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Nanowrimo As Sport: 2019 Prep

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Nanowrimo is upon us. Well, it’s upon me, and I like to think that we’re all in this together, even though I know it’s just me and my cats. Well, at least one of the cats. The other one doesn’t give a shit.

I’m alway mid-novel when the inspiration for the next one comes, and it’s always different. No formula, no easy way to plot it, just a story and characters that poke their heads out from behind the curtain of my overactive imagination and dance naked across the stage, strategically covering their most interesting bits.

I have yet to hear the countdown of my editing wrestling match with my novel from last year, but I’m planning a giant flying pile driver from the top rope to finally stun that thing into submission. Yes, it’s starting to feel like an opponent, and I’m not about to let it pin my creative shoulders to the mat.

It sounds aggressive, but I have to be. With enthusiastic characters waiting in the wings, I don’t have time to mess around with it any more. I need to make friends with my new folks. The ones that seem kinda normal, but lead extraordinary lives.

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My next novel is about choice, surrender vs. giving up, contentment vs. greed, and the different ways in which passion manifests as we stride through mid-life. I hope that you will see yourself in my every-woman characters, laugh, cry (maybe not so much), and gasp at the ending.

To all of my fellow Nanowrimo authors, I hope that your prep time is as lush with new character creations as mine is.

 

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Purple Jumpers & CreepyMen – A Writer’s Inspiration for Laughter & Character Development

make a girl laugh

Reality, as it occurs, has left me confused about whether I’m always surprised, or never surprised by people.

As a writer, people-watching is something that I consider research. How I will use the woman in the sparkly,-velour-grape-purple-jumpsuit with the fanny pack who took each and every article out of her cart in the Cosco parking lot while traffic jammed behind her, has yet to be determined.

I do know where I’ll use the selfish, immature beaut who thinks the world revolves around them. As do I know where to use the classically, sexually-repressed, straight-laced perv. White trash and neurotics are always a great supporting cast to people who obliviously flaunt their own style.

This week I’ve been cornered by two over-sharers. Both male. Both blissfully thinking that their fascination with the minutiae of their immediate environment is worthy of highjacking the attention of a complete stranger. Both the sort of fellows that made me want to hold my breath to stave off breathing in what I thought for certain would be a thick, musty, I-wash-my-clothes-every-three-weeks scent. Creepy men.  Both classic characters whom I’m quite happy with leaving on the page and never having to encounter in real life.

I take in the world around me, and find myself laughing at most things that render others gobsmacked.  My go-to response is laughter and often times, curiosity. What on earth makes these people tick? How can we all be so different when it comes to how we normalize the treatment of others?

WTF is a regular thought that goes through my head with each and every interaction with most people. Followed by laughter. After all, most things are fixable. For everything else, there’s gin.

As I get back into my writing routine for fall, I hope to maintain my own playful response to the madness around me. I challenge you to do the same.

 

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In the Kitchen With Granny

Today I woke up and took a good look in the mirror; Fingers padding lightly across my skin, as I lean in to really see myself. I look into my tired blue eyes and know that I look like both of my grandmothers.  I have the round, kind face of my Granny Dorothy, and the body of my Granny Eileen. It’ll just have to do.

The two of them were as different as night and day. Granny Dorothy was an educated woman who married late in life to a sour, strict, everyone’s-going-to-burn-in-hell-baptist.  Her wits and grit kept the bills paid, and her sense of humour kept her alive. Had she been born today, she likely never would have married. She would have worked her way around the world. Alas, the 1930’s had other plans for her.

Granny Eileen on the other hand, was on husband number three when I came along. She’d raised six kids on her own. She was a resourceful woman with a heart of gold who didn’t take a lick of shit from anyone, especially her husband.

Both of these women taught me to make something from nothing.  Whether it was in the kitchen, or out in the world at large. They taught me how a woman could be both strong and kind.

Every year, I keep them close as I plant my garden, and every harvest season, as I take to the kitchen. These rituals keep me close to them. I’m a sentimental traditionalist when it comes to my kitchen. During the summer, I find myself preserving the same things with the same recipes that they did all those years ago.  I throw in a few more odds and ends, just because I find comfort in the routine of being in the kitchen during harvest season.

This morning I slipped on a jersey knit dress that put me in mind of Granny Dorothy. She knew what she was doing with those old house dresses. Simple, tidy, and most importantly when you’re preserving; cool. I listened to interviews with authors as I sterilized jars, peeled and chopped fruit, remembering how my Granny Eileen’s gnarled up hands seemed to be able to create anything.

During the summer months, I yearn for the slow, simple days of childhood summers. I recall the flavour of each stage of the harvest; radish, carrots, and beans snapped straight from the plant and tossed directly into our mouths.  No garden was immune to kids raiding it for a snack. We sucked on sour rhubarb stalks, and cringed at the bitterness of currents. We raided the ditches and gullies, picking raspberries and blackberries when we were lucky enough to find them. Each ripening carried back to the kitchens of our grannies where it was made into something wonderful.

 

Except pastry. I learned how not to make pastry from both of my Grandmothers. Kind of like how not to choose a mate. As it turns out, Granny Eileen  insisted that if I followed the recipe on the box of Tenderflake, my pastry would be just fine. She also lied. Years later my aunt laughted at me so hard tears streamed down her face; Granny used pre-made pastry and was full of shit. Granny Dorothy on the other hand was honest with me but produced pastry with a texture so fearsome that the dog wouldn’t even eat it.  From this I learned that sometimes we don’t always get what we need from family. Sometimes we have to reach out to become wiser and better.

 

The quiet stretches in my kitchen necessary for the process of preserving and canning gives me time to commune with the spirit of these two women. They are with me here in the steam and heat, and smell of cooked fruit. They are with me when I take a jar of something I preserved from the pantry and serve it to my family and friends. My grannies are always with me at my table.

 

 

 

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Who Wants to Get Laid?

fashionI’ve decided that it’s angst that’s missing from my mid-life journey.

It’s a truth that jumped up in all its 1980’s-headband-glory and slapped me in the face. I was sitting at a beer-tent table taking in the motley cast of characters who had come out to see two 80’s bands, have a few drinks in the heat of the summer sun and relive their youth.

The bad hair, neon shirts, and big hair were all there, but the angst was missing. The tension was gone.When the lead singer of Loverboy howled out, “Who wants to get laid?”, only a vague cheer went up. We all knew that getting laid now would never be the same as getting laid then.

The crowd who once thought the term making love was creepy, totally gets it now. An older man once wisely told me that some things are just better as fantasies. He was right. The fantasy of getting laid then is much different than the fantasy of getting laid now; tight schedules, middle-aged bodies and the been-there-done-that lack of sheen.

Just like spiral perms and acid washed jeans, angst has its place in my repertoire of nostalgia. After all, it was the perfect fuel for breathtaking passion. I have to thank it for the part it played in my well-spent youth, despite it’s lack of discernment. Angst carried with it a hungry awareness of mortality. That hungry awareness has turned to sated gratitude now that I’m past my best before date.

Oh, and don’t go on about there’s still so much time left to do what I dream of. I know that. Oh, boy do I know that. Don’t get me wrong, I still experience desire. I’m still the same hot-blooded soul that I ever was. I’m just ok with it all now. There’s less anxiety, more satisfaction. Less time wasted on the people and things that don’t make sense in an energy exchange involving the elements of life that I find satisfying.

I do not buy into the idea that I need to define myself with some great mid-life shift. It’s the great continuum of false goods sold to women these days – that we must reinvent ourselves rather than continue to become fully who we have always been.

Yes, Mr. Loverboy, I would like to get laid. I would also like to stretch out in a large, comfortable bed afterward, sip some bubbly and nod off rather than have to hump in uncomfortable spaces and rush to get my clothes back on. Thank you for asking.

Gratitude fills in quite nicely for angst, with it’s soft and ample settling into the hollow spaces. My own angst packed up and waddled off years ago, leaving me quite content with who I am, and less anxious about making mistakes.  I also have better hair.

 

 

 

 

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Boundary Breaking Turds: Containing the Stink

toilet-paper-shoeIn my late 30’s I became acutely aware of people who drained my energy. I’m sure you can relate.

As a natural caregiver, I was feeling drained by some of my family and friends. I was the go-to for help, but not the go-to if I needed anything. So I experimented with personal boundaries. I fell in love with them. They are flexible yet firm, and they love me back.

The more you care about someone, the more it hurts when those boundaries are disrespected, and yesterday that happened to me. Not for the first time, but for the last time. Every time I interact with this individual, they tromp all over everyone else’s boundaries like a rhino in a vegetable garden, ruining a lot of good stuff, and leaving destruction and a few turds in their wake.

I’m pretty relaxed, except when it comes to holding a grudge. I can hold onto a grudge forever. Not intentionally, it kind of sticks to me like a piece of dank toilet paper that I can’t kick off my shoe. It’s disgusting. And let’s be clear – it’s not my shit in the first place, it’s theirs.

So yesterday, my garden was tromped, annihilating the plans for someone I love (for the umpteenth time). Metaphorically, I stepped into their shit and it stuck.  It’s hard to shake off, and it tracks it’s stink everywhere.

When you point it out, people are disgusted by it too, but no-one’s going to help get it off because, well, it’s shit. It stinks, and it’s sticky, and they don’t want it stuck to them.

Deal with it. Get that shit outta here!

You know what I’m saying?

The only solution is to vent to good friends who are at enough of a distance not to catch a whiff of the crap. They can empathize and help you cope. The only solution though, is to avoid the shit. To stay away from the doggy park, if you know what I mean?

Whether it’s a bad boss, an annoying social acquaintance, or a family member who bulldozes everyone. Just do not engage.  At all. Or, at the very least expose yourself to their destructive ways as little as possible to avoid being the one with their shit stuck to your shoe.  Also keep your distance from people who have little or no self-awareness with regard to how much of that particular individual’s shit they are tracking through their life. Some people are just covered in it!

Boundaries are there to keep you safe from people who have no regard to how shitty they are. Keep your boundaries firm, and your shoes clean.

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When to Retreat

This is itSpiritual care retreats aren’t for everyone. The longer I go between breaks, the more I wonder if they’re for me, if I’ve got anything left in me to nurture and to bring to the world other than a curmudgeonly attitude requisite for being a veteran mortician.

Today, I plowed my way through the two-lane-traffic-corridor from hell that takes you out of the GTA and to Kingston. It’s an exercise in patience and dreaming of creative ways to free our highways of transport trucks and drivers who do not obey the left-lane-is-for-passing rule.

I muttered through traffic, rolled my eyes at the lack of parking signage at the retreat location, and cursed the universe in general for having the rain start just as I was wrestling my basket of yoga mat, meditation cushion and blanket for deep relaxation out of my trunk.  I have under-packed for retreats before, and I was determined that based on the wet forecast, this was not going to be one of those soggy times. I looked like a 44 year old-yoga-pant-and-pink-sweater-wearing-mule trying to get all three bags  inside on one trip.

I was appalled at the woman who let me struggle with the door to the registration lounge without helping me, and the lack of smile on the face of the registrar. This is not Buddhism! Buddhism smiles for crying out loud! I could not get to my little room fast enough so I could dump my suitcase, prep for the mediation hall and ensure my precious bottle of South Australian plonk was safely stored next to the second draft of my novel.

This is how I entered my retreat space; frustrated, exhausted, and ready to give the world not a single, but a double salute using my middle fingers.

And then I entered the retreat space. I hastily set out my mat and cushion in the middle of the room and plopped myself down to breathe. Ha! To breathe…think about that one. Just taking a single, deep, focussed breath can do so much. For a veteran with this particular group, my entrance was anything but mindful. I did not bow. I did not do all of the small, but mindful ritual requirements of coming into such a sacred space. That was my first wake-up call. I needed to be exactly where I was.

I changed course, focussed on the minutiae of what I was doing, and in doing so,  I found myself at home. In observing my breath, the bell, the noble silence at the dinner hour, nourished by lip-smacking vegetarian food, in the dharma group listening, and finally back in my room (with a glass of contraband wine), alone with my thoughts.

Again I am reminded how precious these times are. I’m reminded how they crystallize my intentions, and help me manifest the kind of person I try to be.

I raise a glass to that…after all, nobody is perfect!

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Air Travel for the Commoner

AirTravel CaribbeanThere are few things better than being cramped in a flying-death-trap with a gaggle of strangers who lack common sense and manners.  A PAP test and  mammogram are much less uncomfortable, and take a fraction of the time.

Most recently I witnessed an individual wearing a, “WORK IS FOR PEOPLE WHO DON’T DIVE”, shirt waltz down the aisle of a package-vacation aircraft with every imaginable piece of kitchen survival clipped to their camo-pants. There was a phone, a travel mug, travel pillow and an assortment of acoutrements jangling. We were all coming from a beach vacation for crying out loud. Chill out MacGyver. Another person followed, travel pillow, purse, iPad, hat and carry on in tow. As she swung around looking for space in the overhead, she clobbered someone in the head with her purse.

This delicate ballet continued as people kept boarding. I was fascinated by the lack of decorum, and complete disregard for other passengers. This has become a typical experience when it comes to package vacation carriers.

As a teenager sitting in my boyfriend’s living room, his very proper Irish father reacted to a belch or some other such masculine roar by calmly telling us that as we aged, we would appreciate small manners that added up to civilized society. I’ve aged. I appreciate it.

During my last experience with a trans-atlantic flight, I experienced the most absurd rushing to board I have ever seen, with a line-up forming an hour prior to boarding. What resulted was an irritated mob of unorganized boarding-a lovely way to begin an eight hour forced confinement. I’m convinced it was because people were vying for overhead compartment space.

airplaneMy most recent experience with air travel have been interesting to say the least. No, I cannot boast surviving a terrifying emergency landing like a friend and colleague.  I have never been privileged enough to witness a mid-flight take down of an irate passenger, and on the other end of the spectrum, I have also have never been graciously upgraded because I’m an obedient, no fuss traveller.

I did however witness the trio of women who swung their luggage around like a cat by the tail, spill red wine on themselves and the passengers behind them while laughing loud enough to keep everyone awake on the plane. Combined with the guy behind us who coughed up snot throughout the entire journey, it was a five hour exercise in patience.

Alas, I have been around long enough to witness the complete decline in etiquette and common sense when it comes to air travel. Perhaps it’s because the real estate inside aircraft has become more valuable. Overhead bins have become kind of like the condo market in Toronto – you know, people throwing money at 400 square feet like it’s an estate home on five acres. It’s all getting smaller and demand is exponentially rising.

Please, I beg of you, the next time you arrive at the gate, leave your ego behind, get in, sit down, and don’t be an asshole.