I’m going on a vision quest to reconnect to my North Star. It’s been a week. It’s been a year. It’s been five years since I left Idaho, and I can finally read posts from Elmira Pond Spotter. Some of you might not even know about Elmira Pond Spotter, but that was my online journal where I explored the writer’s life around an old and deep tamarack bog in North Idaho. On March 9, 2016, I was excited to welcome the return of the migratory fowl, eagles, osprey, and kingfishers who lived seasonally on or around the pond. Abruptly, it was to be my final post.
At the time, I was writing weekly columns for a stunning new Idaho-centric magazine, editing a publication I had developed for a client, and had landed a lucrative contract to write a feature for Sandpoint Magazine. Ten days later, I was in Missoula Montana to host one of the first satellite BinderCon writing workshops, working with NYT Best-selling Author, Laura Munson, and rising writing powerhouse, Stephanie Land. I was revising my novel after feedback from agents and my editor to set the story by my pond.
I had no idea at the time the drastic changes that were coming.
In 2012, I left my marketing management career to pursue my writing dreams and believed that was the biggest transition I’d face in my adult life. I had consulted and led countless brand communications workshops, enough to feel confident that I could start my own marketing communications company. Two years into the work, I realized I didn’t need a company. I was content to work as a contractor. But I had this great company name, a logo my longtime graphic designer developed for me, and a burning desire to connect less with marketing peers and more with creative writers.
CarrotRanch.com was born as a website in May of 2012. However, it wasn’t until March 2014 that I initiated the shift to a literary focus with the first-ever Flash Fiction Challenge. Norah Colvin, Ruchira Khanna, Susan Zutautas, and Paula Moyer showed up. Norah invited her British writing friends, Geoff Le Pard and Anne Goodwin. Before I realized what was happening, a writing community formed. By 2016, I had a writing partner in the UK (Sherri Matthews), an anthology in the works with Sarah Brentyn and our community, and a growing appreciation for all that the art of 99-words could be as writing practice and tool.
Life has its ups and downs. None of us ever escapes circumstances, disappointments, or even death. We don’t like to talk about mortality or grief and yet grief often drives us to write — to process the pain, memorialize the loss, or offer something beautiful that grew from the mud. In 2015, my best friend, Kate, died. A month before her death, I contemplated traveling alone, without her on trips. I took a birthday cruise on Lake Pend Oreille. By March of 2016, I was carrying that grief with me and pushing deeper into my writing. Todd had been displaying worrisome behavior for over two years and was clearly not holding down a job, which was unlike him. With my friend and husband heavy on my mind, it tempered the success I was having. Such is life.
Soon after I returned home from Missoula in March of 2016, my world began to topple. First, I received a response from an investigation into the new magazine I was writing for. The original editor, someone experienced and highly regarded, had left for personal reasons. I began to suspect the publisher was not being honest. It was a gut feeling. I had reached out to my book editor for a way to contact the former magazine editor and once I contacted her, our suspicions deepened. She had not left for personal reasons. She had a colleague in state government and they were looking into the publisher. It was enough to distract me from pond spotting migratory fowl.
The day I learned the publisher was a con artist with warrants in numerous other states and aliases, was devastating. In all my years freelancing, I had practiced good judgment before taking gigs. He fooled an entire publications team and big sponsors. In the midst of the investigation and group lawsuit to recoup unpaid contracted wages, I had missed an email from our property managers. Looking back, that email was the inciting incident to the next phase of my life I never saw coming.
I never wrote about Elmira Pond again.
No need to revisit the past five, almost six, years. Homelessness, a husband’s cognitive demise, wandering the west. The Keweenaw was an unexpected grace. I found other Warrior Sisters facing problems like mine because of wounded veterans. Todd finally got enrolled in VA benefits and after 33 years, they acknowledged his injury and replaced his knee. They also acknowledged his severe PTSD. We even bought a house here. But he hates it here. Hates the snow. Hates the way people ride snowmobiles down the street. Hates me for “dragging” him here. Hates the way refs officiate every Vikings game. Hate builds a toxic environment.
When I look back at Elmira Pondspotter, I realize hate was a latecomer to our marriage. It’s not the result of injustice, chronic pain, and shitty circumstances, though. It’s part of the demise. It’s a brain struggling against a disease, a person suffering the loss of self and feeling unheard, disconnected, and dismissed. We once had a loving marriage, both of us supporting the other through earlier hardships. We both loved Elmira Pond. I’m struggling to manage this life with a spouse so changed.
And yet, just like back in March of 2014, I still dream. Carrot Ranch has not only stood as my writing community but has served as my anchor when I’ve needed a lifeline. I feel humbled by the awareness that I will not likely ever be as ambitious as I was in 2016. It is harder for me to do less. I get more emotional over new challenges. I was crying last year because I didn’t think I could finish my thesis. I did. I didn’t think I’d finish my MFA. I did. What sucks though, is that I don’t feel accomplished. Some light has snuffed and I want to rekindle it. I want to feel like I did when I wrote bird reports on a little pond in North Idaho. I want to find my joy.
I’ve worked with the visioning process long enough to recognize that I’m feeling disconnected from my North Star. I have so much good to be grateful for and so much to do. But I need to figure out how to integrate all the pieces into a whole life. I need time to reflect and just be without deadlines, student papers, client projects, and weekly prompts. That last one is the hardest to admit. But I couldn’t even get to my own ranch this week and I have final papers to grade, projects to complete, and a thesis to resurrect for submissions. All these responsibilities connect to the writing life I want to lead, but I have to figure out how to be more efficient.
I decided to take a semester break at Carrot Ranch. That way, I can complete the overwhelming tasks I have outstanding and then have time to dream and organize and refresh. Also, as of Friday, I was finally accepted into a VA caregiver program. I can sit for days and just cry with relief that I can get the support I’ve been asking for with skills training, workshops with other caregivers, and, most importantly, my own VA file. If that sounds odd, let me explain. Without a file, no one gives a eff about me at the VA. I’m just a complaining spouse. With a file, I get to voice my concerns and receive both respite care and mental health support. This is huge. On Thursday night we had a traumatic accident in the house. Everyone is okay, but I’m in need of that new support I have.
The Saddle Up Saloon will host an Author’s Chair on December 13, and we will have one more column for 2021 on December 14, and The Littles Christmas Goat will post December 16, including stories some of my ENG I students wrote.
Carrot Ranch will return with 2022 programming, including weekly 99-word story challenges on January 20. I believe in the work of our community to make literary art accessible 99 words at a time. I believe in safe space for writers to explore their craft, voice, and genre. I’ve had much affirmation from my students about the writing process, even some who said they had regained a love of writing in my classes or discovered the power of writing after thinking they couldn’t write. That fills me! Compiling a community’s collection of 99-word stories satisfies me! Reading, writing and researching to produce my create works drives me! Teaching grows me! I have wonderful stardust to collect to redirect the path to my North Star.
Will you use this time to dream and envision, strategize and consolidate? What do you want to do in 2022? What nurtures you?
My love to all of you in this community. No one has an easy path, but we step out together nonetheless. Keep writing!