Get Inspired Mondays, Writing

Semper Fi (In Other Words: Have Some Heart, Rebecca) — Guest Post

Get Inspired Mondays — Guest Blogger Series

Welcome to another, Get Inspired Monday!  Each week you’ll find a different writer sharing their story of finding inspiration — often from an unexpected source.  To read last week’s post click here

Today’s guest blogger is author Rebecca Rasmussen.  Rebecca is every writer’s friend — quick to offer encouragement when you’re struggling, and even quicker to let out a loud WOOT! when praise is order.  Indeed, her blog “…is dedicated to artists and writers,”  and is truly a community forum which hosts guest writers on a regular basis.  Rebecca’s debut novel, The Bird Sisters, is due out in April, and has already been deemed “achingly authentic” by Publishers Weekly.  After reading an excerpt of her book and the post below, one can also safely call her writing style both beautiful and engaging to boot.  

Now read on…and get inspired!

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Semper Fi (In Other Words: Have Some Heart, Rebecca)

By, Rebecca Rasmussen

The first time I walked off the course and back to the starting line I felt justified in my choice to quit. I was in terrible pain.  I had lost my breath.  I had cramps in my legs, in my heart.  Girls were passing me on all sides.  Their ponytails were swishing right out of my view.  So here’s what I did: I simply walked back to the place I’d started.

The year was 1992, and I was a freshman in high school, thirteen years old.  I had a shaky relationship with just about everyone in my family, though I remember my mother coming to this cross-country meet, my first.  I remember she wore my dad’s boxy old yellow windbreaker, which I took from his closet the last time I visited him and my stepmom in Spring Green, Wisconsin, though I don’t remember why.

          “You’ll do better next time,” my mother said, when she saw me near the starting line.

Rebecca Rasmussen

I’ll tell you this: a part of me wanted to get in the car with her.  To stop and pick up pizza at Malnati’s on the way home.  To rent a funny movie and eat sour cherry candies.  To forget about cross-country and move on to field hockey or dance.  Or chess even.

But I’ll also tell you this: an even bigger part of me wanted something else entirely, something I couldn’t put a name to, but knew as a secret deep in my heart.  And that’s what I got—exactly what I wanted—that early Saturday morning in September, while girls sprinted into the chute and parents cheered and brightly colored ribbons flapped in the breeze.

          “Come here right now,” my coach, Mr. Baker, said to me, in a voice I thought only parents were allowed to use.

          “I think I’ll take her home,” my mother interrupted.

          “Not yet,” Mr. Baker said and pulled me away from my mother, which I remember thinking was impressive. People didn’t say no to her.

When we were alone behind a grand old Illinois oak tree, Mr. Baker asked me why I’d stopped running, why I came walking back, why I gave up.

I told him what I told you.  Cramps.  Pain.  Breath.

          “I don’t care if you’re the last girl out there and you crawl in on your hands and knees,” Mr. Baker said. “You don’t ever give up like that, do you understand me?”

         “I couldn’t go on,” I said, looking at the electric leaves up in the tree.

Mr. Baker put his hands squarely on my shoulders and looked me directly in the eyes, which nobody had ever done before.  (I come from a long line of side-glancers.)

          “You can always go on,” he said very seriously.

I don’t know why, but I wanted to wrap my arms around this man.  His strength and strange, unwarranted belief in me was what I’d been looking for in members of my family and what members of my family couldn’t give me just then, and here Mr. Baker was, a man I barely knew, a man with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen.  

          “I wasn’t going to win,” I said, knowing then that that was the real reason I’d quit.

          Mr. Baker smiled. “This is the first brave thing I’ve seen you do.”

          “What?” I said, beginning to smile, too, though I didn’t know why.

          “Tell the truth,” he said, and hugged me so securely I thought I’d turn blue. “You’re a good kid, you know.  I think you’re going to be all right.”

 (Words that were so wonderful I started to cry.)

***

I don’t know if you can teach someone to have heart or not, but that’s what Mr. Baker did for me that day and that strength of heart is what I’ve carried with me all these years.  If a door closes, I find another one to try to open.  If ponytails are passing me, I go after them instead of giving myself over to negativity and turning away.

Crossing the finish line, having guts and grit, is what’s important to me.  Knowing that I didn’t quit—that I don’t quit—makes me proud, confident, happy.

These days, I’m a writer more than I’m a runner, though I still try to hit the pavement four or five times a week.  Writing, I’ve learned, takes the same tenacity, the same hard work and hard-won belief in one’s self.  I’ve seen so many talented writers give up, and I want to grab them by the shoulders and look directly in their eyes and tell them what Mr. Baker told me.  Keep writing even if you have to crawl on your hands and knees.

My first novel is coming out with a large New York press in April.  From the outside, my story looks so easy and breezy and, well, full of beauty. The truth is that I fought for my book every single step of the way.  I fought for it when people kept saying no for months and months and months.  I fought when they said, “we need to think about sales figures.”

I am fighting for it even now.

And you know what: it probably won’t sell a million copies, I probably won’t be able to quit my job and shop at Whole Foods for herbs and nuts and fish, and I probably won’t wake up and see my name in The New York Times any time soon.

But on April 12th, I’ll be smiling.  I promise you that.

Writing a book, finding an agent and an editor, finding my way through all of the no, you can’ts! has been the longest race of my life and I’ll have finally made it to the chute—without fanfare, maybe—but on my own two feet.

(A thought so wonderful I know I will cry.)

***

I haven’t seen Mr. Baker since I was a senior in high school.  Is he alive?  Is he still coaching running?  I don’t know.

That warm September day at the cross-country meet was the beginning of a relationship that changed my life.  He taught me about being brave, about being bold, about fighting for what you want and deserve in life.  He taught me about nourishing myself in every sense of the word.

He told me about his time in Vietnam, about never giving up even when people around him were dying in muddy rice paddies.

I’ll never forget what he said.

Right before the next cross-country race, Mr. Baker and I exchanged presents, if you can call them that.  I gave him my father’s old yellow windbreaker, which he wore to most every meet for the next four years, and he gave me a Semper Fi flag he’d had since the war and which I still keep in my treasure box in the closet.

Whenever I find myself alone on the course now, in the middle of a race that’s even less defined than when I was a teenager, I think of Mr. Baker—those blue eyes and that flag—and I keep going.

I keep hearing him say, have some heart, Rebecca.

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Rebecca Rasmussen is the author of the novel The Bird Sisters, forthcoming from Crown Publishers on April 12th, 2011.  She lives in St. Louis with her husband and daughter. Visit her at http://www.thebirdsisters.com.  You can also find her on Twitter @thebirdsisters

On Tap Next Week: Robert Lee Brewer — Poet, Writer, and Editor (Writer’s Market, Poet’s Market)

*Find me on Twitter @amandahoving

 

49 thoughts on “Semper Fi (In Other Words: Have Some Heart, Rebecca) — Guest Post”

  1. Amanda, you are choosing excellent guest bloggers. Rebecca, what a great story and what a great teacher.

    Congratulations on your novel coming out on April 12 -my birthday!

    Am going over to your blog now.

    Like

  2. What a wonderful post, Rebecca! I loved the tenacity and courage you spoke about, and certainly feel inspired after having read about Mr. Barker and the lessons he taught you!

    I cannot wait for THE BIRD SISTERS to come out in April, and even if you only sell 5 copies (which you won’t!), you can take comfort in knowing that you have touched 5 people with your beautiful novel and ability to persevere.

    Thanks so much for sharing, Amanda! The blog is great and I really love the guest posts!

    Like

  3. Thank you all for your thoughtful comments, and welcome to any new visitors. I knew Rebecca’s post was going to be special. This will certainly resonate with many — both writers and non-writers alike.

    Wishing you all a productive week…”Keep writing even if you have to crawl on your hands and knees.”

    Like

  4. Rebecca, this piece is breathtaking. My warm congrats on your novel. It’s easy to see why April 12th is on the books for you. Here’s to 1 million copies sold, and to a million more, and then a million more.

    High fives to Mr. Baker, too. Any man who can instill that sense of hope in a teenage girl deserves high praise. I’m glad he gave you the confidence you needed to just keep going.

    Like

  5. “I don’t know if you can teach someone to have heart or not…” Hmm… You’ve really got me thinking about that. Some people seem to be born with a special drive, but I think most of us have to develop heart or tenacity or whatever word is synonymous. What a great lesson for writers and more. Thanks for writing!

    Like

  6. What I loved most about this post was the fact that small, teachable moments happen in the most ordinary ways and resonate our whole lives through. Don’t we hope we can be that for someone too? This was my Cup of Inspiration for today. Thanks Rebecca! Wishing you leaves rustling in the summer breeze success!

    Like

  7. Thanks, Rebecca! Just what I needed to read. Once again!
    Looking forward to celebrating the success of your book very soon.
    xoxDeb

    Like

  8. To Rebecca: Congratulations on your book. And thank you for the encouraging words to the rest of us authors still rounding the half mile mark. I, for one, needed that!

    To Amanda: Thanks for sharing a great guest blogger with us.

    Carol

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  9. See here, missy! Just how did you know I needed exactly this at exactly this time? Wonderful post, Rebecca — makes me want to start running right after I grit my teeth and send out that query letter. Thanks for a fine read and for being a fine friend!

    Like

  10. Oh, Rebecca, you’ve written such a wonderful piece here, which I can personally relate to. I had an Art teacher in High School who inspired me by her gentle, but firm acknowledgment that I had a gift for words and that I must pursue writing. This was the 1st time in my life that anyone had ever made me feel special and who believed in me. It was then that I submitted my 1st poem and it was subsequently published. I have never forgotten what an impact one person had on my life and that is why, every day, I ‘pay it forward’…

    Like

  11. First of all, congrats on the publishing of your first book. That’s a HUGE deal! Secondly, that was a great story and certainly a life-changing moment. I’m so glad that coach was in your life and that you took the encouragement and, well, ran. (Sorry, bad pun.)

    Like

  12. A very touching post, Rebecca, and one we can all indentify with, writers or not. Thanks, Amanda, for the introduction. Looking forward to reading your book, Rebecca (we are big bird-lovers in this house), and a huge congratulations to you!

    Like

  13. Rebecca,

    There’s so much in this post that I just love, including the honesty with which you write and the reminders to look back on those moments when someone, or something, shed light on our potential. Thanks for sharing this. I’m so grateful to have “met” you and can’t wait to hug you in person.

    Thanks, Amanda, for hosting such a great series!

    Like

  14. Such an inspirational story. I’ve wanted to run for the Malati’s pizza myself a few times. But perseverance is what it’s all about and you’ve already proven that.

    Like

  15. Amanda, you said I’d like this post and you certainly got that right.

    Rebecca, I’m hearing great buzz about this book, so I suspect you’ll sell more than 5 copies.

    They say it only takes one person who believes in a child to make a difference in their life; Mr. Baker sounds like he would have been that person for many. Lovely story. 🙂

    Like

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