Barbed Wire

4/8/14




Spring comes to the calendar far sooner than it comes to the frost sodden prairies. So when the sun began vengefully to dry out the snowbleached landscape, I pulled out all the tasks I had been saving for warmer days and headed out to the coullee with my camera to scout some locations for the remaining shots of my book trailer.

Never heard of a book trailer? It's like a movie trailer. But for books. Well, obviously.

The wind was only just beginning to ply the long grasses up from the ground where they've been frozen flat for months. Everything was bright and golden and just so darn springish and it had been such an age since I had been for a real walk, that I was feeling a little dizzy under the enormity of the prairie sky.

My neighborhood drops off into grassland and hills only a couple of blocks from my house. And along either side of the asphalt path, the wild scrub is interrupted in odd places by derelict fences strung with barbed wire. And I am hopelessly distracted now. Because my eye is ever attracted to the rusted, weathered and grungy. And I find a sort of gritty romance in a paint-marked, fallen fencepost, coiled with wire that was cut and has snapped back on itself.

Fences keep things in or out. But a barbed wire fence is especially insidious because it's harder to see and is meant to inflict pain. A wandering deer might think it's free with all the prairie stretched before it, but no. It's fenced. All it has to do is attempt to step out of bounds and it will feel it.

It reminds me of my years at the United Nations, watching people tear down walls and put up barbed wire fences in their place. You're free, they cry, and it certainly does look that way. Run in any direction you like. As long as you don't try to step out of bounds. Then you'll feel it.

Unless you're free to disagree, to question, to change your mind suddenly, to stubbornly refuse to budge, to be a bleeding heart or an arrogant jerk, you are not free. No one wants people to be biased, prejudiced or bigoted. But if they aren't free to be so, then none of us are really free at all. We're just corralled by a nearly invisible fence. Forced to be someone else's idea of 'good'.

If we are free to choose, then we are free to choose wrong.

And so I find romance in barbed wire that has been cut.




Seizing the Day, Vicariously

3/31/14


It's like when you watch a favourite movie with someone who's never seen it before, and you just want them to love it. So badly. You watch their faces for the appropriate reaction when an important scene comes up. You laugh a little too forcefully at the jokes. You gasp as the plot twists, even though you knew it was coming, hoping for a moment of shared appreciation. You rewind parts because you worry they weren't paying attention during that three second interval when they sipped their tea. You want to jump up from the couch and grab them by the shoulders and cry out 'Aren't you totally in love with Harrison Ford right now?' You just really need this poor person to get it. So that their excitement can be yours.

That's how I feel when I'm spending time with the kiddos. So much is being experienced right in front of me and I can't help but watch their faces for the appropriate reaction. Memories of being a kid myself come unbidden and in rapid succession and I crave that second of shared appreciation. Those are the moments in which I want to be wowed by life - because they totally are. And I once was.

My brother's three little girls were over for an afternoon. And suddenly, my ordinary house seemed as big as a cathedral, echoing with the irreverent pounding of little feet tearing from one end to the other and back again. I never really appreciate how much space and light there is until there are children bouncing around inside of it. Dang, my house is beautiful.

And the contents of my kitchen cupboards are suddenly fascinating. My dresser is home to the crown jewels. That awful tatty girl's slip in the toy box that I keep meaning to throw out is a frothy white ballgown, ideal for a repeat performance of 'Let it Go'. My rows of high heels, severely neglected by me in favour of a pair of well-worn chuck taylors, are suddenly the cause of a cacophony of clacking against the laminate floor and I remember a time when I thought that sound was so grown up.

Life for children is rich and savoury. It's layered. It's technicolored. And it's obvious.

How did I not see before how charming it is to dip donuts in glaze and watch the sticky rivulets running over the sides and pooling on the kitchen counter? How did I forget about that stretchy whooshing sound a balloon makes when you blow it up? Or that bubbles made out of liquid dishsoap make you believe in miracles, because hello! They just grow in the water like magic! How astonishing today is. And tomorrow is bound to be equally enthralling. And the day after that. And in and out of weeks and over the years. And then somewhere along the way you decide that you're so much more clever and grounded and sophisticated if you let everything become mundane and pedestrian and eagerly passed over.

We get comfortable with our busy, frazzled boredom.

We convince ourselves that our lives are ordinary so we can justify wanting things we don't need. We make ourselves feel more important by pretending to be constantly besieged by things that don't matter. We turn our days into a series of chores and lists. We forget what it is to feel blessed because we don't want to 'settle'. We become afraid to believe in miracles because what if we ask for one and it isn't granted?

Yeah, we all grow up.

The magic is gone and we catch it up in bits and pieces by sharing a little of theirs.

Aaaand that brings me to the conclusion that many of the unwelcome aspects of growing old are our own damned fault. But that also means that we have the power to undo some of the damage and be inquisitively, joyfully young again.

Funny, when I began this post I thought that I had been seizing their day along with them - but really it was my day to be seized.

I wasn't living vicariously through them for an afternoon, I was just finally living.



A Time and a Season

3/27/14



My mom used to quote that scripture about there being a time and a season for everything. Or she could have just been quoting 'the Zombies' - she appreciated both sources of inspiration. In any case, I grew up believing that we aren't meant to have everything in life all at once. We take happiness and fulfilment and sorrow and struggle in turns. And often times you are swimming along like a champ in one area, and sinking like a big old rock in another. Life is never straight up feast or famine. And the seasons overlap.

I went to a group of writers and illustrators on facebook this past week and asked what turned out to be a hot button question. Can creative people, like ourselves, make arrangements with each other to swap work when we don't have the money to buy such services? I scratch your back, you scratch mine, and in this case 'scratching' could be anything from help designing business cards to editing copy. I fill in the gaps where I'm strong and you're weak, and visa versa. It turns out that I am either a perfectly reasonable person...or I am Lord Voldemort. Some people were eager to explore the options in a rapidly transforming industry. Others figured I was sent to ruin the world as we know it...aka the establishment. I apologize for questioning the workings of traditional publishing...to the 0.05% of the writers and illustrators out there who are actually being published.

Gasp! Yes, I said it.

There has always been a huge divide in the past between those who are succeeding and those who are not. You either had it all or you had nothing. And you only had it all if you were somehow discovered and chosen by the creative powers that be - because you, yourself, were powerless.

Just look at the tv industry. Back in the caveman days, when there were only a handful of networks, a show had to attract a hundred million viewers to stay on the air. At any given time, my family had three shows to choose from. Three! Now, when audiences are divided between 500 shows at a time, not to mention what's available to watch online, a program is lucky to get a million viewers. It's the opportunity every 'little guy' has been waiting for because there is technology to create without capital, space to create at will, and a niche for everything and everyone.

So should we still think of each other as competition? Should we be so guarded and isolated that we can't fully utilize our seasons of give and take?

I would HATE to get to a point where some unknown person asks my advice or help and I'm all like "Dude, that's so not worth my time".

I hate to think of the opportunities I would have lost had I been too cautious to jump into creative projects masterminded by friends or family because I was concerned that my work would be undervalued. I have something to give. And I'm not going to let it collect dust while I wait around for a big contract.

So this is the point of my soapbox rant:

Know the value of your work. But don't be afraid to invest your talents in the community and in other individuals. Don't measure 'return' in dollars alone. Take when you have to and give when you can.

And whether you're rising, falling, sinking or swimming,

looking for answers, or pulling solutions out of the air,

...enjoy the season.

Because it will change.

Brussel Sprouts and Free Will

3/20/14



One of the worst symptoms of my particular cellular disorder is brain fog. I can tell already that you don't understand. I mean. Brain. Fog. To the extreme. Like London circa 1871. The first time I experienced it I thought I was having a stroke. I forgot how to spell the name of my town. The town I was born and raised in and still occupy to this day. I could not for the life of me spell that one uncomplicated word. I had to google it. And then I googled aneurysms.

This leads me to an explanation of one of my worst faults. I am awesome at being prepared for anything. I am a friggin girl scout. But I'm much better at preparing to suffer the consequences than I am at avoiding the consequences altogether. I can manage the aftermath. It's the initial decision to prevent a nasty little cellular trainwreck that I struggle with. In other words, I eat the chocolate...and then forget my address.

But isn't this the big question of life? How to turn our noses up at the harmful, as pleasant and as easy as it may seem, and embrace the much more strenuous healthful, uplifting and enlightened? To remember how cruddy we feel when we settle for the instant and the vulgar and the artificial?

To remember that we weren't created to feel cruddy?

I was thinking about all this after I watched the trailer for the Giver and saw Meryl Streep deliver the line. "If people are free to choose, they choose wrong".

And then I fixed myself a plate of quinoa and vegetables for lunch when what I really wanted was potato chips.

And I researched dslr filmmaking for hours so I can shoot my own book trailer when what I really wanted to do was watch back-to-back episodes of Orphan Black online.

And I believed as hard as I could that I will be a real author when all I really wanted to do was give up and move into my sister's basement.

So there, Meryl.

Time is made up of blending and blurring sacrifices - it can only contain so much at once and we are the ones who choose one thing over another. And the really tough and empowering and BRAVE thing is that I'm going to have to get up tomorrow and make all the same good choices over again. Every day without fail. Until I do fail.

And then I might need help remembering how old I am...

shameless self promotion & other stuff

3/17/14



There are times in life when you feel in control and powerful. Like you are master of the universe - at least the universe that exists within a ten foot radius. And things only happen to you because you allow them to. Plans somehow work out and you know exactly where you'll be in 24 hours because you've got it written down on your calendar.

Then there are those terrifying times when you are hurtling through life without knowing where your feet are going to come to rest and each step is an excruciating leap of faith...except that your legs no longer have the power to leap of their own accord and you're really just falling upright. This is the universe in which there is no such thing as calendars. And to an obsessive planner like myself, it's a messy little slice of hell.

I used to be master of the universe. And I liked it. But the problem with being so seemingly in control all the time is that it creates a 'perfect' life without the opportunity to become perfected. Without the struggle and the doubt and the fear, we tend to just carry on as we are. And do you really want to be the person you were five years ago? Because I sure don't.

So as I slipped from my self-imagined ivory tower into the dark abyss of wondering how the hell I was going to pay the rent, that dream I once had that was just too messy and unpredictable to chart on my calendar suddenly became the answer. I needed to finish my book. And I needed to believe in it again. I needed to believe that I could do more than just pay the rent {although I still can't pay the rent}.

This is what I've been doing lately, in between doctor appointments and medication trials and phasing in and out of histamine coma. My book is done, it's self-published, and it's ready to meet the big, scary world...

That would be you.

So if you like middle grade adventure novels with a bit of magic and some good fire battles, my literary debut is on Amazon and it just so happens to be FREE this week, Monday thru Wednesday. And my main character just so happens to be a boy who discovers that the real perfect life is the one that sometimes sucks. The one that challenges him and scares him and makes him a little less imperfect along the way.

I don't know about you, but I tend to get a lot of my most  impactful life lessons from children's books...


To get the free ebook click here.

If you don't have a Kindle device, click here to download the free kindle reader for your PC.

Transitional Waters

3/12/14



The seasons never change quietly. There is always a certain amount of violence involved. The world is shedding a layer of skin. And so am I, when it comes to that.

The close of winter and the advent of spring is a big deal on the Canadian prairies. Winter is such a long, dark season here. And it doesn't go without a fight. But today, when the sun is blazing, the wind blowing, and the water running, it's easy to believe that we've seen the last of it. Easy to feel like life is about to get so much better, for no reason at all. So tempting to throw the scarves and heavy coats in a box under the bed. But I won't quite yet. Because each season has a personality and our spring is an incorrigible tease.

We got our first 'boil water advisory' today. And that is a sure sign that spring is coming. It may snow again tomorrow, but it will be a half-hearted snow, gone before there's enough to shovel. The melting snows have filled our rivers and lakes with all things natural and nasty, like dirt and parasites. So we boil the water. And it tastes like a mud puddle.

So my afternoon has been spent boiling water by the potful and tossing in splashes of lemon juice, slices of cucumber, and slivers of ginger. They make the boiled parasites less vile tasting. And winter seems less unappetizing as well.

Because spring is coming.

And everything tastes better with a little hope.

the Incredible Pressure of Being

3/4/14




Don't hate me, but I sorta like being under pressure.

Admitting that is like saying you love to exercise, or that you enjoy a good argument. And we hate people who say crap like that don't we? But a little pressure never killed anyone. It's how we respond to it that makes or breaks us...or completely pulverizes us. Because really, being under pressure just means that something is happening that we care a great deal about and we don't want to royally mess it up. I can also admit that I am bone chillingly, paralyzingly terrified of messing up. It's the subject of all my nightmares...except the shark ones.

I fear being a disappointment to people. Being ridiculous. Being vulnerable. Not good fears to have if you're...well, human because mortality requires that we are all of these things. I'm learning to deal with the fear, one laughable goal at a time. And part of the self prescribed therapy is to force myself to follow the dream. THE dream. Even when there's just so much pressure!

So this is what's going down: I finished that novel. You know the one. And I'm self publishing on amazon ON FRIDAY. So I'm getting everything formatted and designed and doing last minute editing because I'm sure I misspelled something important. And the pressure I feel is like being suffocated and flying free at the same time. It's wonderful and it's horrible.

Because I CARE how it all turns out.

If I were just a hobby novelist, I'm sure I would feel just dandy. There are millions of ways to live a pleasant life without ever taking the big risks. But that burden of fear is a way of knowing that I'm not wasting my time on something that could never bring me real joy, and I believe we were meant to have joy. So yeah, I'll take this pressure. I accept it. The alternative would be living life as a zombie...and then what would I have that's worth fighting for? It'd be like 'The walking dead' without a deliciously gray-bearded Rick Grimes.

I will publish on Friday and this will add one dream realized and one fear conquered to my life's grand tally.

{and then I'll get right to work on that shark phobia...never}


To celebrate my first attempt at literary legitimacy, check out my new book review blog, and sing along with my good friends, David and Freddie...

this-book blog