Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Settlers vs. Pioneers

As a child I put Barbie dolls in a shoebox/Conestoga wagon and took them for outdoor prairie adventures à la the “Little House” books. I love the pioneer era in history and have a collection of women’s diaries of the trip west and other histories of that time.

So it was a huge shock when it finally dawned on me that I was a settler, not a pioneer.

All these years I had this image of myself as a pioneer, even though I married at 19, dragged my feet about moving, and anchored myself with overstuffed bookcases. One day I looked back at the high school Valerie and realized she thought she would have a glamorous life. Not lamb-chops-and-little-black-dresses glamour, but a more bohemian big-city-adventures-and-literary-people glamour.

Yet here I am in my South Carolina home with a few awards and publishing credits, still trying to sell my first novel. I’m no pioneer—I’m about as traditional as they come, with kids, grandkids, my “Barbie dream kitchen” home. Did I become a settler because of the way I lived? Or was I always a settler and didn’t know it?

I guess I don’t have to be a pioneer to love reading Cathy Luchetti’s history books, and I don’t have to be a bounty hunter to enjoy Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series. I didn’t have to be an Elvis fan to read “Tender” by Mark Childress, which seemed like a thinly-disguised biography of The King. I read all sorts of books. I just love to read.

Do you like to read? What are your favorite books? Let me know—I’m open to suggestions. And if you always wished for a Pioneer Barbie (but they didn’t create one until 1995), I want to know that, too!


  1. I beg to differ with you...
    you obviously have the talented way to define and express excuse my more primitive way..
    you ARE a pioneer - a pioneer is one who ventures into unknown territory - correct? I don't see you giving up or staying stagnant.. you have taken on every challenge in your life and moved on into unknown territory. Just because we make things "settled" and comfortable where we are at the moment doesn't mean we aren't pioneers. My covered wagon would be very organized and "settled" with all my important things in there proper places. So my pioneer friend - I'll see you in the next adventure!

  2. Valerie,
    I would agree with the previous comment - YOU are a pioneer in many of your interests.

    That said, I understand your analogy well. As you know, I have several diaries of pioneer women and love reading about that period in American history. In high school, I believed that if I'd lived during that time period I would have jumped on the first prairie schooner that I could, enjoying the Oregon Trail all the way. Reality? I like my comfort, I like my books.

    As for your final question - my favorite book of all time is "The Lightbearer" by Donna Gillespie. Think Roman occupation of what would later become Britain, with a female protagonist who fights for her people's freedom. I love those kinds of books. Am I that strong female protagonist? Who knows? I sure like to read and write about them, though.

  3. I think it has to do with acquiring wisdom after one gets out of high school. Alice wanted to be the first woman supreme court justice, but had to settle for being the mother of four beautiful children. Pioneering's not all that it's cracked up to be. There's something to be said about improving upon trails already blazed by others.

  4. Ah, the dreams we had when young.. before reality and life sets in. But don't fret, you have conquered marriage and motherhood, and that is no small things.

    Keep writing!

  5. Valerie -- when I played with Barbies (many many years ago), I used to play "Adventure Barbie". I think my Adventure Barbie was really a pioneer. I used to take "switches" (that my grandmother would peel for whippings) and smooth the leaves all to one end, break them off, and make my own tumbleweeds. Most summer days, I would probably make 20 or so tumbleweeds. My mom kinda got tired of those lying around the front porch.

    Am I a pioneer or settler? I think I'm a settler now. I've been a pioneer plenty of times, but now it takes extreme interest on my part for me to gather enough energy to plow into unchartered territory. Hhhhmmm, but now that I think about it, the reason I feel like a settler is because I'm tired. And the reason I'm tired is because I'm raising 2 teenage daughters and they keep me on my toes! And, well, raising teenage daughters is unchartered territory for ME, so maybe I'm a pioneer. (Can you tell I have trouble making decisions? haha)

    Most favorite recent book: A Three Dog Life (an outstanding, raw memoir about a woman's journey to a new life after her husband is critically injured in a car accident).

    Thanks for sharing on your blog! I love your writing style and I am definitely looking forward to your novel! Hope I can get back to Monday nights soon too!

  6. Ms. Valerie,

    I don't know if you are pioneer or settler, I lean towards pioneer, but you are an amazing, talented lady!

    Love you, miss you,

    Recent reads - The Shack, The Memory Keeper's Daughter
    Can't really name a favorite all-time book - just love to read!

  7. Hey, my Barbie dolls spent time in a shoe box too! I'm a fellow Carolinian from NC.

  8. I grew up watching Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, The Big Valley, Bonanza, and all those other Westerns. If you were born and raised in the United States, then chances are you have some of that pioneer spirit in your blood. (Although I can't help but wonder if modern kids experience it, since they don't typically watch Westerns anymore.) Lately my kids have been subjected to black-and-white episodes of The Lone Ranger (Six hours on two DVDs for only five dollars at your local Walgreens! But sorry folks, I think I snatched the last one!)Rachel actually likes the show and *requests* it, while Erin rolls her eyes and claims child cruelty.

    As a kid and teenager, I too wanted the pioneer life. I was going to live off the land, blaze a new trail, go where no man had gone...yada yada. Then I got into my fourth year of college and discovered I wanted a home and family and roots that sank deep into the earth.

    But let's be fair to ourselves. Do you have to be a tumbleweed to be a pioneer, aimlessly drifting from one place to another as the wind blows? Or are cacti pioneers, growing slowly for years in harsh conditions? I think that a woman who packs up everything she owns, leaves her friends and family, and heads to a strange place with three small children--this woman is a pioneer.

    But if this isn't enough proof for you, let's go to the expert: Webster. A pioneer is "one who goes before, preparing the way for others." Any woman who has raised children has been a pioneer. She went before her children, preparing their way. Just because the journey cannot be pointed out geographically or isn't recorded beside Lewis and Clark in the history books, doesn't make it any less a journey.

    Still unconvinced? Okay, then consider that a settler is "one who settles." Have you settled for having your novels unpublished? Have you given up writing? Are you not still fighting to blaze that trail?

    Keep going, pioneer. You'll blaze that trail yet.

  9. Thank you to everyone who commented on the Settlers vs. Pioneers blog. You've taken my analogy and put spins on it I hadn't thought of! Keep the comments coming.

  10. Missy--I borrowed A Three Dog Life from the Library and read it. The memoirs I've read in the past were usually written by people who'd suffered abuse, not such terrible loss. Thanks for the recommendation!