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Nanowrimo 2019: Writing Commitments vs. Life

nanowrimo2019When I was a lot younger, someone I admired once snidely commented that I did a lot of things and then asked if I was good at any of them.  It was a gut punch, and I believe that he intended it that way.

But that was long ago, and had he asked me that today, I would have said I was good at all of them. I then would have turned the question on him, complete with the raised-eyebrow-who-the-hell-do-you-think-you-are-little-minion look.

Throughout the past couple of years I’ve added to the things I’m good at. I’ve taken classes, perfected techniques, and clobbered goals over the head. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball. Sometimes you strike out, and sometimes you hit it out of the park. What I’ve always thought mattered is that you have the courage to swing.

In honour of Nanowrimo this year, I came out swinging.  I set goals, joined an accountability group, pulled my first novel out of the dark corner of my hard drive, and prepped my characters to write a full outline of my third novel. Oh yes, I had goals. Very, lofty goals. I even took time off to dedicate to writing.

And then my man popped the question, and I said yes.

Very exciting for a gal who has been single for the better part of 20 years. A swath of emotion flung doors open in my psyche that I thought didn’t keep anything worthwhile behind them any more. There’s been a lot of processing of the trauma I came from, worked through, and gratitude. Oh, so much gratitude.

I’m planning a wedding!!! And it’s going to be joyous. If you don’t know me, I will share this with you; my first wedding ripped open a wound that ran deep down through generations of physical and psychological abuse in all of their insidious forms.  It’s like I can finally wave good-bye to all of those things. The pattern has been shattered – picture me flexing my muscles and smiling….

Nanowimo-what?!

Oh yah.

So this week if I’m gonna do Nano, I have to come out swinging.  (I’m counting these words toward my first day of word counting BTW) I’ve adjusted my goals after having successfully re-read my novel from last year again. There is depth to add, secondary characters to develop, and a sub-plot that’s waiting to be birthed.

The real commitment to Nanowrimo is to commit despite whatever else life might throw at us.  (413 words).

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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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Mid-Life: Sleep is like Sex – You Have to Make it a Priority

sleeping lady

 

Sleep.

It has become a very, sexy, and alluring idea.

Admittedly, I have become too busy to fall asleep with ease. I don’t find slumber as easily as I find the perfect shade for my first pedicure of autumn or the words to change a dull passage to something memorable. Usually it’s exhaustion or mother’s little helper that guides me to sleep these days.

I’m a lover of life.  A funeral director convinced that the only way to live life is to L I V E it. Full strength, embracing everything I love with abandon, and enthusiasm. My to-do piles are a little overwhelming though, and yesterday, as I pushed my chair away from my keyboard and succumbed to the warm, sunlit cushions on my couch, a strange new reality came over me.

I take on too much. What?!

I have two desks. One filled with research for novels. One I use as command central for household concerns, travel itineraries, family gathering menus and activity planning (yes, I’m very Type A, don’t judge me). I have Christmas gift making headquarters set up in the basement next to the shelves of preserves that I fussed with all summer long. My bed is upstairs, unmade, with a pile of books, ear plugs, sleep masks, and lavender linen spray beside it.  Somethin’s gotta give.

Sleep has fallen somewhere behind my piles of fabric for homemade Christmas gifts, the books piled up for ‘research’ (and count toward my 2019 reading goal which I’ve increased by 50%), the last edit of novel number two, and the outline of novel number three. Although sleep may definitely be hiding behind the piles of jars that I have filled and have yet to fill with delights of the harvest. It could also be somewhere in the pages of itineraries for the last few trips of 2019, wedged between schedules to obtain hard-to-get dinner reservations in NYC, the best cenotes near Tulum and autumn pumpkin festivals in the Ottawa valley.

Yesterday before my weekly weigh in I drank two glasses of wine and ate trail mix topped with cool whip. What can I say, I was feeling overwhelmed. How could I not question my priorities in that moment of sweet, crunchy, wine soaked loveliness? I haven’t lost a pound in 6 months. Thanks Sonoma Valley, with a special mention to anxiety. Thank you very much.

This weekend was a rare weekend at home. Even more rare, I was able to sleep in, undisturbed two mornings in a row. I awoke refreshed and relaxed with no real agenda. It was like old times.

After soothing my scale time with a healthy dinner and one more glass of wine, I came home, packed up my editing, sorted through a pile of books to be read on my upcoming getaways, meal prepped and climbed back on the couch with re-runs of 90’s sitcoms and did some critical thinking about what to do next – how on earth to accomplish everything I had set out to do.  Not the least of which is reporting to meeting number two with my writing accountability group next Tuesday after working what we fondly refer to in the business as, “Hell Weekend”.  I have half of a damn novel to edit between now and then. Gulp…

By 8:30pm I was in the bath, covered to the chin with bubbles, sipping herbal tea, and letting my body feel tired.  I slipped my freshly washed body between the  sheets, and read until my eyes felt tired. I slept. For hours and hours uninterrupted. And I woke feeling refreshed – on a work day no less!

A year ago my immune system took a holiday, and I was sick for months. For two months I was barely able to function.  This year after rounds of tests, I was asked; are you under any stress, has your sleep been disrupted? Of course the answer was yes and yes.  I have lost a significant amount of vision due to stress and lack of sleep, and goodness only knows if it’s coming back without some kind of alien probe into my eyeball. My body is screaming for rest.

As I snuggled under the covers in the peace and quiet of morning, I reflected on how much I put on my own plate to do. It’s all good stuff, but the reality is, I only have so much time to do it in, and the time I spend relaxing is just as important as the time I spend rushing through everything.

My hobbies are too joyful to rush through. Sleep allows me to slow down, savour every moment and bring my best to each interaction, whether it’s with colleagues, family, or the characters in my book.

Sleep, much like sex at this age is something that we can often let slide down the list of priorities. After a weekend of getting some (sleep)  I’m going to make it a priority again.

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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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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!