Good morning. I’m a stranger in these here parts. I feel like I should be wearing chaps, boots, six-guns, and a very large, very dirty hat. And maybe a shirt. Definitely a shirt. And I should have just pushed my way through wooden saloon doors, strode across the floor (thumping my heels down firmly, as one must do in cowboy boots) bellied up to the bar, and asked for a drink. Probably a Diet Coke, or an Arnold Palmer.
And there you are, on the stool next to me, with your own Diet Coke, or Arnold Palmer, and we know it’s just a matter of time before somebody over at the card table growls, “You callin’ me a cheater?”
And somebody else says, “Yup, I’m a’callin’ you a low-down dirty dog of a cheater.”
And the first guy says, “Smile when you say that.” And then all heck breaks loose.
But in the meantime here we are, our whistles adequately wetted with our beverage of choice, and we have decided conversation is desirable. And, since I’m the stranger in town as well as a closet narcissist, it’s gonna be all about me, me, me.
The funny thing about this post so far is that it actually reflects a true thing about me, as well as my three sisters. We grew up on a ranch, to a father who probably needed sons but loved us anyway, and figured we could be just as useful if we developed our brains, since our biceps were letting us down. I spent a significant part of my life in trucks and tractors, and a fair amount doing things to and for cattle. Cattle are my people. Horses have me pretty much buffaloed, but cows and I get along just fine.
So how does all that translate into a career in marketing communications, with regular scenic routes into novels, short stories, and paintings? Not easily. Not at first, anyhow.
I went to college because I couldn’t bear to think of spending the rest of my life nursemaiding trucks through various growing and harvest seasons, then I went to graduate school because I finished college without yet having a clear plan for what I wanted to do (except that I didn’t want it to involve trucks).
I graduated with a Master’s Degree in English (I was getting A’s in college and figured heck, I’d go with my strengths), and no real career plan. I taught high school. I taught college writing and remedial writing. I got a job as an editor at a medical center, discovered computer graphics back in the days when you could bootstrap your way into a career, and did exactly that. I veered away from writing and into computer design, and then, at 36 years old, I had a baby.
People say that having a baby changes your life. People are so right. I discovered that I could make decisions for my son that I should have been making for myself. And, against all of my own plans and expectations, I found myself back living in a tiny town less than 100 miles from the hospital where I was born, and the ranch where I grew up.
It didn’t happen all at once, but it happened–and now I live in a place where the roads acquire a scattering of corn and grain at the end of every summer, and trucks haul potatoes, onions, peas, apples, peaches, corn and tomatoes down Main Street and out onto the highway to markets all across the United States.
And my writing? I’ve discovered that I write best about what I know best–small towns, ranches, cattle, fields that roll on forever to the mountains, and the people who live there. Sometimes they’re nice people. Sometimes they’re not. Mostly they’re some of both.
Mostly I’ve discovered that, after spending most of my youth pining to leave the land I knew best, after spending years learning how to write, but having nothing to really write about, I have come home, and discovered that at long last, I have something to say, and the skills to say it.
What do I say? Mostly that for me, life is lived in a million tiny moments, and some of them shine like jewels. That’s the underlying message of Benchmarks, my latest book. It’s a collection of essays documenting my life as a single mother. It’s a way of honoring and sharing the great and unexpected happiness that I have found in raising my son alone. Mostly, it’s just a record of some of our brightest moments–the moments when I sucked in my breath and said to myself, “This, right here, is what life is supposed to be. This is a moment worth holding onto forever. And then I grabbed a pencil and paper, and did exactly that–and now I’m sharing them with anyone who cares to read them. It’s a book about coloring outside the lines, breaking the rules, and discovering true love in a place and at a time when I thought I would never know it.