Category: Things That Are Hard Page 1 of 3

Chapter 34

This morning I awoke to a city covered with a fine layer of glistening frost, like the clouds had dusted my surroundings with icing sugar. It was a beautiful way to open my 35th year, with everything looking sparkling and crisp.

I’m now, as a friend pointed out, halfway to 70.

Thirty-four was, for me, a year of extreme ups and downs. Maybe the most extreme year of my life.

When I was 34, I visited six countries on three continents over multiple trips. I traveled with friends, alone with my children, alone with my husband and with my husband and kids. Before 34, the thought of getting on a plane left me fraught with terror, often paralyzed and numb. Before 34, leaving my children behind so I could see the world with my beloved made me so sick and anxious I couldn’t enjoy the places I was visiting. When I was 34, I boarded a four-seater single-prop airplane without so much as a tremor. 34 was the year I conquered a fear that has dogged me since early adulthood.

When I was 34, depression kicked my ass. It left me lower than I’ve ever been, so low that I stopped caring about climbing my way out of the pit I’d sunk into. And then, while I was still 34, I kicked depression’s ass right back. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do was force myself to slog through those days instead of just giving up. When I was 34, I battled my own brain for the will to live, to accept help. That help came in many forms – family, friends, love, support, pharmaceuticals and counselling. I’m grateful for every one of them.

When I was 34, I started my own business, something I had always sworn I was never interested in doing, until I found something I realized I couldn’t not do. It started out as a very part-time hobby, but the more I worked at it, the more it’s become something I want to grow and nurture. 34 saw me try on a new hat – that of entrepreneur. And I think that hat fits me pretty well.

When I was 34, I sent my youngest child off to school for the first time. He ran from me toward his classroom with unreserved joy – and then ran back to give me a hug, maybe understanding the way only kids can that it was harder for me than him. It will be at least another ten years before I have a child out of school again. I miss their company during the day.

When I was 34, I became truly comfortable with who I am, and stopped seeking approval from others for my life and my choices. I stopped feeling guilty for doing things that made me happy, and I stopped putting my own needs last, realizing that sometimes the best way to help others to be their best is to make sure I’m at my best first. I will never apologize for doing that. I wore bikinis. I got another tattoo. I built a shed/office/clubhouse that’s just for me to read in or write in or drink cheap coolers in or just stare up through the sunroof at the stars in.

When I was 34, I changed. The high points brought me joy. The low points taught me about my limits and about who’s got my back. I am grateful for every moment of 34, because it’s what’s made me into the person who’s ready to tackle 35 with a joie de vivre that I haven’t felt in a long time.

On the Benefits of an Honest Critique

As a writer, probably one of my least favourite things to do is share my work with others and ask for a critique. Not because I’m worried they’re going to tear it apart, but because I’m afraid they’ll just say “I think it’s great!” and hand it back.

A critique like that is exactly 0% helpful. I don’t want my ego stroked. I want to know what doesn’t work so I can make it better. Whether it’s something I know needs work but I can’t figure out how to fix it, or feedback that takes me entirely by surprise, a good critique can only be helpful, if you listen to it.

This article from the Huffington Post sums up how I feel about the subject nicely. It’s worth a read by anyone who strives to improve themselves, whether at work, at a creative pursuit or even aspects of their personality.

I’m not saying critique doesn’t hurt. My dad is a particularly thorough critic of my writing and some of the stuff he says makes my cheeks burn when I read it. Instinctively, my reaction is always along the lines of “well you’re just wrong.” And I vow to ignore it.


A few days later I read his critique again. And even if I don’t take every word to heart – there’s no rule that says you can’t stick with your original thought or plot device or whatever – I still consider his reaction and why he might feel that way. You can’t make everyone happy, but you can listen to everyone’s complaints and assess them. All feedback is useful in some way, as long as it’s constructive. I often end up coming around to the critiquer’s point of view and make some changes.

I kind of love critiques. Like in a sadistic, “hit me ’til it hurts” sort of way. I mean ultimately, even if it makes me squirm, my goal is to be a better writer, right? I used to hate it in school when I’d get a paper back all marked up with red ink and I didn’t have the opportunity to re-write based on the feedback to improve it. It was just done. With the long editing process and multiple drafts involved in writing a novel, I finally get to do that. You’re damn right I’m going to listen to someone who has an opinion if they’re willing to take the time to offer it to me.

Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out

I like to give things names. Sometimes it makes things easier to talk about. Sometimes it makes things funnier to talk about. Like for instance


my husband and I call sex ‘sandwiches.’ As in, “hey, want to put the kids to bed, have a late supper and make some sandwiches?” Hilarious, right?

I decided that my depression needs a name too. My depression will from now on be known as Karl. And the time during which I was at my worst will be called Karl’s Terrible Visit.

Karl’s Terrible Visit has come to an end.

I’m still waiting close to the door, hoping Karl doesn’t poke his head back in because he forgot his wallet on the dresser, and could he perhaps have one more cup of coffee? But I think that even if he tried to pull a fast one on me, I’d be able to show him to the curb.

So long and good riddance, Karl. Looking forward to seeing you never again.

(I know that’s probably not likely. Karl and I, we go way back.)

Regardless, I can throw open the windows, let in the sunshine, change the sheets in the spare room where Karl took up residence for the past seven months and look forward to running my own home again.

Thank you, husband who called my doctor when I couldn’t. Thank you, Kid 1 and Kid 2, for being awesome and worth living for. Thank you, friends and family who didn’t give up on me even when I became a terrible, selfish, useless person. Thank you, pharmaceuticals, for helping my brain be just normal enough.

Thank you, me, for always believing I’d make it through somehow.

Onward to bigger and brighter things!

The Universe Provides

I believe in the Universe. I believe that if you try to be in tune with it, and allow yourself to be open so it can be in tune with you, then it will give you what you need. That’s what spirituality looks like to me. No rules, no morality, no acts of devotion, just the opportunity to listen and be listened to. We are all made of cosmic dust and atoms that are billions of years old. The Universe is in all of us.

And the Universe provides.

Usually we spend most of our time blocking out our effects on nature, the people around us and ourselves. Or maybe you don’t, I don’t know. I do. I like to keep my world small because it’s harder to comprehend the big picture.  My last post made it clear I’m not in a good headspace right now. It seems like it’s only when I’m unhappy that I start seeing what makes other people unhappy too. The things they don’t say out loud. The things they endure in silence. I can’t always do something about it, but I can at least say that I see it, that I know they’re struggling. That I can listen to them if they want to talk, or I can listen to their not-talk if that’s better. I listen a lot better when my life isn’t going the way I want it to. And when I start listening to others, I start listening to myself too, all the things I don’t say or that I don’t even know I want to say. The things between the words and thoughts.

I also spend a lot of time looking for answers and screaming “WHY?” at the stars. Usually only in my head, but sometimes out loud (in my car so the neighbours don’t become alarmed). And I open myself up to the answers that I haven’t previously wanted to face.

Sometimes the answer to “WHY?” is big. So big it takes your breath away. Crushes you under its weight. Sometimes it’s so small, so simple, you laugh because you can’t believe you had to go through so much hardship to find it.

And then once you’ve faced “WHY?,” once you start to wrap your head around it, comes another important question, this one usually a whisper. “how?”

And this is where the Universe provides. Things that previously seemed impossible fall into place like the world is rearranging itself to personally raise you up from the dark pit “WHY?” has thrown you into.

It can be as small as remembering that a half hour’s hard swim can make you feel like puking and laughing and that you can’t stand after and how great a feeling that is.

It can be a five-minute backrub with the homemade lotion made with the citrus oil that always calms you and brightens your spirits.

It can be realizing you can make it to yoga twice a week despite your hectic schedule because the studio’s schedule aligns with yours almost perfectly.

It can be as big as knowing that having something huge and exciting to look forward to can improve your mental outlook a thousand percent, and then within hours having a friend point out there’s a seat sale to Iceland on right now, and half-jokingly suggesting, should we go? And then six other friends decide to tag along and suddenly you’re on your way for a madcap long weekend to a place you’ve always wanted to see with your best friends in only a few weeks.

It can be as small as wondering with your husband if you can make shawarmas at home and then having someone you know post a recipe online for exactly that a couple hours later.

Since my last post I’ve been trying so hard to listen to myself and figure out what needs to change in my life. There isn’t one Holy Grail of an answer, the magic switch that will switch to ‘all better.’ It’s not that easy. And I’m not stupid enough to think that I can fix things without a lot of hard work. This isn’t my first rodeo. But if the Universe is going to give me all these signs, all these offerings to help get me back on my feet, the least I can do is do the work on my end.

And Then There Was Nothing

Depression is a heavy thing to face up to. Already, I’m sure a lot of people are averting their eyes and clicking through after reading that first word. People don’t really talk about it much, and when they do, they’re embarrassed. Count me among them; I don’t like talking about it either. It’s uncomfortable.

I’m suffering from depression.

It creeps up on me every year, usually sometime around the end of summer. There are probably a lot of reasons: less time outdoors in the sun, working the garden, at the pool or lake or park or campground; the end of canning season, which is a huge amount of work and accomplishment; kids go back to school and I find myself missing them during the day and burdened with extra responsibilities (making lunches! signing off on agendas! remembering library books and permission forms!); and my fitness level decreases. Normally all this leaves me feeling a bit low, which is usually alleviated by things like regular yoga, slowing down and being gentle with myself and planning a sun vacation for the new year. But this year I added to that a struggle to adjust to new food intolerances, an increased onset of triggerless anxiety and the death of a longtime friend, and everything went into a tailspin. First all my feelings turned to sad and then they turned to nothing. Just nothing all the time. The absence doesn’t go by unnoticed by me – I’m constantly reminding myself that I should be feeling X or Y about this or that but there’s nothing there. Somewhere along the way I stopped getting out of bed some days, lost almost a fifth of my body weight and realized this was more than just failure to cope.

I should probably see a doctor. I keep telling people I want to. I think I hate feeling this way, or I would hate feeling this way if I could. But I can’t pick up the phone because I don’t care enough to. Which is stupid. I could do it right now. My phone is literally sitting beside me right now.

Maybe tomorrow.

I see it for what it is. I’m pretty sure other people do too. I hope to god my kids don’t, at least, that they don’t notice sometimes their mom wishes they didn’t care about her so much so they wouldn’t be bothered if she just went to live off by herself forever. That’s a horrible realization to face up to. For a long time I hoped it would just stop one day. Fake it til you make it, right?

The worst part came when I stoped caring one way or another. I’d be happy never getting out of bed again. All the stuff I’m missing doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t go to yoga. I don’t see much of friends. I don’t read or watch TV. I especially don’t write. How can I immerse myself into the emotions of characters when I don’t have any of my own?  And I’m definitely not being gentle with myself. The little voice in my head that tells me there’s no point in doing anything about it rules the mental airwaves right now.

I hate that bitch.

I know I’m not alone in this. I also know that, like before, I’m going to pull through, it’s just such a miserable slog to get there. In the meantime I have to ask everyone in my life for forgiveness and patience and understanding that maybe tomorrow will be different. And that it’s because of them that I haven’t already cashed it all in and run away to a yurt in the mountains.

Tomorrow could be better. And if not tomorrow, the day after that.

The Flood

I had another typewriter post formulating, but currently my city of 1 million+ is under a state of emergency due to extensive flooding and approximately one tenth of the population is under mandatory evacuation. A power outage is imminent and our water treatment plant is under severe strain. My family and I are safe and dry and have lots of drinking water and food so I don’t anticipate too much hardship, but I have friends who have lost virtually everything and my heart aches for my beautiful city and its people.

You can follow the latest on twitter by searching #yycflood or #abflood. There are some phenomenal photos and videos of the extent of the destruction.

I commend the first responders for all their hard work as well as the many people who have opened their homes to friends and strangers alike. Out of the approximately 100,000 people who were evacuated, only about 1,500 required emergency shelters. That’s amazing. And so far no injuries or deaths have been confirmed which is nothing short of miraculous, although I understand that up to four people may be missing.

Donations can be made to the Red Cross here if you’re so inclined.

Keep safe and dry, Calgary.


What goes here?

What goes here?

I’ve been sitting, staring at this page for the better part of an hour – or rather, glancing at it, then closing the window in disgust and going back to read about kittens and typewriter maintenance and eating boxes and boxes of crackers.

I feel like I’m being dragged out to my death in stormy seas by a vicious riptide, trying to write these days. The words just aren’t there. The ones I do manage to shovel out seem dull and uninspired. All I see when I write, is how much work editing is going to be.

I’m so close to finishing my first draft, and I feel like things should be different. If I’m not excited about writing the climax, will people be excited about reading it? None of my characters are getting along at the moment, and writing conflict is right up there with taking a cross-country trip on a bus with a broken toilet, for me. Right now I’m plugging my nose and praying I can make it to my destination.

The Midpoint Blahs

I haven’t felt like blogging much lately. Writing is hard, thinking about writing is hard, everything is hard.

I have the midpoint blahs.

Is it a coincidence I recently crossed the 50,000 word mark? I don’t think so. This happens to me every time around this point, and it doesn’t help at all that I’m working on a collection of scenes with crazy POV issues that are probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write. Does any of this sound familiar?

I’ve been writing this story foreeeeeeever. How can I still have so much to go?

Nothing in this chapter makes sense.

I don’t feel like writing today. Or tomorrow.

I have no idea what comes next.

Everything I’m writing is absolute garbage. Why do I even bother?

I’m forcing myself to work through it, even if it’s only a thousand shitty words a day that I’m sure will be completely re-written in subsequent drafts. That’s okay. Every crappy sentence gets me further from the midpoint and onto something new. I’m also considering taking a break from this part of the story and jumping ahead a few chapters for a change of scenery before coming back. What I’m not going to do is stop writing! It’s BS to give up every time things get a little bit difficult. As a very wise fish once said,

Because It’s A Day Ending in Y, I Must Be Changing My Mind

So, a few weeks ago, when I was talking about how there were some things that I was thinking about editing, but decided not to because I liked those scenes?

Yeah, they’re all gone.

It was all stuff that I loved, it’s true. But I loved it for me, not for the story, and it didn’t offer anything relevant to the plot. THIS is the hard choice that I wasn’t ready to make before. THIS is why I got five form rejections in five days. It hurts my heart a little bit to see all that stuff go. But you know what? It’s all right. I don’t regret having written it in the first place, and I’m glad I have my previous drafts saved so I can hang on to those deleted scenes. Even my first draft, which I look back on now and just kind of shake my head. I’ve come a long way in the past six months and I absolutely love this learning process, even if it has left a bitter taste in my mouth from time to time.

I do feel bad that I started querying too soon, and closed some doors on myself before I was truly ready. But there are still lots of places I’d like to send it, once I’m finished this revision and get a bit of feedback on it. Next month should see me querying anew, with a stronger manuscript, one that maybe actually has a chance.

Bitch-Slapping My Inner Editor

I’m editing right now. Fourth draft. The plan – beforehand at least – was to make some tough cuts, chop out a couple characters and some extra scenes, trim it down a bit.

Well I can’t. I don’t want to. It just doesn’t feel right.

Would it bring the reader to a climactic scene a bit sooner? Yes. Around 3,000-ish words sooner. Would it reduce the overall word count? Yes, by about 5-7,000 words, I think.

Would the reader know my protagonist as well, understand what makes her tick a bit better? Definitely not. Would it hinder the story arc over three books? Yes, a little.

I’ve been worried – obsessed, if you want the truth – about the fact that this one pivotal scene happens around a quarter of the way through the book. I’ve gotten it into my head that that’s too long. But the thing is, something like a dozen people have read it so far, and not a single person has shared that sentiment. I think I’ve been so focused on advice that says you have to lay out ALL THE ACTION!!! on the first page, but there’s more than one way to write a book. Do my first few pages lay the foundation for some action? Yes they do. This go-around I’ve been working on ramping up the spookiness so there’s a better sense of impending peril, which admittedly wasn’t as effective as it could be in previous drafts. If I’m doing it right, there should be lots for the reader to worry and wonder about. And those pages leading up to that one big scene certainly aren’t devoid of action. There’s lots going on.

I’m coming to the realization that cutting the chracters and scenes I was contemplating really does a disservice to the story. The reader needs to know who Callie was before in order to appreciate the way she changes throughout the series. By cutting all those parts, she’s less vibrant, less passionate, less anchored to her old life.

Are there still some thoughtful changes to be made? Absolutely. But this is going to be my final draft. I can’t keep going back and forth on this issue, wondering if I should or shouldn’t. It’s time to finish it and move on.

Wish me luck!

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