At Corn Hill Festival, the vendor in the space next to me is a Chinese man who spends most of his time sleeping and smoking. While I am packing up, he steps into my tent for the first time to look at my work.

Seeing my photograph on the cover of a copy of Rochester magazine that I have displayed, he scrunches up his face with confusion.

“What is this word? ‘Courage?’“ he asks in broken English.

I try to explain that courage is a kind of mental toughness. “It’s strength on the inside,” I say, pointing to my heart.

The man makes a guttural sound, a grunt of sorts. “You not look strong to me,” he says, pointing at my face in such a way that indicates he isn’t talking about my face so much as my personality. “You just look. . .  tired.”

It’s an odd moment.

Because he’s not wrong.

Wearing crazy pants, space buns on my head, and a big smile, I’m sure I don’t look like the most courageous person in the world.

But the truth is I’ve survived some really difficult times: rape, a brain injury, the loss of my marriage, my home, my neighbors, my community, the people I thought were my friends.

For many years now, like an ant in a storm, I’ve worked to rebuild.

I know that people see me as creative and resilient. They see my house, my car. They see me pushing myself to meet new people and try new activities. They see I’m making money and running a business — and they assume I’m ‘fine.’

And most of the time, I am.

But the truth is I am exhausted.

Exhausted by a lifetime of trying too hard, of not letting go, and too much looking back. Exhausted by the stupid things I do — the accidents I cause, the poor choices I make. It weighs me down.

It’s tiring having to be strong all the dang time.

I know everyone is going through something, that I’m not special.

But I’d gladly trade all this mental toughness for a good long cry, followed by a nice long nap in the arms of a lover.

If you ask me, courage is overrated.

What’s got you feeling weighed down and what would make you feel better?


13 thoughts on “ON MENTAL TOUGHNESS

  1. But you are special, Renee. I’m pretty sure your Torah says the same thing Genesis says in my Bible: You were created in the image of God and after His likeness. That makes you pretty special – and you are unique. In all the world, there’s no one else like you.

    1. I know you’re right, David, about my being unique…but I am not so egotistical to think that I’m the only one experiencing something difficult. We’re all going thru something at any given time. But I do know what you mean. And I’m grateful for your kind words. xoxoRASJ

  2. Life certainly can be so difficult, we’ve all had our share, but I try so hard not to judge others. Like my Mum always said “if you don’t have something nice to say…”
    I met you briefly at the Jack Craft fair and thought you looked so pretty, kind and talented! Keep your chin up; and keep painting – You Got this!!

    1. Thanks Jeanne! I try not to judge either…but I do think it’s interesting when other people judge me. There’s always something to learn in what people see. I hope to see you again in the future! I really enjoyed Jack Craft! I hope I’ll get to participate again in the future! Please let me know if I can ever help you with anything else in the future! I love repeat customers! XOXO

  3. I have my own stories about being resilient however today’s story is about me…right now…all alone going through all my mothers things because she passed away unexpectedly and all alone. She struggled with different things in her lifetime but was resilient.. she made a life in Iowa. However, she was alone and no one noticed for three days..I’m here to sort through her things and her place is pretty much a mess of food and clothes everywhere. Bed bugs, juice boxes, things and more things…. I have had to become this strong woman who looks past the horror and find what’s important… papers, pictures, her beautiful needlework…. I have to remember the beautiful super clean person that was my mother, with all her flaws and faults. I have to be laser focused on my mission because if I pause for even one minute while standing in this squalor I may break. I see around me as I turn to lock the door for the day..her apartment as it might have been, her sitting in her chair creating beautiful artwork through her needlepoint. That was my original hope to sit where she sat, perhaps pick up an unfinished piece and make a few stitches….instead I grab what I can and get out as soon as possible to go through and keep what is important to later on in my hotel room…Alone…. I hope also to have a good cry and lay down for a long nap when this is over….

    1. Omigoodness Christine. You’ve got a lot going on right now. I’m so sorry to hear you’re having to deal with all of that alone in Iowa. You are an amazing daughter! I’m sure your mother is hovering close. I’m also glad you know it’s okay to cry. Cuz it’s okay. Please know I am thinking of you, there, hopefully in your hotel room right now. I hope you’ve had something good to eat and a nice long shower. XOXO

  4. I am so impressed- you’re very strong to have gone through all those experiences and come out the other side- and can write about, and share them. I see you are still a writer and I hope you keep posting. My money’s on you, kid!!

    1. Hi Stephanie! Thank you so much. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve had a lot of trauma packed into my little life…and somehow I just keep going, Cuz what else is there to do? hank you for your encouraging words. <3

  5. Every day that I get to work in my garden, I feel better, exhausted and better. My husband says that I just like to dig, and it is true. Digging up earth, pulling out weeds, setting out new plants always makes me feel better.

    No matter how down I feel, life is always better in my garden. Over the weekend, I watched a monarch lay her eggs on milkweed plants. Today I looked and already the leaves are being devoured. Yesterday two or three toads hopped away from a board that I lifted to dig and lengthen a garden in my backyard. Today, I saw a frog, a real green frog! I thought pesticide drift from cornfields, or that that comes in on the lawn mower when the lawn guy comes and races with his zero turn mower through lawns cut up by flower beds. I don’t like them, but evening seeing a snake would put my mind at ease, over the wildlife habitats that ring our lawn. In the garden, watching monarchs, honey and other varieties of bees, hopping toads and frogs, dirt on my gloves, my face, my gardening shirt, is where I always begin to feel better and very much alive.

    1. As always, I absolutely love your response. When I think of you, you are always in your garden. Your hands are in your gloves. ‘m glad that you have something you love to do that always help you to clear your mind. Gardening truly meditative. Sadly, I don’t like to do it. I’d love to move some echanacia and some irises. Will you help me when the weather cools a bit?

  6. I loved this piece. Especially the weight of the mistakes I make and trouble I cause myself. I’m surviving a TBI too and those things are what get me down. I have a community and family support me, so I know how lucky I am- but my own worst enemy is myself to myself and I have to remember to live that confused girl too. She’s trying

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