My Own Life Lessons

I’ve been reading Life Lessons in the Band Room, a book my high school band director recently published, just after he retired. So far I’ve been loving it and highly recommend it. You can check it out here.

The book has brought back so many memories from my time in marching band, things I had completely forgotten about and probably would never have remembered, otherwise. This morning I read from chapter 6, The Power of Choices, and from within the chapter, Choosing Hard Things. For those who have followed my blog from the beginning, you could probably guess that this section of the chapter spoke to me. I’ve written before about doing hard things. My own personal mantra or saying for my life, ever since I gave birth to my first child, has been, “You can do hard things.” In reading this chapter, I realized that marching band was probably one of the first lessons I really got in realizing that I could, indeed, do hard things.

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In the book, Steven Hendricks describes how hard marching band is. “. . . can you play that well while marching around a football field? Can you play while concentrating on moving forward, backward, and sideways? Can you play and successfully navigate through a drill that requires you to memorize eighty-plus coordinates? Can you learn to separate your lower body from your upper body so you are an athlete and a musician at the same time? Finally, can you do all of this and trust every other kid on the field to do his or her job so you don’t have to worry about running into someone or falling over a prop that was misplaced? Marching band is hard!”

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It really is hard! I remember being so excited to start marching band. I had neighbors and friends of my brother’s who had done it and all loved it. Summer band was okay. Most of the time we marched in a straight line, and I could handle that. But learning the field show for fall competition season just about killed me! And I was a pretty decent flute player! I had sat first or second chair throughout most of junior high band, but I struggled so much with being able to play and march at the same time. I remember being embarrassed at how much help I needed from my section leader at band camp. As the season wore on I got better. I could play a little bit while marching. But I wasn’t going to give up. I loved band, and I loved playing my flute. By the time our very last competition came that year I was able to play the entire field show while marching the show at the same time. I was so happy! And by the time my junior year of marching band came, I had no problems. It’s strange to look back on it now and wonder why I struggled so much. I even went on to become the flute/piccolo section leader my senior year. Even though it was easier by then, I can still say with complete honesty that marching band is hard! But it was so worth it. I still look back on it, nearly twenty years later, and can say it was one of the best experiences of my life.

In the same chapter, Steve talks about how people often choose easy things over hard things. This was definitely me for much of my life. I always did really well in school, got good grades, graduated with high honors, got scholarships to college. A huge part of that was because I worked my butt off, but some of it was also because I chose the easy way within my classes. I chose to read books or write papers on subjects I knew would be easy for me. Then, during my third year of college, for some reason I decided to challenge myself.

Instead of a final test in my Native American Lit. class we had a final paper to write. I automatically thought of the easiest thing I could write. However, I figured I should go out with a bang. I had known since I was in ninth grade that I wanted to major in English. There I was, at college, starting my upper division courses in English, and I realized it wasn’t right for me anymore. So I decided to change schools and change my major. This was going to be the last Lit. paper I ever wrote. So I chose to go with a tougher topic, using a literary theory I didn’t feel I understood super well, but that I knew my professor appreciated. Writing that paper was harder than any other one I had ever written. It took so much time, and I stressed about it so much. When I finally finished and turned it in I decided I would be happy with a C on it. I couldn’t believe it when I picked it up during finals week and saw a 90 on it. I got an A-! It was the hardest paper I had ever written, but it was the best paper I had ever written as well. And my professor had seen that. I still am just as happy today as I was then that I chose the hard over the easy. It yet again proved to me that I could do hard things.

Probably my favorite quote from Steve in this chapter is when he talks about all the kids who make the choice to do marching band despite how hard it is. He asks why we choose to do hard things. “We do them because the reward for doing hard things is so much greater than the reward for doing easy things. We do it because it prepares us for the hard things that will inevitably arise in the future.” I know this is true. I know I wouldn’t have felt the sort of accomplishment I did on my paper had I written something easy. There are so many things I wouldn’t have learned, experiences I wouldn’t have been able to cherish, had I given up and not continued doing marching band, something that was hard. And I know these experiences do help us. We can allow ourselves to grow and add upon what we’ve already been through.

Giving natural childbirth to my daughter a little over eleven years ago was the hardest thing I had ever done up to that point in my life. Giving natural childbirth to my son a little less than four-and-a-half years later was even harder. He was a lot bigger! Even though it was painful and so, so, so incredibly hard, it was so, so, so worth it! Those were the two best days of my life! Not just because I had brought these beautiful beings into the world, but because I had chosen to do something hard, and I still use those experiences to help me do hard things to this day. Whether I knew it at the time or not, I now believe choosing to do marching band, choosing to stretch and challenge myself with that lit. paper, helped me believe that I could do other hard things, like giving natural childbirth, which helps me do hard things now.

As I’ve said before, doing hard things, such as dealing with mental illness, might not be pretty. Trust me, giving birth, whether natural or not, is never pretty! With my son, I screamed, and I cried, like I scream, and I cry through some of the difficulties life throws at me now. That’s okay. You don’t have to do those hard things in a pretty or perfect way or in any certain timeframe. You just have to do them. And you can. You can do hard things.

A note about the pictures: They are pictures of pictures. That tells you how old I am! My high school marching band days were before the era of digital cameras, and my scanner isn’t working. So pictures of pictures. The first one is a shot of us on the field at a competition my senior year of high school. The second one is of me leading a sectional before a competition when I was section leader. Such good memories!

Honesty vs Dishonesty

I’ve been plagued in my life by people who don’t keep their word, who say one thing, but mean something else. It’s one of the reasons why I’m such a skeptic, why I have a hard time trusting people, why I’m cynical. Why can’t people just be honest? Why is it so hard? Dishonesty always, ALWAYS hurts more than honesty.

Roses and Thorns

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Roses are my favorite flower. I know it sounds cliché, but beyond the fact that I find them very beautiful, the symbolism attached to them is meaningful to me.

I love symbolism. I suppose that is the literary nerd in me coming out! One of the things I love about my religion is all the symbolism. I don’t always understand all of it, but the imagery is amazing, and again, the symbolism means something to me.

Roses can symbolize various things. Love and romance are probably the first thing that come to mind. In ancient times it meant secrecy and confidentiality to the Romans. In the Middle Ages a rose hung from the ceiling of a meeting room meant everyone in the room was sworn to secrecy. For me, it’s about the flower and the thorns. I love roses because of their beauty and because of the thorns. It’s like life. Life is full of thorns, of hurts, obstacles, suffering. Yet life is so beautiful as well. There is beauty and love everywhere, if you can just allow yourself to see it. And maybe, just maybe, the thorns are part of the beauty. Maybe we need them to truly be grateful for what we do have. That’s why I love roses, thorns and all, so much.

Remember (Part 3): The Explanation

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I still vividly remember the night I wrote Remember, sitting on the floor in my bedroom, papers strewn around me, furiously scribbling on the page. It was one of those out-of-body experiences where I looked down at my hand and thought, “Wow, look at my hand writing.” It was as if I were looking at someone else. Remember wrote itself. I didn’t even think about it as my hand penciled in the words. It was kind of surreal.

When I finished and looked at it I had the most distinct thought that it was a story about me in the future. That didn’t make sense, though. If I knew it was going to be me in the future I could take steps to make sure it didn’t happen to me. Right? And yet, the thought remained. This was a story about me, a story that had written itself.

I suppose it came from a family vacation almost a year and a half earlier. On our way to Reno, Nevada we passed by this exit sign for Painted Rock. I didn’t know if it was a town or a ranch or just a trail, but the area along I-80 next to the Truckee River was beautiful and inspiring. We spent time at Lake Tahoe, the Redwoods and the Oregon Coast over the next week. It was a return to nature after a difficult year as a sophomore in high school. Less than six months before this trip I had been diagnosed with depression. My greatest solace in those dark days came from writing poetry, listening to music and being in nature. It felt so liberating and inspirational as my mind filled with stories. I swore I would one day go back and explore the area, as I wanted it to be the setting of some future novel. It was hard coming home, going back to normal life after this vacation.

Time went by, and sometimes I would think about this story and poem I wrote. I kept telling myself that I wouldn’t let the woman in the story become me. I would keep exploring, keep feeding my soul with nature, keep writing.

More time went by, I had a baby, and I was thrown into the pit of postpartum depression. I was lost. The real Tacy became lost. For years it felt like someone else was inhabiting my body. Everything changed, and I stopped writing. Life was so hard, and I forgot about Remember.

Then, one day a woman in my church randomly asked me if I liked to write. It took me a second to answer I was so caught off guard. I finally managed to tell her that I did like to write, that I didn’t do it much anymore, but wished I had the inspiration again. She told me about a writers group she was in and invited me to come to their next meeting. Curious, I went. I didn’t take anything with me to read, but I left that meeting, went home and started writing. Just going to a single meeting inspired me to start writing again.

Not long after, I was going through a notebook I had created of all my poetry and short stories from high school and when I was first at college. And I saw Remember. Truly, I had forgotten. And I suddenly saw how I had, indeed, become the woman in the story—not to an absolute T, but close enough. It hadn’t been ten years, less than that, and it wasn’t work, but mental illness that had stolen my memories, my dreams, the yearnings of my heart. Knowing that the story had come to pass, just like I had originally thought, hit me to my core. It was . . . unbelievable. And, yet, it had happened. But I was still stuck in this certain way of thinking and living. I started feeling more like myself three years after my daughter was born, but then my marriage was falling apart. We got help, things seemed like they were going to work out, then right as they started going downhill again I got pregnant again. The pregnancy was miserable, I got postpartum again, life was up and down until my marriage hit the point of no return and last year I got divorced and became a single mom.

Throughout the years I have continued to write—sporadically. I have had moments here and there to enjoy the beauty and inspiration of nature. This last year has definitely had some very low times, but I feel stronger than I ever have before. I have a plan—goals, even—and I see a path I can take that will give me the freedom to take the reigns of my life and get what I want out of it. I will no longer be the woman who gets lost or who forgets. I will be the woman who knows where she’s going, who always remembers.

On a side note: My six-year-old son is really into favorites. He loves asking what your favorite—whatever is! He asks me what my favorite color is, my favorite food, favorite number, favorite thing to do. And he often asks me what my favorite word is. “Perspective,” I always tell him. Perspective is my favorite word. “What’s your second favorite word?” he’ll ask. He does this with everything, often getting to my sixth or seventh favorite of whatever it is. I have always loved the word perspective because I believe life is all about perspective. But my second favorite word is remember. It is a powerful word, though it’s dependent on how you choose to respond to it—like everything in life. One of the things that keeps me going in life is the fact that I can remember the good things that have happened. I can remember and be grateful. Remembering can propel me forward through the slumps. That’s why I love it. Remember.

Remember (Part 2)

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It is so incredibly hard posting this story. First, because the editor in me writhes in pain and screams out changes that should be made as I look at it! It’s really hard letting people see it without doing MAJOR edits on it first. But this is how I wrote it when I was seventeen – almost twenty years ago, and I’m going to keep it this way for now.

It’s also hard because it is such a personal piece for me. It means opening up a part of me for anyone and everyone to see. I’m handing you my soul, my life, and I don’t know if anyone will even care or not. But I’m all about taking risks, making leaps and bounds, these days. So, here is Remember.

 

The click of her heels hitting the cement echoed through the deserted street. She quickened her already fast pace as if hoping to beat out the coldness that had more closely crept up in an unintentional race. A slight breeze suddenly arose, joining the race and adding a new challenge, which she attempted to thwart by pulling her coat closer around her and letting the time between when her heels hit the ground decrease.

For a quick second she let her eyes look up at the looming mountains in the near distance. The autumn colors were quickly taking over, and the scene made her breath catch for a moment and a moment alone. She thought the mountains looked beautiful, but apparently the coldness didn’t think so. She could feel the competition closing in on her, and just before she cast her eyes back down she caught sight of a golden maple leaf slowly and somehow pleasantly making its way to the hard frostbitten grass. She wondered how the leaf could have so much time to fall so slowly, gently and happily to the cold, hard and uncaring ground. The woman shrugged and continued down the still empty street.

“You’ve got to be crazy to walk in this cold weather,” so many people had told her.

“Maybe,” she always replied. “But it’s my only chance to be out in the open, to enjoy Mother Nature.”

She didn’t bother to look up as she crossed the last street before her block. There usually weren’t even any cars out in this sort of bitter coldness, and if so, she knew she would have heard the growl of their angry engines trying to defy the weather.

Three more houses, she thought, as she skipped over the gutter and onto the new sidewalk. Two more house. She passes one more as she once again quickened her steps and lengthened her stride. One more house . . . and . . . home! came the final triumphant thought as she shoved a key into the door knob, jiggled it around, turned the knob, shoved the door open and stumbled into the surprisingly warm house.

“How did it get this warm in here?” she asked the house, plopping down into the nearest chair and closing her eyes.

“Well, you didn’t expect me to wait in the cold just because you walked home in it, did you?” came a deep an unfamiliar voice.

Her eyes popped open to see an unfamiliar man standing a few feet away from her with a steaming cup in his hand.

“Wh—who are you, and what are you doing in my house?” she asked as she realized with great surprise that she wasn’t afraid.

The man pondered while sipping a quick drink of his unknown liquid. “I am—a sage of sorts, I suppose you could say,” he finally answered.

“A sage?” the woman asked with disbelief. “Am I dreaming?”

“Only if you choose to let it be,” the man responded quickly this time. “But it can also be as real as you choose it to be. You decide how real it is. The power of the mind is much greater than most people realize.”

“A sage,” she muttered, not sure what to believe. “All right, fine. You’re a sage, but what about my other question—what are you doing here?”

“The real questions should be what are you you doing here?”

“Me? This is my house.”

“But isn’t that your nature?” He pointed a finger to the window, a window that held a stunning autumn scene out of its glass frame.

“Well . . . yes, but what does that have to do with anything?” she questioned as she let the mass of confusion she was feeling play on her face.

“It has everything to do with everything,” the words slowly came out. “Or don’t you remember?” He finally let his hand fall back to his side, but his sparkling eyes continued to point to the glass window.

The woman left the question rhetorical as she thought it had been intended. She didn’t know whether she was dreaming or not, but no matter. For some reason she wanted to listen to this—sage. Straightening herself in the hard chair, she once again realized how warm it was and began taking off her coat and gloves. She had forgotten about them with the intrusion of this stranger.

The man must have heard her movement and turned to face her. He gave her a slight smile and said, “You’re crazy to walk in that coldness.”

“Maybe,” came her repetitious replay. “But it’s my only chance to be out in the open, to enjoy Mother Nature.”

“Enjoy Mother Nature? I wouldn’t exactly call a cracked sidewalk and a tar-lined road Mother Nature.”

Slowly she asked, “What do you mean?” although she was already beginning to understand him. But he put the picture—her own picture—before her anyway.

“You’re getting ready to leave work; your co-workers tell you how crazy you are as you slip your coat on. You give them the same response you just gave me, pulling your coat tighter around you and yanking up the collar to keep your neck warm. Then you say goodbye, head out the door and cast your eyes down to the cement to keep the cold from biting them out. Yes, I do admit, occasionally you glance up at the mountains whose melancholy mood you think describes you, or by chance notice a leaf taking its time sinking to the ground. But usually you don’t even look up for cars.” He paused for a moment, and only a moment, then went on. “When are you going to be like that leaf you saw today?”

“I don’t have time,” she began her futile protest.

“Time? Have you even forgotten what time is? Didn’t you once write a poem about that?”

This time he meant for an answer, but she couldn’t give him one.

“Don’t you remember ten years ago when you wanted more than anything to get out and explore—really explore? That was when you knew the true meaning of time, the true meaning of nature.”

“And don’t you remember ten years ago when the crystal ball that held that desire was shattered by reality and the fact that I was only a little insignificant teenager?” she shot back.glass-1286412_1920

“But you’re not a teenager anymore,” he rebuked. “And those pieces weren’t broken so small that you can’t glue them back together now. Remember those days you ached so desperately for those things in that crystal ball, and your fingers desperately itched for a million pencils and pieces of paper to write it all down. Don’t you remember? There’s a painted rock still out there waiting for you. Remember.”

A painted rock. The words did spur a remembrance. But it was Painted Rock—not a painted rock, but Painted Rock, Nevada. Yes, she remembered, and suddenly it all came rushing back. Suddenly, all the stories, the dreams, the fantasies came back, hitting her like an unexpected tidal wave in the middle of a calmed morning ocean.

“Remember,” he again prodded.

“I do,” came her faint reply as a glistening tear escaped her eye and trickled down her cheek—something that hadn’t happened for quite awhile.

“Then go to it,” he tempted. “Go find those memories your Irish friend sings about—the ones you left behind.”

“But how—”

“It doesn’t matter how, just as long as you do it.”

The idea was almost too appealing. How she had ached to find those memories, to return and reclaim her thoughts. How her fingers had itched for those pencils and papers, but she had never gotten the chance, and it had torn her and wrenched at her until the final piece from that crystal ball had fallen, and she had . . . forgotten.

“But if what you say is true, and I have forgotten—”

“Ah, but the thing with the word forgotten,” she was interrupted again, “is that it has an opposite, a word that can change it all around and make things turn out right; remember.”

Remember. She looked out the window just in time to see a golden maple leaf slowly falling at the same moment another tear slid down her cheek.

Remember. She took her un-gloved hand and brushed away the tear, then quickly shoved it into the glove. The other hand followed. Pulling her coat on and yanking the collar up around her neck, she stood up.

“Where are you going?” the sage asked as she walked past him to the front door.

“For a walk,” she stated in a matter-of-fact tone.

“You’re crazy,” he told her with a grin.

“I know. But I need to be out in the open, enjoy Mother Nature. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll even see if I can find some way of getting myself—” She paused, turning around to find that the stranger was no longer there. “To Painted Rock,” she finished with upturned lips. “Maybe I’ll see about finding those memories, and this time I won’t forget.”

Remember. She stepped outside and breathed in the crisp night air. She let her eyes glance upward into the sky whose daylight and confusion had finally retreated behind the gates of the western mountains. The moon, full and smiling, cast its pale glow down upon her, and she returned the smile at the memory. The click of her heels hitting the cement echoed through the deserted street, and she slowed her already leisure pace, just like a leaf slowly and pleasantly falling to the ground. Remember.

Will Anyone Ever See Me?

I was looking through old notebooks today and found this poem I wrote. I’m not sure when I wrote it, but it was probably awhile before I got married, which would be over fifteen years now. It’s sort of a rambling one, but the last two lines are still applicable, or at least how I’m feeling right now—heavy in my heart.

Sound of song
blown through cedar
I stand alone
as the snow
whips around my face,
isolation in the
blinding storm
I am the storm
the gray, the bitter cold wind
I see myself alone
blistering snow swirling
around me
I am the gray,
the cold, the wind,
the storm,
I am the song,
I am the song
of the trees,
of the wind blowing
through the trees
I am the song
(he plays) of Nature,
Nature is the song
that’s played in me
(Nature is my song)
blowing with the wind
no one sees me
Will anyone ever see me?

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Remember (Part 1)

A few times in the last several months I have felt prompted to share something I wrote as a senior in high school. I was never sure why, so I kept putting it off, but the other night, as I was driving, Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Simple Man came on, and I again was struck with the thought that I should share.

Letting others read what you write is always hard. It makes me feel extremely vulnerable. A beta reader, supposed to be giving feedback on a novel I had written, once said that she wanted to stab herself in the foot with a fork my book was so bad. Obviously this statement did nothing to help and everything to make me feel completely worthless and want to give up writing altogether. But I’m someone who picks myself back up, and here I am, still writing.

The truth is that I’m a much, much better writer now than I was in high school, so it’s difficult to allow myself to be this vulnerable in sharing this with you. A lot of what I wrote back then was very ambiguous. But I didn’t write Remember for anyone else. As a matter of fact, it sort of wrote itself—for me, in a way, but I’ll explain that later.

I’m going to break this into three parts. First is the poem, then the story and finally the backstory and an explanation, I guess you could say.

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So, here’s the poem:

Remember

A tear torn loose from your saddened eye
joins those the October sky is crying
from thinning gray clouds that are nestled deep
into crevices and secrets of the eastern mountains
that loom above you in the near distance.

Autumn has slowly crept up and soon the race is won
as golden leaves dot thinning green trees
that attempt to hold fast to their ground, but fail.
A bitter coldness has slowly crept up and soon the race is won
as a lasting droplet, full in glistening shape,
falls to your cheek, hitting a tear full of glistening memory . . .

 

You steal a penetrating stare from the full moon;
the darkness plays around your essence
as you hear the southern men1 sing
about being simple—someone you can love and understand.
And you wonder how you can ever have this
in a city full of lights and confusion.

But don’t you remember the glow of the moon
and the first time you danced under its pale luminescence?
An Irish voice2 sings of her hopes
of finding those memories she left behind—
and so should you plead.

There’s a black, serpentine road leading to your destination,
for there is still a painted rock3
waiting for you in the hot Nevada desert—
waiting for you to answer a call;
and you cry as the moon reminds you.

The stories flood back in a tidal way of memory,
hitting you with full force, without any suspicion,
but how can you accept them in all this light and confusion?
Oh, how you’ve desperately ached to accept them,
how desperately your fingers have itched
to paint them in a stream of penciled words,
but you are young and condemned accordingly—
and you see the last piece from your crystal ball shatter . . .

 

The autumn rain pauses for a moment and for a moment alone,
but one last droplet, full in glistening shape,
finds its way crawling down your cheek
with your tear . . . a tear full of glistening memory . . .

 

1Lynyrd Skynyrd

2Enya. I used to listen to her a lot in high school, and would sometimes sing her songs as I would swing on the swingset or dance in the backyard at night under the moon.

3This refers to Painted Rock, Nevada, a little town I drove by on my way to Reno, NV on a family vacation to the Redwoods. The landscape surrounding the area inspired my imagination and the seeds of a story were sown because of that. I always wanted to go back and explore the area more, but never have.