Take moving to California, for instance. In September of 2010, we left my quaint little lakeside hometown and our home of 12 years in Michigan, still full of all our stuff, and spent two weeks camping our way across country to the destination of temporary housing and a new job for my husband, in San Diego, California. We were towing a 30 foot travel trailer; me, husband, then seven-year-old son, dog, and a lizard experiencing Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride back in the trailer, his tank precariously and I’m sure mortifyingly bungeed to the dinette. Every time we stopped to make camp, the Boy and I had to rearrange his tank and refill the water that had sloshed everywhere. He was downright twitchy and clearly not a happy desert-dwelling leopard gecko.
I knew the feeling.
There wasn’t a whole lot of conversation happening in our vehicle as the more than 2000 miles rolled beneath our rig. I spent many hours on Facebook; trying desperately to maintain the connection to friends, family back home and the nearly grown daughters we were leaving behind. Our middle daughter was already living and going to school in Florida and everyone and everything I loved was growing only farther and farther away, as we moved closer and closer to the unknown bustling vastness of San Diego and the west coast. The thought of building a life so far removed from the one I’d known, grew only more daunting.
There’s a theory in psychology called tabula rasa, or blank slate. Meaning that every child is born with a clean slate and that they grow and become the people they will become because of their experiences, the environment in which they grow, how they are nurtured and, perhaps most importantly, because of the people they meet along the way. I think I was a bit of a blank slate for much of my life--floundering, questioning where my place might be in the Universe, and what my purpose could possibly be. I didn’t so much make choices and decisions for myself, as I allowed them to be made by others, or procrastinated to the point where they were made for me. In many cases, I failed to actively participate in choosing my path, and often blamed others when I didn’t like the outcome; my poor husband being the frequent place for my blame to land.
Even as I blamed others, I always felt a niggling, deep down, that I was the key; that I had the power to give my family the freedom to build our lives, thrive and contribute something truly special to wherever we chose to live, but I had no idea how to get there.
At first, San Diego was no different. After an initial period of mourning (OK, more like wallowing), and making exactly one truly wonderful friend, to whom I will be eternally grateful for recognizing how pathetic I was and reaching out to me anyway in the park, I ultimately decided that for however long we might be in California, I was going to grow and take advantage of opportunities that weren't as readily available in my small hometown. I decided.
I began to follow local San Diego authors, novelist, Margaret Dilloway, and self-help guru, Debbie Ford, and I read a debut memoir by an author from my hometown, Patricia Gibson. I liked her first book so much, How to be an American Housewife, that I e-mailed Margaret Dilloway. She kindly replied and suggested I seek out classes at UCSD Extension, join a writers group, and attend a writers’ conference. I took my first Creative Writing class in the fall of 2011, and magic began to happen. I was blessed to study under Don and Nancy Kaye Matson, and under their patient tutelage and encouragement, I have experienced a dramatic life change and have positively bloomed. Nancy Kaye has a website, Define Your Destiny, and I swear that I did just that, purely by osmosis and her proximity in class.
I remember when we first arrived, as we drove over the last big mountain in Arizona into California, I saw a rainbow. I wondered if our pot of gold could possibly be waiting at the end of it. I even posted a picture of it to Facebook, and asked that very question. Well, financially? Not yet. But personally? I’d have to say that California has taught me much about myself, and if my own pot of gold is the light inside and the confidence that I now recognize and seek to share with the world? Then yes, California has contained that pot of gold I’d hoped for.
I turned 46 years old in July. But it wasn’t until I spent my 45th year in California that I finally figured out that I want to be a writer when I grow up. Not even that I want to be, but more that I always was, and I’d suppressed it all these years. I’d always used the excuse that because I lack a college degree, no one would care what I thought or what I had to say; that my words couldn’t possibly be profound enough. Being willing to stick my neck out and try it, and realizing otherwise, I suppose, means that over these many months in California, I did actually grow up.
I did grow up and amid all the crowds and all the rush and the competition to spend more, lookmore'beautiful'earnmorehavemoredriveabettercar, I discovered something pretty amazing.
I discovered that I have the power to bring people together and to be a light, even in this huge place.
I came to this vast land that is San Diego, and I didn't disappear. I didn't crumble, though I was cracked for awhile. When I decided finally to stop wallowing and take control of my San Diego experience, I discovered I was no longer invisible, and in fact I bloomed. I became someone I could be proud of, besides just my kids' mom, which of course isn't 'just' at all. But because society seems to tell us so at every opportunity, as stay at home moms with the dreaded holes in our resumes, it’s easy to forget that what we share, manage and grow in our families, translates into an ability to share, manage and grow other things as well. Women aren't merely capable of building homes, communities, governments; we build people--little human beings, for goodness sakes. That isn’t ‘just’—we’re not ‘just’ moms.
Remember the movie, City Slickers, with Billy Chrystal and Jack Palance? Billy Chrystal plays Mitch, an angst-ridden suburban husband, and Palance won an academy award for his portrayal of a trail-hardened, Curly Washburn. Curly turns out to be more than a simple cowboy, but a wise mystic who advises Mitch to focus on the “One Thing,” that is most important in his life to solve all his problems. I didn’t really get it, and I always wondered what that “One Thing” was.
I’ve come to learn that the “One Thing,” for me, is in that sharing. The secret is in supporting one another and in our innate humanity toward one another; in caring enough to discover the beauty and special something that lives in every one of us. It’s in being willing to open up and share the pieces of ourselves that are special, even if we or our families and friends are the only ones who think so, or even if no one does…yet.
With only a genuine smile and a look in the eye, I have found the power to disarm a cranky clerk and maybe change their bad day for the better. And I now know that within each of us exists the power to make all our wishes come true; we need only to decide it, believe it, reach for it, and trust that the Universe will put us right where we need to be in order grow.
As much as I thank California and the wonderful people I’ve met here for helping make me the person I am today, and the person I will continue to grow to become, however, it is time for us to return home to Michigan and the responsibilities we left behind. My husband will go back to consulting, which is what landed him the job opportunity in the first place, and I will continue to write. And we will pool the many resources we both possess and make life work there.
We're going back, but we're not going backwards. As the lizard survives to make another terrifying trip across the country, so do I, and the person I'm bringing home with me is better than the one who left. She believes in herself. She believes she has something to offer her community; that she can make a positive impact on herself, her daughters, her nieces; her Posse on both West Coasts and all points in between and beyond, and even to her husband, father, brothers & son. She is more confident and more willing to share the lessons of life that no college could have taught her, and she is more open to the lessons others have to teach. She is an author.
I am an AUTHOR! A dream that will be realized when the book in which I will have an essay published, 51%: Women and the Future of Politics, is released in the fall, before the elections. I never would have stretched, never would have reached for such a lofty goal, had I not been so desperately lonely and sick of myself that I had no other choice than to begin writing the thoughts and the stories that had wrestled for years in my mind. I even sleep more peacefully now, and I am excited to bring the best that I have to offer back to my hometown and to have a positive impact there.
Even so, after almost two years, it turns out that saying good-bye to new friends is just as painful as saying good-bye to old ones. I dearly wish I wasn't breaking a heart in order to heal my own; to return to my hometown, our families, old friends, to help raise our nephew and to be closer to our daughters and the support system we left behind, and to my beloved lake. I am leaving California, but I thank her for all she has taught me, and for the wonderful friends here who have found a place in my own broken heart forever.
Perhaps in order to find our true selves we need to step away for a time from that which defined who we were. We must stretch our wings and venture off in order to find who we hope to become and to find the true potential we all possess and the selves we can be proud to share with the world. I’m not sure what it is that makes it so hard for some of us to love ourselves and recognize our worth as young women, but I hope that I can share the self-esteem and the light I’ve found, and teach other women and young girls to be open to the Universe, to see it in themselves, and to recognize their own power and their own true potential. To realize that change isn’t just permanent, it’s positive. If only we can recognize it and accept it for what it is and for what it might be, and for what it might possibly define in us…our destiny.