We’re taught not to boast. If you live a life you are proud of you’re supposed to sit quietly and wait for praise. It doesn't matter if you're the happy mother of two in a small town or the CEO of a Fortune 500; every black-mold infested corner of society wants women to be humble above all else. Pride isn't something you should claim. How dare you take time to share what you have accomplished. That is the message constantly slung at women through underhand pitches our entire lives. We are supposed to wait to swing. Chances are lobbed at us with a smile, "Go ahead and hit it sweetheart, you earned it" and only then do we endeavor to accept recognition. Only when it is permitted.
Here’s what I have to say about that. Stop waiting and boast.
It all began with a fiddle. I moved cross country alone ten years ago, from my first job after college in east Tennessee for a job in the Rocky Mountains. I missed Appalachia so much that winter I ordered a cheap fiddle on eBay with no idea how to play it. All I knew was I wanted that place back. Mountain music was teleportation I could afford. So I taught myself. It took a few months and patient dogs, but I learned to play. Now that instrument is an old friend, something I can pick up and play anytime - breathing a heartbeats into this quiet farmhouse. I can play songs that are slow and sad or bright enough to dance to. I started teaching hesitant beginners, making the wildness of the fiddle tame and manageable to others. Over a hundred people have come to this farm to learn to play. I am proud of those songs.
I am a homeowner, at least so far. It's always touch and go being self employed—there have been some serious scares—but for the past six years I have managed to pay off 20% of my mortgage and five of those years, I was self employed. That is no small accomplishment. I did this alone. I did this without a spouse, checks from in-laws, government assistance, or borrowing large sums of money from family or friends. Month by month I figured it out. I am proud I bought this farm as a single woman and am keeping it as one.
Outside my front door is a dark horse behind a sagging fence. He was born in northern England. Through luck and circumstance he was sold to me on a 2-year payment plan which I paid off in full a few years back. Merlin is his name. I have learned to ride because of him. I learned to tack him up and fit the human inventions of bridle and saddle to a half-ton of stubborn sentience. I can leave my property on horseback via saddle or cart. I have an animal I trust and care for that saved me from the worst times in my life. This was unimaginable to the 25-year-old girl looking at glossy photos of Fell Ponies in a bookstore coffee-table book a decade ago. I'm proud of the ownership, skills, trail stories and the animal.
There’s a hawk resting here on a perch above me. I learned how to trap, train, and hunt beside her and others in four years of training as an apprentice falconer. It amazes me that the girl too terrified to look people in the eye at the slightest compliment can now take a beast from the sky and train it to fly to her fist. When I look up I don't see wildlife, I see roommates. I'm proud of the time, the training, the hunts, the game in my freezer, and the hawks that touched my life.
I learned archery by joining a local historical society and joining their longbow team. I learned the skills of hickory and yew, sinew and string. I learned the tools, the care, and even landed a part time job teaching archery a few years ago a local resort. Now the longbow is as much a part of my life as the bow of my fiddle. I teach beginners the stance, the aim, the way anyone of any age can learn to meditate and become strong from this ancient weapon. I'm proud of every shot.
I learned to farm. How to raise sheep from lambs, chicken dinners from eggs, honey from hives, clothing from wool, bacon from piglets and salads from seeds. The knowledge of homesteading came loud and slow. I wrote about it for ten years here, TEN YEARS, with equal parts criticism and praise. I don’t believe either side, but inhale the middle deeply. Farming is the love of my life. It gave me the freedom to pursue the passions that give this shorty life meaning. The collage of skills that come with a homestead are too long to list. A few are brewing ciders from this farm's apples, baking fresh bread from scratch, midwifing a goat, or butchering a rabbit. Farming taught be to be human in an ancient way. To live with seasons and time as stalking monsters and perfect gods. I am proud of every single mistake, more so than the accomplishments.
I learned to stand up and fight, both for my intellect and body. A decade of being told how awful you are by strangers online has created a rhino skin against the anonymous. They mean nothing. I also became a martial artist as an adult, dedicating years to learning to protect myself and teaching other students. I have my named recorded across the world in Seoul as a black belt in Tae Kwon Do. I am more proud of this than my college education.
This is some of my story. I've done other things, too. I've earned a BFA in design, published five books (soon my sixth - my first novel). I ran a half marathon. I own the title on my pickup truck. I paid off 4 credit cards, re-negotiated my student loans, and trained a border collie to herd sheep beside me. But out of all of this, I'm mostly proud that I’m still here. I'm proud of the dozens of people I have met along the way. Every paragraph above is a set of faces, friendships, mentors, and bar stories. I became me along the way.
How did reading that make you feel? I guarantee if you are a woman and read this you either felt bad about yourself or bad about me. That what we've been taught. I know because I read all that aloud to myself after writing it with enough self hatred to lubricate Scottsdale. Is this empowerment or self indulgence? Am I scaring people away? What if they realize I was scared the whole time? Do they know this is ten years of fear of regret, not Disney Princess adventures? Am I a hero or a child? Am I living the dream or avoiding responsibility? Etc, forever into anxiety and sleeping pills...
Women reading this, I am asking you to worry less about what people think and be proud of what you have accomplished. Stop apologizing for it. Stop being quiet about it. If it means doing so on a random holiday that grants you permission (exactly what I just did) then let this be our collective invitation. Stop waiting for someone to announce you to a stage that doesn’t exist for an audience that isn’t waiting for you. It’s not happening. You need to write the play, build the stage, invite the audience, hand the announcer you hired the card with your name on it - and then take the applause knowing half the audience hates you for doing it in the first place. Welcome to being a woman in 2017.
It’s time to ignore the chastity belt on your self esteem. It's time to create, to sing, to march, to shout, to live a life not hindered by permission - especially your own. Celebrate your stories and the mess that got you there. Be brave about your mistakes and forgiving of the ones you can't wait to make next. All the best stories start out this way. Stop listening to other peoples'. Write your own and brag like hell about it.
I want to hear it. I need to hear it. Millions of women like me are howling for it. The forced humility we have been taught is bullshit. Be proud of the good work you have done and hold your head high. We're all counting on you.
Cold Antler Farm is free to read. If you feel the writing was worth a dollar, click here for a voluntary donation. The photo of me and my hawk was taken by Miriam Romais.