County Fair and Rodeo

I spent some time at the county fair and rodeo this weekend; getting to know the big event in my new small community.

I heard a woman ahead of me in line at the grocery store, talking to the clerk, “No, why bother to go to the fair and rodeo alone?” I had to laugh a little to myself, since that was exactly what I was doing. I’m sure it’s different when you’ve gone a bunch of times as a family, so she’d have seen it already. But that’s the casual attitude of people with families; if I didn’t bother to do things alone, I would be home alone most of the time. They don’t get my life. I’m sure I don’t get theirs either.

One thing I noticed that bothered me. The demographic population at the fair was probably 90% white (unscientific guesstimate). I imagine that might also fit with the demographics of the county, but the rodeo is a big draw from all over, one of the finals on the national circuit. If so few people of color were there from lack of opportunity, that seems sad. The one notable minority group I saw in some of the events was the Yakama Indians. I didn’t see as many just wandering around.

Walking through the exhibits, I was surprised at how big and intimidating cows and pigs are. Renewed appreciation and respect for those who farm and who deal with such large animals. That is out of my skill-set, and out of my comfort zone, by a wide margin.

I’m sure we all heard about cow-tipping in high school or college. You really think some city kid is going to walk up to one of these large animals and tip it over? What if it gets mad at you and steps on you? I do not think so.

I also left with a renewed appreciation for 4H and their programs. I wish I had had an opportunity to be involved with that as a youngster.


Before I left Spokane, my friend said to me that he hadn’t realized how much of his identity was tied up with his wife. When she passed away, and as he’s dealt with his grief, he’s had to examine his concept of who he is and what he wants. This is no easy task.

I don’t know that I said much in reply aside from offering sympathy. I won’t claim to be an expert at this one, nor have I had a major grief, like his, to deal with.

Every time I’ve had a relationship end (my, I’ve had a lot more of these than I ever wanted to), I have had to adjust my sense of self. It is easier because I’ve spent a lot of time alone — then I know who I am when no one else is around, and I am mostly returning to this after a relationship ends.

What’s been harder for me is letting go of the things I wanted to be, but will never become. The one that hurts the most is that I will never be a parent. If I can’t find the husband, it makes it hard to have the child. I was never willing to go at that solo. Eventually, I got too old. 45 is pretty definitive. There are days when 45 is pretty hard to take.

There’s all the self-questioning that I can’t quite stop. I should have gone further into online dating. Sooner. Many boyfriends I should have broken up with sooner. I should have dropped the hard shell of defensiveness from my childhood sooner, and softened up. I should have been wiser about people, as if I could have just had the realization that when other people treated me poorly that this is not a reflection on my worth sooner.

We can regret, but we cannot change the past. We can only go on from here.

When we depart from the standard story, or any story we’ve told ourselves for a long time, it takes adjustment. I’m still trying to figure out who I am, as a 45 year old woman, aging more quickly than I’d like, without a family, without a significant other, with an anxiety problem that is fortunately not troubling me much at the moment, and, right now, in a new place without any friends or close friends to lean on.

We need more stories for women. More for men too, but I know less about that. I have female friends who are childless and happy with that, but I can’t think of many stories where that is the outcome for women. It never was an option in any of my happily ever afters. So I have no view of what this should be, even looking at my friends and trying to see through their eyes.

The only thing I’ve figured out is that you have to concentrate on the love you can give, not on the love you wished to receive. That is the path to happiness, but it is not easy to travel it.

One thing I hope is that I find honor and integrity, grace, generosity and kindness, warmth and caring, and lots of love freely given to others in who I am, whoever that may be.

Solo Camping

I remember the last time I camped alone in this tent. At least, I think it was the last time.

I camped at Colorado Bend State Park in Texas, in May, with the intent of doing a bike ride the next day. Before heading out, I stopped in Austin and I had lunch with my Ph.D. advisor.

We talked about many things; my unhappiness with my job, desire to try teaching. He said something insensitive; he’s infamous for being oblivious.

I asked about a professor who was my terror when I was working on my doctorate; a man who was known for pawing his female students, with the stereotypical black leather sofa in his office, who always wanted to shut the door and sit next to you on the sofa. Hella no, I opened his door wide, and I pulled over the hard wooden chair, but when it was time for my defense, I was worried that one would make trouble for me.

My advisor said he had no idea what I could be talking about when I said I thought that professor was creepy. All he could recall was that Prof. Creepy wanted to hire some unsatisfactory job candidates. I remember a lull or change in our conversation, broken perhaps 10 minutes later, when my advisor told me about Professor Creepy’s nuclear divorce when he, indeed, ran off with one of his female students, leaving his wife and kids high and dry. Professor Creepy went on to become the department chair at another august institution; I can’t imagine they found his performance satisfactory. I also don’t think my advisor connected his story to my comments, though I am certain that my comment connected some subconscious dots, bringing forth the story.

What I remember most about the camping is the explosive tears, the incredible feeling of being lost, of being stuck, of not being good enough and having no way to ever be good enough. Deep, deep, deep shame for being who I was, with only my abilities.

With little sleep, I didn’t go to the bike ride the next day.

There was mountain biking in the park, but after getting up and getting together, I ended up on a hiking rather than a biking trail. My frustration peaked.

It was unseasonably hot, and the campground had no showers. I swam a bit to clean up, but in the end, I just packed up and went home early, running away from that moment, that vision of myself, that truth.

I didn’t interact with my advisor again for 7-9 more years.

It was quite a few years before I came back to that park, newly in love with my then-companion. I remember a magical hike we had as we got lost trying to find a geocache. I have the pictures, and that happy memory.

Today, I find myself again alone in this tent. I am not thinking about trying teaching any more; I will start a tenure track position in the fall. If I had known what success I would have as a teacher, I might have started on this path sooner.

In the ensuing years, I have had deep disappointments, and I have had moments of great joy. Part of me is very very sad for the painful moments, and also angry for this part of my past. Part of me is deeply deeply grateful to be here, now, in this moment.

Departures and Arrivals

Goodbye College Station. Was that really last month already? Hello Ellensburg as of August 2!

Moving is disrupting and time-consuming, but I am here and doing my best to settle in. A lot of days I feel like I am getting nibbled to death. Thousands of little things to do, and things do get done, but it doesn’t feel like progress. I suspect moving is like that for everyone.

The drive from Texas to WA was beautiful. The Texas Panhandle, with its grasses and hills and canyons, gigantic fluffy clouds in a blue, blue sky, and grain elevators. Northeast New Mexico with hills and sage. Colorado with hills, and, for this trip, rain, rain, rain. Gorgeous clouds when the sky wasn’t completely overcast. The route from Fort Collins to Laramie was one of the most beautiful I’ve seen. Wyoming got long and tiring, but then you get into Utah and that corner has mountains and clouds and beauty. Then Idaho, with a stark landscape, potato farms, clouds. Before you know it, you are almost there in Oregon, and recent wildfires turned the sunset clouds pink and grey and gold and gorgeous. Also hills and mountains and much beauty.

I didn’t really want the journey to end; I stopped at the rest stop and the scenic overlook between Yakima and Ellensburg, taking pictures of my new home, a lush green valley from a stark, dessert hillside. I suspect the green is all irrigated, but it was pretty from up above.

What can I say about driving a moving truck hauling my car behind on a trailer? You aren’t going fast, not nearly as fast as Google Maps says. I got stuck once at a gas station, but some kind person who knew how to back up a trailer helped me out. “You need to take those turns wider.” “Yes, I know.” I was grateful for This American Life, audiobooks and music to get me through the journey.

I’m not great with endings, and I was sad for the journey to be over (and not *just* because that meant unpacking), but also looking forward to my new life here. Where the unpacking is happening, one step at a time.