Thursday, October 13, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Monday, June 27, 2011
How the hell did this happen? Well, I know how it happened. But I mean...how? I am 46 years old, clearly old enough to claim these kids as my own. But I don't feel like I should be able to claim them. Just this morning, Tavi was chastising me for buying this very cool, multi-colored peace sign bracelet cuff. It screamed my name as I did my best to walk by and ignore it in the store. But seriously--that bracelet belongs on my arm. And it was under $5, which I interpreted as a sign from God that it should go home with me. Tavia informed me that I should give it to her, because I'm "way too old" to wear it. She did not, however, deny it's cuteness.
I remember my mom telling me that once a woman gets to a certain age (can't remember what that predetermined age was), long hair should be cut and no longer worn with ribbons adorning it. My hair is still long. And I still wear ribbons in it. And flowers. And flowered ribbons. I'm also partial to peace signs and anything reminiscent of the 60s, like go-go boots. I not-so-secretly covet a pair of shiny white go-go boots. And a mini-dress with bell sleeves made of some kind of groovy-patterned fabric. I can't help it. It's just who I am. I don't really care if I'm 60, 70, 80...if I want to tie my hair up with a pink ribbon and sashay around town in go-go boots, I'm damn well going to do it. So get the hell out of my way, people. Or at least stop and give me a ride. On your motorcycle, 'cause that's another thing I'll never get too old for. And the faster, the better.
But I digress. It's just the three kids and me living here now. I am outnumbered 3 to 1. And in any situation involving Tuck or Tavi, they gang up on me and take up each other's cause. Doesn't matter what it is, I am the enemy who must be brought down. Their ability to collaborate and cooperate is impressive; I wish they'd use that skill to do housework or wash the van. Or rub my feet. Something that might benefit me in some way. Alas, their focus is always on "making a point" or "proving" me wrong. Often, it's just on arguing for the sake of arguing.
I remember feeling as if I always had a point to make. That lasted until I was about 20. Then I gradually stopped caring if people agreed with me. In fact, if too many people agreed with my point of view, I thought I must be wrong. Because the cheese stands alone, and I liked being the cheese.
Now, in my late 40s, I still don't feel the need to get people to agree with me. Add to that a distinct lack of needing approval for whatever I might do or say, think or feel, and I've come to a satisfyingly liberating stage of my life. Is this what most women in their 40s feel like? I would truly like to hear from any of you, because in my 20s, I thought getting older would be awful. But now that I AM older, I actually prefer it.
The writer in me appreciates the irony in that concept. The mom in me relishes the idea that my kids feel sorry for me because I'm OLD. The woman in me just wants those freakin' go-go boots.
Friday, March 04, 2011
In April of 2009, I was contacted via email by a guy named Travis Thompson. Travis had a story to tell. A BIG story. A loooooong story. A fascinating story, really, about a Mormon kid who made good despite having an extermination order on his head, witnessing his uncle's violent death, surviving the death of his own beloved 5-year-old daughter, and experiencing the inherently risky life of a 19th-century adventurer on the American frontier.
This pioneer's name was Perry A. Burgess, and if you're at all familiar with Steamboat Springs, you've heard of him, or at least his last name. It permeates that town. Maybe you've ridden his ski lift, or attended gatherings in one of his meeting rooms. Perhaps you've visited the Tread of Pioneers museum (which just happens to sit on the site that was once his backyard) or strolled along Burgess Promenade, which enjoys views of Burgess Creek. Seriously. The dude is everywhere.
So Travis asks me if I'd be interested in writing Perry's story. Only a fool would have declined that offer, and come August, Travis and his wife Becky were seated at my kitchen table, along with--literally--a suitcase of research and books and pamphlets and photos and well, stuff.
Initially, Travis tried to write Perry's story himself. He got to page 25 and realized this was not an undertaking for a novice. Travis is a whiz-bang IT guy; he is a technical systems god. Which makes him intelligent. Which allowed him to realize that he needed a professional writer. That he chose me was sheer luck. But when he and Becky arrived at the house, I greeted them believing the information he had shared with me already in an email: He had written those 25 pages and figured he needed another 50 or so.
After a couple hours pass and Travis is exuberantly explaining all the tangents of Perry's life story (Travis could not sit; he stood and paced, sat and fidgeted), it dawns on me that this will most definitely not be a 75-page manuscript. And boy, was I spot-on with that prophecy. The final book, published in late October 2010, was 540 pages.
Yes, that's right: 540 pages.
Beyond the Land of Gold: The Life & Times of Perry A. Burgess took more than a year of my life to research and write. Travis would send me outlines of what he thought each chapter might look like. Now, I use the term "outlines" loosely, because in my book, an outline is just that: a vague guideline. Travis's outlines were sometimes 13 typed pages long, single-spaced. I'm not kidding.
Both of us were learning as we went along. I don't think Travis had any idea how this book would take over his life, and I had to learn how to write using a process far different from the one I used to write any of my previously published books. I guess, at the end of the day, Travis and I weren't just developing a book; we were building a relationship.
Creating a book or building a relationship...either is a monumental endeavor. Try doing both simultaneously. Oh, and I should mention that while this was going on, I was extricating myself from a 12-year relationship with my daughters' dad. It was not a smooth ending. Toss into the mix the reappearance of a high school boyfriend who, 28 years later, was even more intriguing and wonderful than he was at age 16, and you can imagine the emotional rollercoaster I was riding. And there's the fact that I watched as my first-born child graduated high school, went off to college, and turned 18 (in that order); it was almost more than I could bear. All the while, my focus was on keeping life as drama-free as possible for my 3 kids who remained at home. It was no easy task. Most days, I felt hugely inadequate in one way or another.
All things considered, 2010 was both one of the worst and the absolute best of my 46 years. And I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Because I am immensely proud of Beyond the Land of Gold. Just last night, we found out that it is a finalist in the 2011 Colorado Independent Publishers Association Evvy & Technical Awards. They haven't yet announced the finalists for the content/editorial awards in Biography, Memoir, or History (all of which we entered), but the book has made it to the final round in Cover Design, Illustration, and Printing. I am honored, and await word on the finalist selection for the other 3 categories.
Since last fall, I've traveled to Boulder, Steamboat Springs and Craig, where Travis and I made presentations about the book...our audiences were gracious and enthusiastic. We've had book signings in Denver and Cheyenne, and have another planned for May in Longmont. Beyond the Land of Gold is carried by the Tattered Cover bookstore, and believe me, that's not an easy venue to get into for lesser-known writers or publishers. We're hoping to travel this summer--Utah, Montana--to further promote the Mormon and gold rush aspects of the book. In short, the book has allowed me to broaden my horizons as a professional, to visit places I might otherwise never see, meet people I wouldn't otherwise get to know.
But it has also enriched my personal life. I've gotten to know Travis and Becky Thompson, two wonderful people who recognized the value in what they had and have taken great pains to bring Perry's story to light. While it was me who put the pieces together to provide a comprehensive and clear picture, it was the Thompsons' relentless pursuit of information that made the writing possible. They put more than 10 years of their lives into this story. That's impressive. And the resulting book provides a heretofore missing piece of American Frontier history. To have made 2 new friends on the road to publishing a book? Priceless.
I remain vigilant in my dedication to creating a stable and secure home for my children. There have been some bumps in the road, but nothing we haven't been able to steer around or just completely jump over. I'm one of those lucky moms who has kids who know they will be just fine no matter where they land. I do have two teenagers in the house, however, so...well, I am often outwitted and always outnumbered. I am one tough cookie, though, and I will survive.
As for the high school boyfriend, well, let's just say I love being older and wiser. I love that he never let go of the idea of me. And I love him.
So yeah. I wrote a book.
(To learn more about the book or to purchase a copy, please visit www.burgessdiary.com.)
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Writers write for different reasons. Most of us, if pressed for an answer, will say we can't not write. It's like exhaling; we must do it.
I write to make sense of my world. I've been writing since I was a young girl, when it became clear to me that there wasn't a lot of logic or predictability or even, sometimes, sanity, in my world. I wrote poetry and journal entries. As a tween, I suspected my mom was reading my diary, so I wrote a series of, shall we say, colorful entries regarding boys. Total fabrications, mind you, but it was the only surefire way I could tell if she was indeed invading my privacy. I came home from school one day to have my face slapped, hard. Yep. She was reading my diary.
At any rate, writing helps me think through both the tedious and the monumental. It allows me to cope, escape, confront. As an adult, I've written about my mother's struggle with mental illness, her death and my ensuing grief, the death of my son, the birth of my children, the raising of those children, my experience with divorce and late-in-life discovery of genuine, reciprocated love. I have also written about the more mundane: breastfeeding in public, children's carsickness, Spongebob Squarepants, politics, human nature...there is little I haven't covered.
I just finished reading a book about language and, because it is a cultural convention, we assume it reflects the culture in which we live. But there is a strong argument for the idea that individual languages actually shape the culture in which we live and how experience it. Because language and words are the tools of my trade, this idea fascinates me. It might not do much for you, though, so have no fear--that's not what this column is about. But the idea did get me thinking...
How much of our lives are based on the assumption that our experiences are shared? I don't mean shared in the sense that, say, when we go to a concert, there are a thousand other folks sharing that experience. I'm talking shared in that, what I see, you see. What I understand, you understand. How much of this sort of daily analysis is based on assumption?
For example, I was in my 30s before I realized I experience simple activities such as hearing music and tasting food in a way that is not considered "normal." I live with synesthesia, a condition in which the real information of one sense is accompanied by the perception of another. For example, I "hear" color. Every song has a color. Whether I'm merely listening to music or performing it on the piano or vocally, color accompanies every song. It's the same with food. All food has color to me; I literally "taste" color. Smells, too...each one presents itself to me in color.
Now, having not known that this is abnormal (estimate of synesthetes range from 1 in 200 to 1 in 10,000), and having experienced life in this way since I can remember, I naturally assumed everyone I knew shared this phenomenon. Then I had to research an article I was writing, and I came across this information and thought, "Holy shit! This is ME!" and that thought was immediately followed by absolute shock. So it's not normal to view life through the lens of an acid flashback? Your world is not psychedelic with colors like mine is?
I was left pondering the idea that all along, this world has shown itself to me in a way that is more vivid, more intense, than it is to most people. I got to wondering if this sensory issue was all-encompassing for me. I mean, if someone touches me, do I feel the same sensation as you do when someone touches you? I just always thought I was sensually vigilant. Turns out I am, instead, a scientific anomaly. Supposedly, this sensory crossfire is not supposed to be able to occur in the human brain. Huh.
This idea of assumptions then led me to contemplate our daily life experience. We humans assume so very much of others. How much of our miscommunication and misunderstanding is borne of the assumption that we share an experience and so must share the results of that experience? How many marriages and friendships have ended over the inherent (mis)understanding that the other person's response to any given situation(s) was wrong simply because it was not our understanding? A simple concept, but incredibly far-reaching.
I guess, at the end of the day, it comes down to judgment. When we judge, we analyze and determine the value or worth of any given act according to our own personal template. But wow. Those templates vary so greatly, yet we want--perhaps need--them to be one-size-fits-all.
Thing is, they aren't. And they never will be.
Thursday, January 06, 2011
In two days, I will celebrate my 46th birthday.
I can't look at that number without chuckling because it is the same age my mom once was, only then, it was as ancient as Mesopotamia to me. Now *I* will be the bearer of 16,790 days of life experience, and yet I feel remarkably...not old.
2010 was a year of change for me, and more often than ever before, I'd find myself pondering my life, my choices, my circumstances. Like most 46-year-old women, I have teeny white Christmas lights strung across the headboard of my bed. I like to lie there at night, looking at them, thinking. At first, I could only think about how cool those lights were. Everything looks better--dreamier--in the soft glow of white Christmas lights. It's true. Scientific studies have proven it. Now I have too.
But as I grew accustomed to having a purple bedroom with white Christmas lights on the headboard and vibrantly dyed Mexican sarongs hanging in the windows, my thoughts turned elsewhere, to more...grown-up musings. And eventually, I realized I was deconstructing my life as it has unfolded thus far. And here's what I know:
I know I've done the best I could. I think even as a young girl, I approached everything I did with 100% commitment to do it to the best of my ability. Whether it was my nature or a learned attitude or a bit of both, I can say I take great solace in the certainty that even if I didn't always make the choice a more prudent me would have made, I did, at least, dedicate myself to that choice and seeing it reach its potential.
I know I've grown and stretched beyond my comfort zone more in times of strife and conflict than in times of general peace. I've come to recognize the blessings inherent in even the most agonizing tribulations, and knowing those blessings serve a purpose makes forging through the challenges worthwhile.
I know I am one stubborn mother...and sister, friend, lover, etc. My iron will is a double-edged sword that both protects and at times wounds me. I've learned to wield it more carefully as I've aged.
I know I need very little to be happy. But I also know I can be happy with more. It's comforting to be able to straddle that line between struggle and abundance and feel at ease on either side.
I know that I deserve more than I've historically allowed myself to have. In every way.
I know that my children are so much a part of me--and I of them--that though we may one day live apart, we will always be together. They are the best things I've ever done with my time, energy, and love.
I know I'm no picnic. I'm opinionated. I can be loud. I am outspoken and don't need anyone's approval. I am not always diplomatic and I know how to use words as weapons. I don't let people inside my life easily and there will always be secrets I don't tell even those closest to me. At times I am remarkably vulnerable even as I stand strong in the face of great challenge. I protect my heart because it has been broken so often, always by those who claim to love me most. But at 46, I know there's more room in my heart for love precisely because it has been so boldly broken.
I also know I am worth the effort. I am simple yet complex, a free spirit who is demanding in some ways yet refreshingly low maintenance in others. I believe in the goodness of people and strive to find it, even if it brings me to my knees. I love fiercely and passionately, and support those I hold most dear even if I can't agree with what they're doing. I know joy and I share it without reservation. I believe in promises I've been given until they're broken. Then I believe again. I laugh a lot and never pass up a chance to let those people I love know how dear they are to me.
And most recently, I know that being independent doesn't necessarily mean standing alone. It doesn't mean I can't lean on someone when my own legs feel wobbly. I can be independent and still reach out for that hand to hold, that whisper to guide, that look to reassure. I can, finally, accept as my own the love I have always been willing to give.
So. Happy Birthday to me.