This week marks one year since I was asked to carry the American flag during the national anthem for our local rodeo. My gut had twisted in on itself at the thought. I was both terrified and exhilarated. I was sick with the question of if I could actually do it. I don’t know how big the flag is at your local rodeo, but the flag at our rodeo is HUGE. It is a being unto itself. The wooden pole that carries it flexes with the wind resistance and yet is stiff and unyielding against your leg while you’re trying to cue your horse.
But I didn’t know any of that yet. All I knew is that I had been asked to do something that I only ever dreamed of, and I had to say yes. Even though I knew I wanted to say yes, I still had doubts. I asked my friends and family what they thought about being invited to do something you’ve only dreamt of, but fearing the risk, that risk being public humiliation if you fail. Not one person told me to give up the opportunity. Every single person said that I had to do it, whatever it was. I hadn’t admitted to them what the thing was that I both wanted and feared.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you that I made up my mind to do it and practiced and everything fell into place. I’ve written about it before. I had to work for it. I had to work to condition my shoulder to handle the resistance of the flag. I had to condition my mind to think that I could succeed rather than worrying about failing. But I did do the work. And I did find a horse to ride and we carried that gorgeous red white and blue flag around that arena that I’d been going to since I was a 4h-er running in the calf scramble.
I had some hiccups, my horse got a ball of dirt in her hoof and was off in our trot, then we had a little trip and picked up the wrong lead. I curse the damn flag pole for that, as I couldn’t get my right spur into her side enough. I curse myself for not wearing a longer spur on my right boot. And I didn’t always have that flag perfectly upright.
For a while, I really picked on those things. I felt bad that I hadn’t done a better job. And then I realized, there is not one person in those stands who could judge me. I got on a horse and rode around in front of 3000 people and old glory didn’t touch the ground and my family got to watch me live out my dream. It wasn’t perfect, as things never are when you’ve never done them before. But I did it.
How timely then that the reminder of me preparing to carry that flag should come up now, in the midst of winding down on editing my book and making preparations to send query letters to agents. Will I make some mistakes? Without a doubt. Is my book perfect? I’d love to think so, but the reality is, probably not. But are either of those things going to stop me? They never have before, so I figure, why start now?
I wrote a book. I wrote out over 83 thousand words in a cohesive manner that a few people of found enjoyable (the few who have read it). That in and of itself is an accomplishment. I want to see it get to a wide audience, to get wide distribution, but whatever the outcome, I think I can be happy with what I’ve done. I don’t believe there’s anyone who could say I’ve half-assed it, that I didn’t give it my all, didn’t try my best. And this, after all, the only thing we can do, is to try our best.
Whatever big-ass, scary, intimidating dream your dreaming, keep dreaming it. Do the work. Believe in the dream. Please don’t let your own doubts or fear get in the way of something wonderful. Without dreamers, you wouldn’t even be reading these words on your smartphone, on this blog, on the weird and invisible thing called the internet.
Dreamers never stop trying. And neither should you.
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Show season is starting, and even though I’m not showing this year, I still think about what I want to accomplish with riding and how far I’ve come. Thinking about my riding made me think back to my only “show” as a youth. As the youngest of five kids, the fact that I even got to ride horses was a miracle. Turning into a jodhpur-wearing, ribbon-winning equestrian was completely out of the question. So when the barn I shoveled manure at in exchange for lessons hosted their own show-day, I was excited to participate. I don’t remember what clothes I wore, but I do remember the boots: a pair of black, leather, knee-high boots that gapped a little at the calf and zipped up the inside. (Back in those days I rode hunt-seat.) When the trainer at the barn saw me all dressed up for my class, she gave me a big smile and said “I like your boots!”
I turned to my mom and whispered, “Do you think she knows they’re not real riding boots?”
Ever the practical woman, my mom said “Of course she does. But that doesn’t matter, she still likes them.”
I was naïve enough to not even realize that true field boots damn sure do not zip up the inside of the calf. Nor would they gap awkwardly at the knee. But I didn’t know any of that. All I knew was that I was showing and I got a compliment on my outfit.
There are a few times as an adult I have cringed at this memory. If I remember distinctly what the boots looked like, I’m sure the rest of the outfit was just as awkward. Until more recently I had still carried some embarrassment at the lack of money I had growing up, and how completely obvious it must have been to others, but was not always so to me.
Thank god for that.
If you (or your parent!) are scraping together the money for lessons and then piecing together a show outfit (for horse and rider) I APPLAUD YOU! This is a tough industry not to have money in. It can feel real awkward at times not having money and trying to participate. But please do not give up. Please do not ever let anyone make you feel like because your boots aren’t brand new, aren’t $1000 Parlanti field boots, or that you don’t have the latest Yucca Flats saddle pad, that you don’t belong.
Did you notice all of those things I just listed are THINGS? That’s right. I didn’t say anything about your riding, your passion, your desire. That’s because money can’t replace those things. If you (or your child) are passionate about riding, about improving, about showing, then find a way to do it and just do it. Maybe don’t show in western pleasure, because those bedazzled jackets are ridiculously expensive. (Can we I just be real for a moment? Most of those jackets are too much. Like QVC bedazzler-on-clearance too much. But I digress)
Still ride. Still show. In spite of what money you don’t have, what fancy tack you lack, in spite of a less-than memorable pedigree. Just ride.
And if you’re willing to work to get better, any trainer worth their weight in golden horse shoes will recognize that and help you. They might not pay your entrance fees, but they will help you in whatever way they can and in the ways they know you need. That may come in the form of lending you needed tack, digging through their old show clothes to find fill-in pieces for your wardrobe or working a deal to get you second hand show boots.
The equestrian world is filled with lots of people who have lots of money. It’s also filled with people who only have a little money and want to look like they have lots of money. And then there are the rest of us who have very little extra money and. I once set an alarm for 2am so I could wake up and be the final bidder on an E-Bay auction for pair of Hobby Horse chaps. I won them. I regret nothing. I bragged about my 1/2 priced, used chaps. Please don’t let looks intimidate you. And don’t also begrudge those who have more money. They may be wishing they could trade in their perfect tack for a more natural seat. Everyone has their own path and their own struggle. Mine (and possibly yours) just happens to be lack of funds for an expensive hobby.
So keep up the good work. Keep doing your no-stirrup lessons. Keep an eye out at those used tack sales for the mythical saddle that is worth so much more than what it’s priced at. And if your parents are footing the bill for your crazy horse addiction, make sure you thank them. And go do some extra chores, like putting away the dishes in the dishwasher. And of course thank your trainer! (If you need a refresher on exactly why, see 5 More Reasons To Thank Your Trainer)
And don’t forget to have an AWESOME show season!
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When I was 22 I left Oregon in my little red Honda Civic and drove 21 hours to Wickenburg, Arizona to work on a guest ranch. I was a little lost in school, a lot lost in life. I won’t romanticize the ranch, it was hard work. The owners had high expectations and the manager was not a very nice person. But the desert was exactly what I needed. And I met the most amazing man there, who I now get to call my husband. I didn’t know when I met him that I would fall in love with him. He actually had a girlfriend at a different ranch when we met. But we became fast friends because of our mutual love of movies, sarcasm and complaining about work. Eventually the girlfriend became an ex-girlfriend and we started dating.
Even before I left the ranch, I knew I wanted to write about it. I knew what I wanted to write about. I never wanted to write about myself. I wanted to write about this amazing independent woman who worked on the ranch. She became the inspiration for the main character of my novel. After my work at the ranch ended, I started writing the story. In two years I wrote 36 pages. And then I put the story down and didn’t pick it up for years. I thought I was going to PA school. And then I wasn’t. But I was still intensely focused on my career in healthcare.
In 2015 I marveled at how 10 years had passed since I met my husband. Since that ranch changed the trajectory of my life. And I decided that I wanted to finish that story I started so long ago. And so began this journey you are accompanying me on now. If it weren’t for the book, this blog wouldn’t even exist. This blog is a product of my dream of finishing my story and the prodding of a good friend to chronicle my thoughts. I would be nothing without the strong women who have been a part of my life throughout my time on earth. I am built by them. Starting first with my mother. Then my sister. And out from there, like concentric rings of inspiration, each woman adding more.
My story is about an independent woman who must continue to grow. The main character is Sam Hart, a female wrangler at the Broken Hart guest ranch. She is looking forward to a satisfying winter season of leading dudes on trail rides. But with Eli Wright as the detestable general manager, the likelihood of a peaceful season is slipping away. And Sam feels her job, and even her future with the ranch, are threatened.
This story is a work in process. I am still actively editing it. Below is an excerpt from the first chapter. I wanted to share a taste of the story. To give a feel of what I’m working on.
And if you’re wondering what the hell made me want to write a novel, my only answer is that I had to. I don’t know why. I can’t question the process too much because the doubts become too large. I just have to do this. There is a saying by Thomas Carlyle. “Go as far as you can see. When you get there, you’ll see further.” So that is what I’m doing. I can’t see much beyond the telling of this story. But I am guided by a pull in my heart stronger than my fear that this is all for nothing.
Without further ado, here is the sample.
“Eli Wright came onto the ranch with nothing but an old shitty Ford truck and a mouth full of rotten teeth. He had nothing, he came from nothing, and then he showed up here and wants everything.”
“Samantha, honey. He can’t be that bad.”
“Mama,” Sam spoke through gritted teeth, “He knows nothing. But he acts like he knows everything. I just cannot believe Ron and Pearl promoted him to manager after having him as the head wrangler for just one season.”
“Sam, I’m sorry, but you knew this was going to happen. You knew it when you left at the end of last season. You haven’t even gotten started with this season. Maybe you should think about giving him a chance. You’re the one who told me Ron was very successful in day trading, he must see something in Eli that you don’t.”
“Well now I wish I hadn’t told you that, because I don’t like you turning it around on me.”
“I’m not trying to turn it around on you. But what choice do you have?”
“I could leave.”
“And go where? Another ranch? And then if there’s a no good, rotten-mouth, jerk there you going to leave that ranch too?”
“Well actually Ron and Pearl fixed his teeth for him over the summer. So now he has a full set of shiny veneers.”
“How do you know that? And anyway, quit distracting me. You got to buck up cowgirl. You can’t just pick up and leave when you get bored or the going gets—“
“Shit, ma. Sorry. Gotta go. He’s coming right now.” Sam cut her mom off.
“You called me from the ranch? What the heck, Sam? That is not smart.”
“Okay, mom, love you too. Great talking to you. Thanks for all the advice.” Sam set the phone on the receiver, her mom’s admonishments still floating up to her.
Eli walked in to the staff dining room, “Hey, been looking for you all over the place. I thought you were cleaning and oiling saddles?”
“I was. I finished up and came in to give my ma a call.”
“Okay, well we got shit to do. You all caught up on the gossip going on back home?”
“We weren’t—it wasn’t gossip. Never mind. Why were you looking for me?”
“The newest ops girl needs to be towed out of the river bed.”
“What the hell was she doing going through the dry river crossing?”
“Don’t know. You can ask her when we go pull her out. Figured you could help me.”
“And we need to take your truck.”
“Why wouldn’t we take the ranch truck?”
“I ran it out of gas. Well it has a little bit left in it, but not enough to go pull her out of the sand.”
“You what? How did you?” She now knew why he needed her help to tow the girl’s car out of the sand.
“Don’t worry about it. Just meet me at the truck. I’ll grab the towing chain out of it.”
Sam got in her new Dodge, she purchased it over the summer and the new car smell hadn’t left the upholstery yet. She pulled the truck around to Eli’s trailer, where the gas-less ranch truck sat. Eli’s rusted-out teal truck sat next to the ranch truck. She recalled how her heart had sunk when she pulled onto the ranch a few days earlier and saw the truck angled in front of the ranch office. She had hoped perhaps he wouldn’t return.
BANG! Eli slammed the chains in the bed of the Dodge and came around to Sam’s open driver’s side window.
“Jeez, Eli. You wanna watch my paint job? You really tossed that in there.”
“Ah c’mon Sam. You should have a bed liner anyway. Nobody keeps their trucks with a slick bed anymore anyway.”
“Yeah, bed liners cost money. So unless you’re giving out free liners, I’d like to keep it looking new for longer than a couple months.”
“Fine, fine. You gonna get out and let me drive or what?”
“Excuse me? Why would I let you drive my truck?”
Eli looked at her, mouth agape, threw his hands up and walked over to the passenger side and got in the truck. “What the hell’s up with you today?”
“Do I really need to explain to you why I would like to drive my own truck?”
“Whatever, Sam. Let’s get on our way. I’m looking forward to seeing what fresh meat we’re getting in.”
Sam ignored the comment. “So how did you even know she was stuck?”
“She walked to Holleran’s ranch and he called over here, because obviously her cell phone didn’t work. He called the office phone. Said the employee line was busy.”
“Oh so I guess you weren’t really looking all over for me then. You knew I was in the staff dining room on the phone.”
“Well I just got lucky. The staff dining room is where I started.”
Sam drove the truck off the ranch and south toward the fork in the gravel road. The fork to the north led to the Broken Hart Ranch. The fork to the East lead across the dry river bed and to the Holleran’s ranch and a few other private properties.
As they approached, they could see the girl’s red, two-door coup crouched in the piled up sand on the left side of the worn ruts. Sand filled the gaps in the wheel rim and came up to the bottom of the car. Eli opened his door before Sam had even cut the engine.
“Well hi there, Tess. Hear ya got a little problem.”
The young woman blushed. “Yeah, seems the desert got one up on me already.” Her long blonde hair sat on top of her head in a loose bun, her skin glinted with prickles of perspiration
Sam walked up to the leggy girl and offered her hand, “Hi Tess, I’m Samantha, but everyone calls me Sam.” They shook hands and Sam couldn’t decide if she was meeting a pretty, gritty girl or a wannabe cowgirl. The girl’s nails were artfully manicured with acrylic French tips, and her buttery leather boots bore no wear lines. Between the sports car, the manicure and the brand new boots, Sam decided she was looking at a wannabe cowgirl.
“Nice to meet you.” Tess gave Sam a wide smile, filled with straight white teeth that reminded Sam of a bleached-white orange peel. Tess seemed to sense Sam’s judgment. She chuckled and gestured at the car, “I swear they told me that thing could handle off-roading. But I guess the 2 feet of loose sand proved a little too much for it.”
Well, what do you think? Would you keep reading? Would it make you click “Buy Now” in your amazon account? Is there a strong woman in your life who has inspired you years after you first met her?
Legal Stuff: This is all copyrighted work, so please, no copying, reprinting or using of these words without my express permission.
What a difference a year makes. Do you ever take a moment to think about what you’ve done in the last twelve months? How far you’ve come, how much you’ve grown, what you’ve accomplished? I don’t mean necessarily on New Year’s Day, I mean some other demarcation in the year, a date that’s meaningful to you. There are a couple big days for me right now that I use as measurements for progress. One date is April 11, 2016. That is the day that my sweet German Shepherd succumbed, quite traumatically, to a brain tumor in our home. Another is September 26th, 2015, the date I started this blog. My very first blog.
The blog anniversary turned out to be quite a milestone for me. When I started, I didn’t know what this would look like, if anyone would even want to read my musings and opinions and funny (ridiculous?) stories. But you did. And it has been amazing. Every comment about how I made someone laugh, encouraged them, made them feel supported along their own path, has been the drive to keep me going. They have been the breadcrumbs I needed to keep me moving down a path. A path I enjoy being on but can’t see where exactly it is going.
In the year since I started in earnest to finish my book, I hit a few special peaks. I finished the manuscript for my book in January. I also secured a monthly online column with Northwest Horse Source. God willing, I should also have a horse related article coming out in a national publication in the next few months. When it happens, I promise to share, but right now I’m afraid to jinx it and so don’t want to say what magazine or what the article is about. I also found an affordable editor to help me take my novel to the next level.
Looking back at these things keeps me putting one foot in front of the other. I still sometimes shake my head at myself, at the idea of writing a book. It takes guts to have a BIG dream. You have got to ignore the people who might be so insecure themselves that they question why you should dream and do such a thing. And even more important, you MUST ignore that little troll inside your own head that makes you question what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and even if you can do it. No matter what it is. I have to work at having guts even a year after starting this blog. Even after finishing my manuscript and finding an editor. I think ignoring the troll will be a lifetime activity.
One of the things that helps to keep me going are the breadcrumbs I seem to get, pointing me further down the path. Before the blog, before the finished manuscript, there were awkward conversations of admitting my dream to close friends. One close friend told me of a weekend writing workshop in my area. From that workshop I ended up going to a writing conference in Redmond, Oregon for Women Writing the West, last fall. That workshop set me up with enough energy and direction to get the manuscript down on paper.
I sent in my manuscript to an editor this spring. After receiving my marked-up manuscript back from the editor this summer, I sank into a pit of self-loathing and despair. (Ten points if you know what movie the pit of despair is from). A trip to Portland at the beginning of October, and a generous friend waiting around while I disappeared into Powell’s bookstore, reminded me why I had started. So I picked up the marked up copy of my story and started making the changes. Self-pity be damned.
Many people seem to be keeping tabs on the process of me writing a book. I was chatting with a physician who I work with and updating him where I am with the book and my plan for the next 6 months. He looked and me and said “Did I ever tell you my sister owns a literary agency in New York City?”
Me in a louder-than-professional voice, “Uh, no you did not! I think that’s something I would remember!”
He pulled up her website and showed me her amazing brick-and-mortar business front just four blocks from Times Square. I leaned over his desk and asked “How could you not have told me this before?” Still in a not especially professional voice. He laughed and said he thought he had. And then he emailed her while I was standing there and asked her about the status of her literary agents.
Now his sister’s agency is more interested in scripts than novels, and also has agents representing performers. However, the news of this connection was a very large, caffeine-infused breadcrumb. Fortunately, or unfortunately, many things in this world still work according to what connections you have and who you know. My physician friend’s sister may not do anything with my manuscript when it’s finished. But she might be able to connect me with someone who would. Such a connection could help me bypass the email query letters to anonymous agents, thereby also skipping the possibility of my manuscript ending up in a mile-high slush pile to languish for months.
I’m telling you all of this for a couple reasons. For one, I thought you might be interested to know how my little (big!) project is progressing. But more broadly, I hope you can take this as something to think about in your own life. That you can see that those breadcrumbs that keep turning up are encouraging you to follow your own path. (Do you have a story that this makes you think: “Yes! That’s exactly what happened to me!” Tell me about it. I love hearing others’ stories) I don’t know what my destination is, but when I see these little positive arrows pointing me forward, I believe they are messages not to quit.
And as for the dog-iversary, I can’t believe it’s been six months since his passing. I no longer wake up looking for his dark figure lying next to the bed. I am hopeful that wherever his spirit is, he can help guide the next puppy into our home and hearts. Preferably one who doesn’t snack on small dogs and pieces of my house. That’s not too much to ask, right?
Sometimes, our desires are a little, or a lot, beyond what we believe we can do. Carrying the American flag for the rodeo is one of those dreams of mine that I struggled to believe I could actually accomplish. A little less than a month prior to the rodeo I sat in my kitchen crying to my husband about how worried I was about carrying the flag. I had worked a few times with the horse I was planning to use and felt confident in her calm demeanor, but I had little confidence in myself. The large flag was proving more difficult to manage than I realized and I’d had a couple nights of practice that didn’t instill much confidence in me. I felt sick with worry at the thought of the event and that I had less than four weeks to get myself into flag-carrying shape.
About a year ago, for reasons I cannot recall, I found a hypnotherapist in my town and had been interested in what she did. I now thought about her and wondered if she could help me, if she could put a spell on me and help me succeed in carrying the flag. The day after I cried to my husband about my worries, I called the hypnotist’s office. She asked me what I was hoping to work on. I told her. She asked me if I was physically capable of carrying the flag, I said yes. She asked me if I had been practicing with the flag, and I said that I had. She told me to keep practicing, that hypnotherapy wasn’t magic. Her blunt statement made me laugh.
I ended up meeting with her twice, each time we chatted for about a half hour before getting into the relaxation/positive visualization/hypnotherapy portion. She used the pre-chat to guide what I was looking to get out of the experience with her and what I was hoping ultimately to achieve on my own. My first session she focused intensely on me being capable, confident, proud and honored while carrying the flag. She helped me to stop my mind from going to the worry place and dumping adrenaline in my body and increasing my anxiety. She helped me to shift my focus to the place of honor, the place of confidence. It was a remarkable shift. It was a shift I can feel in my body. The worry place is in my stomach and makes me sick, the place of honor, of pride, is in my chest and feels light and joyous.
After my first session with her, every time I would start to get a little nervous, a little worried, start imagining all of the horrible things that could go wrong, I would just shut down those thoughts and think of the people I was really carrying the flag for: my two Marine Corps brothers and my Navy Veteran father. I would think of the absolute gratitude I felt for the chance to carry the flag. It sounds so simple, too easy really, but it worked. And I kept practicing with the flag, and my practice got better. Not just because the hypnotherapy shifted my mindset, but also because I had a wonderful trainer helping me work with the horse I would be using.
My second session with the hypnotherapist we focused again on the place of honor and gratitude, but she also asked me why I called carrying the flag an opportunity. And it made me realize that this lifelong dream, something that I had always secretly envied and loved and watched with adoration, was also something I never imagined I could do. I never even really told anyone that it was a dream of mine to carry the flag. It only came out a little at a time to a close friend, granted a close friend who regularly carried the flag. But it was she who really made me name the desire. She outright asked me if carrying the flag was something I wanted to do. I told her absolutely yes but that I was also terrified by the idea.
Now maybe some of you are wondering what the hell is the big deal. But I get nervous showing my horse in front of about 50 people, now add about 5000 people and a giant American flag that you can’t drop under any circumstances. Add the noise of the crowd, the cannon fire in the middle of the song, the shapes of the sponsor flags around the arena, the smell of the stock animals. It’s a lot for a horse to manage. It’s a lot for a rider to navigate. And there is an emotional component to it. I have pride in my country. I come from a military family and have experienced both of my brothers being in war. The flag isn’t just a decoration taken out over a few summer holidays and shown at sports events, it means something to me. People have died fighting for what our red, white, and blue flag represents.
So during that second session with the hypnotherapist I realized that if I wanted to keep dreaming bigger and bigger dreams, if I wanted to keep striving to live just beyond my comfort zone, I would have to name my desires. I would have to believe that my ridiculous, audacious and inconceivable dreams could be possible, that they could come to fruition. I might not know exactly how, I might not know where dreaming such dreams could take me, but I have to be bold enough to put it out there. In carrying the flag I was lucky, I had a friend who pulled my dream out of me, she urged me on. But there isn’t always going to be someone who cares so much, who teases the dream out little by little and pushes me on along the way. I have to own the role I play and reach as far as I can on my own.
The second session made me feel like I had received a small kernel of enlightenment. How can you ever expect to achieve a dream you’re not willing to name? How can you ever expect to get something you’re too shy, too insecure, too whatever to ask for? In that moment, I realized that I couldn’t. I couldn’t expect to receive anything that I haven’t asked for, reached for, worked for. It’s not magic, you have to work for it.
If you’re wondering, the hypnosis portion of our sessions was a little like being between sleep and awake. There was vivid visualization of what we discussed. It was a type of deep relaxation with an imaginative picture-story. It was a little awkward at first, but I decided I was paying to try and help myself, I might as well dive into the experience whole heartedly. So I let myself be lost in the visualization. I could remember most everything that happened during the session, I was conscious of what was going on around me. This is important because I am a cynic and did briefly wonder if the woman was going to rifle through my purse and steal my identity. But she didn’t, and even if she had, I would have come out of the relaxation and known what she was doing. After both sessions I felt as relaxed as if I had just had a massage, right down to my legs feeling wobbly.
When the day came to carry the flag, I spent the morning drinking mimosas with visiting friends. I can think of no better way to start the day. Then I got my ½ inch layer of make up on, applied a half can of hairspray to my curls and headed off to the barn. I was still nervous, quite a bit actually. But we got a practice ride in and I settled a bit. Then I sat with some other friends and had a little whiskey and coke and settled some more. Then I put on my sequin shirt, bobby-pinned my hat to my head and got on my paint horse. We stood behind the in-gate for about an hour, waiting for our turn. You might think that would cause me to be more nervous, but it had the opposite effect. I got to watch the rodeo court riding into the arena, the drill team shifting around and then running in, the sponsor flag runners do their run-ins. Little by little each of the groups entered and left the arena. Then came a memorial ride in honor of my friend’s mom and I found myself all choked up with tears in my eyes. My friend handed the enormous flag up to me, we unfurled it, and then I got really choked up. She tugged my reins to pull me toward the in-gate.
It was finally my turn. I clucked and squeezed my calves and got my horse up into a jog. We had a little bit of a rough start and we ended up going into a lope much earlier than I planned, but we loped around the arena for five minutes, with that big beautiful flag flying and one of my brothers and my father and the rest of my fan club watching. Once I got out there I was actually far less nervous than I thought I’d be because I had a job to do. I could not focus on my nerves or people or what my nervous imagination was dreaming up. I had to keep my horse going and the flag upright. And I did. And it was beautiful. I am so grateful to have had the experience.
Here’s a link to a one minute video of my great ride
I hope you believe me when I say, whatever your big dreams are, they are possible. Whatever audacious, ridiculous, bold ideas are, if you are willing to do the work, if you are willing to inch out further and further onto the ledge of possibility, they can be yours. I really, truly was not sure I could carry the flag, not because I was physically incapable, but because I was unsure if I could manage my emotions and my stress around carrying the flag. But I did, and I feel empowered by the experience. What is your big, audacious, ridiculous dream?
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I told you a little bit ago about a writing competition I entered, I was nervous because I didn’t want to feel like I failed if I didn’t win. Winners would receive cash prizes and publication of their stories, and more important to me, the endorsement that their writing is good and worthy of award. Winners were to be notified by mail on or before Monday February 29th. I did not win. I didn’t even win 10th place. No feedback, no, “almost but not quite,” just a black void of nothingness where I sent my story.
I already went through the mourning of not winning. I knew on Friday that it wasn’t to be. My husband and good friend both said, “There’s two more days! You can’t be so sure yet.” But I knew. I hoped I was wrong, but I knew I had to come to terms with the loss. I shed a few tears. Really and truly, I only shed a few. And not because I failed, not because I took this as a sign that I am a horrible writer and should immediately cease any further attempts at writing, but just because I desperately wanted to win. I wanted the endorsement from total strangers, literary elite, that my writing is good and that I am going places. The blog’s been a little slow, my inspiration has been flagging, and that would have been a huge boost.
But I did not pull out a congratulatory letter from my mail box today.
What I did receive in the mail today was a $200 donation from someone who believes in what I am doing so much that she gave me $200 dollars toward getting my manuscript professionally edited. This person, who shall remain anonymous, had previously mentioned giving me money but I said nothing at the time. I was a little uncomfortable with the idea. Why should someone else give me money for something that I myself hadn’t been willing to shell out money for? I am absolutely in awe of the timing. I didn’t win the writing competition, but I certainly didn’t lose today.
If life is anything summed up in one word, it’s perseverance. Those who win, do so because they never quit. If I won today, I wouldn’t have learned the right lesson anyway. You can’t learn to be resilient and persistent if the journey is smooth sailing the whole way through.
A tearful thank you to my donor, for the absolute greatest timing.
I tried and tried to pull a post onto the page that was horse-oriented and funny and informative. And while I did get some words down, it was missing heart. So instead, I felt compelled to share with you a little event that is very dear to my heart: my town’s pro rodeo.
I have been going to this rodeo since I was 11 years old. I went there as a 4H-er and participated in the calf scramble. In the calf scramble, they let about 50 4H kids loose in the arena with 20 calves. The kids have 3 minutes to corral a calf and coax/pull/push it into the middle of a chalked circle. If you are one of the kids that wrangled a calf into the circle, then you received a free steer to use in the 4H fair and sell at auction. As a consolation prize for not getting a calf into the circle, kids would receive a $100 gift certificate to use at the local western clothing store.
Now, I had lambs in 4H and had absolutely zero interest in competing with a steer, but damn if I didn’t want a new pair of lace up Justin boots and being the youngest of 5 kids they were not going to just drop in my lap. So I went out there and ran my ass off with gusto “trying” to drag a calf into the middle of that chalked circle. But, wouldn’t you know it, I just couldn’t quite get one of those slippery buggers into the circle, so I got my consolation prize. Three years in a row the Eugene Pro Rodeo supplied my growing feet with new Justins. I apologize if this seems shady for a tween, but I think we can all agree a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do for new boots.
Even after I left 4H, I still made it to the rodeo every year through high school and into my early twenties. I am a people watcher, and there is never a shortage of things to feast your eyes upon at a rodeo. Obviously there are plenty of cowboys, and the queens with their blinding-white smiles, red lips and fast wave. And then there’s the ever-present pick-up men in the arena, who make riding next to a bucking bronc look easy, hauling cowboys off those bucking broncs is just part of the job. I’d like to meet those men up close, I bet they have some damn good stories to tell.
There are all walks of life who attend rodeos, from families, to old timers reliving their glory days to lots of single twenty-somethings. For many years I was in the twenty-something category, although I never sported the American flag bikini top and cut-off shorts outfit that I spied on a girl one year. The saying that less is more (as in, less skin showing) is true. There’s even a term for the young women pining for the competitors’ attention: buckle bunnies. I was never a buckle bunny, more of the desperate-to-be-a-cowgirl genre (see my move to an Arizona guest ranch). At one of the rodeos in those years I even participated in an amateur bull riding competition, I paid $50 bucks to ride a young steer for, oh, about 3 seconds before he writhed and kicked and got me off his back. Eight seconds is a long time to stay on when you’re an unwelcome passenger.
By chance, I ended up meeting the daughter of this rodeo enterprise through work and began volunteering with her at Tough Enough To Wear Pink events. My coworker became a very dear friend and I became even more connected to the rodeo. I watched her for several years, years when we didn’t even know each other yet, carry the American flag around the arena during the national anthem. If ever there’s a time to get choked up at a rodeo, it’s during the national anthem. There were years after 9/11 that the dedication leading up to the anthem would bring you to tears. The fact that my brother was serving in the Marine Corp at the same time, only made the dedications more profound.
My dear friend, who has been carrying that large American Flag (largest in the area I’m told) for years, has recently passed the torch. The job has become too much to manage while juggling toddler twins. This year she invited me to carry that red white and blue flag on one of the nights. With much trepidation, I said yes. I’m thrilled, honored, excited and terrified. I am now 33 years old, I’ve been going to the rodeo for 22 years, only missing a few years when I was working in Alaska, or chasing other adventures. This year marks the 25th anniversary of this Rodeo, this hallmark of my childhood, my teen years, and my connection to horses through years when there was no room or money for them. I am truly blessed to have been given this extraordinary opportunity. Now please, let’s all join our hands in prayer that I’m not going to be the woman who drops Old Glory during the 25th anniversary rodeo. Amen.
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If you have any interest in volunteering as part of the rodeo, they always appreciate the help, you can contact the Oregon Horse Center.
Why does putting yourself out there feel so awkward and downright scary? I entered a short story competition, and during the submission, and even after I hit the “Submit” button, I felt like puking. What would happen if I never heard from the organizers again? Except for them to say “thanks for your $25 entry fee and have a nice life.” Nothing, nothing would happen. I would go on living, breathing and dreaming. And if I never told anyone that I entered, no one would even know that I… FAILED. Ah, here we go, that’s where that gross feeling in my stomach is coming from. Because what if I’m not as great as I think I am, what if my story is not as good as I think it is? Or what if the story is really good but I just entered the same competition as some Hemingway-esque genius that wrote the next Hills Like White Elephants?
Well then, obviously that savant is winning the competition and I’ll stick to the pulp fiction I’m good at. But why do I doubt and twist and torture myself anyway? I did something. I wrote something. I edited it, and I submitted it humbly, hoping that it provides some entertainment. Why should I feel shame if a room full of New York coffee-slugging, black-sweater wearing, literature aficionados don’t like my work? I apologize in advance to New Yorkers, but this is how I imagine your publishing elite. Maybe I just didn’t write for the right audience. Sure, there is a chance what I wrote is a big pile of steaming crap, but given you keep coming back here to read what I wrote, I’m guessing that’s not it.
I’m analytical by nature; my bachelor’s degree is in human physiology. So when I think of the anxiety I get from inching out further and further on the ledge, I think of the useless adrenaline my brain is telling my body to pump into my veins. Why the hell my brain thinks we should be getting ready to fight or flee, just by trying something new, is beyond me.
A few months ago I reached out to a regional horse publication, Northwest Horse Source, to see if there was any possibility of doing an article or guest post. After the editor reviewed the sample blog posts I submitted, I was invited to post a monthly column for 2016. I saw the January column posted for the first time today, in all its official looking glory, a bio section on me and everything. I’m not doing groundbreaking work here, but I’m doing something. If I never would have asked if I could write something for them, I never would have been invited to do a monthly column. If I never submitted my short story into the competition, I would never even have a chance at winning. I still may not win, but you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.
So here I go, taking little baby steps toward a larger goal, publishing my book (which by the way it turns out is a huge pain in the ass to edit), getting doses of adrenaline dumped in my body by my instinctual brain. But I’m going to keep doing it. It’s terrifying and electrifying. Life is short; I’m not going to let a little adrenaline keep me from pushing the envelope.
Oh and go buy a lottery ticket, I hear it’s getting big.
Did you know that sometimes I stare at my blank computer screen with nothing to say for minutes on end? I’ll take a break from doing nothing to check and see if something gripping happened over on Facebook. Nothing did. So I’ll go back to my blank page, wondering what the hell I should write about. But then a really terrible thing happens, I start to wonder why I should write anything at all. I wrote my story. I made 75K words, it’s now time to clean it up, edit it and edit it again. But instead of feeling motivated to work on it, a very stupid part of my brain wishes my blabber mouth hadn’t said anything about the story, hadn’t started this ridiculous blog and started this even more ludicrous journey of trying to a publish a book.
Sometimes I tell people I feel that this process is ridiculous. But my wonderful friends remind me that millions of other people have written and published books, some of which might be worse than mine, so why is it ridiculous for me to try to do the same thing? I can’t argue with their logic.
I have a similar internal argument with myself over showing my horse. Every spring I try to show in at least one Arabian breed show. But about the time I’ve told people I’m working toward that goal, when rubber hits road and it’s time to get to work, I wonder why the hell I would want to do such an absurd thing. Growth is HARD. Getting better at controlling your body in tune with your horse’s body is hard. Writing a book, as it turns out, is also hard. Who knew? But no one wants to hear about how hard writing a book is. What a privileged and hilarious thing to complain about! So I don’t. Okay, I try not to. I’m guessing I do whine from time to time.
The only reason I start talking down to myself about attempting such feats is because I get scared that I might not accomplish what I set out to do. I linger a little too long inside my head pondering the scary what-if’s rather than actually sitting my ass down and doing the work. Whether that work is in a saddle on my horse or in a chair in front of my computer.
I seriously hope I’m not the only crazy person who engages in these kinds of over-analytical-progress-killing-thinkathons. Anyone? Please don’t let me be the only crazy out here on the edge. Please?
At any rate, even though I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions, I will again be showing in the Arabian breed show in our area in April and I want to have my story edited to the hilt and ready for agent queries by June of 2016. These are my goals. You can call them New Year’s resolutions if you want to. I generally think of them as fear-inducing personal growth opportunities. God, do you think I have undiagnosed anxiety? I sure talk about worry and fear a lot (see Why I Promised to Worry Less,Why Does My Saddle Say Die, or Why Horse Trainers Are Horrible People Who I Can’t Live Without). Apparently I also start a lot of my posts with “why.” Thank goodness you find me entertaining.
So I’ll be working toward these two goals and I’ll try not to whine about either one of them, because I would be blessed to be able to pursue, either. But I’m so blessed I can work toward both. And I hope you work toward whatever goals you have, New Year’s resolutions or otherwise.
Whatever your coming year looks like, I hope whatever you want for yourself, you are blessed with.
I have much work left to do, but I have achieved more than I ever really considered possible. I started this story 9 years ago. I played with it in college and then let it languish at a paltry 36 pages for seven long years. I was inspired to finish it during the 10 year anniversary of that winter spent on an Arizona guest ranch. I worked at the story over the spring and felt my story was done at 56 thousand words. I then got it up to 62 thousand words and thought I could be finished. At the writing conference in October, I found out that in order to be marketable to large publishing houses, I would need to have at least 75,000 words. I set out to hit that mark. In 9 weeks I wrote 13 thousand words. But I didn’t just write words. I developed my characters, I deepened my love for this story, I grew my confidence, I told more people, I asked for more support, I asked people to spread the word.
I have no idea where this road leads, but I absolutely LOVE being on it. I love sharing what’s inside with you all. My ultimate goal is to see these words published. I’ll try to go big. I’ll submit queries to agents. And if that doesn’t work out, I will approach smaller, independent publishers. If that doesn’t work, then I will self-publish.
Even though I have hit my goal of word count, I am nowhere near finished. I still have some loose ends to tie up in the story. I need to edit it. Then my wonderful husband will edit the story. Then I will push it out to my beta readers to read and edit my baby. When all of the suggestions have been filtered through, when all of the changes, updates, grammar issues and errors have been corrected, when I’ve read and re-read the story so many times I am absolutely sick of the damn thing and am ready to throw it away, THEN I will begin the query process.
I’ve already gained so much from this experience. Rome wasn’t built in a day; my readers certainly aren’t going to discover me in three months. I am not a patient person, but I am learning how to accept the process as it unfolds and in its own time. I have learned that the number of views on my blog is no bearing on the quality of my writing. I have accepted that as long as I know I produced something from my heart, I can do no more. But I’ll never stop looking at the statistics, and they aren’t too shabby for a budding blog.
If you’re reading this, thank you. God bless your literate mind and supportive heart.