line edits, hoping to go on sub with the manuscript in the new year. So there. Sorry Wheelchair Cowboy—I’m coming back to you in 2020!

2. Finish and submit 5 new pieces.

Great success! My five pieces of 2019 were “The Coma” (story forthcoming from Natural Bridge winter 2020), “Probationary Girlfriend” (story currently on sub and racking up close calls and personalized rejections), “Taming Wild Animals” (essay to be re-worked in 2020), “Kitten” (published and available now on Pidgeonholes!), and “Save St. Mark’s” (essay dear to my heart that I will be subbing hard in 2020.)

3. Receive more than 100 rejections.

Yeah, I blew past this goal a little harder than I wanted to. I won’t tell you how many rejections I received this year… just know that it was well above 100. That’s why I’m going to work on lowering my rejection ratio in 2020 by learning some goddamn patience and waiting longer between “finishing” and submitting.

4. Submit to 3 contests or grants.

Lol at grants. Not sure what I meant with that. But I did submit to five contests this year and my story “Woman Hollering” made it to the top ten round of Colorado Review’s Nelligan Prize for Short Fiction. Ten out of 1,400 stories! That was huge and really gave me a boost when I needed it mid-year. That story has since been accepted for publication and will be forthcoming from Puerto del Sol in August 2020.

5. Submit 3 guest blogs or craft essays on writing.

This was a new one for me that I just wanted to try out. And it was great! I had two pieces accepted (1—“Three Secrets to Create the Writing Life You Want,” published with Cleaver Magazine, and 2—“Knowing When to Fly: Leaving a Critique Group,” published on Jane Friedman’s blog which was a dream come true for me) and I pitched three other ideas that have not yet been picked up. Maybe I’ll try them again for giggles in 2020.

6. Complete a year of Lit Mag League and Draft Chat leadership with The Porch.

I have LOVED working with the Porch. Katie and Susannah are two wonderful people that have done SO MUCH for Nashville’s writing community. I am honored that I get to be a part of it with them. I will be stepping back from LML and Draft Chats this next year to make more room in my life for new opportunities but I’ll still be hot n’ heavy with The Porch in 2020 and loving every minute.

So what’s in store for 2020?

Short, simple, and easy. Production, mindfulness, and going easy on myself as I move into this decade much older, much wiser, and ever ready to rock.

What will your 2020 look like?

Resisting the School of Should

Dear You,

When we first decided to move to Nashville and were making all these big plans about how we would do it and dreaming all these big dreams about what we would do once we did do it, I had this back of the mind idea that maybe I would become a winter person here. The kind of person who revels in layering on sweater after sweater and scarves and all the hats and who would even be willing to go for a nice leisurely walk in this crisp, cool winter of my dreams.

It made sense; I would be in a city with nearby mountains, a geographic area where four seasons do indeed exist (or so I was told), and besides, Tennessee was just more north than Texas so surely there would be the kind of winter that came with snow and snow boots and general life lived during snowy weather. (A white Christmas, maybe? Just this once?) And I, having been transplanted to the middle of it, would somehow become a person who wouldn’t just live in it but look forward to it.

We are in day three of snow on the ground (patches of snow, but snow) and we are both just a little miserable. Oh, it was wonderful waking up Friday morning and watching the snow come down, sure. It was even a little fun when I thought I might get to walk in the snow to the nearest library branch for work (the branch closed and I still ended up driving.) But the heater has since broken and we have been wearing the same fleece-lined pants and socks for the past week and I’ve done as the song says and gone country wearing my old work boots over my jeans because it’s too cold to cover my feet any other way.

The best part is that the winter here is no worse or even different than the winters I had in Texas — it just seems like it should be. The other best part is that Christmas was a perfectly sunny seventy degree day and I loved it because I always have been and always will be a hot weather sun person. Please just let me sweat right now, I beg you.

This is no surprise. (Although I’ll be honest, I am really loving wearing my old cowboy boots mostly because it seems to really perturb my husband — Boots? Over the jeans?? Yes.) Of course, I would be miserable in the cold weather — it’s not in my nature to be comfortable in it.

Which oddly makes me think of the fact that I haven’t set any New Years resolutions. Mind you, I love a good New Years resolution. In fact, I love anything where I can make a change off a seemingly clean slate and pretend that all past transgressions are null and void, that life begins tomorrow, that the present will take place at an agreed upon time between past me and future me and everything between now and then is just mardi gras.

I argue with my husband over his lack of resolution-making, his seeming aversion to self-improvement, but really, he’s just always been a little more honest than I am. It’s in my nature to make the goals. And it’s in my nature to abandon them the moment I fail to adhere with perfection. I know this about myself. And yet.

But this year, with all the changes whiplashing us both around, my godawful yearning to just be able to go to the grocery store while daydreaming, January 1st came and went without me even making so much as a list of what I’d like to do with myself.

I realized this yesterday. Appalled, I quickly dashed out some uninspired ideas — meditate daily, buy local, eat organic, exercise three times a week and so on and so forth and god, how boring.

Meanwhile, I have a stack of books next to my chair in the living room that I am supposed to read, that I wanted to read at one point and now that I’ve checked them out, I must read them even if they have since lost their luster. I sit in the chair and begrudgingly open the one on top. My mind wanders to a Texas Monthly article a dear friend suggested I read last week, that I did actually read instead of dooming it to some “for the future” list because I was stuck in the car for several hours and to have physical entrapment at the same time as mental entrapment is too much even for me. (I do let myself live sometimes.)

It was a story about Larry McMurtry, an author I know I would love if I just read his stuff , whose book, Lonesome Dove, has always been a book I’ve wanted to read. It’s been on my to-read list since 2009 when I hit my first must-have wilderness and cowboys craving and has been somewhere near the middle of the list ever since. It always gets beat out by the newer, shinier, must-read books that have been published this year, despite the ever-present longing to read it.

The article told me what I already knew — that the man was a Texas legend, a true native son, that I would love him if I read him, that I want to be like him when I grow up, and that he has a bookstore not two hours away from my old home in Texas that I knew was there and that I neglected to visit because I always had other things to do (like drink beer and spend whole days reading books I don’t even want to read anymore. Le sigh.)

I spend so much time making lists and goals and then shackling my own feet to the fire to meet those goals that I don’t even feel the burn coming on until it’s too late. I already waste enough time doing the things I have to do to live (like buy food and brush my teeth) — it’s nauseating to think of all the other ways I force myself into commitments and rules and plans that make no whit of difference to my contentment.

It’s odd how much we equate seeking contentment with actual contentment. If I just meditate every day, I’ll be happy. If I just exercise three times a week. If I just do the 30-day yoga revolution, the cleanse — if I just clean out my closet. But the truth is that we’re rarely any happier. We’re rarely happier because there’s always something else to change, to improve on, to erase about our lesser selves. There’s always something else we should be doing.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t try to better ourselves — I’m all about making a conscious effort to not be an asshole. But to create a mission around self-improvement that feels more like a military drill is to lose the point of the goal. It too easily becomes a lie you tell to yourself.  I love winter weather, you say between shivering teeth. I’m content, goddamnit, as you reach for the disappointing kale you never wanted to eat.

So confound it with the lists. No more of them. I am hereby resisting the school of should. No more “I will do” and “I must do.” Only “I want to.” This has never been an easy feat for me, doing what I actually want to do. (Let me know if you’re the kind of person who can just do they want — a beer for your skills.)

If that’s a New Years resolution, then I apologize. But not too wholeheartedly. I’ll be too busy finally reading Lonesome Dove and planning a visit to Archer City.

When The Buffalo Come

 

Dear You,

I grew up on acres of open country, split three ways between the pastures of my parent’s house, the utopic gardens of my grandparent’s land, and the river bottom twenty miles west where we set the cattle to graze. When I think about my childhood, the image that comes up first is that of grass, tall and yellow, waving above my head. There was something about being on the ground enveloped by the grass that made me feel safe. I would crawl along my belly, my hands clutching at the ground, as I pretended that the grass was a roof over my head and that it held me the way it held any other animal.

I remember believing that I spoke the language of the nature around me. I was more comfortable in a tree than at the dinner table. I could approach any animal like an old friend. If I asked kindly, it almost seemed the wind would blow on my request.

My grandparents were cattle ranchers and the operation was small and family-worked. A doctor in the city owned the animals; we did the day-to-day work and shared profits. Outside of that, my grandmother operated a small pecan-selling business. We would nose our feet around the crunchy leaves and test the weight of the pecans in our hands. Heavy was good, light was bugs. We would collect as many as we could carry and scatter them over a table laid out in Granny’s garage where we would pack bags and weigh them to scale. I could eat however much I wanted if I could crack them open, which I couldn’t. Granny could crack two pecans open just by squeezing them in her palm. I remember bruising myself trying to do the same.

I mentioned the garden as being utopic; it was, at least by my memory of it. There were beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon, tall rows of corn stalks that begged to be run through with hands out, and fruit trees at the end. An herb garden lined the far fence. Every morning, I would take out scraps for the compost and crunch each egg shell half at a time under my foot.

It seemed everything could be found out in that garden. Every Wednesday, Granny made a stew out of the beef and vegetables raised, tossing the clean, thick vertebra of T bone to whatever lucky dog got to it first outside the kitchen door. It stuck with me, how anything a person needed could be got from the earth so long as they took the time and the care and only what was needed.

The grown me takes stock of herself often and the things in which she places her priorities. I would like to be a priority of mine to live as my childhood self believed all people lived — within means and with gratitude and joy. But I have spent the past two months upending my life and breaking it apart and putting it together one little piece at a time. Before we left for Tennessee, I knew so much of myself. I was exercising. I was meditating. I was staying present with my friends and family and taking steps to minimize my impact on this world. I was feeling whole, or at least approaching whole.

Moving has obviously put a flux on our lives. It has upended me in a way that I feel at times has set me back years on my work on myself.On the harder days, I try to make it a priority just to be present and fail often at that. Lately, I have to squint just to recognize the smallest slice of myself. Worst of all, in my discomfort and in an attempt to assuage the low-level anxiety throbbing just underneath the surface, I have lowered my guard on what I will and will not do for this world. Impact? What impact? I’m lonely.

Last week, I came across a video from the protests in Standing Rock. A young man was being interviewed at the front lines. He kept his eyes on the police standing in front of him and he spoke with a pleading voice that broke your heart and an exhausted tone that was recognizable in more ways than one. “They’ll never understand,” he said. He braced himself on the barbed wire fence. “This land means everything.”

I remember thinking the same thing — they’ll never understand — when our little town’s fracking ban was overturned by the state. But then his eyes lit up and the people around him began screaming in joy — just over the hill, a herd of buffalo were stampeding their way.

I have always been a magical thinker. I’m not ashamed of it. I would rather believe that the universe passes along messages like folded notes in the form of signs and symbols, or that the whole fabric of our life force is knit together firmly in love, than believe that anything one human does is irrelevant to the rest of the world. I believe in science, of course. But I also find value in that which is just beyond science’s reach.

Seeing that herd of buffalo running full force toward the protest site — it felt as if the universe reached a hand back and popped me upside the head. Remember now, it insisted. The world wants to care for us, cradle us.

I said a quick prayer for the water protectors and acknowledged my presence on the earth with gratitude. I took a few actions of support for the #NoDAPL movement. I cried for all the ways I am continually reminded that we are no more and no less than the breath in all of our lungs. That weekend, my husband and I travelled hours to be at the wedding of two dear friends. And I danced and laughed and cried with as much joy as my heart could take.

Weakness comes and goes and brings darkness with it. It likes to slither in when it knows it will not be met with much resistance and can find an easy home. It likes to tempt when it knows you’ll give in. Just lay here for a moment, it says. Just go to sleep and pay no mind.

But this week, I am just that much closer to peace. I can find it in the small moments of my day. I imagine it as a small light, tucked in between my heart and stomach, that glows when noticed. Darkness will always have a home here, but so will this light. I imagine myself sitting by its fire, warming my hands, as I wait again for the buffalo to come.

To learn more about the #NoDAPL movement and stand with Standing Rock, visit StandingRock.org.