Broken

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Packing up has begun over here at the Coconut Chronicles. Slowly, I am organizing posts and putting them into boxes. I seal them with tape and mark in black felt pen “Bahamas”, “Florida”, “Ucluelet”, “Baja”, and so on. There are other categories: “Posts that unintentionally hurt a friend”, “Posts that inspired someone to take a risk”, “Posts that were too personal and made my husband uncomfortable”, “Posts that were heavily edited so I/we wouldn’t lose my/our job”.

Sorting through all this, my emotions waver between “I’m so glad I kept a record of that time in my life” and “Oh man, why did I write about that?”

Through all my posts, one fact comes through clearly to me: I need to write.

You see, I don’t just remember the time and place and events of each post, I remember how I felt as I wrote. I remember how compelled I was to write down my thoughts, how I agonized (in the best possible way) over which words to use, over metaphors and analogies, over which parts of the story to put in and which to leave out. Even the most amateur posts I’ve written I tackled as if I might be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for my work.  I remember this and my heart shrinks and withers in my chest. Why? Because that part of me is broken.

I still write and I will keep writing because…I don’t know why. Because that’s what I’m good at? Because writing is what I know? Because without writing I don’t know who I am?

You may think I’m wallowing or being melodramatic to say that I have not been the same since my sister and my dad died but that is the bitter truth. That burning drive I woke up with every day to write, write, WRITE has not returned since I lost my family. My grief has changed, lessened, become manageable. Time is doing its work in that department. I rarely cry these days, at least about the loss, and for the most part life goes on. Except for one of the most important parts: the writing part.

I keep faking it. That is to say that I do what I know I’m supposed to do but everything behind my actions has changed. All the writer problems I never used to worry about have arrived like a gang of party-crashing hoodlums. I procrastinate. I find myself staring blankly at the screen for minutes at a time, waiting for my brain to wake up. And when my brain doesn’t wake up I scroll through Facebook or Twitter or distract myself with articles or clean up files on my computer. On the worst days, I give in to the malaise and read a book or watch Netflix instead of tackling the manuscript that needs me. I doubt myself and my talent. I question why I ever thought I was any good at this. I’ve become a cliché.

For a while, these Chronicles were my refuge. At least in this space I could find the energy to translate thoughts and feelings into words, but once I realized my thoughts and feelings were now mostly made of anger and outrage I started avoiding the Chronicles too. It has been a month since my last post. I keep telling myself that I want to write a few uplifting posts to close out this blog but then…meh. Why?

The bare bones truth is that I’m clinging to self-discipline. My only hope is that by doing what I know I should be doing eventually I will come back to “normal”. That’s all I’ve got, the routine and the little voice in my head that yells at me to keep my ass in the chair and push through this.

Some days I don’t know if that will be enough.

There’s another voice that yells at me. It tells me that it’s been two years and I’m a weak, sniveling baby for not getting my shit together yet.

Some days that voice wins and I go do laundry and eat ice cream and hate myself a little.

So here we are folks, with me wishing I could close out the 15th and final year of the Coconut Chronicles with some dazzling words of wisdom and inspiration, and failing spectacularly. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Jeebus, just say goodbye and get it over with already”, you’re not alone.

Like I said, I’m faking it.

Pouring out my heart here is part of the routine. Here I am, naked, showing you all the worst parts of myself. Not because I want to but because maybe if I do what I’ve always done then memory will take the wheel.

If I’ve learned one thing being married to a real life MacGyver, it is that there’s a way to fix just about anything, no matter how broken it appears.

Posted in Friends, Grief and Mourning, Life, On Scribbling | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Choose

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I’ve been thinking about last words, about what I’d like to pass on in my final few Coconut Chronicles. I don’t know if it matters. It’s likely, in the long run, it won’t make any difference to anyone but me. But it does matter to me, how I end.

The theme that keeps pushing itself into my brain is “choices”. Not all choices are equal but it’s difficult to know which choices matter most.

We operate under the assumption that we’ll know when there’s an important choice to be made. We imagine those moments as dramatic as someone pressing a gun to our head and demanding we choose A or B. In that scenario, with death as the ultimate price, we imagine we will dig deep and find the courage to make the right choice no matter the cost. But the truth is that gun-to-the-head decisions are rare. The choices that matter are often so small we hardly think about them until long after the moment has passed.

More than two years after her death, memories of my sister surface at the strangest times. We had an odd and often tense relationship in our adult lives. Our eventual friendship was hard won and came about mostly because I learned to get over myself and love Kelly for who she was and not who I wanted her to be. Because of this, the majority of my happy memories of time with Kelly take place before she left home, when I was eleven, with only a handful occurring in adulthood, after I was in my late thirties and beyond.

One of those later-in-life happy memories happens to be one of those almost-too-small-to-notice choices. I was staying with friends in Surrey while Fred was working on Godzilla. Kelly was in Burnaby for work as well. A rare occasion for us to be so close geographically. Our cousin had offered Kelly  free passes to an annual culinary event in town, “EAT! Vancouver”. Kelly asked if I’d like to go with her.

It would have been easy to say no. I’d have to take the bus, and then the Skytrain, to meet her, and that would be a hassle. I was busy working on one of the Warpworld manuscripts and should have been using my time to finish that. And Fred and I didn’t have money to blow on frivolous stuff like a food festival. And what’s the big deal, after all? It was just a food festival, if I chose to say no there would be other events for us to attend together in the future.

I said yes.

There was a time I would have found an excuse to say no or I would have said yes but with a caveat, like I had to leave early or something. But this time I chose to say yes. No caveats, no excuses.

Kelly and I took the Skytrain downtown so we wouldn’t have to drive and could, thus, each have some drinks. From the minute we connected, it felt like an adventure. We were doing something new together!  We wandered through the many stalls, sampled all kinds of food, sampled a few adult beverages, bought the odd goodie, and just laughed and talked and had the kind of good time all sisters should have.

Kelly and Kim

Cousin Kim (L) and Kelly (R) at the EAT! Vancouver festival

 

It was the smallest choice, saying yes, but the memory of that night is one that I hold closest and dearest now that Kelly is gone.  One fun night, just the two of us being friends and sisters. If I had said no—an easy thing to do—I would have missed out on that memory. If I had chosen to say no, I would have had to carry the regret of not having even one memory of my sister and me as adults doing something fun together, just the two of us.

Big changes, big decisions, don’t usually happen in one fell swoop, they happen in a thousand tiny yes’s and no’s.  Look back at the path of your life, and consider all the seemingly unimportant decisions that brought you to where you are now. This, I think, is part of what makes most black and white judgments so fallible. Our lives are not a single sentence, they are epic sagas made up of millions of words, every word a choice.

If there is a lesson I have picked up in my brief time on this rock, it is that there are really no small choices. Every day, everything I say and do puts me closer to the person I want to be or pulls me further away. I am changing by degrees. Knowing this, the question becomes: Who is the person I want to be?

Letting go of this space is part of that question, another choice made. I may not know exactly who I want to be, yet, but I know who I don’t want to be. I don’t want to be the person who clings to “comfortable”, who falls back on habit, who chooses the same well-worn path when there are other paths to discover.  I don’t want to be the person who keeps saying no when there are good reasons to say yes.  I don’t want to be a person who waits for the gun to the head to make the tough choices.

What are the choices you need to make? Who is the person you want to be?

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The Time Has Come…

Lately this space has not been a welcoming one for me. I used to love my Chronicles. I loved them while Fred and I were traveling and this was a place to record our adventures. I loved them when we were lost and struggling and this was a place to share my fears and uncertainties. I loved them when my writing career began to blossom and this place was where I connected with friends and peers about my work. I loved them when I was grieving and this place was a repository for my sorrow.

Now?

This place is a minefield. The gumballs rolling around in my cranium are filled with rage and frustration but to let them spill is to crush friendships and to infect this space with negativity.

And yet…

Anything else, in this space, this place where my deepest thoughts are allowed to roam free, would feel dishonest.

So I’ve tiptoed. I’ve placed a gumball here and there, hidden the angriest bits with pieces of pretty language. Even then, I can sense the rising tension.

I walked away from this place once before. Calmed down. Reassessed. Revamped. Returned. I don’t think that’s going to happen this time.

I think I’ve outgrown this place. I’m ready to move on to something new. I’m not sure what that will be yet, though I have some ideas. What I do know is that when the thing that used to bring you joy starts to make your muscles tense just thinking about it, then the time has come to say goodbye.

I’ll probably post a few more times before “the end”. I don’t like loose threads. There are still some words to say, and people and places to remember. May 2018 will be the 15th anniversary of my humble Coconut Chronicles. I’m proud of that. The average blog has a lifespan of about 4 months before it’s abandoned. And while this wasn’t always a “blog”, I’ve been sharing my thoughts with an audience since Fred and I arrived in the Bahamas in 2003.

So, don’t wave goodbye just yet but know that I’m starting to pack up, with the ghost of my dear, cranky old Emily to help.

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Posted in Friends, General, Life | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Beautiful, Treacherous, Complicated Art of Communication

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“Kris, tell your dad it’s dinner.”

I can’t count how many times in my childhood I played messenger for my mom while she gave my dad the silent treatment. That phrase is too sterile in my opinion. “Silent treatment”, it sounds like a type of therapy. “Give him the silent treatment and if his cough isn’t better in a week come back to see me.” It should be called silent punishment or silent torture, something that more closely resembles the damage it does. Silence can be as much of a weapon as a fist, as aggressive as shouting.

In my family, I learned all the worst ways to communicate. The more difficult the emotion, the worse we communicated. It is a legacy I have yet to fully outgrow. The irony of being a wordsmith who struggles to communicate effectively with the people she loves most does not escape me.

Lately, the topic of communication has circled in my brain like a curious and hungry shark. Once more we find ourselves in a place where politics are impossible to avoid, aided by the ease of public discourse the internet provides. Masks of civility have been ripped away—not necessarily a bad thing in some instances—and conversations become battlegrounds with a single syllable. The question I keep coming back to is: Can peace and good ethics exist in the same space?

I make no secret that I am, by most people’s standards, a liberal. Moderate, not extreme, to be clear.

What liberal means to me (small “l” liberal, for my Canadian friends) is that I believe we’re all in this together. I believe humans need to balance the logistics of running a prosperous society with compassion for the members of that society. I believe in equality and equity regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation. I believe—no, I know—that we are all flawed to some degree and that means it is important to put into place systems to prevent our worst instincts from doing too much damage. I believe that we must be good stewards of the planet that sustains us, even if that means some kind of sacrifices in the present to benefit those that come after us. I believe our problems are often complex and demand thoughtful, intelligent solutions and a willingness to put aside our own biases and prejudices.

I do not consider myself an extremist, about anything. So it has surprised and saddened me this past year to have been called “liberal” as an epithet by people I know and care about.

This is the slippery nature of language and communication. What liberal means to me, as it regards my political leanings, is not what it means to others. Dictionary definitions don’t apply. This is language in motion, linguistic anarchy.

I could say the same of many current hot-button words, feminism being the one that comes most readily to mind.

How can we hope to reach consensus on big issues if we can’t even agree on the meaning of a single word? Or, more accurately, if we can’t separate the word from our feelings about it?

I recently re-watched the brilliant film “Arrival” (based on the short story “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang) and was awed by how well it captured the dangers and pitfalls of communication.  For those who have not seen it (you really should see it, twice), the central figure of the story is Louise Banks, a renowned linguist, who has been recruited into a team of specialists after alien ships land on earth. As teams across the globe scramble to decipher the alien’s intentions, international tensions flare and global war seems imminent. Without spoiling the film, it is Banks’s determination to fully understand the alien language and to communicate on their level that makes all the difference.

The film is not only filled with insights about language and communications—the stories we believe we are being told and the stories we are actually being told—its structure is also such that the second viewing tells a completely different story. A good reminder of how a few key facts can change everything we think we know.

But there was one passage in the movie, a few lines quoted from a book written the main character, that stuck with me and have echoed loudly as politics invade my personal life.

Language is the foundation of civilization. It is the glue that holds a people together. It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.

Right now, the divide between “our story” and “their story” grows wider every day. Weapons have been drawn. And I find myself at war…with myself.

I am not without my opinions but I have always tried to keep an open mind, to encourage conversation, to recognize the complexity of social issues, to see things from all sides and strive for common ground. Lately, that’s changed. I still believe all those actions are important but much of what I’ve witnessed since January is beyond common ground. I can’t be neutral in the face of white supremacy, I can’t encourage conversation with people who are filled with blind hate and rage because men love other men or women love other women, I can’t stand quietly by when sound science is denied or when women’s bodies are treated like property.

I don’t want to simply jump into a shouting match that goes nowhere but neither do I want to stay silent in the face of cruelty.

Remember my mom’s silent treatments? Do you know what they accomplished? Nothing.

My mother never learned to come out and state her needs clearly and so her needs were never met. By not speaking, all she did was let anger fester and infect everyone around her.

Silence is not inaction. Silence is not a lack of communication. Silence is a statement: “I refuse to engage”. Silence is a weapon too.

It feels dangerous to me, an act of rebellion merely to speak up and say “You are wrong.” I’ve already lost friends in this conflict, I’m sure I’ll lose more before it’s over. I’ve given myself permission to be okay with that.

Will I change the world? Unlikely. But I will change myself and that’s worth something.

Dr. Louise Banks: “If you could see your whole life from the start to finish, would you change things?”

Ian Donnelly: “Maybe I’d say what I feel more often.”

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The Peri-Menopause Diaries II – Does this bulky uterus make me look fat?

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Previously on I Hate My Uterus, Why Is It Doing This To Me…

From the number of private messages and emails I received after my last peri-menopause post, it looks like I am not alone in the struggle. Some folks shared their personal experiences and others thanked me for tackling such a personal topic and asked me to keep sharing. So, here I go again, with the usual caveat, of course, that this post will contain graphic women-stuff and if you’re squicked out by that then the time to turn back is now.

Still here? Good. Let’s talk about my lady parts! Yay!

When I last left you, I had come to the end of my peri-menopausal rope and had decided it was time to go to the doctor and seek a solution. And guess what? The doc agreed that I was not just being a hysterical female or that I was a hypochondriac (this is an actual problem with women and health care). He gave me a referral to the local gynecologist and off I went.

But before I tell you about my gyno visit, I want to stop a moment and talk about that whole “hypochondriac” thing because it’s important. If you are female, and you experience pain or fatigue, especially menstrual pain there is a much higher likelihood that your symptoms will be minimized or dismissed by your medical practioners. I’ve read horror stories of women whose genuine problems were dismissed as a case of over exaggeration only to discover much later that they were dealing with cancer or any number of life threatening illnesses. There’s a reason so many women are turning to unproven and sometimes ridiculous or dangerous alternative cures and “wellness” techniques (please don’t put jade eggs up your vagina, no matter what Gwyenth Paltrow tells you), it’s because we’re not taken seriously.

I’m here to tell all the women reading this that if you have a medical problem, if you are experiencing severe pain, fatigue or depression, you deserve real medical solutions. Please don’t let anyone brush off your concerns for your health. Keep demanding answers until you get them, even if you have to keep changing doctors. And where menopause and peri-menopause is concerned, yes, it’s natural but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer needlessly. Leprosy is “natural” but your doctor wouldn’t simply pat you on the head and say, “Some people just lose body parts, it’s part of the natural cycle” if you had it.

/rant

Back to the gyno doc.

Dr. A has a shabby little office in the heart of the city. I can’t say I was feeling overly confident as I sat in the waiting room, flipping through Facebook on my phone to distract from the cries of pain and distress in the next room. Eventually I was led in and Dr. A and I had a long discussion about the state of my health. He read off a list of symptoms and I answered yes to almost all of them (no hot flashes…yet). Then, inevitably, he wanted to examine me and take a biopsy of the offending sexual organs, so off went the pants and on went the flimsy piece of modesty paper.

The exam revealed that I probably had at least one fibroid (common) and that I had adenomyosis aka “bulky uterus” (also common). Chances were that both the fibroid and my endometriosis were behind the excessive, Niagra Falls, bleeding.  Dr. A gave me two options: an endometrial ablation or a hormone-releasing IUD (Mirena Coil), but recommended the former. He discussed the pros and cons of each and sent me home with an armload of pamphlets and a prescription for Fibristal, which would stop the bleeding NOW and also shrink any fibroids that might be lurking in there. He also sent me for blood tests and an ultrasound to rule out cancer.

I headed home, excited about the possibility of regaining control over my rebellious uterus, and hit the Google to research which of these two options I should choose.

Ladies, if you feel like you need a heavy dose of frustration and fear, I highly recommend reading through any women’s health forum about gynecological devices and procedures. Over and over again I read that the Mirena was the best/worst thing that had ever happened to these women, ditto for the ablation. There was no shortage of horror stories, either, about all that had gone wrong. Talking to real women I know didn’t help either—some had great success with the IUD/ablation, others had more of those horror stories.

In the end, I decided on the ablation because I know that hormones have a way of messing me up physically and emotionally (birth control pills were awful) and I’ve had a standard IUD and though it did its job it also caused severe cramping during my period.

So what is an endometrial ablation, you ask?

Quick women’s physiology refresher:

Every month, a woman’s body gets ready to have a future college-tuition-needing human. To prepare for that possible human, the uterus lines itself with a soft, comfy, squishy layer of tissue, known as the endometrium. Meanwhile, the ovaries are busy growing an egg. When it’s ready, the egg hops into the uterus and nestles in to the endometrium to wait for her gentleman callers. When said egg discovers that no one has swiped right on her Tinder profile, she declares, “Egg out!”, drops a tiny mic, and heads out of the uterus, taking the endometrium with her in true diva fashion.* This is a period or menstrual cycle (for those of you who don’t know or who are lucky enough to not have one).

Is that too much science for you?

Sometimes things go awry with the endometrium. Sometimes the tissue that is supposed to line your uterus instead grows in other weird places. This is endometriosis and it is super, super, duper painful. It is also one of the causes of the aforementioned “bulky uterus”, when endometrial tissue grows into the muscle of the uterus.

Anyhoo, there are other causes of bulky uteri, but that’s a common one. An endometrial ablation is when a doctor goes in and burns off the endometrial lining. As the lining heals, it scars, which means no egg attachment, and no (or significantly diminished) blood build up, which means very small or no periods.  A kind of female scorched earth policy, if you will.

There are different ways to burn off the lining, in my case, a type of balloon would be inserted into the uterus and pumped full of water hot enough to do the job. Naturally, this is done under general anesthetic, but it’s a quick procedure and a simple day surgery.

I’ll spare you the details of my ultrasound, which involved me trying desperately not to wet myself as the tech pushed the little ultrasound torture wand on my bladder over and over again. I’ll just say that it confirmed I had a fibroid but its size and location did not preclude the ablation. And my blood tests came back clear, except for my iron levels which had been dropping faster than Trump’s approval rating.

While I waited for my surgery date to arrive, I enjoyed being period free thanks to the Fibristal. This proved less joyous when my two weeks of free samples ran out and I discovered my extended medical insurance doesn’t cover that drug…which is $200 for a two week supply! Thanks, Obama.

On June 28th, I checked in at the local hospital for the ablation. And here I should mention that I am a huge chicken when it comes to getting my blood taken (it doesn’t help that my low iron levels make me feel like fainting when any kind of blood is removed from my body) and a massive, nuclear chicken when it comes to getting IV’s put in. Dr. A made a note that I could have some Ativan to calm me down and I asked the nurse if they had some freezing gel that I could put on my hand.  They did! I apologized for being such a wuss and she assured me that they would far prefer I tell them and take the appropriate measures rather than have me freaking out when the time for the hand-stabbing arrived.

And here let me take another quick moment to talk about self-care. No one likes to feel weak or wussy. Society drills into us that if we ask for any kind of special considerations at any time then we are special snowflakes and whiners. You know what? Fuck that. I suffered through stressful airplane travel for well over a decade because of this logic—Fred can attest to all the times he held my sweaty hands on take-off, landing, and through turbulence. My fear stemmed from a traumatic experience and there was simply no wishing it away. Now? I pop an Ativan and enjoy the ride. In fact, the ride has been so stress free that I find I can now often fly drug-free.

So when I get my blood taken, I ask to lie down. Awesome. No stress, no fear. When I have to get an IV I ask for Ativan and freezing gel. Awesome. No stress, no fear. Don’t let people make you feel small or weak for taking steps to minimize fear and anxiety. Be your own advocate. You are worth it!

/rant #2

The ablation went smoothly. The whole thing takes about 15-20 minutes, though I did not come fully out of the anesthetic for several hours. This always happens to me. I think partly because I’m really susceptible to general anesthetic and partly because I will always take advantage of a guilt-free nap under heated blankets.

That was a week ago. I am still recovering and will be for at least another week. But I am mobile and able to do most daily stuff except vacuuming, heavy lifting and stretching, and sex. As you can imagine, Fred is really bummed out that the house isn’t getting vacuumed.

I was warned to be prepared for heavy cramping and bleeding at first—“the worst period ever” according to the anesthesiologist—but so far I’ve only experience mild spotting and a few medium-painful days.

Will it work? I don’t know. But, even if the ablation buys me a year or two of small or no periods then it will be worth it. I will still have to deal with the wild hormone swings, I assume, and there’s still the matter of the low sex drive to address, but at least if I’m no longer merely a blood factory I can get back to my fitness routine and get out of that rut where I am so frustrated and sad that I want to punch sea otters in the face.

As always, I find myself learning valuable lessons late in the game. I should have sought help a long time ago. No one is ever going to care about my physical and mental well-being as much as me, so it’s my job to demand proper care. I also think that going in for surgery made my husband realize that this was a real medical issue and not some flaky “woman thing”. I’m not sure he’ll ever really “get” it, our bodies are just that different, but me taking action and seeking help went a long way to demonstrating the seriousness of my situation. There’s a wide gulf between “I feel crappy and you should understand!” and “I feel crappy and I am going to find out why and see if there is a solution”. As women, we owe it to ourselves and the people who love us to take that step and to search for solutions.

I waited too long to ask for the help I needed. I hope you won’t.

I will probably share another update down the road. Until then, me and my new, svelte uterus will be doing our best to make things work between us. Because there is no me in uterus.

Sorry, couldn’t resist.

*The egg actually breaks apart but I write fiction and, thus, took a little creative license.

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Will You Be My Ronnie Freeman?

What’s worse than not achieving your goals? Watching other people attain them, exceed them, blow past you on the freeway of success.

Or not.

The single biggest driving force behind my writing has been my competitive nature. Actually, that has been the driving force behind just about everything I do since the days when Ronnie Freeman and I raced, neck-and-neck, to be the first ones to memorize all the way up to the 12 times tables. (We tied, by the way, igniting a silent feud that would last until the final day of elementary school).

To be clear, when I compete in writing, it’s not against any specific person or persons, it’s against myself. And, yes, I know how cheesy that sounds but that doesn’t make it any less true. When I set a writing goal, I will break my neck trying to achieve it. It took five years, and a load of stories, between the moment I decided I would win the Surrey International Writers Conference writing contest and the day I walked up to collect my prize from Diana Gabaldon and Jack Whyte. But I never took my eyes off that goal.

I believed that nothing could ever feel as good as that kind of hard-won success.

And then everything changed.

Overnight.

Literally.

Not long after I’d been roped into volunteering for the Kootenay Literary Competition, I started taking the lead. I’m an organizer and a dreamer, and in this little homegrown writing contest I saw big potential. With a small, dedicated group of volunteers, we put together a fun and friendly awards ceremony that turned out to be a standing room only event. I had my moment in the spotlight to ham it up, as usual, but passed most of the rest of the evening in the back of the room listening to our key note speaker and watching the winners collect their prizes and read from their work. That’s when it happened.

Kristene Perron hosts the 2012 Kootenay Literary Competition

Hosting the Kootenay Literary Competition in Nelson, BC, 2012. Photo: The Nelson Star

As each contestant accepted their award, I watched their beaming faces and felt…happy. Really happy. At least as happy as I had felt collecting my own awards, maybe happier. I hadn’t won anything but it felt amazing to make this happen for other writers. Maybe they would go on to write professionally, maybe this would be the peak of their literary journey, but no matter what happened, for one night, these writers enjoyed some of that all-too-scarce recognition and praise for their work and I was lucky enough to share that with them. This was a new kind of success, the kind that lasted long after the cheque had been cashed and the certificate had been filed away in a box of memories.

Without that night, I think my decision to indie publish would have been a lot more difficult and a lot less rewarding. In fact, I think everything about my writing life would have been “less”.

One of the hardest parts of choosing the indie author life was the acknowledgement that I would have to walk away (at least in the short term) from a long list of dream goals. The choice was not an easy one—though I know it was the best choice for me—and I think part of me will always mourn for what could have been. My goals have changed, by necessity, and indie life holds plenty of challenges for my competitive side, but it still pinches, just a tiny bit to watch other authors achieve the old goals I had to leave behind.

Most authors battle imposter syndrome in some form and I’m no exception. Honestly, it will always sting for a nanosecond when I read about authors winning awards that I can’t begin to hope to win as an indie, or heading off on book tours, or getting picked to speak at big events, or receiving glowing reviews from notable publications, or hobnobbing with other big name authors. Of course it will. Luckily, though, that feeling passes faster than a blink and, in the case of authors I know, is replaced by something incredible: joy.

I’m writing this because one of my author friends shared some good news today (which I will also share far and wide when the green light is given) and it struck me how genuinely happy I was for him. It struck me how happy I am for all my author friends whenever they share good news, something I wouldn’t have believed at the beginning of my journey.

It’s easy to be envious—not just for writers, either. It’s easy to let despair and jealousy take over when you see someone get something you wish you had or, worse, something you feel you deserve. What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that someone will always get something you wish you had or think you deserve. It doesn’t matter how successful you are, someone else will always be more successful. Someone will always get a bigger, more prestigious award. Someone will always get a better review. Someone will always sell more books or make more money. Someone will always have more readers and fans. There’s nothing wrong with being competitive, the trick is knowing when the game can’t be won.

I’ve also learned that for every up there is frequently a down. Today this author is winning an award but tomorrow their publisher could decide their sales aren’t strong enough and cancel a planned novel or series. There are no guarantees in this business. Appearances can be deceiving too. The author you think is basking in the glow of the spotlight could actually be battling anxiety or depression, believing they are a fraud and dreading the day the rest of the world figures it out. You can never know what demons someone else is wrestling.

I’m so grateful to the universe for giving me that night of epiphany because what came afterward was friends. I have met some extremely talented people along the writing path, who I am lucky enough to call my friends. Every time something good happens for an author friend of mine, it’s as if I’m right back at that awards ceremony, cheering and clapping from the back, feeling nothing but happiness. I celebrate my friends’ success because, weirdly, it feels like my success too. It feels like we’re all in this together and when one of us wins, we all win.

When I dig back into my memory, I see two things clearly. One:  as competitive as Ronnie Freeman and I were in the classroom, we were also good friends and neighbours. Two:  Ronnie Freeman helped make me who I am. I learned my time tables at lightning speed, and much more, because someone smart and competitive pushed me to be better. I need other people out there pushing hard to succeed. I need that motivation and inspiration.

I need my Ronnie Freemans and, I hope, they need me.

Posted in Entertainment, Friends, Indie publishing, On Scribbling | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Girl Gone Wild

Humpback whale breaching

On Tuesday morning, I climbed aboard a big, yellow zodiac and headed out to watch whales and play tourist for a day with my dear friend Liz and her family from Arizona—son Jeff, and teen granddaughters Katelyn and Lauren.  Despite the wind, which made for some thrilling, bumpy and wet passages, the day could not have been more perfect.  Nature pulled out all the stops: jumping humpback whales, a herd of young elk sunbathing up Ramsay Arm, a docile male grizzly munching on grass, even a black bear feasting on oysters at the water’s edge.

Cut off from cell phones and internet, surrounded by towering green mountains, with blue water below and blue sky above, it is impossible to believe that life is anything but simple and full of wonder.  It is as if the wildlands of the west coast are a separate dimension, a safe haven from the worries and stress of civilization. Not a permanent solution, by any means, but temporary immunization against the chaos of our daily lives, without question.

Each time I venture out onto the waters of British Columbia, I am cleansed. My head clears, my shoulders release from their permanent squeeze, my heart makes room for an abundance of gratitude and humility. I am small in the face of mighty nature; I am only one more animal passing through. I find that knowledge reassuring.

Life has made me weary lately. Not a state I am used to dwelling in. More specifically, hate and fear and outrage and ignorance and expectations and narrow-mindedness and my own multitude of shortcomings have made me weary.

I spend a lot of time online. Sometimes for business and marketing purposes (gotta earn a living), sometimes for entertainment (there are some amazing stories out there), sometimes for education and research, sometimes to communicate with friends and tribe members, and sometimes because I just find myself sucked into the internet vortex (I am only human).

Every day, I watch a group of people who butcher and obscure language and meaning to serve their goals. With each new mutation of what used to be a common language, the fear builds. We blew right past “alternative facts” with barely a bump or rattle. How did we not stop right there. Stop the car. Get out. Demand an end to that nonsense. No, we drove by, rubbernecking like we were watching an accident in the other lane. Well, better them than me. And on we go.

Language is important. Language has meaning. Sometimes too much meaning.

On the other side of the online highway, I watch another group of people constantly tearing apart everything in their path, dissecting and debating and breaking off into ever smaller and smaller and more contentious groups. This movie was a triumph for feminism! Or was it? Out come the scalpels and tweezers. But! But…it got something important really right! But, no, it didn’t get everything right. Let us carve open your moment of victory and joy; let us show you why the things you value are wrong and dangerous and worthless.  The car slows and eventually stops while we all discuss whether this car is the right kind of car and if this journey is the right kind of journey. We sit on the side of the road, terrified to speak, desperately wishing for some kind of forward motion.

Too much momentum, too much inertia. Back and forth. It exhausts me.

And when you turn on the car radio, the choice is static or outrage. So you look at the map and realize you’re getting nowhere.  You check the GPS and it only says “Follow your dreams!” What dreams can you have any more? What dreams can survive on this highway?

At night, I wake to a different scenario. Night is the place where I analyze my mistakes and failures. I watch the movie of my life and note all the plot holes. “You had a chance to fix that right in the opening act, why didn’t you?” I never have answers. The solutions seem so clear with each screening of My Life So Far. Coward…my brain whispers. Coward, coward, coward. You always took the easy path, didn’t you?

When the self-loathing gets to be too much, I take a melatonin and wait for the voices to shut up.

You’re still running away, coward, I hear as I fall into a restless sleep.

I know the voices are right. I know I have demons to face. I know I have strayed far from the path and I’m not the person I want to be. But I wake up in the morning and climb back into the car to navigate the highway and it’s all I can do to plaster a smile on my face and keep fighting the good fight—for logic, for kindness.

But out on the boat, on the ocean that moves beneath me with strangely predictable chaos, I am free. The spray of cold salt water on my face wakes me up from all of it, brings me back to a place where choices are easy and reality bends for no one. The path is simple: avoid the rocks, avoid the whirlpools and waves, watch out for deadheads, and obey the rules of the water. There’s no alternative anything out here, no time for endless debates on minutiae, no place for outrage. The ocean doesn’t care. There are right choices and wrong choices on the water and the latter holds a shocking number of ways to end you.

When it’s time to travel, the boat goes into motion toward a clear destination. The wind in my face assures me everything is going to be fine. When we slow and stop, it is to avoid a hazard or to enjoy beauty.  And what beauty. What heart-stopping, humbling beauty.

Grizzly bear in tall grass

Grizzly enjoying grass

From the boat, against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, I see a big, male grizzly. He is unfazed by our arrival. An apex predator, he knows his place. He chews on tall, green grass and basks in the warm afternoon sun. I envy him.

The trip ends back on our dock, with smiles and hugs and laughter. We have been awed.

I sleep soundly that night. The sting of a mild burn on my face is a constant reminder of the wind and the sun.  This bliss won’t last forever. Soon enough I’ll be back on the highway and wide awake at 3am. But for now, for the next little while, the wilderness has cleared enough room for me to dream again.

The experience was powerful and fundamental. It seemed to me that it had always felt like this to be a human in the wild, and as long as the wild existed it would always feel this way. ~ Cheryl Strayed, Wild

 

 

Posted in Animals, Computers and Internet, Friends, Nature & Environment, Ocean | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments