The Change I’m Choosing

How many of us would choose some of the changes we have undergone in our lives? I know if I could choose my path I would not be unemployed right now, and neither would my husband. The past four years have been a long, sometimes hard four years, not knowing how we would survive or pay for our kids’ college tuition. We’ve spent many sleepless nights and many prayer-filled mornings asking for the courage to keep going and for something to happen to turn our fortunes.

My husband is a talented man, a great leader, and wonderful provider. He was a Marine helicopter pilot for nearly twelve years when he and I decided we wanted our boys to have a more stable life than the military gave us. He left that profession to wade into the uncharted waters of pharmaceutical sales. We left our friends in the Marines and moved to a small town in Wisconsin to raise our sons. Being out of the military took some getting used to for both of us, but Bruce got the hang of his new job and worked for  Warner Lambert before it became Pfizer. Then he worked for Pfizer after they bought out Warner Lambert. About four years ago, Bruce—along with about half the Pfizer sales force—lost his job. The following year I lost my teaching job due to declining enrollment. Neither of us has been able to find a permanent position since then, so we must change.  Neither of us is sure what we will do, but we must do something different.

Change is hard, however, even painful. It’s full of unknowns, full of challenges, some we can see and will handle well, but others we will only be able to work through as they happen. But the pain of a life in transition often leads to joys that we can’t see while we’re in the midst of the change. Change can lead to growth in our talents and in our perspective if we allow it. If we follow our passions and our interests, perhaps the change will be something we never expected, but which will change us and those around us for the better. That is what I hope for at this stage of my life.  I plan to focus on the positives wherever I find them, what I have rather than what I don’t have.

Back in April I went to a conference in Madison, Wisconsin, called the Writers Institute. I met a number of talented writers, both published and unpublished like me. At one of the sessions one writer, Laurie Buchanan, who is also a Ph.D., a motivational speaker, and a Life Coach, said something that resonated with me. It must resonate for a lot of people. She said, “What you are not changing, you are choosing.” That was, as Oprah puts it, an “ah hah” moment for me.

So here is my change. I am going to be a writer, a goal I’ve had for years. From now on when people ask me what I do for a living, I will answer, “I’m a writer.” I may be unpublished as yet, but I am a writer.  I believe we are what we do every day. I write every day, so I’m a writer. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” I am establishing the habit of writing. One day I will be excellent at it, but in the meantime, I am going to work my butt off to make my dreams a reality. My students have known my secret dream, and so have a few of my friends, but for a long time I haven’t believed I could be a writer despite what I have said. I believe it now because I am choosing it. I am a writer. What change will you choose? Do you have the courage to live your dream?

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Reclaiming the Artist Within

I’ve been sidetracked this summer, really for most of last year. I was teaching at a school where I wasn’t happy and was overworked, so much so that I developed a cyst on my vocal chords from talking for seven hours straight, five days a week. I resigned from that position earlier this year before we found out that my husband was losing his job. Yikes! To say we had a stressful spring and early summer is putting it mildly. During the year I wanted to keep the promise I had made to myself to finish my novel before Christmas. My Christmas deadline turned into an April deadline which became an end of the summer deadline. Will I meet that deadline this time? Hmmm…too early to tell. It’s possible, especially if I have days like I had yesterday for the rest of August. Just as I sense a change in the seasons with our lovely warm days cooling to chilly nights worthy of the down comforter again, I sense a change in my writing life.

Yesterday I sat down to edit a blog post I had written because I can’t stand to put something out in the world and leave the mistakes in. The English teacher in me cringes at the thought! I edited that post and published it after my English-major-college-literary-magazine-editor-son edited it for me as well. Then, lo and behold, I opened my file for my novel and began writing a scene that had stymied me for the entire summer. I wrote until it was time for supper, had supper, then wrote some more until I had written 1,277 words! That hasn’t happened in the longest time. I’m not sure if I tricked myself into being able to write by opening my file without preamble, no thinking about that scene, or if it was just time. The well had finally filled with enough words that it wouldn’t hold anymore until I spilled those hoarded ones onto the page.

Whatever happened, I feel like my writer self again, and I can’t tell you how happy that makes me. My year of rarely writing and being miserable in my work life had taken its toll on my creative process. The creative side of my personality was shriveling, fading away, and I had no idea how to get it back. Last weekend, however, I attended Arts on the Square, an art festival here in Waupaca that stresses interacting with the arts, and that is what I did. I bought a lovely print that inspired me by an even lovelier young artist, Ashley Megal; made a clay tile for the clay quilt that will be glazed by local artists and displayed somewhere in Waupaca for all to see; and watched a Shakespearean troupe perform. There was much more I didn’t mention, but doing those small things seemed to give me a boost, like a vitamin B injection for my creative side. In the words of George Costanza, “I’m back, Baby. I’m back!” I played around with art and did things I hadn’t done in a very long time. Opening up to creativity helped me see possibilities within myself and interests I had set aside.

That is what happens to us as writers sometimes. Life gets in the way. We can’t ignore it, but as soon as we can, we must reclaim the artist within and forge ahead. Lately I’ve been struggling to find a good time to write now that I will not be teaching this year, but I haven’t found when my muse shows up willingly. Perhaps there is no perfect time, only time itself whenever it can be carved out of life. All I know is that right now I feel good about where my writing life is going. I also am excited about where Faith and Josiah, my hero and heroine, are headed. They have almost reached the end of their journey together, and when they do, I will have reached the end of the first draft of my first novel! Now that is an accomplishment worth celebrating! For now I will continue to show up at the page whenever I can and let my characters take me on the wild ride that is writing.

Youth

I used to be a brunette.  I once had long, silky, nearly black hair. It was my best feature, but that was twenty years and two children ago. Back then I was proud of my hair, and I still enjoy how heavy and thick it is, but the color has faded. Okay, that is putting mildly what has happened to my hair color. It isn’t even gray; it has become white, like a polar bear’s hair. As if that weren’t enough of a blow to my ego, the other part of my hair is fading as well. It’s no longer rich and dark, like Kim Kardashian’s or Catherine Zeta-Jones’s hair. It has faded to a nondescript brown, still on the dark side—I like that—but no longer the deep brunette that once set off my fair skin so well. Sometimes that makes me sad, but I try to remember that the changes I am going through are normal. They are part of growing older. I have had to change my routine in some ways, however. With my gray/white hair, I have to be careful not to leave the house not wearing lipstick or wearing white near my face because if I do, I tend to fade away entirely.

What strikes me as ironic about getting older and also about going gray is that we begin losing our hair color at about the same time that we become so much smarter, so much wiser than we once were. Our youth fades, but our experience grows giving us insight into life and into human nature that lights our faces with understanding, compassion, and wisdom. This new light of understanding shines through our eyes, which, by the way, also lighten as we age, as does our skin. That is why allowing our hair to turn its natural color is fitting. I have contemplated dyeing my hair to something close to my original hair color or allowing my stylist to give me “low-lights” to conceal only some of the gray, but each time I do I wonder what it is that I would be hiding.

Why is our culture so biased against people who are aging? Why don’t we value older people, people with graying hair? Society seems obsessed with youth, with celebrity, with perfection. I am not against taking good care of myself. I exercise, eat right most of the time, try to sleep seven to eight hours a day, but I don’t understand this cult of youth that our country seems obsessed with. We tend to look past someone with gray hair as though they are invisible, not the wealth of life experience from which we can learn. We should embrace each gray hair and each wrinkle and ask about the stories behind them. What wonderful things they could teach us about the world or our jobs or about life if we would only listen.

Along with hiding their age with hair dye, many women opt to have plastic surgery to erase the signs of aging from their skin as well as their hair. We see plastic surgery gone wrong all the time. I could name a few lovely women who had plastic surgery and ended up looking like clowns because they had chin implants or cheek implants or one too many facelifts for their own good. What is wrong with wrinkles, crow’s feet, and gray hair? Tell me why women (and some men) would rather look like a caricature of themselves than what God intended us to look like? Why not embrace what age and experience does to our faces and bodies as we find joy in living our lives?

If we intend to look young all our lives, then we fight a losing battle. Youth is a state of mind. It comes from the joyful pursuit of our interests and our passions. That is what we find out later in life after we’ve done some living to carve the laugh lines next to our smiles, the crow’s feet setting off our eyes. We can only hope the love we give is so strong, so white hot that it sears the color right out of our hair, so that we become beings of light from our hair to our skin and eyes and are able to embrace our age and convince others by our example that aging is a thing of beauty and value that should be celebrated rather than ignored.

Picking Blackberries

About a week ago Bruce and I went to Iola to the ski trails to pick blackberries. Spending quality time together during the week is one of the few perks of our both being unemployed right now. We took along two big baskets, former Easter baskets from Erik and Travis that were much too big for the job, but we were optimistic after the rain we had had a couple of days before. After all, our cucumbers grew by leaps and bounds in that time.

When we arrived at the trails at about three in the afternoon, the sun was hot, and the grasshoppers were active as we high-stepped through the tall grass toward the trail in the woods. Seeing the cross country trails not covered in a well-groomed layer of snow and teeming with people was odd. So was seeing the wooden Viking ski jumper with grass growing between his legs. Stella, our Labpanion, took the lead immediately. She ran along and flushed a flock of wild turkeys roosting in the trees. When they took wing, it sounded like a herd of deer crashing through the brush! She was thrilled.

After about ten minutes of walking, we found areas where blackberries and some raspberries were still growing. Most of the blackberries weren’t yet ripe, but the raspberries were almost played out. Stella ate almost as many as we picked. She is such a berry hound, taking them when we offered them by hand and plucking them, thorns and all, into her mouth.

Absorbed in our individual thoughts and the quiet of the trails, we picked berry after berry. For nearly two hours we walked the trails in the shade of tall oaks and pines hearing only the bees and the wind soughing through the pines. “Listen to how quiet it is,” Bruce said. “I could live out here.” I smiled to see him so happy. With both of us out of work, we’ve been giving much thought lately to where we would live if we have to move to find work. We have to be ready to move if we must, but for now we are content with going outside and playing—a lot. We enjoy our river, our solitude, and searching for wild edibles. Life is good.