All my life, I have wanted to be a writer. I started reading when I was three years old and have loved the written word ever since. Consequently, most of my idols have been writers. I loved Stephen King and V.C. Andrews when I was in grade school. I loved Mark Twain and Roald Dahl when I got a little older. I have been through lots of favored writers over the years. When someone suggested I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott a few years ago, I went right out and got it. It's a great book about writing and life and lots of other stuff. She has a funny and engaging style that I find refreshing. So, I went out and got several more of her books. She writes about alcoholism and recovery, dysfunctional families, rude neighbors, how her dog died, how she's managed to raise a teenager without killing him and lots of other subjects.
So, when I found out I was going to have the opportunity to meet her, I flipped out. I work at a retreat center and wellness spa. It is a beautiful facility situated on a hill in the central Texas hill country. The main thing I love about working here is that everything stops for the wildlife. We have a squirrel and two twin raccoons who come up to the welcome center every day. When someone spots them, we stop what we're doing and run to go see them. The other day, a roadrunner zipped by and we watched as he snapped up a lizard and had him some dinner. It's like living in National Geographic Texas style.
Anyway, I found out back in late June that CodePink, a women's peace activist group, was coming out here for a weekend retreat. I was excited because I'm a peace activist and have similar beliefs to the women belonging to the group. I had gone to Crawford in August 2005 to sit on the side of a small country road with Cindy Sheehan so we could find out what it was our young people were dying for. I was able to spend three exhilarating, exhausting, painfully hot days before I had to return to work. It was an inspiring experience. While there I had met many of the women coming to my workplace such as Cindy Sheehan, Medea Benjamin, Jodie Evans, Ann Wright, and Diane Wilson. These were women I admired for having the guts to put themselves out in a hostile environment to stand up for their beliefs. Needless to say, I was looking forward to spending the weekend with these powerful women.
As I was looking through the list of attendees, one name caught my eye: Anne Lamott. Could it be THE Anne Lamott I so admired? Sure enough, it was. She was to be one of the Friday night speakers. I am a 38 year old woman and I turned into a 14 year old groupie when I found out she was coming. My 22 year old co-workers thought I was the biggest geek ever. They had never heard of her and couldn't imagine why I was so pumped to meet her. Admiration for writers is just not what it used to be. Now days, it's movie/TV stars, singers, and sports figures. Although now that I think about it, my childhood friends also found it hard to believe I had authors for idols. Hmmm, maybe it's just me then.
The entire month of July, I kept checking her reservation and the CodePink website making sure she was still coming. I talked about how excited I was to everyone who would listen. I was SO looking forward to hearing her talk. The retreat cost $400 and I wasn't sure I could afford it but I thought I would work it out. At the end of July, my partner suddenly needed $3000 worth of dental work and I saw my chances to see Anne Lamott fading away like invisible ink. We looked at our finances but there was just no way we could afford the $400 for me to attend. At first I was weepy and resentful. How could it be that something I wanted so badly just wasn't going to happen? Why couldn't I have what I wanted?
Let me stop here to tell you a bit about myself. I have never been a patient or accepting person. I like to get WHAT I want WHEN I want it. But, I've been in recovery for a few years now and I've learned that if something is meant to be, then somehow it will happen. Of course, this is not something I've learned overnight. And having learned it, that doesn't mean I remember it all the time. My partner and I have been together for 11 years and she sometimes still sees me as the person who would throw a fit at the drop of a hat if things didn't go my way. My friend Joan once told me that we all have biographies of our friends and loved ones. We see someone in a certain way and that is how we think of them all the time. For 7 years, my partner saw me as the out of control insane drug addict I once was. Even though I have been clean for almost 4 years, she occassionally has trouble changing her biography of me. Everyone in my family does. My mom will still brace herself sometimes waiting for the earth shattering fit I'm about to throw only to realize I haven't done that in years. We are all guilty of this at one time or another. My friend Kristi has dated men all the years I've known her. Then, suddenly (at least to me), she began dating women. I did a double take when she first told me because it was not part of my biography of her. So, I had to change the way I think of her.
After Rhonda and I discovered we didn't have the $400, she braced for the fit. Like I said, at first I was weepy and resentful. But I quickly saw that there was no way I could go to this event and take away $400 that we needed to fix her teeth. How could I do that to her? I couldn't. So, I went from weepy and resentful to accepting pretty quickly. She was surprised but I explained to her that if it was meant to be, it would happen. Besides, if nothing else I would at least get to meet Anne.
I had already asked off for the weekend of the event so I could attend. Now, not having the money, I was going to tell my manager that I wanted to work the whole weekend because then I would at least have the opportunity to be around these people. Before I had the chance, though, I ran into Jane who handles our groups. I asked if there was any discount on employees attending the session.
( I am writing this at work and the twin raccoons just went by the door so I had to go watch them. Now back to our story.)
Sometimes we are offered discounted tuition on various workshops. I got to attend a Lynda Barry workshop in March called Writing the Unthinkable for free. If you ever get the chance to take this workshop, I highly recommend it. Lynda is brilliant at helping you draw the stories out of yourself. Anyway, I asked Jane about the discount. She said the CodePink people were allowing employees to attend for free. Free!!!!!! I asked again just to be sure I heard her right. Sometimes what I hear and what people say are two totally different things. Yep, she really did say free. I did my little happy dance that makes Rhonda embarassed to be seen with me. I thanked my Higher Power for once again showing me that things will work out exactly as they are supposed to.
Everything was lining up. I had the time off I wanted for the weekend and I could now go to the workshop for free. At this point, the retreat was two weeks away and I could barely contain my excitement. I am not one who is able to hide my emotions. If I am upset, you will know. If I am angry, you will certainly know (but thanks to my recovery program, I won't throw things at you now). If I am happy, you'll know that too. Every single person I work with knew how happy I was and they were excited for me. I have never worked in such a supportive atmosphere. I was a paramedic for 15 years before coming here and I never felt this supported. I find that odd considering paramedics are supposed to work as a team with the firefighters and police officers but it never felt that way. I always felt as if I had to prove myself and always had to be on guard for any sign of weakness I might let through. No one I worked with in a 300+ people work environment ever really seemed to care about me or my life. They only seemed to care if I was coming to work and filling a slot. The attitude was there were a dozen people lined up to take my job if I didn't want it. I was a number. Where I work now, I feel valued. People are happy to see me when I come in and I them. It feels like a family or at least what I assume a functional family would feel like. I'm not really sure. While my family was fun at times, the ctional part never really came into play.
Every day for the next two weeks, I checked the reservations and the CodePink website to make sure Anne was still coming. I drove everyone at work crazy with my excitement and impatience. The day of arrival just couldn't get here fast enough. But it eventually did.
I got to work that Thursday exuding excitement from my pores. I'm sure my energy level filled the room and backed everyone else against the walls. I was checking everyone in until just before the opening meeting that night. She still had not arrived by the time my shift was over. The property I work on is 35 acres with the various lodges scattered around the land. There is also a 4-bedroom house that is used to house VIPs. It is at the bottom of a very steep driveway and usually we give those staying there a ride down in one of the golf carts. I left strict instructions that if Anne needed a ride, they were to call me on my cell and I would come get her. In other words, I had dibs on her.
I walked over to the main hall where the opening was going to take place. As soon as I walked in, I saw Anne sitting close to the stage. Dang, I thought, she sneaked in without me seeing her. At the end of the meeting, she got a ride down to the Gatehouse with another one of its occupants. I was foiled again.
The next morning, I was working at my desk when one of our newer front desk employees came to ask me for help. She said she had one guest who needed help printing something from her email and one guest who needed something else. I walked around the corner and there she was, Anne Lamott, dreadlocks and all. I have no idea now what it was that other guest needed because I immediately took over helping Anne with her email. Other guest? What other guest?
As it turned out, Anne is not at all computer savvy. She also has a Mac so our PCs were a bit alien to her. I was finally able to get her stuff printed out to her satisfaction and then she asked for a ride down to the Gatehouse. Woooohooooo, I thought. I get to visit with her all the way down the hill. The only thing I remember now from that conversation is that we both dislike snakes. We talked for about 10 minutes and that's all I remember. I can only hope I didn't say anything stupid. I tend to get a little incoherent around people I admire but I think I did okay with Anne. After dropping her off, I told her to be sure and call me when she was ready to come back up. And of course, I was on break when she called and nobody came to get me. Oh well.
At dinner that evening, I was part of some stimulating conversation about Voters 4 Peace. Although, I let slip while speaking to some of those women I admire (remember how I tend to be incoherent?) that I am a gigantic SciFi geek and am part of a group trying to get a sequel to Serenity made. They are working for world peace and I'm working for Joss Whedon's world domination. (He's the creator of Buffy, Angel and Firefly/Serenity, in case you are not a big SciFi geek and have no idea who I'm talking about.) They looked at me like I had a booger on my face. There is a 14 year old boy that lives inside me and he pops his head out at the most inopportune times.
I ran into Anne at dinner and asked if she had everything she needed. I ran into her again as we were all leaving the dining hall and told her to be sure to let me know if she needed anything else. She said she would and then went the opposite direction from me. I like to think she needed to go that way instead of what my friends told me, that she was trying to get away from me. I also like to think I am just a devoted fan. My friends say I sometimes start heading into stalker territory. They're just jealous.
For the Friday night program, Anne was going to be speaking along with Molly Ivins. If you aren't familiar with Molly, Google her. She has been an outspoken observer of Texas politics for a few decades now. I was sitting near the back of the room alongside my supervisor. I shared with her my meetings with Anne earlier in the day and she was excited for me. We were both really looking forward to hearing what Anne and Molly had to say that evening. And then it happened.
Anne had been sitting up near the stage. She got up and began heading for the back where I was sitting. As she neared the back of the room, she looked over at me. The rest of this is in slow motion in my memory now. As she looked at me, I wiggled my eyebrows, gave her a big goofy grin, and wiggled my fingers in a wave. She gave me an uncertain half smile and then quickly moved on past me. My supervisor leaned over and said, Oh yeah, that was a little over the top. I was mortified. I couldn't believe I had just done that. When she came back into the room, she came in the side door. I am certain it was to avoid me.
I am terminally uncool. All my life, I wanted to be cool and hip. I not only wanted to fit in, I wanted people to think I was really awesome. Instead, I was an overweight band nerd with bad skin. My family didn't have any money which might have bought me some coolness. No, I was relegated to the ranks filled by most kids. I mean, there can only be so many popular kids. We can't all have that honor or else who would they make fun of? I wasn't a jock, I couldn't sing or act, I wasn't particularly smart. I was good at playing my flute and marching during half time. I was good at writing angst filled stories about how uncool I was that no one would ever read.
As I've gotten older, coolness really doesn't matter to me anymore. My partner thinks I'm cool and that's what really counts. But there is still a part of me (that 14 year old boy no doubt) that wants to be part of the in crowd. That wants people to look at me and go, She is just so awesome. I would really love to meet her. That may or may not happen to me in my lifetime, I have no control over it. The things I do wish for, though, are to be able to not make a fool out of myself in front of people I admire and to think of those clever things I want to say at that particular moment instead of four hours later.
Anne gave her talk that night and was brilliant as always. She talked about having a nice revolution. One that is calm, polite and totally inclusive. Some days I like the idea of a polite revolution. Then again, pitchforks and torches seem appropriate some days too. Maybe I'll meet Anne again during that revolution and my inner 14 year old boy will be quiet for a change. More likely, though, he'll probably be all jazzed by the pitchfork idea and I'll just scare the crap out of her.