Sunday, July 15, 2012

Optimism and Grit (or Secretly I'm an Ninja) (with yellow socks)

A pearl grey suit made of the lightest wool, a pair of nylons, and new black heels that were making my feet swell. I’d flown across America to meet with somebody and she’d cancelled two hours before. I’d gotten up early to steam my suit and curl my hair. I took a bus downtown anyway to visit the IBM San Francisco office, and was surprised to discover that nobody comes in on Fridays. You are not in D.C. anymore, Dorothy.

I wished I could click my new black shoes and fly back home, but I was downtown, I had a rental car (my appointment had been 40 minutes away from the city), and I had nowhere to go. I thought about ditching and striking out on the open road—nowhere bound, but first I had to do something about these shoes. I was limping and cussedly ornery. So cussedly ornery that I had to walk out of Macy’s without a word because after waiting 20 minutes for the salesperson to bring me a pair of shoes (which they didn’t have in my size), I had no response to the fact that he hadn’t brought me another pair (in my size) that had a different color stripe on the sole.

“Oh, did you want me to get those?”

I couldn’t even muster a “duh.”

My feet needed to get out of those shoes and then, and I didn’t give an oat what color the stripe was. Under $30.00 bucks was the criteria. I made it into the Sketchers store and broke down. I spilled it all to the sales representative. I went through six or eight pairs of on sale shoes before they came back with a box in my size. This time I was patient. She’d listened to every word without judgment.

I bought a pair of sparkly purple shoes with comfy soles. I walked to Union Square. I called my brother as I browsed through the displayed artists’ wares in the park. I’d worked months to finally arrange this meeting. I’d worked every connection I had to get a position in the Bay Area. I didn’t know what to do.

I hung up. I looked down to the title of the massive shell mandala I stood before.

“Optimism” was written in italics next the name of the artist and the price. I threw back my head and laughed. I looked at my sparkly purple shoes. Optimism indeed. I wiggled the pain out of my toes.

And then I moved across America. I reduced my work hours to 20 a week, working remotely on my old IBM project. I started pushing the writing in a major way. And every couple of weeks I wonder what in the world I am doing.

“Nobody makes money writing.” I’ve told this to many people. I’ve told myself I would never quit my job and write fulltime. It was impractical. And although I’ve always been a bit a whimsical, a free spirit sort, I was raised to be practical.

“You’ve got grit” Jeanne sametimed me (IBM chat).

“And grit determines success more than any other factor.”

She continues to give me a pep talk. Jeanne is wonderful this way, and this word stays in my mind for the next several weeks.


“Erin, you’ve got grit,” I repeat.

I continue to maintain my blog that nobody reads. I make bookmarks to promote my web-site. I email and call newspapers and journalists. I touch base with bookstores to see if they are interested in holding readings. I push to finish the new book despite the fact that sales haven’t picked up on the first.

“What do you do all day?” people ask often.

“Get through half of my list if I am lucky,” I want to say back.

And then one day I am in San Francisco. A couple days previously I had been turned away from the Mormon temple because I forgot to renew my recommend. Right now it is my life-line. The place God tells me it’s okay, and that he believes in me, and that I’m doing the right thing. I almost cry driving back home from the temple, and I never cry.

It is nine in the morning, and I’m going to move my car parked on Haight Street because I stayed the night at a friend’s house. She comes with. I take her to her car, and she goes to get it registered.

“My roommate will let you back in,” she assures me.

But she doesn’t because the roommate’s not there. And I don’t have my cell phone because I’d only left to move my car. My friend lives in a carriage house behind a town house, and I can’t even get through the outer gate. I knock on her neighbors’ doors, and nobody has her number. I snoop until I find the hidden key. It gets me through the gate. I look under every single succulent pot (over 20) in the yard. And there are no more keys. The key I have doesn’t open the door on twelve tries.

Upstairs where I am camped out on the couch, my computer lies unattended still logged in to sametime. My co-workers in D.C. are sending me documents to edit. My friend Mariella (in town from Georgia) is calling me to see when she can pick me up to see the city. I have been locked out for forty five minutes, so I climb the fence.

I stand on top of the fence and look up to the edge of the balcony. There’s no way. It’s too far a fall below. I’m already up at least ten feet. I think of all the gymnastics moves that could get me up there, but I’m no gymnast, no stunt guy, and it is very far to fall, and I am very afraid.

I stand there for fifteen minutes, fearing. I’m wearing a skirt. I’m holding a purse. But I need to get up there, and there’s no other way. It’s an awkward thing to do. It’s unconventional, and it’s dangerous.

“Erin, you have grit.”

I reach several feet up with my right foot and wedge it into the siding of the house. Both my hands are gripped on the outside slats of the veranda near the bottom. I push myself up with all my strength and raise my left foot, so it just grasps the bottom of the veranda. I push myself up with all my strength, and then I am standing on the outside of the veranda, trembling and catching my breath. I can’t believe what I have just done. I climb over the top, and enter through the open door.

In the meantime, my sister has given birth. Documents have arrived in my inbox. My friend Justin has called to confirm that I’m picking him up from the airport, and Mariella is picking me up in fifteen minutes.

I put on my tennis shoes and realize I forgot socks. In Chinatown, I buy a yellow pair that have the golden gate bridge stitched on them in red, and scrunch them down around my ankles because I am too cheap to buy the $10.00 pair at the Nike store. Attractive, I think. I remember my purple shoes.

But I have learned something very important about myself that morning.

Two days later I call a journalist at NPR.

“Erin, you have grit.”

“You are a ninja.”

I repeat to this myself each time I do something daring. Each time I doubt.

And next week, and the week after that, I’m going to figure out how to get inside. The door may not open after twelve tries, but if necessary, I’ll climb the walls and over the veranda. Because somewhere, somehow, there will be an open door.


  1. Very cool post Erin!!
    You do have grit and you are a ninja!

  2. Thank you for that. I needed that. You will work it all out and it will be more awesome than you expected!



About Me

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Author of "Coal in Our Veins: A Personal Journey" (USU Press 2012) and Rain in Anbar: An Interpreter's Story of the Sunni Awakening. Currently experimenting with alternative medicine to lessen impacts of severe exercise induced asthma.