Tag Archives: identity

I’m a Fighter Not a Lover

Girl on Country Road

“I’m a fighter not a lover.” Well, that isn’t the case – I’m both, which I will get to in a minute – but there is a story behind this twisted saying that I wanted to share. It’s been on my mind lately. When Grandma Reid passed away in January 2017, an old childhood friend stopped by the funeral home to pay her respects. The two of us grew up together, and she worked with me and Grandma at the canoe livery for a summer or two. As we talked about Grandma, Melanie told me a story about her I’d never heard before. According to Mel, Grandma once said “I’m a fighter not a lover.” It struck Mel as so funny and out of character that she remembered it all those years later and thought to tell me. Knowing Grandma, a slip of the tongue became a memorable line.

What strikes me so funny and makes the entire thing so memorable is that I can easily see it going either way. It wouldn’t surprise me If Grandma intended to say she’s a fighter just to get a rise out of someone. She could tease mercilessly. Anyone who knew her knows she loved everyone. I am heavily biased, of course, but I cannot remember one instance in which she picked a fight. Instead, she loved on kids of all ages. Whether it putt-putt golf, a movie, or a trip to the mall arcade, she included everyone.

Patton Quote.png

But Grandma did fight too. She stuck up for herself when needed and forged her way as a business woman at a time when most women stayed at home. I consider that fighting. Some of her best advice included stick up for yourself. I think that is why this comes to mind now.

In fact, if I think about it for a minute, I can take it one step further: All of us – every one of us – needs to fight for the life we want to live. We need to fight for happiness and what we want out of life. I continue to struggle doing just that, but I am fighting. As much as I would love to give up, I won’t. I am made of sterner stuff – and I am far too stubborn.

Yellow Crocus

Place

suitcase

There is no escaping it.  This topic keeps rearing its ugly head.  Last night, we discussed it in book club.  Are people meant to be in a certain place?  You can find my take on the topic here. That question keeps haunting me.  What if somehow I missed my chance to be wherever it is I am supposed to be?

Am I supposed to live in Omer the rest of my life?  I wish there were a simple answer.  The reality is that there isn’t.  I love my family, I’ve always wanted to be a part of the canoe livery, and I enjoy spending my summers working there.  Yet, do I have what I need?  Frankly, the answer is no.  There are few people my age around, and those who are around are in a different stage of life.  With one notable exception, all are married and/or have families of their own.  It would be nice to at least have the possibility of dating in my future.

What are my alternatives?  None of them are good.  Either I deal with the issues before me and continue on this path, or I start over someplace new.  If I stay, a part of me will always be someplace else.  If I go, I would miss my family and the canoe livery.  At least in Omer I am needed and loved.

The truth is I am going nowhere.  The canoe livery and the Rifle River itself are too much a part of who I am.  I want to watch my niece and nephews grow up firsthand, and I want to be there for my parents as they get older.  None of that means that there aren’t sacrifices and complications that come with that decision.  None of it changes the love/hate relationship I have with Omer and Arenac County in general.

What saddens me is the reality of where I live.  Over the last two decades, so many people left not only Arenac County, but Michigan as well.  Many were left with no choice thanks to a one-state recession followed by the Great Recession.  I graduated in 1999, and due to the fact that so many classmates moved out of state, I doubt we will ever have a true class reunion.  Most Michigan State business students I graduated with in 2004 headed to Arizona or Texas, including me.  No one seems to care.  Few planned on helping their children create a life for themselves here during that time frame and the years that followed.

While we may be on the path to recovery, we are not there yet.  What bothers me is a general aura of denial that stubbornly resists any change.  Yes, I agree we need change, but we also need to keep what is working – and there are things that are working.  Unfortunately, we do not support those things.  So many people seem to want to change nothing or change everything at once.  Neither approach will work, but no one seems to address this.

What about businesses?  What are we doing to attract new ones?  Absolutely nothing I can see.  No, instead we keep piling on more unnecessary regulations that do nothing except add costs. Instead of making it easier for those just starting out to get started in a career, we make it next to impossible.  Today, we still tell high school seniors that a four year college degree should be the norm when we are setting them up for tens of thousands of dollars of debt before they even start their career.  It is wrong and needs to stop.  We need to attract more businesses and encourage trades. What about entrepreneurship?  Again, we do little to support those who wish to start their own business.  New businesses and new growth are exactly what we need, but they cannot survive if not supported.

I am angry.  I want to believe in my hometown and live here, but many times, it feels next to impossible.  If it weren’t for my family, I would have never looked back.  I am tired of feeling torn, and I am fed up with everything else about the area pushing me away.

cafe

The Eyes of Texas Are Upon You – Part 1

Texas Flag

Ah, Texas.  Where do I even begin?  First, there is my own history in both Austin and Houston.  To make a long story short, I adored Austin and hated Houston.  Go figure.  My Texan friends tried to warn me.  Either way, I spent just under a year and a half in the lone star state, and everything that happened during those times (Austin and Houston) still shape who I am today.

First, there was Austin.  In 2002, I worked at Applied Materials as a co-op from June to December.  I hated it at first, but soon, it became all I wanted after graduation from MSU:  good job, good friends, and good music – maybe love.  It really was as simple as that.  As much as I enjoyed all the wonderful times I had there, the near catastrophes are what really stick in my mind.

On July 24th, 2002, I survived a major car accident:  a moving truck turned in front me of while I had a green light.  While I walked away from the accident with a broken big toe and metatarsal (that is how hard I braked), along with a few minor scrapes and bruises, any passenger probably would have been killed.  Considering that I used to haul my brother around in my 1989 Grand Prix all the time, that shook me.  What if he had been with me?

The accident itself took place out on 290 just before Applied Materials.  I’d been on my way to work, and I later found out that my boss witnessed my crash.  Somehow, I had many people looking out for me that day.  One witness to the accident happened to be a nurse, and she stayed with me until the ambulance arrived.  While I have almost no memory of anything until the hospital – probably due to shock – the Texas State Trooper who came to interview me about the crash couldn’t have been nicer.  Then again, the accident clearly wasn’t my fault.

My mom, of course, was on the next flight out.  When she arrived, she helped me manage buying a new car and finding a lawyer.  We did both in style, and somehow, I negotiated my three-story walk-up sublet apartment in a splint up to my thigh.  Mom, forced to drive in a completely unfamiliar city in an era before ubiquitous turn by turn navigation, marveled at how I already knew the streets and layout of Austin in such a short period of time.  I still have fond memories of the few days Mom and I spent together in Austin.

Then, approximately a month or so after my accident, still in a walking cast and attending physical therapy, I found out that I could only sublet my apartment until the end of August, not the six months I had been promised and needed.  I needed a new place to live yesterday.  I panicked for a hot minute – and then rose to the occasion.  Fortunately for me, Applied Materials had an internal classified section on their intranet.  I started there.  In the end, I found a wonderful roommate – a single mom who had worked at Applied for nearly a decade at that point – who owned a beautiful home minutes from work.  I am still in touch with Karen today.

I could write almost endlessly about the time I spent with friends, including attending the first Austin City Limits Festival (now an institution), meeting Cheryl, the party we threw for Andy, and so, so much more.  As I’ve said before, leaving Austin on a rainy, icy December morning, my heart shattered.  Not so much with Houston.

So many friends tried to warn me about Houston.  I wouldn’t be happy there.  It started off well enough.  My senior year at Michigan State, I intended to end up in Texas in any way possible.  I made it to second round interviews with Applied Materials.  Ultimately, they only took half of the engineers and supply chain people they interviewed.  It did not help that my manager left before he could even evaluate me.  In the end, I had no one on the inside fighting for me.  I also ended up going through second round interviews at Dell.  Less than a week after graduation, I ended up at FMC Energy Systems in Houston purchasing parts for wellheads.  Frankly, it was a great first job – until it wasn’t.  When I initially interviewed, I interviewed with five people in our department.  By the time I left less than a year later, only two were still there – one on long-term medical leave.  I won’t go on and on about Houston.  There isn’t that much to tell:  Wrong job, wrong city, wrong time, and wrong man.  I think that about sums it up.  We headed back to Michigan exhausted and broken.

I intended to write a post discussing my family’s history in Texas, which will now be part two; instead, it became a post describing my personal history in Texas.  Looking back, I truly became an adult in Texas.  I had some wonderful times, along with my share of disappointments.  As much as I loved Austin, there is a reason none of it worked out.  If Houston hadn’t ended in disaster and I hadn’t ended up back in Michigan, I wouldn’t have known my Grandpa Buttrick nearly as well.  I belong in Michigan, even if a little piece of my heart will always be in Texas.

I didn’t know it at the time, but by running off to Texas, I was participating in a well-established family tradition going back generations.

Stay tuned for part two …

Texas

The Clash

Girl

I’ve been meaning to write a post about infertility since this past fall – September, in fact.  On a perfect September Monday evening the stars aligned, and I had the greatest time catching up with an old friend over dinner.  This particular friend and I are almost exactly the same age, and frankly, we are old enough to have been through some serious garbage.  Even though she is married and has a wonderful young daughter, she still knows exactly what it is like to struggle with infertility. Over dinner, the conversation naturally turned to foster care, adoption, and infertility.  I will never forget what she made me realize that evening.

First, know that I’ve known that there is virtually no way I’ll ever become pregnant since I was 10 years old.  I am not going to be one of those women who adopts and then miraculously wakes up pregnant one day. In fact, that is another topic I will discuss shortly.  What I failed to realize, and what my friend made clear so eloquently, is that having a biological child doesn’t automatically “heal” infertility or change everything.  It made me realize just how many women I know who don’t quite have the families they envisioned. My friend’s daughter is an only child, and that was not the plan. Another good friend has two beautiful little girls and wanted a third child.  I could go on.

I once read that no one ever quite gets over infertility.  It is a process – and there is no end. One day he or she may be fine, and the next, it all comes flooding back.  In fact, you can read my response and the original article here.  So true.  So very true.

Somewhere along the line, I think society makes this expectation that infertility is somehow “fixed” once a person adopts or becomes a foster parent.  “You can always adopt.” I am not exactly sure where that comes from, but it is completely inaccurate. Women who struggle with infertility and have a biological child (or even children) don’t even register.  Yet, they struggle just as much as the rest of us for whom biological children won’t happen.

There is hardly a day that goes by that I don’t wonder where I went wrong or what I could have done differently.  Maybe if I had been more clear with my ex, he would have been more open to adoption – or I would have moved on much earlier.  For the record, I told him before we ever really dated (we were friends first), so none of it should have ever come as a surprise.  Maybe if I had done x, y, or z, i would have adopted by now. Frankly, I need to stop beating myself up. But I also need to acknowledge that not a day goes by that these thoughts run through my head.  They are at the heart of what keeps me going and keeps me fighting for the family that I want so badly.

Unfortunately, our society and even some well-meaning people do not help.  I am tired of being told that “it will happen” one day when he or she knows nothing about my medical history. Nosey, but usually well-meaning, people seem to ask the most intimate of questions. As I have said before, not being asked when I will get married and/or have kids is one of the absolute best things about being single.  I am tired and frustrated by assumptions that seem to be everywhere. All of us need to be more careful. Unless we know the details, we have no idea what a person is truly going through at the moment.

And then there is religion.  For years, my cynical nature made me skeptical of anything having to do with organized religion.  By the way, I am completely comfortable separating organized religion from my personal belief in God and Jesus Christ.  I am not angry with God; I know He has a plan. I am angry with how insensitively we treat anyone in the church who isn’t a part of a traditional family unit.  My views toward organized religion may have changed somewhat, but the church can and should do better. It doesn’t have to be related to infertility, although that is what I will discuss here.

Again, well-meaning Christians may tell those struggling with infertility that he or she is praying or that “miracles happen all the time.”  Both are absolutely well-intentioned; however, what if she doesn’t get her miracle? What about cases of infertility that cannot be remedied by current medical science?  What about the woman who is alone and plans to adopt on her own? What about the woman who is still struggling after she and her husband do have their miracle baby? What about men who struggle with infertility?  I could go on. Instead, we just need to try not to jump to conclusions. Yet, it is so easy to do.

I finally decided to discuss infertility yet again thanks to a jaw-dropping blog post that discusses the clash between infertility and foster care.  With the exception of the author’s discussion of her daughter Lil Red, I could have written this article, especially regarding pregnancy.  I expect that once I do adopt, I will feel much the same way she does towards her daughter.  Her post touched me in a way that I can’t fully explain. You can read it here.  I am so glad that I live in a time where women can truly express how they feel towards topics such as infertility, loss, pregnancy, etc.  I can’t imagine not being able to express all of this.

I am not other.  I am not sick.  I am definitely not less-than.

Waiting for Baby Bird – Infertility and Foster Care:  The Clash of Both Worlds

A Different Perspective:  Is This Why We Don’t Talk About Infertility?

Ramblings of a Misguided Blonde:  The Lessons of Infertility

Made

Rebellion

makeup.jpgI can’t say I’ve ever been much of a rebel, but I did rebel in certain ways.  Most teenage girls rebel by wearing makeup; I rebelled by not wearing makeup – or at least little. Growing up, my mom would not leave the house without full makeup. It didn’t matter where she was going, she had to have makeup.  It is still very much a part of who she is. I decided that I never wanted to be that attached to a product or process.

Somewhere along the way, something changed.

For the longest time, I could not teach without makeup.  I’m not even sure how it happened. It became a part of the process of getting ready for the school day.  Then, over Christmas, I left my makeup bag at my aunt and uncle’s house by accident. They’ve been in Florida ever since.  The thing is that I don’t even own much makeup. It all happened to be in that one bag. I didn’t even replace any of it until recently.  Somehow, I survived over two months without any makeup at all.

clinique

Now, I am left confused.  Do I need to wear it everyday or not?  The answer is: I can wear it whenever I’d like.  I love the fact that I proved to myself that I could go months without wearing makeup.  It turns out that I am not necessarily addicted after all.

With makeup, that was biggest concern:  That somehow I would not feel like myself if I wasn’t wearing any.  I watched my mom feel that way my entire life, and I wanted something different.  I adore my mom, but that was one instance in which I did not want to emulate her.

For me, it goes to a larger issue though:  confidence. I have to admit that I do feel slightly more confident when I do wear makeup.  It also makes me think of the labels we give ourselves as girls. There are the tomboys and the girly-girls.  I grew up with characteristics of both. I considered myself both and neither depending on the time of day. I am equally comfortable in the woods and in the city.  I grew up loving dolls and Legos and wore both jeans and skirts religiously. More than anything, I love the fact that I share that with my mom.

Lipstick Saying

Best Laid Plans – Family

Life

I’ve put off writing about my personal life for many reasons, but the main one is the simple fact that I must come to terms with my reality versus what I’ve wanted my entire life.  It is not easy, and sooner or later, choices must be made.

I never expected to be single and childless nearing 40.  Anyone telling me that I should be happy to be so thoroughly unattached doesn’t know me at all.  It never should have been this hard.

As a child, after I learned about Turner Syndrome and infertility, any conversation about infertility included phrases like “don’t worry, the technology will catch up to you” – my well-meaning mother referring to IVF – or some vague mention of adoption.

I’ve long known that adoption was what I wanted for myself.  I couldn’t imagine putting myself through round after round of IVF only to have it not work.  Physically, I might have been OK, but emotionally, I don’t know how I could knowingly do that to myself time and time again.

In a sense, Mom was right.  IVF is more accessible and successful than ever.  It still doesn’t change the fact that failure is the most common outcome.  It doesn’t change the fact that I would need donor eggs.  Most important of all, it doesn’t change the fact that there are so many children who need love and a home – now.

Then why am I so hesitant when it comes to adoption?  That is a trickier question.  I suppose it has a lot to do with the fact that I will be doing this alone.  Somehow, I never thought I’d end up being single.  Even though I barely dated in high school, I thought I’d meet the right man in college.  In fact, I counted on it.

Oh, I could write a book on how I met all the wrong boys at Michigan State and across the world – or I should say, a handful of well-intentioned boys who never saw me as anything but a little sister.  One actually said that to my face.  I intentionally use the term boys here; I have yet to date a man.

Why am I always good enough for friendship and that’s it?  During my time at MSU, I lost a lot of weight, and the resulting male attention still leaves me unspeakably angry.  I was still the same smart, well-intentioned girl who can be fun and funny once you get to know her.  Only my weight changed.  One day I wasn’t worth knowing; the next, I didn’t know what to do.  While I wasn’t exactly drowning in male attention, I noticed.  It became all too clear.

Why should I have to change some arbitrary characteristic to be happy?  That is an awful message to send to anyone – but as a society, we do it all day, every day.

I suppose I should worry about myself and pursue parenthood on my own.  That is exactly what I intend to do.  Yet, there is such a huge piece of my life missing.  I never wanted it to be this way.  Hopefully, I’ll be pleasantly surprised and finally meet the right man.  Unfortunately, that takes an incredible leap of faith living in Arenac County.

What it comes down to is that I am tired.  I am tired of being rejected before someone gets to truly know me.  I am tired of being lied to repeatedly.  I am tired of being alone.  I am tired of watching everyone else find their person, knowing that it probably won’t happen for me.

Above all, I am tired of feeling not enough.  I am enough.  It is time I started acting like it.

The biggest obstacle I face, aside from all that comes with foster care and/or adoption (by the way, anyone who thinks it is easy knows nothing about either), is trust.  Being on the receiving end of lying and cheating will do that to a person, particularly when that is your only experience in a relationship.

How can I bring myself to ever trust again?  Yet, I must.  I refuse to let one bad relationship, no matter how long or awful, have the last word on love.

By the way, if you are concerned about me after reading this, don’t be.  I will be fine no matter what happens.  I am just incredibly frustrated and see no easy fix.  People may question why I share something so intensely personal.  It is for this simple reason:  I do not want anyone in a similar situation to feel alone.  He or she is not alone.

boots

Best Laid Plans – Career

Pablo 1

I’ve spent a lot of time lately reevaluating where I am and what I want out of life.  What I want hasn’t changed much, but I have come to some conclusions.  I fully realize how close I am to having and creating the life I want.  I am so incredibly close.

Career –

So much revolves around my career.  I still intend to be a teacher, business owner, and writer – just not all at once.

My focus at the moment is teaching.  I am looking for a full-time teaching position for next year.  I don’t care much if it is Spanish, social studies, or business.  I already know how I’d set up my classroom and how I would organize, generally, my classes.  That is half the battle, right?

I also plan to look into teaching online.  While I don’t want to teach online my entire career, it might be a good way to get started.  There are so many possibilities at the moment.  I will land somewhere.

As for the canoe  livery, I am hoping Dad finally retires – or at least loosens up a bit.  I love the canoe livery – and it will always be a part of who I am.  I like where we are going.  I don’t know how much more we can change and grow until Dad retires.

I don’t want to lose sight of our primary business – rentals – and yet, I want to add to the experience.  Ultimately, we are in a pretty good place.  I am grateful that my brother Garrett (i.e. my future business partner) and I have similar ideas as to how we plan to expand the business.

Joan 1.jpg

Then we come to writing.  My writing goals are long-term and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  The other day I had a phone conversation with a family friend I’ve known most, if not all, my life.  It involved the donation of a river trip.  She then told me how much she enjoys reading my blog.  Next, she asked if I planned to write for publication.

The question itself caught me slightly off-guard.  Yes, I do intend to pursue publication at some point, but not in the immediate future.  It isn’t that I am completely putting my writing on hold – in fact, I’ve been writing every day, just not for public consumption – I am not making a career out of it at this point.

I need time and space to hone my skills and let my vision evolve.  Over the years, it already has.  There are many smaller projects to work on in the meantime.  I have no shortage of inspiration – and that is a wonderful thing.  I love the fact that I can use Google Drive for my planning and have access wherever I go.

This post, borne out of the idea that it might be helpful to explore what I’d like my life to look like over the next few years, is a good example of how my brain works when I write.  One idea expands into something much larger.  Instead of one simple blog post, I now have a series of posts on my hands.

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The Lost Generation

Lost.jpg

No, I am not talking about the generation that came of age during World War I, although we share many characteristics with that generation.  I am talking about my own generation, those of use who came of age in the aftermath of September 11th, 2001.  Specifically, I am talking about the Xennial microgeneration born roughly between 1977 and 1983 (1980 here).  In my opinion, we are indeed a lost generation.

There are efforts to do away with this microgeneration altogether.  It is needed.  I don’t fully identify with Gen Xers or Millennials.  I have characteristics of both and want to be associated with neither.  Many people in my age bracket agree.

Zennial

So much of it has to do with technology and economics.  Most Gen Xers didn’t experience much if anything that the internet and cell phones had to offer until adulthood.  They largely had an analog childhood.  Millennials don’t remember life without either.  Xennials, on the other hand, grew up right along with the changes.  Millennials, by and large, had a digital experience growing up.

Economically, Gen Xers didn’t have it easy coming on the heels of Baby Boomers.  Eventually most were able to take their place at the table, even if they rebelled at first.  Millennials were still young enough during the tech boom and bust cycle, as well as the recession that followed September 11th, that they were able to use those experiences, often felt by parents, to make different economic and career choices.  We Xennials were caught in the crossfire just as we were preparing for and beginning our careers.  Just as we were trying to recover and establish ourselves, the Great Recession of 2008 hit.  Many of us have never fully recovered.  My story is a great example of this.  Unfortunately, I have always known that I am far from alone.

Nothing prepared Xennials for any of it.  We grew up in a time of great economic expansion during the 1980s and 1990s.  Of course we did!  Baby Boomers were just coming into their careers and purchasing power.  They were raising young families:  the kids that would eventually make up Gen X, Xennials, and even some older Millennials.  In the end, it would not last – and our parents, mainly Baby Boomers, often didn’t have the experience to help us.

Baby Boomers are an odd group.  I say that with love and affection because my parents, aunts, uncles, and countless friends are all Boomers.  That doesn’t mean that they aren’t a quirky bunch, especially when it comes to money.  For example, even though most Boomers found some measure of economic and career success, they are thrifty almost to a fault.  They think nothing of spending thousands of dollars on vacations, renovations, and more, but quibble over the price of off-brand ketchup.

When it comes down to it, they can’t help it.  They were by and large raised by the Greatest Generation, which experienced most if not all the Great Depression and then the sacrifices of World War II.  It may seem ridiculous to us Xennials, but those penny-pinching habits of our grandparents became a part of our parents’ DNA, no matter the economic circumstances they experienced themselves.

I often think about how my own parents started their adult lives, and I can’t help but think of how different the times were.  I wonder if my generation could replicate it.  That’s largely the problem.  We haven’t been afforded the opportunity to truly take our place at the economic and career tables.  Our careers and economic lives remain on hold, although that is slowly changing.

Instead, retirement for our parents keeps getting pushed back.  We faced absurd college tuition costs while being told that a traditional four-year degree (at least) is the only way forward when it isn’t the answer for everyone.  The housing and stock markets crashed just as many of us were about to get our careers going and buy our first homes.  Instead, we put off marriage and starting families of our own.  In some cases, our lives are still on hold.

Heinlein Quote.jpg

Younger Millennials and the generation after all had the opportunity to adjust to new circumstances and realities.  We Xennials did not.  We seemed to be perpetually at the wrong place at the absolute worst time.  That is why we continue to struggle.  The rules appeared to change just as we adjusted to the last set.  I hope we aren’t completely overshadowed by our parents and Millennials, much in the same way the Silent Generation was largely eclipsed by the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers.

While I still consider us a “lost” generation, I don’t think we need to wander forever.  But oh, how I wish we still had the guidance and wisdom of the Greatest Generation!  There were so many lessons yet to be learned.

Lost

Why I Write

hand write open notebook mockup

Why do I write?  There are many reasons, but the best one I can think of is for my own peace of mind.  Over the last month or so, I have finally started writing daily – just for myself.  It grounds me in a way I can’t fully explain.

In addition to journaling daily, I also started using 750 words again.  There are rumors that Margaret Atwood mentioned 750 words in her masterclass on creative writing.  Personally, I love it.  I joined 750 words approximately two years ago, and I am finally starting to use it daily.  I use it to spill everything out onto the page, nothing more.  I let my mind wander and go from topic to topic.

Getting the garbage out of the way helps.  It doesn’t matter if I write in my traditional journal before or after I write my 750 words entry for the day.  I am much more focused.  When I sit down to write a blog post, I am not nearly as distracted by random thoughts.

Journaling, I only write approximately a page a day.  It isn’t 750 words, but I usually have something to say that is focused on my inner life or events going on that grab my attention.  I finally found a type and size of journal that works for me.

There is a difference writing on a laptop versus writing pen on paper.  I do both daily, no matter what type of writing.  For example, I may write a blog post during lunch or conference hour.  I then type, edit, and then post it when I get home.  Allowing myself some flexibility really helped.  I don’t beat myself up if I don’t write in 750 words or my journal every day.  I am beginning to feel “off” if don’t write at least something each day.

Margaret Atwood

It comes down to finding what worked for me.  I am in the middle of reading Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.  I love it – and I don’t want to rush it.  So far, I tend to agree with her.  There is a need to process whatever is on one’s mind before writing something for public consumption.  It doesn’t have to be done that way, but it tends to make the entire process easier.  Writing Down the Bones is a collection of essays on writing, and my favorite so far discusses the tools of the trade.  She talks about how we get all too caught up in fancy journals (so guilty, just ask my ex!) and being afraid of writing garbage in something so beautiful.  She makes the case for using cheap one-subject notebooks and just filling them.

This gave me the idea of decorating a binder and filling it with loose-leaf notebook paper.  It works like a charm!  If I completely screw up, I just start over.  I have something with a good aesthetic, but I am not worried about permanently wrecking a notebook.  For me, it is the best of all worlds, and this simple change made me much more productive.  Natalie stresses this principal throughout Writing Down the Bones:  Find what works for you.  I couldn’t agree more.  With my notebook, journal, laptop, Chromebook, and Android phone, I am set.  That isn’t to mention Google Docs, Google Drive, and 750 words.  I never have an excuse not to write or read.  More on Writing Down the Bones to come.

Girl at station

“The Great Alone” by Kristin Hannah

Robert Service
Sometimes a novel ends up giving me the worst case of wanderlust. That is precisely what happened with The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah. I thoroughly enjoyed the novel. The Alaskan wilderness itself comes across loud and clear as a distinctive character. I particularly enjoyed descriptions of how Alaska changed from the 1970s to the 1980s. These descriptions were normally accomplished through Leni’s observations. It is this Alaska in all of its forms that I plan to visit one day.

It just so happens that I read the novel in the midst of a severe winter weather crisis that affected most of Michigan. Something about being housebound for a few days added to my enjoyment of The Great Alone. I kept telling myself “at least it isn’t as bad as winter in Alaska. At least I have power and indoor plumbing.” It made me feel better about my circumstances and helped me to empathize with the characters to some extent.
The characters throughout are wonderful. I particularly enjoyed Leni’s view of the world, her love of Matthew, and the protectiveness she exhibits towards her mother Cora. Ernst, Leni’s father, is, of course, a complex character designed to make us uncomfortable and question what we know about family dynamics. He largely drives the plot, and he is the reason why the Allbright moved to the Alaskan wilderness from Seattle in the first place.

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Secondary characters that I particularly enjoyed were Large Marge, Mr. Walker, Geneva Walker, and Matthew. Even though Geneva Walker does not play a large role in the novel, her presence is felt until the end. Matthew’s tenacity, dedication, and love for the women in his life is exemplary. Mr. Walker seems to try to hold it all together under the worst circumstances. He even expands his business in the process. I admire his entrepreneurial spirit.

Then there is Large Marge. She makes it her business to know all that goes on in Kaneq. What may seem to be simple nosiness elsewhere may just save a life in wild Alaska. Her steady presence tends to help make everything right, even in the face of the worst situations. She knows how to handle just about anything. In many ways, I want to be like Large Marge when I grow up.

I largely focused on the characterization in this novel simply because I don’t want to give away much. The novel is definitely action driven. I will leave it at that. If you are looking for a solid adventure novel, this is it. In my opinion, it has the right balance of description and action. In the end, I truly cared about the characters – or at least most of them. I would recommend The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah.

Warning: The discussion questions include spoilers!

As a side note, I read this for the Standish-Sterling Book Club. This is very much the type of book I would hope I’d discover on my own eventually. You can find discussion questions for The Great Alone here.

Great Alone