Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Coffee: Not Necessarily in That Order

It is 8:20am and I am IN the groove. Or not!

I’m working on my third cup of lukewarm coffee, the spouse and kids have vacated the premises, the dog is sleeping; and the dishwasher is making that crunchy grinding noise again. I can’t look over my shoulder, not once, because IF I do…chaos will ensue. I must block it from my mind. I pretend there aren’t four cereal boxes open on the counter, kitchen recycling spilling over the transom of blue bins, and a pile of laundry sitting on the floor of the mudroom.

In order to be a writer one must never sweat the small stuff.

I once read a quote about writing that has stuck with me like a tiny splinter: you think it’s gone but then the tiniest brush against the finger reveals that sharp stab of pain.

The writer who spoke such inflicting words won a Pulitzer and a Nobel prize for his work, so he was, in other words, no slouch.

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” -Ernest Hemingway

But he also said, “Write drunk; edit sober,” and I’m afraid I’ll never accomplish anything if I crack open the tequila at this hour of the day. Salud!

I’ll play it safe and stick to coffee.

Which inspires me to imagine what might happen if I followed his advice when writing for my real job (Translating scientific and medical research from Spanish to English for publication in high-impact medical journals). There are many kinds of writing, each requiring its own set of unspoken guidelines.

Drunken inspirations are better left to fiction!

And that’s not to say that good scientific writing doesn’t require some form of inspiration, but the imagination-free-for-all that happens in a blissful moment of creation when writing fiction is the essence we imaginative writers strive to achieve.

How do you know when you’ve reached that idyllic place? Is there something in the reading of the actual writing, or is it more of an out-of-body transcendence you experience while in the throes of writers’ passion?

You’ve seen it in musicians, haven’t you? When they’re so in tune, pardon the pun, with the expression of their art that it shows on their faces, and you hear it in their voices: when they reach another plane, another dimension of feeling, an otherworldly place all of their own; lifted beyond the limits to another level that sends shivers of emotion down the spines of their earth-bound audience.

It’s what we all want to do: touch our audiences so profoundly that they feel it in their bones, in the tight grip of their throats, in the sensation that stings like pain from the gentlest of brushes against their own imaginations while reading your words…

What better compliment can a writer receive than, “I might have cried a little, okay a lot, when I read your book. I was sobbing, but I couldn’t put it down.”

For now, all science nerdiness aside, I’ll ignore the small stuff and seek my own ethereal plane in the hopes that I can once again affect my audience with a mere hint of that otherworldly delight.

Blood, sweat, tears, and coffee; but not necessarily in that order.

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The Craziest Thing You’ve Ever Done

By the time you reach a ‘certain’ age you’ve probably done some wild and wacky things (and if not, why not?). For the purposes of safety, we’re not talking about the kinds of things that TV producers caution, ‘NEVER TRY THIS TRICK AT HOME’. Rather, we’re thinking about that time you bungee cord jumped over a raging Australian ravine, or the time you drove out West (alone, before they invented GPS devices or cell phones) through Roger’s Pass, one grey December day, in a slight blizzard (I said slight, didn’t I?).

And then there are the not-so-mentionables, like Wreck Beach, Friday afternoons at Clarke’s Pub, the farm in White Rock, or one -very interesting- first date with some Mexican guy (even IF you married him two years later). About those things that make us all say shhhh behind our gentle yet reminiscent smiles (and we hope your lives are as filled with those kinds of smiles as ours are).

But I have this friend, and muse, who has done the impossible! She has set the ‘crazy things’ bar higher than I ever thought I’d strive to reach; and now, she has convinced me that I, too, can be utterly NUTS!

It feels so good to belong.

Na-no-wri-mo is the compressed name for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place each November, and is completely bonkers.

So I’m doing it. Of course.

Be warned: Nanowrimo is not for the faint of heart. It involves gluing your butt to that cold leather chair in the basement and writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I’ve heard rumours that it invokes the Gods of cold pizza, stale coffee, bloodshot eyes and maniacal laughter. And I’ve heard that buckets of teardrops have been collected for use in areas of drought.

And so I warn, “DO NOT TRY THIS TRICK AT HOME!”

Just wish me luck as I fall deep into that pit of despair at midnight on Nov. 1st, 2017. May the Gods be ever in my favour.

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Titles: Do They Matter?

Can you imagine a world where, rather than asking what do you ‘do’ for a living strangers would ask what you ‘are’?

It’s a fine line already, isn’t it? And finer still now that it’s a criminal offence to use the wrong pronoun when addressing someone as he or she, but I don’t want to get all gender-politics here…

It’s just, when someone asks me what I ‘do’ and I reply “I’m a full-time stay-at-home-mom,” (I am a housewife but it’s not entirely something that I do) their eyes usually glaze over. Really! It’s true.

And upon hearing my response the person asking typically turns around and saunters off (runs) the other way (another room, another house, another building), or quietly backs away from the buffet table in search of ‘salt’ wink-wink (or a more interesting conversation elsewhere).

I can admit there are times when I want to scream in their dazed-over faces or yell at their backs, “What? Not interesting enough? Are you freaking kidding me? I have four kids. Count ‘em! FOUR! I can tell you stories that will make your hair curl, or re-grow, or revert back to its original colour.”

Ahem.

But I’m one of those do-gooders in the old-fashioned sense so I’d never try to be rude. I might want to be rude, but I can’t. Really! I’ve tried and it just doesn’t suit me. So I make jokes and tell funny stories and get all cliché with things like, ‘oh I’m a professional kept woman,’ or ‘my hubby brings home the bacon and I eat it,’ or ‘I have a PhD in Domestic Engineering;’ while inside I’m furious that our society doesn’t appreciate someone like me: someone who, regardless of her background, career goals, education, skills or experience, gives it all up to become an unpaid, under-appreciated, and sometimes even disrespected, mother and housewife.

In the past I’ve been teased that I must have gone to university to get my M.R.S. Degree, or that when I met my husband (who actually has his M.D., MSc, and PhD) I was looking for a free ticket –gasp– (which couldn’t be further from the truth: I’ve paid for my ticket in blood, sweat, and tears, ten times over).

So while I might be too polite to get into’er at the party buffet table, I am not too bashful to get into’er here, safely, in my own private little blog-world (that nobody ever reads) where I can have all the imaginary conversations about what I am and what I do, without any judgement what-so-ever.

“Hi. So, what are you?”

“I’m a female human.”

(Because depending on what I am wearing or how my hair is cut it might actually be questionable)

“I can clearly see that, but what else are you?”

“ Oh. Uh. Thanks for asking. I have a BScN and I was a full-time R.N. until I became (transformed/metamorphosed into) a M.O.M. and one of those M.R.S. things; and now, I’m all of those things but I’m also a TRANSLATOR and a WRITER and a BUSINESS ADMINISTRATOR and a MEDICAL CORPORATION ASSISTANT, and a bunch of other things.”

(It’s a long list)

“That sounds fascinating. Which one of those roles is your favourite?”

(Obviously this being is other-worldly)

“Hmmm, depends on how well-behaved they are or if they help me put out the recycling, hah, just kidding. Hands down it’s the M.O.M. role that I prefer.”

(I shrug)

“Then why not tell me about the four incredible human beings you’ve created.”

(You see what I mean? The one asking is clearly not from earth)

“Sure, let’s grab a plate and some of that plastic cutlery so we can eat and chat at the same time, over dinner. But first, tell me, what are you?”

“Oh, I’m just a shmale* astrophysicist from Planet Grogon in the Extirpian Galaxy, but that’s not very exciting. I’d much rather hear about you.”

And later, after we fill our bellies and laugh until we cry, this other-worldly being and I will come to the common realization that it doesn’t matter what we do but it does matter who we are, deep down inside: the kind of person we are and the kind of person we are willing to share with others is what really counts whether or not we come from The Milky Way.

What we do with that is up to each of us.

*Shmale: the combined pronoun used for a being who identifies as both female and male, and can biologically reproduce asexually, on their own (Yes, I made that up just now).

Extirp: to uproot (vegetation); extirpate (to wipe out or destroy completely) (It’s a real word: look it up).

My Strange Addiction and Other Confessions

I had to quit. It was beginning to take over my life.

The signs were there, long ago: that sense of urgency, and the hoarding of one last hit to tide me over until the next day when I could rush out to buy more. I’d been stock-piling extras, to a greater extent, just in case the need ever arose, and to always have some on hand. I’d take them with me on long car rides. I’d hide a few inside a Ziploc baggie in my purse for those moments when I’d have to wait longer than expected while picking the kids up from school.

People were beginning to notice, and comment. My husband had an inkling. My kids were well aware! But, what no one knew was that I’d been waking up in the wee hours and the first thing that entered my mind was no longer the pungent aroma of my morning coffee (my other addiction) but the sweet, delicious crunch of the orange baby.

What’s in a name? Street drugs always have a nickname, or a moniker less damaging than the real deal: sugar, peanuts, ecstasy, smack, China girl, pink robots,….

So I, slowly, over the course of many years and four craving-inducing pregnancies, had become addicted to the orange baby: the baby carrot, that is! Those glorious, pre-packaged, peeled, cut and washed; crispy, healthy, treats that you people so carelessly take for granted. Just writing about it makes me anxious to partake. Like smokers always say, I’m hanging for one now.

But with that addiction comes a harsh reality: a Donald Trump tan.

You see? It was never an issue before Trump came into power. It wasn’t my reality until The New Yorker (among other notable journals and newspapers) started publishing comics, and memes, and photo-shopped, re-touched photos of the Trump in his shiny, orange skin. And it certainly didn’t affect me until I saw a head shot of myself looking exactly like I was picked fresh from a Florida grove; quite sure that if someone scratched the surface of my dimpled skin I’d smell like citrus (which really wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?).

This was the pivotal moment when I knew. Like, I just knew. I had to give it up or forever fear resemblance (whether personally or politically) to the most-hated man on the planet.

My daughter, the budding artist, said I needed to find something on the opposite side of the colour wheel to replace my orange hue. “Try celery,” she said, “or blueberries and cucumbers.”

My son, the film student, said ” Use make-up. Lots of it!” One of my other sons, the rugby player, said, ” Take up a new sport or hobby.” My husband, the doctor, said, “No one’s ever died from hyper beta-carotenosis.”

But lucky for me my lifelong best friend is an addictions counselor, and her imagined- and real- voice speaks to me even when we live too many kilometres apart: What coping methods have worked for you in the past? How can you replace the need for carrots with an action to better your health (or in this case, appearance)? Who can you turn to for support when the burning desire strikes?

Cold turkey!

There would be no other way to rid my body of the jaundice I’d acquired over the years.

There would be no other way for me to stop obsessing over my hidden, albeit ‘healthy’, addiction.

It’s been seven days now. I’m still running on a day-by-day, sometimes even hourly, basis. My addiction is real, and perhaps lifelong. I could start a club, if there were any others like me out there…Orange Babies Anonymous.

So how do I do it, you ask? How do I manage in this ‘half-your-plate, hyper-conscious, vegetable-driven’ society that pushes good food choices on us every single time we enter a grocery store? How do I ignore the racks upon stacks of bagged and ready-to-eat veggies that lure us in from first swoosh of the front door?

Chocolate.

My life is in perfect balance as long as I have chocolate.

 

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The Compass Rose

I love small towns.

I love knowing that each and every street is paved in criss-crossed paths and intertwined connections, more in the metaphorical sense than the literal. I love that people from small towns actually know their neighbours’ names, remember the day the stop lights were put in, and can rhyme off quick, detailed explanations- without even looking- when leaning into the passenger-side window to give directions to passers-by who just-so-happen to have taken the scenic route: ‘pass the house with the blue painted porch, hang a right at the one with white aluminum siding, the green shutters not the black ones, then go straight until you get to the brown brick…’ 

So it should never have been a surprise that I would meet someone, one of those artistic, worldly, ample-minded souls with whom you become instantly besotted, and find out that this huge person comes from a town so small you can see the whole of it in the span of one vista from any direction on the compass rose. Like, I mean small enough that you can stand atop the North Street hill looking down towards ‘town’, where your mind sub-consciously registers a pharmacy, a bank, a gas station, a pub, two coffee shops, the hardware, and the one grocery store that sells food but dishes gossip out for free, and let your eyes scan the horizon all the way to the end: to the end of town; to that place right there where population ends and everywhere else begins.

Three thousand souls. Do they even make towns that small anymore?

But she’s so smart, so chic, so limitless…how could she be from such a miniature place? My cynical urban self thinks.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? When you come from a small town your mind has two choices: it either languishes or broadens. If you’re one of the lucky ones whose thoughts instinctually reach beyond the last fence post, jump over the train tracks, and run down the dusty side roads, you’re blessed with the fortune of traveling much further intellectually and creatively than those limited by any physical or mental borders.

What else is there to do, when growing up in said Tiny Township, but cultivate a ripe imagination? When you’re hemmed in by nothing more than farmers growing crops of the corn variety, it’s only expected that your inner harvest would become the product of your own creativity.

 

“Reason clears and plants the wilderness of the imagination to harvest the wheat of art.”  

-Austin O’Malley

 

And that’s how she is, I reflect, as my tarnished urban armour is peeled away and set aside. This huge person from such a small town is like a prairie flower transplanted to the rooftop gardens of my mind, and left to blossom into wild roses that grow in all directions, as far as my eye can see.

 

“The compass rose is nothing but a star with an infinite number of rays pointing in all directions. It is the one true and perfect symbol of the universe. And it is the one most accurate symbol of you. Spread your arms in an embrace, throw your head back, and prepare to receive and send coordinates of being. For, at last you know—you are the navigator, the captain, and the ship.”

-Vera Nazarian

 

I love small towns and the big people that live in them.

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The Empty Nest Chronicles: Pilot Run

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Okay, so, like…, I am very serious here, really now, I mean business when I say that being a full-time mom for twenty-four years does nothing to prepare you for the moment of truth: that moment when the little chickens fly the coop: the dawning realization of holy ^%$#  now what?

You ‘get it’ in bits and pieces over the years with those ‘simulated’ experiences like little Johnny’s first sleepover at a friend’s house, or the first time little Suzy goes to real camp…and then, needless to mention, that dreaded university residence year when your child moves out to pursue an education or career.

And I can admit that practicing for an empty nest is something we typically treat like a trip to the gynecologist: you only do it when you absolutely have to. But let me tell you, if you’re anything like me, practice could be key to your survival.

So this is me, on a practice run.

Testing, testing, one two three. Two cows went out to pasture and two little chickens fled the farm.

Thirty minutes after my youngest two children left on their school’s international band trip, I realized I had no one to pack a lunch for, and no breakfast dishes to wash. Two hours later I had bleached their bathrooms and washed their shower curtains and bedding. I’ve done Facebook. I’ve done email. I’ve filed all the tax forms and endorsed the latest cheques to pay the most recent bills. I don’t need groceries. I don’t need banks. No one has a dentist appointment. The dog refuses to walk in the rain. And the husband has a full day of consults booked with a wait-list of eight months.

So what the actual heck?

Really now! Have some kids, they say. It’ll be fun, they say!

Here’s where it gets tough.

The jokes fly: get a manicure, get a pedicure, crack open a bottle of wine, binge watch Netflix and crack open another bottle of wine.

I won’t even mention all those years when I dreamed of having a hot meal, or a hot bath, or a trip to the mall just for fun (or to buy something for myself, gasp, is that even possible?) and not in one of those frenzied, I’ve-only-got-thirty-seven-minutes-before-someone-needs-to-be-picked-up-from-soccer-and-someone-else-has-swimming, hunts for new winter boots or those extra-special, mid-thigh, band-less, tag-free, boxer shorts that come in some cranky size halfway between tween and teen.

But I don’t want a hot meal, or a hot bath, or a quiet stroll through a peaceful shopping mall listening to elevator Zen music and watching the Geriatric Stride Team doing their indoor laps…

I want to pack lunches and do dishes and run back-and-forth from errand-to-errand making life better for everyone else and fulfilling my own while I’m at it. I want to fold four loads of laundry and figure out where someone left page two of their essay and deliver it before third period English. I want to hear the sound of their chatter and complaints and laughter and their myriad of questions and…

I guess I need more practice.

This mother hen isn’t quite ready to let the baby chicks fly.