Meet the Horizon

It’s just after 7AM and I’m driving due east into a pink sunrise. On the passenger seat next to me is a black and red briefcase which I had to dust off last night having not used it since my corporate days. Within my briefcase are two notepads, three pens, freshly printed business cards, my laptop and a granola bar.

I love that briefcase. My grandfather gave it to me as a graduation gift when I earned my degree in English from the University of Houston years ago and just remembering him and how much he believed in me briefly calms my firing-wire nerves this morning. I’m headed towards the waking sun that will lead me to a small town north of Dallas to attend my first ever Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference.

It’s a long, sprawling drive across north Texas and I’m having twelve conversations in my head about how nervous I am to be attending a conference with professionals in the industry all on my own. I’ve not met one person who is attending this conference and as one of my favorite bands, Mandolin Orange, plays through the stereo of my car, I can’t help but feel like that lonesome whistle calling from down the railroad tracks. [that track here. I can listen to this song forty times in a row.]

“Be brave,” I tell myself over and over again. “Be brave. Don’t ramble nervously like you always do. Don’t drink too much coffee. Check your teeth after you eat lunch. But just be brave. Be brave.”

“…I should’ve gotten a haircut.”

“…Why did I decide to wear purple and black. I look like a bruise.”

Sweaty palms, racing heart.

I’ve attended many conferences in my life but never a writer’s conference. I’ve attended oil and gas conferences, yoga conferences, international trade conferences, small business conferences and, wow, just thinking about how many others, I’m losing track. Never, ever have I attended a writer’s conference and I’m terrified. I am not a writer by profession, I am a writer by hobby. I love to write. It’s one of my favorite things up there with donkeys and yoga and King Ranch and Little Foot. It’s so important to me and when time goes by that I can’t or don’t write, I end up like an A/C filter that’s not been changed for too long: mucky, dusty, annoying, and useless.

Several times on this drive, I think about turning around. Maybe I’ll try again next year. I’ll say I got sick or something.

But on I drive, on towards the rising sun because I think I’m finally ready to try and do something more with my writing than leaving my stories closed up in dark folders. I just have no idea what “do something” looks like and maybe I can start to gain a semblance of an understanding by connecting with and learning from others who do and who have “done something” successfully. And I’m nervous about it—the idea of putting my writing out there terrifies me. It feels like carving out a chunk of my heart and putting it out on display to be examined, critiqued, poked and prodded.

It’s now three days later and I’m still digesting the events and feeling the warm, buzzing effects of the NTX SCBWI conference. I’ve pulled out stories that have been sitting in the dark for ages, blown the dust off the top of them, and am actually seeing them as new, tiny works of art. I want to edit absolutely everything I’ve ever written—give each story a good bath and haircut and maybe manicure while I’m at it. I want to do these things because as nervous as I was going into the conference last Saturday, I left feeling freaking pumped.

I’ll not go into detail of what I learned or who I met that day. Instead, I’ll say how grateful I am for the opportunity to have met so many eager, kind, and talented people. I’m grateful for the admins, faculty, and volunteers that made the conference possible and brought us all together—for getting me out of my own head and allowing me to realize that in my nerves, my passion, my fears and my curiosity, I’m not alone. I’m grateful for the inspiration I drove away with that day that’s still burning like red-hot embers in the belly of a fire pit. Turns out that when you’re surrounded by others whose craft means just as much to them as yours means to you, there’s no brutal carving of heart pieces…instead, there’s gentle and kind examination and encouragement to be better.

I’m excited for what’s to come. Indeed, there is change rising on the horizon like that neon-glowing sun that guided me on Saturday morning. There are always surprises and treasures waiting to be discovered beyond our comfort zones. There is strength in community and much to gain by being kind, open, and a little bit brave. And no one cares if you needed a haircut—in fact, you might just bond with someone over big hair…I did.

For more information on SCBWI, check them out here: https://www.scbwi.org/

In many ways, I still feel like that lonesome whistle and I suspect I always will. But I’m travelling. I’m trying. I’m calling.

“So hear that lonesome whistle blowing, hear that engine call from line.
See those black sails meet horizon, that old black bird knows its time.”

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Sparrows and Silver Linings

In our living room, I’m perched on the couch with a mug of early-afternoon, re-heated coffee in hand. My elbows are resting on the back of the couch and I’m knelt down into the sinking cushions, staring out the front window. Moments ago, I heard a sparrow chirp on the porch and discovered that the small bird was calling to his companion—he’d discovered a house.

For mother’s day earlier this year, King Ranch, Little Foot and I built and painted a birdhouse and since, it’s hung colorfully yet vacantly on our front porch. I realize now that I’ve been sitting here for about a half an hour watching the sparrow couple take turns flying away and returning with twigs and leaves for their new home and with each return of a carefully-picked supply for their nest, I’m tickled a bit more.

Sweet Sparrow

It was only an hour ago or so that the new, adoptive parents of Sue and Maybell (two of my foster donkeys) drove away, the ladies in safe and secure tow, and I’ve spent the better part of that hour both grateful and gloomy. I’d grown attached to those two donkeys, both of them having been in my care since mid-March. No matter how lovely the new home is, (and major shout out to Joel & Anne who will be caring for these two now because y’all are just the kind of loving and enthusiastic home we hope to find for our sweet donkeys) it’s always tough to say goodbye to those who you’ve poured your heart into.

But melancholy as I could continue to be right now, there’s something profound about our newly arrived, feathery neighbors that’s setting my heart at ease—a sort of “two gone, two arrived” situation. Goodbye but then again, hello.

I’ve not much else to say at present except the admittance of struggling with my own self-worth. I’m not trying to be maudlin, but instead trying to be honest and admitting to my weakness as a way to acknowledge it and hopefully work on remedying the negativity that’s gaining momentum in my anxious mind. As a writer, I feel like I’m reaching my fill of letters, both composed and automated, that respond to my queries saying rarely more than what seems like, “Sorry, you’re just not good enough for us.” Sigh.

Here’s the silver lining that I’m trying to remind myself:

Every person who’s tried to become an author has gone through this, so maybe this is just the initiation to buff up that proverbial “thick skin” everyone talks about. Although as I’m typing this, I seem to remember a blog that I wrote a little over a year ago where I was actively trying to understand how someone who struggles so gravely with anxiety like I do could ever, ever be brave in the face of repetitive rejection…

Silver lining continued:

When I was submitting stuff last year and spending way too much time curled in a fetal position asking myself why I can’t just grow up and go back to my old days in a corporate job (how was I more mature in my 20’s than I am now?), it was for a different project and that project did indeed get picked up by Flash Fiction Magazine online and that was awesome. It was worth every rejection to then get the, “Wow, we’re totally into this really weird story” response. [Here’s that story if you’re curious: Behind the Clouds, There are Stars]

What I’m working on now is completely different and a seemingly much loftier goal. So, buck up, right? I’m trying. Really, I am.

Silver lining finalized:

As cliché as it sounds, timing really is everything. When it happens that I find the right person / company to represent my work, it will have been worth the wait to end up in the right hands just as it was worth the wait to have Maybell and Sue for as long as I did until the perfect parents came along to adopt them. Anyone sooner wouldn’t have been right.

Here’s what I do know and I promise, I’m not trying to sound preachy:

Your self-worth and value is not at the hands of anyone or anything else. No one. Nothing. Have I gone on my soapbox in my blog yet about how much it irks me when people refer to their partners as their “better/other halves?” Well, if I have, I’m sorry, but you should never be half of anything. You are whole. Wholly guacamole, you are. And if you’re not? Don’t lean on anyone or anything (not that acceptance letter, not the loss of that 15lbs you’re worried about, not that raise that your dumb boss is keeping from you, not that unfitted or even thriving relationship or whatever) to fill what you think is missing about you. You are whole. You are. Or at least you can be from your inside out, so go exploring internally. No other purchase necessary. Please know that. I think the poem I posted on here the other day, Steady, Steady, Sweet Soul, was me trying to show myself that very concept. 

The sparrows are still building a nest in my little birdhouse out front and it’s ridiculous how much time I’ve sat here watching them when I have so many other things I should be doing. It’s really cool to watch their new beginning, though. Will they have a family in there? Will baby sparrows learn to fly off that perch? I hope so. 

pondering
I do my best thinking with coffee in hand.

Steady, Steady, Sweet Soul

Above soaring, jagged rocks
The world’s weight tugging
Heavily on your bones;
Her mouth open wide and
Ready for an easy meal…

Wind whipping and howling
With voices from deep underground,
Voices that you swore were buried
Beneath stone and time,
Their smokey doubts swirling about…

Above bird songs where
Clouds roll with secrets;
Air streaming thinly through
Your rising and falling lungs
Quickening with the thump thump thump of your heart…

There, plant tightly your tired feet,
Steady your scattered soul,
Reach deep into your gut, raw and rank
And realize the horizon-reaching,
Broader and more complex view within.

Realize that you are riddled with rolling secrets, too
And with beauty beyond written words
With often old voices shaping your moves.
Realize that the universe within you
Is worth beholding, worth admiring,

Worth travelling far and taking risks
To see and feel and inhale deeply into.
Realize that and
You, my love,
You, my friend,
You, my stranger,
You,

Will set your sweet soul free.

Edges

Lub-Dub, Lub-Dub

It’s a cold, damp morning and I’ve just come in from spending time with the donkeys. As I’m here, warming my hands around my coffee mug, I’m thinking of things like Tink’s hoof, what Little Foot and I are going to do today, and the yoga class I’ll teach this evening and I’m having trouble navigating through my mind-chatter.

I’ve not written a new blog post in some time, although I’ve started many entries without success. Draft after untitled draft sit sadly and incomplete in the folder open on my desktop because I’ve had a difficult time sorting through the thoughts in my head enough to make any readable sense out of them. I suspect it’s because my confidence and esteem are struggling under the weight of endless rejections both in my efforts to make any kind of career out my my writing and out of seeing any sort of structure in my future as an aspiring author at all.

Lub-dub, lub-dub, my heart chugs along in my chest. I started this blog shortly after we moved to the ranch as a way to keep in touch with my friends and family back home because I was the unknowing city-girl moving to a small farm up north and shenanigans were surely in store—although it’s morphed over time. Most of my readers are no longer from back home, but are people I’ve connected with along the way through the power of social media (and for those connections, I am truly grateful!). It’s been a way of connecting that I didn’t anticipate and it’s exciting to think of how far it’s come. Yet still, I find myself struggling. Not that there’s been a lack of material in which to document—there’s been the sporadic sighting of the bizarre white rabbit. There’s been stoking of new friendships and plans for a luscious garden. There have been storms, full moons, farrier visits, camping trips and holidays but still, my drafts remain incomplete.

I think this is a perfect time to remind myself that happiness and wholeness does not lie in other things or other people: they come from within. Rejections by others of my evolving craft do not define the limitations in which I’m allowed to write. Rejections by others of the style in which I lead a yoga class do not define the limitations in which I need to teach. I consider criticisms when they’re constructive and self-reflect when pieces don’t fit properly….but I’ve gotten into an epically bad habit of placing my self-worth in the hands of others and that is the best way to feel worthless. Perhaps that’s what’s so wrong with our broken world right now—that we’re trying to desperately seek peace outside without stopping to consider that there might not be peace within ourselves. How can we expect love around us or for us when we don’t know how to love ourselves?

Lub-dub, lub-dub…if you can feel your heart beating, then you’re alive and you’ve got the opportunity to do something. Rejection and feeling exposed means that you’re pushing your boundaries and it’s outside of our comfort zones that growth happens.

It’ll be spring soon enough…that’s when life really starts to grow. In the meantime, here are some cute donkeys.

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Follow the Cardinal

It’s colder than Narnia out there, y’all.

I’m looking out the back window at the small patches of snow hiding in the shadows of my backyard when down from the bony trees, a bright, red cardinal descends. He lands in the damp leaves and hops about, cocking his head side to side. He bounces with authority as if he knows precisely where he’s going on this cold day. I scramble to find my camera but manage only to snap a few, blurry photos of a red smudge. I wonder if he’s leading me to something like the robin leading Mary to her Secret Garden? I decide to bundle myself and go out to follow the bird.

Last week, I started re-reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the first time since I was in middle school. I remember, as a pre-teen, enjoying the book, although my memory did not retain many of the small, magical details and the deeply, profound metaphors for the essence of life that this time around, are grabbing at my soul. Taking risks, for example…making somethings out of nothings…the recognition of the good in the world no matter what and so much more. Perhaps it’s because life has a different meaning as an adult then it did when I was in middle school, but this time ‘round, I simply cannot keep from crying as I read it. In a peculiar way, I almost feel as if I have more wonder and curiosity about the world now than I did when I was a young girl.

This is on the coattails of something that happened while I was in Houston visiting my family for the holidays that’s been causing an itch in my head like poison ivy on the brain and this happening, coincidentally enough, also involved middle-school me.

My father found an old box of family videos and managed to get his hands on a working VCR so that all of us (as a family who is rarely together these days) could watch a few of them. Of the overflowing box, we picked at random and after rewinding the tape, we found ourselves watching a video of my family at some park when I was around the age of 11 or 12. It was spring and the bluebonnets were blooming which, as is tradition in many Texas households, sent our family on a roadtrip to the Texas hill country to take pictures in the rolling, blue flowers.

I’d not seen this video since it was filmed and to see myself on the poorly tracked tape literally took my breath away. I was taken aback because as most girls/women living in the times we do now, I was so heavily critical of my looks and abilities (and if you’ve kept up with my blogs, you know that I deal with a good amount of residual confidence issues as an adult). To my now, grown eyes, I was astonished with what a pretty, pretty girl I was back then with my long, wavy brown hair and wide, blue eyes. My legs were longer than most middle-schoolers and I frolicked through the tall grass with much more grace than I ever remembered having. I actually remember being self-conscious with how clumsy I thought I was and how masculine I felt being so tall and strong and being a girl with only two brothers.

I watched myself on the screen, smiling my crooked smile and wearing clothes that fit me awkwardly (like every preteen does) and I choked back tears because I remembered being that girl and hating myself so much. I never fit in with anyone or anything and quickly gave up on trying. I built walls and hid behind them, refusing to believe that any part of me was any good or worth any self-respect. I retreated to living in my own mind where I could ponder on things and imagine what things must feel like out there. From the chair in my folks’ living room watching her there, I wanted to jump through the screen and hug her neck and tell her that she is so beautiful and that there’s a blossoming world around her that is far greater and more powerful than any insecurities—it’s a world for everyone.

Like Colin in The Secret Garden, I had no idea of my own strength and abilities for so long, only it was because of my own insecurities, not a staff of enablers. I sat in my mind, scared and lonely and bitter in so many ways, and although I didn’t have a Mary to find me weeping in my room, I did eventually make it outside to see what was growing. I finally went outside as an adult which is why I suppose I find myself searching for magic and meaning and little cracks in the surface so much these days.

I was glad to watch the videos but also so surprised at what I saw. I’m not even sure what I’m getting at by typing all of this out except to say that whether it be going outside the house or going outside our own minds, it’s limitless what you’ll find out there. The world is a beautiful place of wonder and growing and kisses from the sun and we should go out there every day so that we may live forever and ever. That young, frolicking girl in the grainy video at my folk’s house had no idea how beautiful she was and no idea that the world was reaching for her and yearning for her touch. At the same time, she didn’t realize how much she missed the warmth of the sun by living behind her own walls. Now that she’s been out there though, the opportunities are endless and the ground is aching to be tilled so that its flowers may bloom.

The cardinal bounces around several feet away from me before flapping away into the trees. Instead of a buried key, perhaps this is exactly what he wanted me to find—the realization that age has no impact on your ability to wonder. Time has no impact on how you can love yourself. Walls can be broken. And that no matter how cold or seemingly dead the world is, there is magic happening beneath the soil. Time and TLC will help it grow.

Afterall, if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.
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