Friday, December 20, 2013

How 'Bout This Cowgirl!

I have developed this somewhat new fascination with cowgirls.  Well, maybe not cowgirls as much as what it means to be one.  This has been on my mind since the summer when I packed up my saddlebag, tightened up my spurs and rode out of town at daybreak, on a hot summer morning, that now seems long, long ago. The shiny black stallion, my dependable steed, a 2010 Corolla, OK maybe not exactly a cowgirl's preferred transportation, but let's not get tied down with details and semantics.  It’s fast, shiny, black, and it never bucks or kicks, which is more than I can say for myself…

It all started in Wall Drug, that notorious tourist Mecca in Wall, South Dakota.  The street outside of Wall Drug was lined with Harley's 4 deep and 100 or so long, as far as you could see lining every paved surface.  I drove out west at exactly the same time that many motorcycle enthusiasts were heading west as well. And while this may not exactly exude cowgirl, it was definitely unconventional and screamed independent spirit. 

Once inside Wall Drug, I came upon this small leather wallet adorned with a cowgirl motif, almost hidden and crowded out by the abundance of Sturgis memorabilia.  It made me smile.  It was adorned with a cowgirl pin up illustrated by Gil Elvgren. At the time I had no idea who Gil Elvgren was, but I had definitely seen some of his classic pin-up illustrations. It reminded me of a song that had been shared with me before my trip.  Last spring for my birthday, the big old fiftieth, a friend had put together an eclectically quirky, soundtrack of dance music and tunes that somehow embodied feminism, me and my 50th birthday celebration. This event just happened to coincide with an art opening dealing indirectly with divorce, domestic violence and…..well, desire.  What can I say? I like to make statements, and I’m perhaps a bit unconventional.  And after a long hard journey I was looking to regain some of my very own bad ass, my inner cowgirl.  The one I hadn’t realized was kicking and bucking all along deep within, the one that I had stuffed down and made still.

Gil Elvgren
When I first heard Imani Cuppola singing Legend of a Cowgirl, I was quickly transformed to my preteen self, listening to a 45 over and over again until I knew every lyric.  And here, the cowgirl fascination came alive.  At the time, I hadn’t yet committed to my cross country trek, I hadn’t imagined myself a cowgirl, but I recognized a part of myself that had been too long quieted and suppressed. Imani Cuppola’s cowgirl had a bold, sexy, in your face, no apologies attitude.  

I'm gonna drink my whiskey, gonna have my man….I'm gonna steal their hearts  And save them for another day.  Ain't gonna hang my hat, ain't gonna take off my boots.   Ain't nothing gonna stop me in my pursuit.   Pack my bags and mount my horse  I'm gonna ride on into the next town….

Like the cowgirl legend, and the Gil Elvgren illustration, I was starting to experience pleasure and enjoying a transformation.  I was finding the balance between strength and vulnerability, feminine and fighter, victim and survivor.  I was embracing the concept of submitting to desire without being suppressed and silenced.  I was learning how to trust and learning how to stand tall on my own. 

And that’s how it began, the theme song of me, and my summer, the cross-country drive....  The sudden and intense connection with all things west elevated my spirit.  Boots, spurs, silver and turquoise, copper ridged plateaus and low, muted, pink coral sunsets.  All this setting the course for my arrival at the horizon between a dark and narrow life to leave behind me, and all things as far as the eye can see. Riding my dependable steed into towns far and near, I was finally showing up and taking a good look around with no need to ask permission. Possibility, joy, seizing of moments and calm quiet lie ahead.  Wide open spaces. 

I had stood by my man until I found myself standing all alone in a glaring isolation, choking back someone else’s despair.  I had been participating in a life controlled by the displeasure and despondency of someone else’s dejection.  Worse, I had not realized just how much it had taken a toll on me, and worse still, my children.  I still imagined myself this fierce independent, strong, wily cowpoke of a thing.  And there was no amount of ostrich skin, or snakeskin, or hand-stamped leather inserted boots that could have prepared me for the stark reality of how much I had given up and given in. Finding out there was barely a trace of that woman I once had been was surprising, startling and certainly devastating.  Learning that in her place was an isolated, codependent, anxious mess was difficult to incorporate into my sense of self.  Shaking off some of the fears and uncertainties long maintained at the great risk of tipping the balance of a stilted, inflexible and rigid attachment has been a long process.  Domestic abuse is not always so easily identified when it is hidden in ailments, and addictive activities disguised as over-worked obsessive obeisance.  And sometimes it's not easily identified when denial and deprivation have dressed your daily routine.

Post divorce, post complicit silence to hide too many secrets that were not mine to hide, I am ready once more to ride.  I have started to size up and mount a few buck-wild, good times of my own.  I have been working on my aim, slow and steady.  Roping and twirling and throwing my lasso out into the world to see what I can gather up, what I should not slow down for, and what is best to try out, or release will come with time and practice.

And now there are the boots.  A few different pairs, new, vintage, red, gray with contrast stitching, black, pointed toes, round toed, buckles, solid wood heels.  Stand out and statement making.  It might seem silly, over the top, a bit too far, frivolous.  It sometimes feels like a costume, because I dress for the boots.  But it’s a costume I don’t mind getting all gussied up in.  I’m connecting with the freedom.  The independence.  The confidence that I’m now heading out in pursuit of spirited joy without too many worries holding me back is surely jingle, jangle, cowgirl justice.

'Cause I got spurs that jingle, jangle, jingle
(Jingle, jangle)
As I go ridin' merrily along
(Jingle, jangle)
And they sing, "Oh, ain't you glad you're single"
(Jingle, jangle)
And that song ain't so very far from wrong
(Jingle, jangle)
               written by Joseph Lilley and Frank Loesser

Friday, December 6, 2013

Kick Ass and Classy

It’s 4:20, gray, rainy, dark.  I stop at Davenport’s, on my way home.  My all time favorite local farm market in Stone Ridge.  I am immediately comforted whenever I stop here.  It could be the lingering smells of flowers, now gone, on this December afternoon.  It might be the sugary, sweet cider donuts and coffee that await me on those mornings that I make my way to work early, now rare.  It might be the staff, friendly, but not overly so.  This is probably, for me a very telling joy.  They honor my quiet.  I’m not expected to perform, or smile, or make meaningless small talk, but I am welcomed where I am, which this afternoon happens to be relaxed and at ease. 

I am late heading home today, awaiting for me is a house full of deadlines and evaluations, and program plans for a degree that I am confident will lead me along the path that I am somehow meant to be on, even if it’s not entirely clear and wouldn’t be easily explained or understood by others.  That is, however, the path I travel on.  Years of angst and questioning have somehow transformed into the strong foundation of assurance and confidence in the belief that somehow, it’s all falling into place.  It all works out.  Regrets, I’ve had a few…OK, regrets, at one point held me hostage.  I second guessed a great deal of my decisions and choices, rather than honoring that I made decisions carefully and with whatever resources and knowledge I had attained or was presented with.  I can look back now, with kindness.  This warmth has only just recently cloaked me in a growing calm.  And as the cold of a winter that is warned to be harsh approaches, the warmth of my growing calm will be comforting.

I walk into the market, aimed first for the coffee. I am clear out of convenient pods for my one cup on the go coffee maker.  I have been taking in a load of coffee lately, with all those deadlines for papers and plans always just due, one moment away from past due.  I stop in front of the beans, roasted and glistening in an oily shine.  Zanzibar, has alerted me softly, Espresso, has put hair on the chests of anyone within a city block, or maybe since this is part of the Rondout Growers Association, the back 40.  Woodstock, well, I fear it’s too mellow, so I steer away from this, and then I see Kick Ass, hand written on a card scrap.  I’m not typically one for small talk.  And I don’t generally talk to my self, not out loud anyway, it would be nearly impossible to get the constant din of gear shifts and analysis and evaluative feedback and random meaningless thought, unless I apply X2  statistical feedback results from my head and out of my mouth with much chaos…. But seeing that sign and being in my calmly cloaked comfort and needing the coffee….

I stop and step back, admiring the sentiment, the in your face boldness.  Just the way I like it, mostly.  I say to the sales clerk, busily stocking shelves, or I say out loud and she is within hearing distance after all, “Kick Ass.....everything should be offered this way.  It just exudes confidence and assuredness.”  She smiles, at first weakly.  She is a student in the local school, where I teach.  Our paths are not intended to cross after hours.  But then she tilts her long, silky haired head askance and considers it.  She adds “Maybe adding classy as a choice for the older set.  Classy and Kick Ass would meet the needs of everyone.” We both go about our business, I shopping, she checking out another customer.  As I turn down the narrow aisle to the checkout table, she is heading back towards the shelves. 

I did say earlier that I had recently acquired a growing calm, right?  Only my legs have not yet been informed, my gait continues at its typical fast and furious speed.  In a place the size of 4, maybe 5 office cubicles, this speed can create tornado winds, and the heaviness of my heels hitting the cement floors, deafening.  Miss Honey Sweety-pants, with long shimmering hair, skin moist with the dewy wetness of the promise of a life full of purpose and constant joy and wonder responds to my determined march.  She feigns being blown back a foot, at 5 foot 8 inches and 82 pounds, she may not have feigned a thing, really.  She says lightly, now that we are fast and furious friends I suppose, “You might want to slow that down.  You’ll take someone out with that walk.”  And something happens.  Or more remarkably, nothing happens.

I remain calm and I can still feel a smile throughout.  She was right.  And who knows I might have stirred up her willfulness with all that Kick Ass coffee grinding.  I enjoyed her gentle moxy.  I check out, and pause, but don’t have anywhere to go with it except home to make coffee and continue on my path toward purpose and constant joy, and oh, so much wonder….No harrumphs, no snarky come backs, no offended feelings, simply truth.  But there are some places that could use my tornado like force, aren’t there? Sometimes?  Maybe, perhaps, if Kick Ass and Classy came together, there would be me?  I can dream....