Happy New Year!

year2016 (2)And so it begins! A new year (a leap year, no less), a fresh start, a blank calendar to note down dates and events and maybe, if I’m very, very lucky, a holiday getaway somewhere warm.

One can dream!

2016 is a 9 year which is supposed to be a year of completion and fulfillment if you lean to numerology. Culturally, nine is considered a sacred number. There are nine muses in Greek mythology. The universe is divided into nine worlds in Norse mythology. Literature utilizes the power of nine too. There are nine circles of hell in Dante’s’ divine comedy. In Tolkien’s Middle-earth, nine rings of power are given to men; The Fellowship of the Ring consists of nine companions which represent the free races.

I hope this year brings you surprises so wonderful you end up on cloud nine. I hope too that you get a chance to dress up to the nines and enjoy your friends and family, and that you have somebody in your corner who has your back and would go the whole nine yards for you.

Happy 2016!

The Land of ‘What If?’

what-ifI spend half my life playing in the imaginary land of ‘what if?’ What if a girl who doesn’t care about her looks suddenly loses all her hair and becomes obsessed with her appearance (The Art of Getting Stared At)? What if a woman who doesn’t trust her intuition must rely on it to save the life of a child (What Lainey Sees)? What if a girl who doesn’t like being the centre of attention must go on stage in front of thousands to have a shot at achieving her wildest dream (Stepping Out)?

‘What if’ is story oxygen. But the phrase is also part of my DNA. I probably came out of the womb crying ‘what if.’ You might say this is catastrophizing. I prefer to think of it as exercising my writing muscles while preparing for all eventualities.

Case in point:  while gardening several weeks ago, a small twig (about the size of a paper clip) made its way into my boot. When I discovered it, I tossed it away. Later that night, the bottom of my foot began to hurt. The skin wasn’t punctured, but to be safe I put on some Polysporin before bed. The pain was back the next day, sporadically coming and going, and increasing as night fell. I checked my foot again; there was nothing. The same thing happened on day three: sporadic pain when I walked, especially if I was in bare feet or going uphill. By the end of that day, I’d started my trek through the land of ‘what if?’ What if that twig had minutely punctured the skin releasing some kind of invisible spore that was infecting my blood stream? What if some kind of deadly pathogen was coursing through my veins and heading straight for my heart? Or my head? What if I lingered in a coma and died right before Christmas, thereby ruining future Christmases for my children. Scratch the lingering coma and ruined future holidays. What if had some kind of muscle damage on the bottom of my foot? What if I had to get rid of my treadmill desk? Write sitting down? What if it got so bad that, eventually, I couldn’t walk? What if we had to sell the house because of all the stairs? What if Mr. Petrol Head decided we should move to Mexico and live in one- level hacienda and what if we met a doctor who specialised in treating rare and unusual afflictions and he cured me and what if I wrote the whole thing into a book which was made into a screenplay starring Jamie Lee Curtis Julianne Moore and what if it was nominated for an Academy Award. For the screenplay that I wrote.

I wish I could say this didn’t happen. I really do. I wish I could say that I took an oversized, extra- strength magnifying glass to the bottom of my foot immediately after it began to hurt to see if, perhaps, there was something I’d missed. Because that’s what practical, down-to-earth, clear-thinking adults do (to give myself credit, I would have done it had it been one of my kids). Instead I detoured to ‘what if’ land because that’s where I live most of the time.

I don’t know if it was intuition or my embarrassment at the thought of going to the doctor with an invisible foot boo-boo but on day four I pulled out my grandmother’s old magnifying glass, turned on a spotlight and took an up-close-and-personal look at the bottom of my foot. I discovered a tiny, microscopic, flit-of-a-thing (the size of a child’s eyelash) lodged into the pad of my foot. It was white-blonde, nearly invisible, and had probably been part of the twig before it claimed part of my foot.

Along with claiming several days of my creative ‘what if’ energy.

To give myself credit, the ‘what if’ factor works the other way too. I stumbled down the basement stairs the other day while carrying a basket of dirty laundry. I ended up with a bad sprain. My ‘what if’ litany afterwards was largely one of gratitude: what if I’d broken my ankle? My leg? Hit my head? Blah, blah, coma . . . blah, blah ruined Christmases forever. I was incredibly lucky and I knew it. Mixed in with my gratitude was a trace of self-reproach: that basket was too full and too heavy and you knew it.

I find it interesting that it’s my right foot that’s badly sprained – the same one that had the boo-boo that could have totally ruined my life. Symbolic, don’t you think? So I won’t be visiting the land of ‘what if’ for a while. I’m taking a side trip to the town of ‘making meaning out of the mundane.’

Because writers are good meaning makers.

A Writer’s Better Half

LB_Wedding2Happy anniversary to my better half  . . .  a guy who wears a variety of hats:  Mr. Petrol Head, Dad, son, and lord & master over Team Sheltie (and thank God someone is in control of those two).

The phrase ‘better half’ is something of a cliché these days. While it’s come to mean the superior half of a married couple, it originally referred to a person so dear that he or she was more than half of a person’s being. Whatever way you look at it, the intent is clear: someone who is good and true and holds a place of deep importance in one’s life.

That would be my better half. Much has been written about the wealth of support writers receive from editors and readers and critique partners and writing friends. It’s support we depend on and appreciate. But a writer’s better half is rarely mentioned. It’s too bad. They’re a silent (and sometimes not so silent) yet intimate companion on this crazy publishing journey, a journey they didn’t always expect when they took their vows. In our case, there were signs but I’m pretty sure Mr. Petrol Head chose to ignore them.

Over the years, he has offered advice and solace, and he has paid the bills when my writing didn’t. He has brainstormed plots and character arcs, he’s made too many dinners to count and he spent as much time as I did with our children so I could focus on this career. He constructed a sluice box for my gold rush book, designed business cards and websites, built me a treadmill desk, and he was always there with a hug when the journey seemed too tough to manage. He has helped me make sense of royalty statements, understand the business side of publishing better than some publishers could and he has pulled me back from the brink when I’ve been ready to press send on an irate email that needed a more tempered response.

He accepted without reservation my decision to trade a lucrative and successful job as a journalist for the uncertain and low paying job of a novelist. He has believed in me and loved me and never once complained that things didn’t turn out quite the way he expected on the career front. He is the wisdom and calm in my world.

That’s why he is, and always will be, my better half.

 

Change Agents and Writers

happy-new-year-228245Tomorrow marks the beginning of a new year. This year, more than most, I’m looking forward to a fresh start.  If you’ve stopped by looking for the cyber equivalent of fireworks and champagne, or maybe a cyber touch of rainbows and unicorns, you won’t find them here. Not today. Not this year.

2014 was bookmarked with the death of two friends I’d cherished for decades. One died at the start of 2014 and another one just a few weeks ago.  Their departure has left me in a contemplative state of mind. It’s weird when friends take the celestial highway ahead of us. There’s disbelief and shock. There’s grief. There’s also the sense of one’s own mortality spinning ever closer.  For me, there’s also thankfulness that I was lucky enough to know them.  Bob and Larry both gave me a boot in the butt when I most needed it. They were change agents on my writer’s path.

I met Bob before I’d written anything other than news copy. He was music director at the radio station; I was news director.  He had a wicked sense of humor, and wisdom beyond his years. When things started going south for me and I knew it was time to quit, I told him what I wanted more than anything was to write.

“Why aren’t you?” he asked.

“What if I don’t get published?” I said.

“So what? Do it anyway,” he said.

“I don’t know what to write about.”

“You’ll figure it out,” he said. “Fiddle around. Have some fun.”

I quit the station, spent a few months fiddling around, and then we moved – very suddenly – to Winnipeg.  I met Larry, and his wife, Lois.  We connected through a non-denominational spiritual group, and we met every week to talk about . . . well . . . stuff. The big stuff. The small stuff. How we could be better at all of ‘our stuff.’   By then, I was working in television which fed me rich ego cookies but didn’t satisfy my soul. Since we talked about soul type stuff, I again mentioned my desire to write.  This time, I mentioned a specific story – a time travel romance that was so quirky and out there, I wasn’t sure how I’d sell it.

“So,” Larry said. “What does selling have to do with it?”

“I’d like people to read it,” I said.

“Maybe only five people will read it,” he replied. “Or maybe 500,000 people will. Why should that matter anyway?  What should matter is the joy you have doing it.”

We moved back to the coast. I started that book and I finished it. But I did nothing with it. I started other books, and finished them too. Some were published. One was launched in Winnipeg, and I flew back for the event. Lois and Larry came. They asked about my time travel. “It’s written,” I said.  “But I haven’t done anything with it yet.”

“You will,” he said. “When you’re ready.”

Whenever I saw Bob, he’d ask about the writing too. He was happy for me that I’d taken the leap and followed my heart.  In the last few years, we talked about the changes in the industry and how they were impacting authors. As a friend, he was supportive. As a musician, he could relate. But at the end of the day, for Bob it was about making the music, not worrying about distribution or sell through, reviews or awards.

Larry was a musician too. Like Bob, he was dedicated to practising his craft, and he loved to perform. Though they never met, both Larry and Bob were all about enjoying the process, about having fun in the moment. Neither of them lived in a bubble; they understood my writer’s need to make a living. They acknowledged that love doesn’t pay the bills. That some attention had to be paid to the business side of art.  But too much attention to that goal detracted from what they believed should be my most important goal of all: telling my story the best way I could and letting go of the results. They weren’t writers – or editors or agents or publishers – yet they taught me an essential publishing truth: the story should always come first. Anything else could be worked out later.

There’s a saying that’s popular these days about someone being the kind of friend you can call up in the middle of the night and they will come and help you hide the body. That, it’s suggested, is a true friend.

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Larry and Bob were true friends, but there’s no damn way they’d help me hide a body. They’d come in the middle of the night – of that I have no doubt – but after one glimpse of that body, they’d pick up the phone and call the cops. Then they’d stand beside me no matter how bad things got and no matter what I’d done. And they’ve love me in spite of it.  They’d do it in the same way they called me out on my fears about writing all those years ago without making me feel small for having them.

Their belief in the people they cared about was genuine and absolute. They saw your best self. Even if your bad self was rocking the dance floor.

In the next week or so, I’ll be heading to Bob’s funeral. It’s a reminder for me to live life while I can. To enjoy my writing process, to have fun in the moment and to let go of the results.

Whether you’re a writer or a reader, or whether you stumbled over this blog by mistake, I hope 2015 is rich with all the things that count: time with whatever work brings you pleasure, time with family who love you unconditionally, and time with friends who can propel you down whatever path you choose with the occasional loving kick in the butt.

It helps if they take calls in the middle of the night. And if they can watch your bad self rocking the dance floor once in a while too. Trust me on that.