Monday, 29 April 2019

I did it!

I promised myself that I would work at sharing my stories in 2019 and it’s been an ideal learning experience. Although I have published academic books and in peer-reviewed journals, fiction and creative nonfiction are different beasts. Writing has always been a big part of my life; I kept a diary from a young age, loved writing to pen pals around the world and as a teenager, wrote way too many notes... Joking aside though, I loved writing letters and when the internet came to be; I switched to emails. When I returned to school to start university in my late twenties, I took only courses that had papers over exams. And, although people tell me I’m an extrovert I never took a class with presentations; the spotlight was never my comfort zone. I blazed through my degrees from BA to PhD in less than six years. I have always had an insatiable thirst for learning. When I started my Post Doc just before they awarded me my PhD it thrilled me to be able to continue my creative exploration through the lens of research. The last few years have put a real kink in my life, everything was at a standstill or declining but it seems like my health is in check. Now I just have to work on getting back to my pre-2016 self.

One step toward building me up was to write again. I had worked on a humane education creative non-fiction series before 2016 but I was having trouble re-engaging with the project for several reasons. So, when my mother told me about a free online summer writing course; I thought that would be the perfect way for me to jump back in. The course was a small cohort of writers that were assigned to craft a story from prompts which consisted of three images and to focus on one of our senses. It sounded like the best fit for me. In my teaching, I have used similar exercises of rewriting fairy tales through the themes of the class in question. In the summer writing course, it was fascinating to see the way the weekly prompts elicited so many stories, the viewpoints and imaginative integration of the images were so different. My animal stories just didn’t seem right for this environment but I decided I had to do it. I was apprehensive to share my voice as I had never written “people” stories so I would have to write a new genre. If something makes me nervous, I gravitate toward the challenge. So, I decided I would write under a pen name to solve my dilemma. This gave me such freedom to express myself and explore themes and stories I wouldn’t have shared without the pseudonym. I also was new to this genre, so I felt shy about my abilities. That said, every week each story I shared was well-received. But the feedback and the opportunity to share with other writers was paramount.

The brief six weeks taught me so much that I took the NaNoWriMo challenge. Working seven days a week and wanting to write a proper novel, made my task even more difficult. I had tried NaNoWriMo twice before but this time I completed it with the silent support of my writing group. The Selecky class had also given me a wonderful community of fellow writers that have continued the writing prompts and sharing our work for almost a year now. Just knowing that a few of the writing group writers were also doing the NaNoWriMo challenge made me feel supported, even if we weren’t sharing our work.

When the Selecky class began a second time at a hectic time falling into the Christmas break, I decided I would write both under my pseudonym and my real name. Under my real name, I shared my animal stories, albeit I was the only one writing in that genre. It was also so difficult to integrate the visual prompts as they were all human centred. The senses, however, were a whole different story. It was a way to choose animals whose primary sense was in line with the weekly selection. If the weekly sense was sight; I chose a nonhuman being whose primary sense was visual. This was a delightful way to get to research new animals. It was a smaller group in the winter session and the other writers also enjoyed my animal stories. It was a real test to wear both hats, but I wanted an unbiased response to my people stories; hence, the pseudonym. The class also spurred a chapter for my novel I had no idea how to write. Sometimes, the right prompt is the key to unlocking the door to your story.

After I finished the second Selecky course, I decided I needed to broaden my circle of where I was sharing my stories. This would be a little harder. I was very fortunate that I never got a rejection in my academic writing. I knew I had to prepare myself for rejection because I was and am sure there will be several. Writing has always been therapeutic for me so I wanted to be careful not to create a negative association with the process. My birthday is in February and I decided I would submit a deeply personal piece to a Country-Wide Creative Non-Fiction contest. I don’t expect to win, it’s a popular contest, and the call goes far and wide. But, I needed to break the ice somewhere, so I submitted my piece. That same weekend I submitted six other stories. I was aiming for “an even ten” but for those that know me, “an odd seven” stories in two days is even better.

Then today, I submitted my first book proposal. The problem with submitting is the time you have to wait for your rejection! The book proposal was a learning process that got me to think about my novel beyond just its story which was a valuable exercise. So, while I have been absent from my blog; I am writing. The influx of inspiration has invigorated me and reignited my passion. I have been fortunate to have a group of select ever-indulgent IRL readers with whom I have shared my work and that feels excruciatingly personal. But, I am doing it and I am ever grateful for the ideas they provide by giving me insight on how they absorb my stories. I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I can one day share my voice with a larger audience. But, either way, that won’t stop me, my imagination or my stories.  

Thursday, 14 February 2019

My Sweet Valentine...

2002-February 1, 2019

I felt I could breathe again when Argus’ ashes were delivered home this afternoon. It was as though I had been holding my breath since he’d died two weeks ago. A friend asked how I had been doing and it’s hard to say. With Argus, the process of saying goodbye drew out for months. I’d been on an emotional rollercoaster of thinking I’d lose him and then he would somewhat recover in the ninth hour. But never fully. He still continued to waste away. It remained a mystery after all the tests, and we only guessed at a diagnosis.

Argus differed from Pig in his final days. Pig wasn’t able to walk and refused to eat in the last few living days but Argus had a voracious appetite and would walk in confused mechanic laps around the living room before he’d collapse. After his first stroke, he suffered from paralysis in one arm. It remained bent at an odd and unnatural angle. I tried to bind it to minimise the friction when walking. Each stroke was different. The first, he walked awkwardly with the paralysis. He sought refuge in my sweatshirt; the only time he let me hold him. These are moments laced with sadness for me but they are times I will cherish as I knew he felt comforted in my arms. It took about a month for him to walk again and I slept in anxious spurts checking in on him throughout the night, hoping to find him standing without the paralysis. My heart sank each time I’d discover that the paralysis had returned. 

One of the hardest parts was and still is, not knowing what caused all his infirmities. Even though he ate well, nothing seemed to keep him hydrated or maintain his weight. He had the appetite of two healthy cats but I have no clue where it went. He never regurgitated, and he wasn‘t regular. Days would sometimes pass before his bowels did their job, and I would be gleeful at the sight that his body seemed to be functioning. But, he remained a skin-draped skeleton. Seeing him become emaciated both frustrated me and was heartrending. As a researcher, I like to find answers and with his slow, painful decline, nothing came to light. We tried many approaches to no avail. Although the last two months broke my heart each day, we had our routine. His morning meds and bath, if he needed it, then his breakfast and a little time to snuggle before I’d rush to work.  I’d come home at lunch and repeat the routine and then again after work. Evenings were the nicest; I’d give him his bath and then set him up in front of the fireplace. It seemed to be the best thing to calm him from the confused pacing. He used to howl the odd time he needed a bath. In the last few months of his life, he seemed to enjoy it. He had stopped grooming himself so the warmth of the water as I caressed his little frail body soothed him.

As far as I can remember, Argus had always been an unsettled wanderer. The only time I recall him in a peaceful state is when we lived at the lake or when he was outside with the deer. I’d often walk down and watch him in the distance sitting by the shore and gazing out into the water. When I moved to a little island on the coast, he’d sit by the ocean or snuggle up to the deer. He was an outdoor enthusiast! That all changed when Pig died. It’s hard to say, but I think the loss of Pig affected his feeling of stability. He no longer ventured outdoors after his death. Now, I like to think they are together. That Argus is free to roam again…  


Friday, 30 November 2018

It started with an ending…

The NaNoWriMo challenge has been one that I have attempted in previous years but, as the saying goes, life always seemed to get in the way. It was about two years ago when it seemed that I began to be enveloped in a cloud of sorrow from loss beyond my control. It felt like the loss that surrounded me was growing exponentially and as it was snowballing out of control it had absorbed me along the way. Not only was I dealing with my own health issues in those short two years; I lost family members close to my heart, a friend way before his time, my long-time companion and a child. I have always been a private person, the one people come to seek counsel, never the one to ask for help herself. My writing has been the one thing that has given me solace in times of anguish or solitude but my writing was also deeply personal. That changed this summer. When prompted by my mother, I started following an online course. It was a whole new way of writing for me and what I was producing was completely different from my previous academic scripts or the animal stories I had written for the past five or so years. In all honesty, the animal stories had become difficult to write. I’d felt I’d lost my voice. I was so disheartened that had no story left to tell. I wasn't ready to share my writing during the summer so I simply participated in the shadows. I would follow the prompts and meet the deadlines but I kept my stories to myself.

But, once the course ended, I felt as though I had been left stranded and grasped at the first opportunity to continue inspiring my writing. I joined a writing group and they have been my lifeline. I shared my stories, personal as they were, I let myself be vulnerable and I am thankful. This year, when November came around, I was determined. Things seemed to be moving in a more positive direction and I was eager to attempt the challenge. It’s not an easy undertaking with two jobs and other family responsibilities but I wanted to at least try. There were a couple of members from my writing group that said they’d sign on and while we have not spoken for the entire month, just knowing they were going to be doing the challenge as well was a great support. Before the month started I wondered if I would pick up my animal stories again, or the three-part novel that I started in 2015. I didn't feel inspired to re-engage in that work, and writing has always been a way that I work through issues, resolve my feelings and heal. I had other stories I needed to tell.

In September, I wrote an 800+ stand-alone piece about a deeply tragic personal experience and submitted it to my writing group. I felt pretty exposed as soon I hit send but at the same time writing the story had taken a huge weight off my chest. I could breathe a bit better and I simply waited on tenterhooks for feedback. Through writing my story I could give myself the distance I needed to heal and by sharing it I was able to truly re-experience the tragic event through comforting eyes. I had never intended on it being more than that short piece of writing. I knew I had more to say and a few people in my writing group thought the piece would make a great beginning for a book. I had written it as an ending. But, to think of it as a beginning gave me perspective. Even if I took a little time to accept the idea, it became the jumping off point and when November came around that is where I started my novel.

My first day I wrote about thirty words and then the next day cut about 300. I am somewhat of a linear thinker and I needed an ending now that I had made my ending my beginning! It took a few days before I finally got it but I was going backwards in my word count and now I had to fill in the whole middle of this attempt at a novel! It wasn’t until the eighth day when I had a breakthrough. I had a solid streak of over 7000 words and I felt energized by it. On the 16th day, I was just over twenty-five thousand words but I hit a wall. And, for three days I struggled with a hand full of words one day and a couple hundred on the following days. I had had some momentum going but the whole process has been in spurts. Some days just flowed and others it’s been painful to get my perfect sentence out and I would simply agonise over the same 75 words… I am not one to just write to write. The story had to go somewhere and each part that I added had to have a reason and connection to the whole to be included. This perfectionist attempt surely slowed my process but beyond wanting to simply finish the challenge I wanted something real. Not just a mess of words that simply tallied the magic wordcount. It took about five days before I got my momentum back and by the 22nd I was well over thirty thousand words. It was going to happen I thought; I am actually going to finish the fifty thousand words in a month. And, I did. In thirty days, I've written over 51000 words (half of which were written in stolen moments on a little old phone). I feel a little drained by the process of the tight deadline but the experience challenged me in many creative ways and I don’t want to stop. So, today, on the heels of the fifty thousand, I am eager to start a six-week fast-paced deadline course; and this time I think I will share. I have the idea of picking up again with my animal stories but I am flexible to whatever I am inspired to write. I am also really looking forward to my break when I can edit my novel in its entirety and pass it along to my beta readers. And from there, I guess I’ll just have to wait and see…  

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