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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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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.

 

 

 

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Unable to Connect

bad connection

There are few moments that stand out as pivotal when it comes to my developing self. Today I experienced a disconnect clearly, and it was extremely unsettling.

How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?
Where were you while we were getting high?

My go-to for writing is usually a Starbucks. Not original, I know, but it has worked for me for a long time; the chill music at just the right volume, people sauntering in cooly giving orders for extra-hot-no-whip-soy-double-shot beverages, while trying to look like they’re not checking out who looks more saucv than them while dredging out their phones to connect to the free wifi and talk at a volume just loud enough to feel important, about their co-workers’ annoying habits to their pal with the great hair who just ran through the door, out of breath and ready to talk about just how damn busy their life is.

Slowly walking down the hall
Faster than a cannonball
Where were you while we were getting high?

So, today I walked into the Starbucks in Unionville, which offered all of the above.  A special beverage juste pour moi, and enough noise to give me something to work against.

I wasn’t aware of why, but I felt it. At the the counter, I suddenly felt dumb (as in gobsmacked). The atmosphere around me buzzed with an energy that made me totally uncomfortable.  I fumbled to figure out what I wanted (normally a latte or a tall, full-bodied brew in a grande cup with lots of room for cream, or maybe even an iced chai latte with very light ice and non-fat milk), so I just ordered English breakfast tea, my simple go-to-comfort drink.

I juggled my laptop and milky tea to the middle of the shop and looked for a seat. I chose the one next to the Spanish looking fellow who was plugged into his phone, singing Oasis at the top of his lungs and making everyone else feel more than slightly uncomfortable. It was either him, some guy in a button-down and tie trying to look like he was working, and an  Asian lady looking anxiously at the guy singing, like he might suddenly jump up and mug her right there in the middle of an upper-middle-class afternoon.

The crazy guy seemed like the only reasonable, and sane choice. Everyone else was wearing a mask – you know what I mean, looking but trying not to. Caring what everyone else thinks, but enjoying being on show. They hugged their paper cups like cocktails in a 1940’s thriller. The crazy guy was more my speed.

Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova in the sky
Someday you will find me
Caught beneath the landslide
In a champagne supernova
A champagne supernova in the sky

He turned his head and looked right at me. We were just inches apart. I looked right back and stared into his eyes, “Hello” I said. He turned away  and kept on singing.

Wake up the dawn and ask her why
A dreamer dreams she never dies
Wipe that tear away now from your eye

For some reason I could not connect. My laptop froze in the ether of this moment of self-discovery.  I’d connected at Starbucks a zillion times all over the world without a problem, but today it just wasn’t happening.

Realizing that I was just wasting my time trying to plug in to the rest of the world via my 12″ screen,  I decided to spread out at the bar if front of the floor to ceiling window that lines Main Street.  A plastic-enhanced woman in a white jacket swooned that she could not believe that I was leaving a corner seat as she slid over and let me know that she was expecting an important client (the crazy dude had already left).

Important clients deserve more than in indiscreet conversation in a public, brand-name coffee shop, but for some reason they settle for it. I moved and let her have the corner office.

Having just come back from a vacation where there is an overtly open relationship regarding the energy exchange of buying and selling, engaging or disengaging from those around you, I suddenly realized that this aloof, dare I say, apathetic environment no longer serves me.  It’s just more distilled in places like Starbucks where everyone thinks they’re special because they’re not at the Tim Horton’s Drive Thru.

I wrote, people came and went, and I missed  simple, authentic interaction with other human beings.

This was not the environment I wanted or needed. I packed up my kit, and strode back to my car, hair blowing in the wind, yellow jacket shining against the overcast skies of a colder than usual spring.

Zipping past the boutiques that line this picturesque little part of my community, I noticed another cafe – Chee Organic Cafe, and I made an note to drop in tomorrow. Maybe I can connect there.

How many special people change?
How many lives are living strange?

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When the Community Board is Empty

Most of you know that I have recently moved. I live in a very strange community that has come to make me appreciate the effects of foreign property investment on our ‘communities’.  In effect, all of the empty grand homes in our neighbourhood  are mostly empty, with lights on timers, regular professional landscaping, and someone who clears the local newspaper and flyer delivery from their front porch. There is no neighbourhood here, only bank accounts in the form of houses.

It robs us of community. It robs us of mom and pop shops able to keep their doors open to provide goods and services for the neighbourhood.

Yesterday I popped in to a local  Starbucks for a delightfully refreshing iced drink, and while I was waiting for my sweetie’s pour-over, I turn to the community board as I’m often want to do.

This is what I saw;

A picture is worth a thousand words. Nothing. There is regularly nothing related to community posted on this board. Despite there being a steady stream of people in line to buy their caffeinated bevvies at all hours through the weekdays and on the weekends, there is little if any sense of community.

I’m a writer, and admittedly, I’ve spent way too much time in coffee shops picking away at my keyboard, and I’ve spent way too much money on coffee. I have however honed a keen sense of place while I’m out and about mooching free office space.

I have never (not even once) settled into this location for my hour long writing sessions, arranged for a meeting with friends, or lingered any longer than it takes to make my Sunday-morning-one-bag-in-one-bag-out herbal tea.

This weekend in Toronto while getting settled in to a workshop, I was recommended to a coffee shop just down the street from where we were gathering. And this is what their community board looked like;

 

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Mallo – Located at 785 Bathurst Street. Worth becoming a regular meet-up spot. Definitely make time to try their absolutely delish menu.

I stopped, took off my coat, enjoyed a cup of tea, and ordered one to go. The staff were so friendly, and vibe was so great, that I came back again after my workshop and tried their menu with a pal who was in the neighbourhood. $70.00 later I felt like I had a new place to add to my favourites. Lesson learned; a sense of community translates to profit.

Earlier this week, I was back in my old stomping grounds at my favourite Starbucks in Mississauga, and their community board looked like this;

community board

 

When your community boards are empty at informal meeting spaces like coffee shops, there is a fundamental problem within the local community. There is a disconnect.  People go out to write, to gather, and to get their over-priced half-caf-low-fat-made-exclusively-for-me beverages because they are craving connection as much as they are craving sugar and caffeine.

When your community board is empty, I challenge you to go out and find one that is overflowing with posters for yoga in the park,  poetry readings, amateur nights at the local coffee house. I guarantee you’ll be a happier, healthier person.