Small – and Not so Small – Signs

Last week, I finished doing a substantive revision on No Right Thing. Revising, as I’ve said before, is one of my favorite parts of the writing process. Polishing and tweaking can take a story from good to great, and I think No Right Thing is one of the best YA novels I’ve written so far. A big shout out to Melanie Jeffs at Crwth Press for comments and suggestions that gave me the springboard I needed to dive in and make some changes.

One thing Melanie wanted me to look at was my story pacing. She felt the speed in which I showed signs of change on the part of my protagonist, Cate, wasn’t working as well as it could.  While Melanie wanted the external story to maintain its brisk, forward motion, she thought a slightly slower unspooling of Cate’s internal growth would serve the story better. So, I went back and started small, slowly stacking up Cate’s discomfort and signs of internal growth until she comes to the inevitable big, black moment when there is no turning back . . . when she is forever changed.

Starting small and not revealing everything at once is the pace you want in a novel because it creates tension. I thought I had that in place, but it sometimes takes a good editor to help an author take it to the next level.

In case I missed the message about the importance of slowly building tension, life reinforced the lesson last week in the form of a bear. Or, more specifically, the sign (this one not so small) of a bear.

Saturday morning, we took Team Sheltie for a walk along the trail behind our house. Within spitting distance of our back gate, we discovered a substantial pyramid of scat. It was bear scat, I told Mr. Petrol Head. No, he said, it was from a large dog. Not possible, I retorted. It was either an elephant or a bear and since there are no wild elephants on the island, I was betting on bear. But even as I spoke the words, I wasn’t entirely sure. I didn’t want to be sure.

Sunday morning while walking the same trail, a neighbor confirmed the left behinds were the gift of a bear, though he hadn’t seen it. They’re fairly common in this area, he reported.

I became uneasy. When we moved here a few months ago, we loved the close proximity to trails and creeks and ravines. I knew those areas were home to wildlife, but my citified mind conjured squirrels, racoons, birds, maybe a cute deer or two.

Monday morning, a second neighbor told us he’d been followed down the trail by a black bear the previous day. The only reason he knew about it was a couple walking towards him had seen it and pointed it out. He hadn’t glimpsed it himself.

My unease grew. I know the animals were here before us. I realize we share their habitat. I understand the importance of peaceful coexistence. But we live in a town. With paved roads. Streetlights. And houses. Lots and lots of houses.

Tuesday morning, yet another neighbor reported that she’d seen two black bears by the apple tree across the street. Last summer, she added, officers relocated six bears from this neighborhood.

Unease settled into my bones. Having a bear (or three) within spitting distance of my back door would take some (translation: a lot of) getting used to.

Just as I was mulling over the escalating tension and pacing of my own personal week, there was a new wrinkle in what we refer to around here as the weekly wildlife count. In fiction, we’d call it a twist in the action.

A cougar was spotted on the trail. Not out in the open because cougars, unlike bears, are stealthy creatures. A woman walking her dog in the moonlight caught sight of gleaming eyes staring at her out of the bushes. She beamed her flashlight in that general direction and, sure enough, it was a cougar. Crouched at the base of a tree. Waiting.

A cougar waiting in the bushes while she walked the trail. In. The. Moonlight. That woman, in a fictional world, would be the fearless heroine. She would not be me.

I have enough on my plate dealing with the pacing of my manuscripts. And the escalating bear sightings outside my back door.  

A Lesson in Patience, Persistence and Timing

The garden is one of my best teachers and I was reminded of that last week when we picked kiwifruit from our vines. Seventy-five of the fuzzy, egg-shaped fruits if you want an exact number. I planted the vines myself over a decade ago and this is the first year we’ve had any kind of harvest.

Kiwifruit typically take 3 – 5 years to mature and produce fruit, so we didn’t expect fast results. Being reasonably patient I was good with that; some things are worth waiting for. After the first five or six years with no sign of fruit we began to wonder. But we didn’t wonder too much because life was busy and we had a crisis-filled stretch there for a while. By about the seven year mark, however, when we had flowers but no fruit set, I began to fret.

Maybe I needed to augment the soil with more organics. Prune differently. Maybe I wasn’t watering properly. One cool spring I was convinced we had a shortage of bees at pollination time. Maybe I needed to throw a party for the bees and make sure they hung around for a while. In short, I was convinced the lack of fruit set was the result of an operational error on my part. I had to be doing something wrong. So I began to adjust and tweak and adjust some more.

Around the barren eight or nine year mark, Mr. Petrol Head noticed that the flowers on both sets of vines appeared to be identical. This was significant because kiwifruit need a male and female vine to produce. We hadn’t given it much thought up until then because we knew we’d purchased a male and female vine; they’d been labelled as such at the garden centre.

By now the stocky vines were half way to heaven and we needed a very long ladder to reach them. We plucked a couple of blooms, googled, scratched our heads, googled some more. Finally we took the delicate flowers out the peninsula to a famed tropical fruit grower who told us within seconds that we had unfortunately been sold two male vines. Mislabelling tended to be a fairly common risk with kiwifruit vines, he said, adding that he’d lost track of the number of customers who’d come to him with the same problem. And so what to do?

We considered digging up one of the two vines but I was reluctant. For one thing, the trunks were the size of a small child. For another, they were like my children. Barren or not, I was attached to the damned things and I couldn’t bear the thought of adopting one out or tossing it onto the compost heap. The grower suggested we opt for a graft. For a small fee, he’d be happy to make a house call and do the deed. Yes, we gave our kiwifruit vine a sex change operation, turning one of the males into a female. Twenty months later we were harvesting fruit.

Coincidentally (or maybe not because I don’t really believe in coincidence) while this was going on, I was circulating a YA novel that has yet to find a home. It’s a story I love, solid and well told. After yet another ‘no thanks’ I began to fret.

Maybe I needed to boost the story somehow. Or cut it down. Maybe the main character wasn’t likeable. Maybe there was a shortage of descriptive passages. Or one too many. Maybe the party scene out at the lake needed more bees! In short, I was convinced my inability to sell the novel was the result of an operational error on my part. There had to be something wrong with it.

Or not.

Maybe the novel is a little like the kiwi. Maybe it needs a period of dormancy before it’s ready to shine. It’s doubtful the story needs a graft or any kind of sex change operation but for whatever reason, it’s not bearing fruit quite yet. Selling a novel, like growing kiwifruit, requires patience, persistence, and timing.

In my enthusiasm to place the novel, I’d conveniently forgotten that. It took my first ever kiwifruit harvest to deliver yet another lesson – a repeat lesson – from my garden.

Slow Living . . . Slow Writing

The universe has such a sense of humor.

A few weeks ago I started reading The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo. Literally within a day of cracking chapter one, I accepted three rush writing jobs. I used to take on quick turnaround projects fairly often, but it’s been a while since I’ve done it. In this case, two of the jobs were for editors I knew and respected (and I’d written for them before so I understood their needs) and both were on familiar subjects. The third job was a referral from another writer on a subject I knew nothing about, and one completely out of my comfort zone. Deciding that I needed the challenge of stretching myself and learning something new, I took it on too.

Soon after, my world became a frantic, one-note song. As Louise DeSalvo waxed on eloquently and with great passion about the joy, the need and the benefits of slow writing, I wrote faster and faster. My focus became insular, my thoughts revolved around the jobs I had in front of me, the looming deadline, the fact that I couldn’t let these editors down. Write, write, write. Quick, quick, quick. One of the jobs became problematic; another simply took longer than it should have because the subject demanded considerably more word space than I’d been allotted.

As one week stretched into two and my deadline loomed closer, my attention to the outside world – family, friends, Team Sheltie, the garden, even the hour I normally devote to making dinner – faded along with my patience, my serenity, my ability to focus on anything beyond the work. My self-absorption was complete.

I saw it happening. When emails and calls to sources weren’t returned as quickly as I expected (or wanted), my inner toddler began to pout. I pacified her, dug deep and stayed in adult mode but, in truth, I expected the world to speed up right along with me.

There’s a reason for that. As DeSalvo points out in her book, we are a society in ‘hurry up’ mode. We’re conditioned to expect, appreciate and reward speed. Rather than putting a letter or a card in the mail and waiting a week or more for it to arrive, emails can be delivered electronically in a minute or two. Text messages are even faster, pinging their arrival in mere seconds. It’s a far different world than it was before air mail. Back then, overseas mail went by ship and could take weeks, months even, to reach its destination. In the sixteenth century, DeSalvo says it could take years to receive a reply to a letter you sent to Europe.

DeSalvo believes we’ve internalized the idea that the only things worth doing are those things that can be accomplished quickly. Writers, particularly those writing commercial fiction, equate their worth with the speed of their output. In the world of sales, reps are rewarded by how quickly they land the client. World leaders are judged on what they can accomplish not just in their full term, but in their first one hundred days.

Don’t get me wrong, fast isn’t always bad. A delicious stir fry can be made and served in fifteen minutes. A heartfelt apology can be delivered in five. Reading haiku takes mere seconds. So does saying ‘I love you.’

I’ll take on tight deadlines again. I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie, probably from years spent in radio and TV news where putting together a story for that hourly (or daily) newscast was, well, a rush. But I’m not going to ignore or think less of the writing I do that requires time and attention to come to its full potential. I’m not going to stay in hurry up mode as a matter of routine.

As my sat down to write this blog, Mr. Petrol Head gave me a ‘just because it’s Wednesday’ gift: he came home with a Bluetooth speaker, something I’d lusted after for a while. So I’m writing this to music. So far I haven’t heard a single one-note song. One-note songs apparently aren’t all that common. I’m guessing it’s because playing a one-note song – living a one-note song – means missing out on the beauty of life’s orchestra.

And who would want to miss out on that?

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.

 

The Lost Land of Re-entry

DSC00073Coming home was wonderful. I had an amazing gift waiting. Mr. Petrol Head had dug and turned and weeded and prepped all the garden beds. It took him two weekends and most of a week of evenings to get them ready for me to seed and plant. I hadn’t expected it and I was incredibly grateful as I’d pretty much resigned myself to a smaller garden and a much later start this year. But before I could get outside, I had a few last minute copy edits to finish for Stepping Out, royalty statements to sort through, a number of business issues to deal with and critique pages to read for a writer’s retreat I attended the weekend after I got back.

Re-entry and getting back to the writing routine was taking longer than normal. I didn’t question it; I expected the first week back to be busy. But as I planted the garden, it occurred to me that my resistance was about more than having too much on my plate.

I had some heavily pot bound tomato plants to get into the ground. As I broke apart the root ball, set them into rich, loamy soil and watered them in, I thought about how much they’d appreciate their new digs. Once they got over the initial shock of being transplanted, they’d be quick to take advantage of the unlimited space to grow, sending out new shoots and eventually – hopefully – setting luscious tomatoes we’d gorge on all summer long. Being unconstrained would result in a significant transformation.

I realized I needed a transformation of my own. My trip away wasn’t a rest by any means, but it was enough of a break to point out that I was feeling pot bound too. Boxed in by the never-ending demands of the publishing industry . . . by demands I’d put on myself. I’ve been writing for two decades. My twentieth book will be published next year. The publishing landscape looked quite different when I started out. There was no twitter, Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. Blogs were a thing of the future. So were e books. Marketing and promotion was done, for the most part, by publishers. A book a year was considered a respectable output. These days it’s not unusual for writers to produce two, three, even four titles a year. Some of those might be shorter books but the goal is clear: get your name out and keep it there. While you’re at it, make sure you have a social media presence, engage with your readers, market and promote yourself. And make sure you’re reachable by email 24/7 too.

I love to write. It’s as necessary to me as breath. I appreciate email. It’s fun to share on social media. And the changing landscape of publishing is creating opportunities I couldn’t have dreamt up two decades ago. It’s all good.

Except when it isn’t.

Opportunity and possibility often bring growth. Slow, steady growth is a good thing. Wild, exuberant growth may be exciting to watch but it can lead to trouble. When potted plants grow too fast and their roots don’t have enough space, they become pot bound. Eventually the soil becomes so compacted that the roots can’t take up nourishment and they fail to thrive.

The market demands writers grow quickly these days: set daily word counts, produce more books, maintain a mailing list, attend conferences. Do, do, do. Go, go, go. And without enough down time or space in our days to fill the well or feed the muse or simply refuel, we risk getting pot bound ourselves. We risk burnout.

Root disturbance can be a good thing. It leads to change and growth. So now that my outside garden’s planted, it’s time for a little inner root disturbance. It’s time to regroup, rethink, reprioritize. To examine my boundaries and look at what’s important on both a personal and professional level. To incorporate a little more reading time, puttering time, beach time, alone time.

A plant needs space in which to grow. People do too. So this summer I’m giving myself the gift of space. I’ve always seen it as a bit of a luxury. But thanks to another lesson from the garden, I realize it’s a necessity.    root-bound-tomato-plant-224x300

 

Homeward Bound

noplacelikehomeAfter a week of touring southwestern Ontario and a few extra days visiting family & friends in Toronto and Manitoba, I’m heading for Victoria. Though it’s great to head out on a grand adventure, it’s always good to get home. I’m looking forward to a loud, exuberant welcome from Team Sheltie, checking in with Teen Freud about his end-of-year finals, and seeing if Mr. Petrol Head has managed to get his Sunbeam Alpine on the road while I’ve been away.

There’s work waiting. Stepping Out is due at the copy editor June 1st so I’ll probably have a few last minute tweaks to take care of on that. I also have a draft of One Good Deed that needs my attention before I’m ready to send it off. And I need to see the doctor about a tetanus shot. Nothing trip related, but the garden needs digging and planting and there’ve been quite a few news reports lately about how important it is for gardeners to have a tetanus booster. I can’t remember the last time I had one so I’m clearly due.

But before I get to those tasks, I need to unpack, file away my presentation materials, and write up my trip reports and expense sheets. Catch up on my emails too. And that could take a while!

 

I’m Going Squirrelly

Squirrel-on-roofVirginia Woolf said, ‘a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.’

No argument there. But with all due respect, Virginia, you missed something. Along with money and space, a squirrel-free zone helps too.

We have squirrels in our attic. Or at least we did. It’s been quiet the last few days, though that’s no guarantee. They’ve tricked us out before. We noticed them first this summer. They’d run through the yard taunting Team Sheltie. One took to sleeping on our fence where the sun hit in the middle of the day. I thought it was sweet. We had a house squirrel, I told myself. A totem protector.   How cute is that?

I am so naïve.  So. Naïve.

We no longer have a house squirrel. We have an army of squirrels. They’ve captured the attic and are defending their territory with a vicious determination that makes ISIS look like a group of kindergarteners. Given that Mr. Petrol Head is protective of his family, not to mention the fact that he’d like to keep our roof, our insulation and our wiring intact, he declared war.  He would eradicate the mighty army himself. Just call him the original squirrel slayer.

Just to clarify – our attic isn’t a traditional space where you store clothes and steamer trunks and kids go to play on a snow day. Our attic isn’t accessible, at least not by anybody taller than eight inches.  It’s a narrow space just below the roof where the insulation lives. It is accessed by vents. Vents in squirreldom are known as front doors. And ours apparently have a great big flashing WELCOME sign visible only to squirrels.

After some on line research, the Original Squirrel Slayer got to work. He tried moth balls which squirrels apparently hate. Maybe they do somewhere. Not where we live.  He screened off the vent. The squirrels laughed and chewed through it. He made a ‘foolproof’ one way door out of all sorts of heavy, squirrel proof material and snapped it over the vent.  Squirrelgate he called it. The squirrels thumbed their noses. They pulled a break, enter and repeat. Squirrelgate was breached.

I’d had enough. Call in the experts, I said. Let me try something else said the Original Squirrel Slayer, who was spending more and more time on our roof determined that the rats-with-tails wouldn’t get the best of him.

A new and improved Squirrelgate was created and installed. Things got quiet. We were hopeful. We were sure the army had been conquered.  We were sure we’d won the war.

Then came Saturday.  I woke up to find the Squirrel Commander-in-Chief chewing his way through the screen on our open skylight.  The army was on the move. The attic was no longer enough. The capture of new territory – in the form of our TV room – was the goal.

The Original Squirrel Slayer conceded defeat.  Refusing to accept his new moniker, he picked up the phone, dialed the Squirrel Whisperer and went back to being Mr. Petrol Head.  Some things, like marauding squirrels, are better left to the experts. squirrelgate

Giving Thanks

thankful 2 It’ll be Canadian Thanksgiving in a few days and my thoughts are turning, as they usually do in the fall, to the things I’m most thankful for. This time last year, I blogged about why I’m thankful to be a writer. And many of those same things (the joy of playing with words; the ability to ask endless questions; regular and mandatory reading; wearing yoga pants and slippers to work) still apply.

But I’m feeling more serious this year and it occurs to me that even though I work alone, I don’t work in a vacuum. In fact, I couldn’t do what I do without a pile of people in my corner. And for that, I’m profoundly, extremely grateful.

My long suffering partner, Mr. Petrol Head (possibly to be rechristened My Squirrel Slayer – watch for an upcoming blog) has had my back, along with the rest of me, since I started this gig way back when. Not once has he questioned my sanity, my ROI or my need to bounce endless (and I mean endless) questions off of him.  He cooks, he designs my business cards, he listens to me rant, and he laughs. I love him for all of it. Mostly I just love him.

My kids – Uptown Girl and Teen Freud (the latter needs a rename since he’s left teen hood behind forever; sob) – have made me the writer I am. They’ve helped me become more patient (they may not agree with that), more disciplined and more creative. They’re bright, funny and truly the best kids a mother could ask for. I love them more than life. Even if they weren’t mine, I’d want to spend time with them. Yes, they are that cool. Mr. Petrol Head pointed out the other day that my career has, to a large extent, followed the trajectory of their growing up years. When they were young, I started writing picture books. As they grew, I segued into middle grade fiction. And now I write for teens and adults.

My web guy keeps my site up to date. Thank you Miles Barr for achieving the seemingly unachievable . . .  for returning my panicked emails . . .  and for reassuring me that glitches can be fixed even when they seem unfixable.

My fellow authors who follow the publishing road.  No one else gets it the way you do. I’d be a whole lot crazier if I didn’t have friends like you with me on my path.

The editors I’ve been blessed to know. I’ve been hugely lucky in the editorial department over the years and it shows in all my books. You might want to thank those editors, too. Trust me.

My readers.  A reader was the impetus for this blog. Not a reader of my books, but a medical technician who reads science fiction and fantasy. I was in for a test recently and when he found out I was a writer, he spent about ten minutes talking books with me. Not in the ‘how do I get published? sense’ but the ‘have you read this author?’ and ‘what do you think of this author?’ sense.  His passion was a sharp reminder of why I do what I do and for whom I write (it was also a good distraction from the task at hand but that’s a whole other story).

And last but not least – Team Sheltie.  They sometimes drive me nuts with interruptions and they bark waaaaay too much, but they get me out of the house for several walks a day, they always make me smile and they’re my soft place to land when I walk away from the keyboard at the end of the day.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!     dogswindow.jgp

Kindness Can Be a Kick in the Butt

8466047321_231fced129_zI generally start each day with a few minutes of random reading. I have a number of books I find particularly inspirational all within grabbing distance of my closet. At some point after I get dressed but before I head downstairs to write, I pick one up, open it, and read whatever paragraph I happen to see.

It’s either my message for the day or my kick in the butt, depending on my mood.

The other morning I picked up Entering the Castle by Caroline Myss and I read a passage about kindness. Her point was that it’s easy to be kind when people are pleasant or fun to be with, but it’s more difficult and actually more meaningful to be kind to those who most try our patience.

That morning I happened to be going to the lab for blood work after fasting the night before. No breakfast, no coffee. Just a quick shower, a few minutes with the book and I left. It used to be that you showed up at the lab and waited until your number came up.  Things have changed in the last year and now you can make appointments on line. I’d scheduled my appointment several weeks earlier and was happy to know I’d be in, out, and home to coffee and scrambled eggs within fifteen minutes.

Other than the two employees behind the desk, the lab was empty when I arrived. I had a number of requisitions from two different doctors, and one required some explanation. I spent a few minutes going over things, and sat down to wait. After a minute, I saw the sign: Please inform us at check in if you have an appointment.  It was taped midway down the side of the counter where a preschooler (or someone sitting down) could see it. Since it was out of my line of sight when I’d walked in the door, and since I was preoccupied with my requisitions at the time, I’d missed it.

I quickly informed the fellow behind the counter that I had an appointment.

Well. Apparently my failure to inform him of this two minutes earlier created a serious problem for him as well as a horrendously difficult situation for this still-empty lab. I offered a sincere apology, and then defaulted to humor. That made things worse. Much, much worse.  He berated me with a particular viciousness that left me feeling like the preschooler for which the sign was placed.

I shut my mouth, mutely followed him into the cubicle, let him poke me with his nasty needle and I got out of there as soon as I could.

Irritation isn’t good on an empty stomach. It feeds on itself. By the time I got home ten minutes later, I was indignant (read royally pissed off).  As I poured a cup of coffee, I went back over the conversation (that old he said/I said/I should have said loop), told myself the guy was power tripping and way out of line.  I told Mr. Petrol Head that I was going to write a letter and file a formal complaint.

Then I remembered what I’d read only half an hour earlier.  That passage about kindness had been my message for the day.  Now it was my kick in the butt.

I decided to let the whole thing go. All of it. But the next time I go to the lab, I think I’ll try another location. And I’ll tell them I have an appointment the minute I walk through the door.