Class Work

I wrote this in my Intro to Literature class, and I was happy with the result, so I thought I’d share it here.

When I think of the West, I think of my uncles. Both my mother and my father have a brother who breaks horses for a living. My uncle Rollie is a strong presence, never without his cowboy hat. He has ridden up mountains on the back of his horse to bring cattle down from their winter grazing, so he could brand them and check on their health. His two sons are also cowboys. One of my cousins breaks horses in Nebraska and the other is a vet tech for big animals. When we were kids their favorite game was Rodeo. Both of them wanted to be calf ropers, and so they would line up the other cousins to be calves and try to break all of our necks by tripping us up with lassos.

Uncle Jack runs a ranch in a tiny spit of land in Wyoming. It is the most beautiful, scenic place. He lives in the house that my grandparents owned. There are broken wagon wheels to guide you into the gate and my grandfather’s brand stamped into the concrete. There’s an apple orchard, and a small hollowed out dirt hill where my grandmother kept shelves of canning for her twelve children. There’s a barn for the horses and it smells like sweet hay and tack, and every spring there’s a new batch of barn cats and the children all play with the kittens.

Not all of my family ended up in the cowboy life, but they’ve all been touched by it. My mother had to fetch eggs from the henhouse and got scraped off of a horse by a low-hanging branch, so she’s not enamored of the reality of the West, but get her in a conversation about who’s the better Rooster in True Grit and she’ll happily launch into it.

The West is how I grew up. My uncles weren’t the only cowboys I knew. My ex-husband was completely in love with the ideas of the Old West, of a “simpler time.” He had a very specific vision of the cowboy as a lonely, romantic figure who worked hard (and was generally unappreciated.)

My West, on the other hand, has very few humans in it at all. My West is full of cougars, and mountain goats, and bald eagles. My West is Devil’s Tower and Old Faithful, the naturally occurring monuments and the surrounding hills. My West is aspen trees and juniper scrub and walking through the Needle’s Eye above the Tongue River. I do love looking at herds of horses, but it brings me just as much joy to see herds of deer or antelope, or even bison.

So, for me, the West was a complex background on which my childhood was formed. I spent a lot of my young adulthood trying to get as far away from the West as possible, to look for something new. I do have a great deal of nostalgia for the West, and I’m looking forward to seeing it with fresh eyes.

 

2015 in review

My friend and colleague Allie Drennan wrote up a post like this, and it got me to thinking. A lot of people have been talking about the year 2015 in qualitative ways, and for me… well, 2015 was nothing if not full of extremes.

The beginning of the year was grim, with me missing out on our family’s vacation in Whistler, BC. Being home alone for a week offered me a chance to write, but it also left me bumping around a house that had no laughing child and no smiling husband. The only good thing was my story “The Gaijin & The Butterfly” was published by Oriental Excess.

Later, in March, I got to go to Norwescon and take the panels seriously. Three fourths of my writers group were there with me, and we were organized. One of my writers group, James, even introduced me to an excellent writing opportunity. I was flying high and feeling invincible.

So, when I lost my job in April, you can imagine my surprise. I wandered in the weeds as I tried to find a job, only to be roundly neglected by everyone I applied with. Finally, it came down to a harsh truth. I had capped out on what I could do on paper, and if I ever wanted to get out of call centers, I was going to have to go back to school.

I published my book Bento Box in all of this excitement, and tried to learn more about the marketing side of writing. I wrote a short story, “Bits & Pieces,” and it was published by Luna Station.

I then took my planned trip to Wyoming. When I came back home, it was a matter of days before both Toby and I went to school.

School hit me like a load of bricks. I was a good student, but I wasn’t anticipating the amount of work it would be to do school. I fell behind in my classes a little and struggled to catch up. The last time I was in school, I didn’t have as many responsibilities as I have now. I still managed to churn out thirteen short stories over the course of the year. One is submitted to a contest, one is submitted to an anthology, and the rest are in stages of doneness before I figure out where to submit them.

A little ray of sunshine hit after I registered for winter quarter. Turns out, I had more credits from going to college as a high school senior than I thought I did. It was a bright spot in a month full of flooding and replacing our floors.

I passed my classes, which is probably better than I deserved after floundering as hard as I did. I learned a lot though, some directly from my classes and more indirectly.

The most important thing that I learned from 2015 is that I got comfortable. I stopped striving. I didn’t push my body; I didn’t push my mind. I just accepted that life was going to be as it was, and I was okay with that. As soon as I got to that point of acceptance, life turned a huge corner and my life shook down to its foundations. Now that I am striving for something again, things are going in the right direction, and while it’s hard, it’s good.

I also learned that if you have a small, dedicated group of people on your side, working towards similar goals and willing to trade help for help, you can get so much farther in life than trying to go it on your own. Support is vital to success, and the more support you have, the better off you are.

I learned a hard lesson this year. I also had Allie, who has been with me through this whole rough year, cheering me on and keeping me focused on the prize. We’ve been friends for over a decade but our friendship was strengthened this year quite a bit. We have plans to publish more stories, and to get our names out there. It’s good to have a shared dream; no one motivates you more than the person who is just as invested as you in the goal.

And now, on to 2016, and the challenges that await.