A Year in the Life – A Writer Reflects

“You always say YES and figure it out later.” ~ Me, circa always

Saying yes in the writing world is the story of my life. Panicking after delivering that yes is ALSO the story of my writing life. But a writer would be a fool to say NO or I CAN’T or I DON’T KNOW HOW or I DON’T HAVE THE TIME.

For writers, opportunities are not endless. Unlike the pesky little bible-thumping crazies of the world, opportunity doesn’t keep knocking. It breezes on by to the next person on the list. As a writer, I always LEAP before I know what awaits me.

This is how I came into two situations in 2017.

One of these opportunities was an invitation from ID PRESS to submit to their romance anthology. I said yes. And then I beat myself up struggling to come up with a short story that was vaguely romantic in nature. Their shtick is to experiment with genre, after all. I had a chance at acceptance if my story skated along the outskirts of ROMANCE. I just didn’t know how hard that YES was going to make my writing life in the weeks that followed. I struggled with this one. I must have had 30 attempts at a story for that anthology. I never pressed the DELETE key so hard in all my life. It was an unendingly daunting task. It literally wasn’t until the midnight hour that I finally hit on something and ploughed through a story and clicked send. Luckily for me, they accepted THE HALF DRAWN GIRL ON THE CROSSTOWN BUS (It later became, at their request, THE HALF DRAWN GIRL). It was only because I said YES months earlier that I even struggled so hard to come up with something. I committed and I needed to see it through. I said yes…and then I figured it out. It’s times like this that I realize there actually ARE writing fairies looking out for those of us foolish enough to jump off the ledge and commit.

You can pick up THE HALF DRAWN GIRL and other genre-bending romance short stories in the newly released anthology ALLUCINOR from ID PRESS.

AMAZON PRINT USA

AMAZON PRINT CANADA

AMAZON KINDLE USA

AMAZON KINDLE CANADA

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A gorgeous cover and a wonderful collection of stories.

The other YES I pulled off in 2017? I have had a Camino de Santiago novel in my heart since I walked the pilgrimage in Spain to the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela where the bones of St. James, the apostle of Jesus, are said to be resting. I had a few chapters written, but mostly, as I said, it rested in my heart. Like a soft prayer bead on a rosary, waiting to be caressed into words.

When my agent asked me if I had anything ready that was a contemporary YA novel, I said NO…but that I had something almost ready. So, I also said YES. I told her my years long elevator pitch for my Camino novel idea.

THE BREAKFAST CLUB MEETS THE CAMINO DE SANTIAGO.

I have never been so proud of an elevator pitch in all my life. It’s golden. It resurrects the images and themes precisely, concisely and quite specifically. Thankfully, my agent also liked the sound of it.

So—-I say yes, it won’t be a problem. Give me a couple of weeks.

A WRITER ALWAYS SAYS YES! You can always figure out THE WAY after you commit. I did this with my first play and I found myself sitting in a haunted castle basement in the near dark listening to the ghosts mock me while I raced to write a play that would be performed in front of an actual audience less than 24 hours later. What’s the worst that can happen in a YES situation? You don’t deliver? I’m always willing to take that chance.

This is how writers live on the edge. It’s not the stuff of daredevils, but it certainly makes the writing life interesting.

I wrote the Camino novel. I am awaiting agent feedback at the moment. I’m feeling positive and hopeful. Saying YES to that novel was possibly one of the best things I’ve ever done with my writing life. BECAUSE it was a novel that meant a great deal to me even before the first word was down on paper. It was a novel I knew I could deliver in a couple of weeks because the bellows that blew it into existence was alive and living inside me. Did I lie to my agent when I said YES? Not exactly…it was an almost completed novel…it’s just that it was scattered about within the far reaches of my heart and mind. All I really had left to do was allow it to flow through my finger-tips, past my keyboard and land on my MSWord document. No biggie.

Those are two of the major moments in my writing life as I look back on 2017. All that is left, I suppose, is the BRUSSELS NOVEL MARATHON WRITING EXPERIMENT and MY 3rd PLACE WIN IN THE WRITERS COMMUNITY OF SIMCOE COUNTY’S 2017 WORD BY WORD SHORT STORY CONTEST. (<<<You can read my story at the link provided) The story that won 3rd place was yet another story set on the Camino de Santiago. It has become an obsession with me, and I probably won’t be satiated even after I return to the Camino in 2019…life willing.

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All set for our pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in 2019. Credencials (Passports) and patches in hand.

The Brussels novel writing experiment? Well, I’m not sure. The novel I began there? Maybe it is burning on the stove top waiting to be stirred. I like what I wrote…I’m just not sure where to take it. I’m one third in. I did, however, fall absolutely and completely head over heels in love with the beautiful city of Brussels while I was there under the pretense of writing an entire novel. It is a breathtakingly beautiful city. And nearby Brugges is no limp headless chicken, either. It’s stunning…not to be missed. We’ll see how the novel goes. Oh…I suppose this has something to do with my writing life, too…I received a WCDR Writing Grant to help pay the way to Brussels and my personal writing/exploration retreat there.

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I lost and found my heart in Brussels, Belgium this past May.
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I was also extremely thrilled to find multiple traces of the Camino de Santiago in Brussels. There were MANY of the scallop shells embedded in the cobbles in the streets of the city, as well as a church once dedicated to pilgrims that walked through the city on their way to Compostela. I even found this statue of St. James himself!

Oh, and I have a novel releasing FEBRUARY 6th, 2018. My GAY YA novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE. See the cover below:

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Pride is coming from MUSE…the publisher of my debut novel, SUMMER ON FIRE. You can add Pride to your bookshelf on GOODREADS HERE. You can also check out reviews for all 6 of my books on Goodreads.

As the year winds down to nothing but the past, I sit here awaiting word from my agent on my Camino novel. AND I work on final edits on my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon Best Adult Novel Award winning novel, I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. AND I await getting into final edits with my MUSE editor on PRIDE. Sounds like I might be doing a lot, but I promise you, I’m still the laziest writer in existence today. I do a flurry of activity and then hibernate for 8 or 9 months. L-A-Z-Y.

Outside the writing life, unto my daughter and her husband a newborn child was born in 2017. This year has seen the arrival of HARRISON:

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This little smile of a boy brings so much joy. He should be called Mr. Happy, but his name is actually HARRISON.

Go ahead…click all those links. I know you wanna.

I guess that sums up my 2017. The appearance of busy while maintaining my lazy status. Level up to 2018!

 

When You Finish a Novel that Consumed You

There’s nothing like typing THE END at the bottom of your MSWord document. It is a distinct kind of joy and sorrow to do so. On the one hand, there is a great sense of accomplishment. On the other, you are sadly saying goodbye to great friends. It is the hug that wounds, the kiss that burns, the cut that feels so good.

After living inside the Camino de Santiago for the past month, retracing my own steps for the sake of my characters, I am exhausted-spent-exhilarated-lonely-happy-thrilled-gutted-euphoric-elated-dejected-emotional and fragile and infinite and empowered. And a few other emotions thrown in for good measure.

If you’re a novelist, you know the feeling.

My young adult novel The Walk–or The Camino Club (I cannot decide)–has been put to bed. It will be what it will be. I need to strike that pilgrimage place from my list of obsessions for a spell. The Camino itself fully consumed me while writing that novel. From watching the movie THE WAY on repeat, to listening to the same movie’s soundtrack on repeat, to reliving my own Camino experience through memories and photographs…I swear I feel like I just got back from Santiago de Compostela today. So powerful was the spell it has had on me these past weeks.

Goodbye Santiago de Compostela. I love you so much. And I love the characters I created to walk the path towards you too. Goodbye Diego, Shania, Manny, Troy, Greg, Claire, Meagan, Gilbert, Kei, Mia, Becky, AND Bastien. Buen Camino!

But there is nothing to do after finishing a novel, but to jump into the next one. Whether that be returning to a work in progress or starting something new. To dally would be to get out of the habit. So, onward. Back to the novel I began in Brussels this past May. It needs to be completed. Today, I turn the page from Spain and open a new one on Brussels. I swear, these settings are consuming me just as much as these characters.

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Time to revisit Brussels, one of the few settings for my current young adult WIP. This is me in Grand Place, the beautiful square in the heart of Brussels, just two minutes from where I stayed this past May.
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My upcoming release PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE is now on GOODREADS. Click the image above to swing on over to GOODREADS and add #PMBAP to your shelf! It drops February 6th, 2018.

Postcards from the End – MNM2016

Today marks the 1 year anniversary of the last day of the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. It was a great marathon for me…after the first 24 hours of non-productivity fog melted off the lake of the weekend and the sun came out to burn off the dense terrifying nothingness that clung to my creativity like a golem made to keep me down. I’m not being over-dramatic. Really, I’m not.

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I went from having nothing to write that weekend to scrambling to keep up with the story that eventually took over my every thought. I eventually chased it down and wrote it out and got a lion’s share of it on paper. By the end of the weekend, I had perhaps 3/4 of a novel completed. I handed it in for consideration in the Best Novel Award contest and it actually went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL OF 2016. What happened after the marathon is another story…best to be saved for a fireside horror-show retelling.

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Moving along…

If you would like to sponsor a writer for the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon, it’s not too late to do so. Each writer has two goals for this novel writing marathon. GOAL #1 is to raise money and awareness for the Simcoe Muskoka YMCA literacy programs. Writing a novel in 72 hours is just the secondary more selfish goal…money for literacy, that’s the true aim. You can make a difference with your donation. AND no amount is too small. Here’s a link to the Muskoka Novel Marathon 2017 Writers Page—with links to sponsor the writer of your choice.

As the marathon winds down, participants often write letters of encouragement to one another via blog posts, tweets, Facebook status updates, paper airplanes, toilet paper missives, etc.

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One of the many beautiful places writers can choose to write in at the Muskoka Novel Marathon in Huntsville, Ontario.

Here’s a Facebook status update I wrote as the 2016 marathon drew to a close. I won’t be taking part in the 2017 marathon that begins this Friday evening at 8pm and lasts for 72 hours…but I wish all those writers taking part a wonderful writing journey. May they write words, eat well, and be merry. And maybe when the marathon is coming to an end, they can find this postcard from the past and take comfort in it this year…as the message is fitting for any marathoner approaching the ending of the marathon on any given year.

 

Take a deep breath. This is it. The last day of the marathon. We have walked thousands upon thousands of words, taken strangers to places near and far with the sheer power of our own gossamer imaginations. Be well pleased in yourself and in your courage. It’s time to write the eulogy, celebrate the fact that you made it to the end. The power of words, so thick and meaty…they can change the world with a stroke. You’ve put them together one upon another, forced logic and il-logic to intertwine in whatever world you created in your mind for this long journey. Take a bow, for you all know the power now of longing to reach into your imaginations and pull out that which cannot be touched but allows itself to be embraced nonetheless. You were either absent or present during the creation of your words…there, not there. You were, however, at the helm…even in those periods when you completely disappeared, became not a writer but writing itself. We draw now to a close, on this, our last day…draw our imaginations back to a simmer—to something we can more tolerate back in the real world where words are not as powerful and all-encompassing as they are here, in this sacred place. Breathe. You did it. You have entrusted yourself to take the journey. You stepped forward one word at a time and you didn’t die. No one got left behind. The words piled up and gave you strength, even as they took it clean away. Write. Write. Write. But in doing so, don’t forget to breathe. You’re almost home.

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Yours truly taking a time out at the 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon. THIS is the beauty that surrounds us at the marathon. It’s everywhere. Our job is to keep writing without falling victim to the distractions. But we also need breaks…creativity walks. To the 2017 Marathoners…DON’T FORGET TO STEAL SOME ‘ME’ TIME FOR YOURSELF. Go to the Volcano!

I’ll leave you with Medicine for the People…

 

One Step Closer to the Death I Will Become – My Autumn is Upon Me

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Simple Beauty – A boy and his menagerie

As summer turns to fall, I enter a period of deep reflection. It has always been this way. Even before I discovered Robert Frost’s NOTHING GOLD CAN STAY, I had a deep appreciation for the importance of the time between summer and fall. It is that drop in the life-cycle of a calendar square…when dawn goes down to day…that pulls at my heartstrings. And as day seeps away into the gloaming…that is the time when I want to scream, “Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Look at me. Most people mix metaphors. Me? I mix poets and their poems. I’m just feeling so verklempt of late. I smell the changing seasons. I see these brushstrokes of hot orange and burnt sienna and mustard yellow in the trees about me and I ache inside. Now, more than ever. Because I know now that somewhere inside of me I am slowly turning to these colours myself. I have entered my own gloaming. And, yet, what have I done. I also continually imagine Jim Morrison screaming at me, “Did you have a good world when you died? Enough to base a movie on?”

Probably, Jim. Maybe. I don’t know, Jim. Maybe not. Leave me alone, Jim.

The gloaming...as beautiful as it is heartrending. The end of the day...
The gloaming…as beautiful as it is heartrending. The end of the day…

And then, don’t even get me started, I think of that song from Rent. Oh, you know the one…don’t pretend you don’t. Seasons of Love. Because…

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee…in inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes, how do you measure, a year in the life?

The mornings are a bit crisper, a bit more dewy. The sun often feels brighter this time of year…more piercing, just as it feels less heat-filled. Its glare seems more honest in September and October than it did in July. The year is winding down, and it is fighting against the inevitable…because the year is happy to be alive. And it gets happier the closer it gets to its own demise. As though it can feel the forever nap it is about to embark upon…and it rebels in the only way it knows how. It blows up into a miracle of colour and light.

Just to float on the sea, find myself on a page of history...
Just to float on the sea,
find myself on a page of history…

“I am here! This is me! I AM.”

Don’t you…forget about me.

60366d7b4efa8da92aa3eb136d89e14cAnd the year, it is so desperate not to die. It holds a ghetto-blaster up in the air and it says, “Take me as I am…do not forsake me. I will love you, if only you will let me stay here…in your life…in your love.”

And the year that is slowly dying…it plays for us a song to keep our attention. To justify its staying when it knows it cannot. It tries to tempt and trick the heart. “I can stay,” the year says, “if you love me enough.”

Love I get so lost, sometimes…days pass and this emptiness fills my heart…when I want to run away…I drive off in my car…but whichever way I go…I come back to the place you are.

cusakHow do we authenticate our lives? As the leaves burst into colour–and then later dry out and abandon all hope and wither to the ground–we too are changing. We may not know when, or why, or how, or where we die. But we all walk that Eventual Eventual. If we don’t contemplate our journey while taking it, what’s the point?
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make...
And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make…
There is only one thing that matters. LOVE. The rest fades to black, as we ourselves do. The history of us eventually fades…but the love? Imagine love as a virus. It carries from one person to another and another and another. It is the one thing that doesn’t truly die with us.
Look for miracles...they are everywhere...
Look for miracles…they are everywhere…
As leaves gather around your feet this autumn, remember that you will not be spared this great equalizing season. You are witness to the autumn around you just as autumn begins inside you. And when winter comes, be ready…at least in your heart. Let the things that do not matter fall away. It’s the only way you’ll gain ground for more love to enter.
Love - It's guilt edged Glamorous and sleek by design...
Love – It’s guilt edged
Glamorous and sleek by design…
As the last leaves fall, you will scream NOT YET, NOT YET, NOT YET! But you know…as sure as you live and breathe, you know!
To everything…turn, turn, turn…there is a season…turn, turn, turn…and a time for every purpose under Heaven…a time to be born, a time to die…

Ponder your life. Forgive. Let go. Heal. And when you’re ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, remember one thing, my lovelies…DO IT TO THE BEAT OF LOVE and DO IT IN DANCE…

Do not go gentle into that good night – Dylan Thomas, 19141953

Nothing Gold Can Stay – Robert Frost, 18741963

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish’d. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.

This time of year. It always makes me a little bit more insane. And sad. And happy…gloriously happy. I will not go gently into this coming autumn.

A Year in the Life – Things to Come and This Too Shall Pass…

“Another year older, and a new one just begun…” ~ So sang John Lennon in Happy Christmas (War is Over)

2015 hasn’t begun yet, but it’s just a sneeze away. With another year under our belts, we sometimes can’t help but reflect. All the New Year cliches come out of the woodwork. We either stay away from, or join, the nearest gym. We think about all the things we accomplished in the year that is ending, and all the things we failed to do. We think about all the things we hope to accomplish in the upcoming year, all the things we know we will miss out on.

It’s just that time of year.

2014 was my year of travel. I will probably never travel as much in one year as I did in 2014. I did British Columbia, Spain, Paris, New York, Quebec City and Orlando, Florida. Capped it all off with a swing-by of Stratford, Ontario this past weekend. (-:

The Vast Camino is filled with Places of Wonder!
The Vast Camino is filled with Places of Wonder!

I made many new friends and experienced too many phenomenal things to list here. I grew through walking across Spain on the trail to Camino De Santiago. I walked up mountains and down mountains and through mountains.

"Captain, My Captain!" ~ Sue Kenney, Pilgrim Guide to The Camino
“Captain, My Captain!” ~ Sue Kenney, Pilgrim Guide to The Camino

I stopped to smell the flowers, to laugh, to cry, to make amends. I stumbled barefoot through mud and rocks and grass. I had a picnic like never a picnic was ever had before, or ever will be had again…at the apex of a beautiful hill, in tall grass with friends–fellow peregrinos.

To the Top of the World! Somewhere in Spain, on the Camino...
To the Top of the World! Somewhere in Spain, on the Camino…
A Picnic in Paradise - May, 2014. Spain
A Picnic in Paradise – May, 2014. Spain

I met a man I hardly shared words with, but who made me weep like a baby, a pilgrim from France who had found more than he had ever bargained for on the Camino…the love of a million pilgrims and one. He was that special.

A Peregrino from France Who Changed the Lives of All He Touched on The Camino...
A Peregrino from France Who Changed the Lives of All He Touched on The Camino…

I shouted into the rain and walked through snow. And at the end of the long journey, I walked into a city more beautiful than any emerald one could ever be. And, by some stroke of magic, I saw all those I had met along the way. I stood on the roof of THE Cathedral and viewed that beautiful city in 360 degree splendor from that holiest of lofty places.

The View NOT of the Cathedral of Camino de Santiago, but FROM Atop it!
The View NOT of the Cathedral of Camino de Santiago, but FROM Atop it!

I walked the quiet morning back-roads of Galiano Island with the wild wind at my back and the Pacific Ocean at my side.

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Morning Stroll on Galiano…
In British Columbia, the Sun Explodes Both IN and OUT of the Day...
In British Columbia, the Sun Explodes Both IN and OUT of the Day…

I saw Canadian flags wave greetings from boats in a tiny harbour there, while the Canadian Rockies in the background swallowed up anything else in my view.

The Galiano Inn - Home to the Annual Galiano Literary Festival
The Galiano Inn – Home to the Annual Galiano Literary Festival

I stood at the top of the Eiffel Tower and scanned a city heretofore a mere dream to me…a fantasyland where Fitzgerald and Hemingway wined and dined and wrote and sang and lived. Never did Paris mean more to me than that, until I was there. It opens anew to each visitor, presents a unique place in the heart of each guest. I stomped up the Champs-Élysées with my new friend, Nina, and together we took on the endless spiral staircase inside the Arc de Triomphe and we stood at the top exhausted and filled with light and love and we smiled on the fair city that stretched out in fingers away from the tower.

Me and my new friend NINA, fellow LBWR registrant, atop the Arc de Triomphe!
Me and my new friend NINA, fellow LBWR registrant, atop the Arc de Triomphe!

Together we walked the Tuileries, and sat for mayhaps a little too long sipping red wine while the sun went down and the rats in the bushes beside us scurried.

20140620_225917-MOTIONWe drank absinthe at a lovely little outdoor cafe, where we admired shoes and broke glasses and laughed until we were sore…nay, until we soared! With our group, THE LEFT BANK WRITERS RETREAT, we wandered museums, we took the Metro, we walked Montmartre, we wrote in Le Jardin de Luxembourg, we entered the great WORD CATHEDRAL—SHAKESPEARE & COMPANY. We entered Shakespeare & Company! After decades of imagining it.

Shakespeare & Company - Where words breathe
Shakespeare & Company – Where words breathe

I don’t care that I am running on and on, for with each word comes another remembrance. My year. My year!

CHARLIE. And CHARLIE. AND CHARLIE. CHARLIE! In the midst of it all was born a beautiful boy. Little Charlie Bucket, who will one day know what that means.

I leave you with this year's most precious new arrival...
CHARLIE THOMAS – Boy Wonder! Little Brother to EDWARD JACOB, the Wonder who came before him!

What it’s like to step inside Notre Dame Cathedral when it’s empty at eight in the morning (mark that down! At ten, the lines are so long you could die before entering!) is something that will stay with me for ever. It is a simultaneous feeling of being infinite and of being nothing at all. And to think, I stayed only a couple of minutes up the road from that most famous of cathedrals…the centre point of the old universe itself.

Notre Dame Cathedral in the Morning!
Notre Dame Cathedral in the Morning!

Later, I stood atop Rockefeller and looked down at the most famous park in the world and wondered at its vastness and its nothingness. A green thick and wild and in the centre of one of the world’s most thriving and populated meccas.

I recall Central Park in fall...How you tore your dress, what a mess...
I recall Central Park in fall…How you tore your dress, what a mess…

And the lady of the harbour, I saw her too.

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And to walk the streets of Old Quebec City after wandering the streets of Paris is to know the connection. plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Quebec City Streets - A Whisper of Paris
Quebec City Streets – A Whisper of Paris

An ocean between the two places, and a hint of the struggle that came with building the second in the shadow of the first.

New and Old meet - Quebec City...the Wall
New and Old meet – Quebec City…the Wall

Each beautiful, each unique. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Everyone is a Child in the Magic Kingdom! DISNEY ORLANDO...a MUST!
Everyone is a Child in the Magic Kingdom! DISNEY ORLANDO…a MUST!

OOH! Disney and Universal in Orlando. Something MAGIC this way comes!

Old Friends from Long Ago...
Old Friends from Long Ago…
Dr. Seuss is the reason I write. I had to meet The Cat in the Hat while at Universal in Orlando! (-:
Dr. Seuss is the reason I write. I had to meet The Cat in the Hat while at Universal in Orlando! (-:

I’m another year older, yes. But I’m also so much younger. I have learned a great deal in 2014. I am grateful for every new soul in my life. Each and every one of you!

I thought I would write a few words about my year and move on to Things to Come. Sorry…that just came out of its own accord.

So on with THINGS TO COME. What will 2015 have in store for me.

On January 19th, my 5th novel will be released! HALF DEAD & FULLY BROKEN won the Muskoka Novel Marathon‘s BEST YOUNG ADULT NOVEL AWARD! Now, it’s going to be available to all to read. It’s actually already available for pre-order at Amazon:

51OeS9ITAHL._AA278_PIkin4,BottomRight,-46,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_And don’t look for me come mid-March, for I will be in CHINA & HONG KONG…until April. (-:

What of THIS TOO SHALL PASS, you ask? This was something I always promised myself of all the bad things. And now it is something I realize happens also with all the good. So—grab onto every single moment you have. Every single one. Hold on for dear life and enjoy the ride. Whether it is good or bad, it is fleeting. This too shall pass…

The The – Perfect (Or How To Scare Yourself Into Fulfilling Your Dreams)

You know it’s going to be an interesting day when you wake up with The The lyrics playing in your head. The following lines float in my mindscape quite often, a little threat to suggest what could happen if I don’t take risks and chances at every opportunity that comes my way:

Passing by a cemetery,
I think of all the little hopes and dreams,
That lie lifeless and unfulfilled beneath the soil.
I see an old man fingering his perishing flesh.
He tells himself he was a good man and did good things.
Amused and confused by life’s little ironies,
He swallows his bottle of distilled damnation.

Yep. There it is. All the threat you need to never say NO again!

I often use those lines as a means to motivate myself into doing something I’m more than a little terrified to do. Say, public speaking. Do I really want to be a bag of bones lying lifeless and unfulfilled beneath the soil? NO. I want it to be said that I took risks, that I pushed beyond my own imaginary limits. I don’t want to live in my comfort zone anymore!

It’s harder than one would imagine. Trust me. But the rewards far outweigh the terrifying fear I sometimes find myself in. And…it does get easier. Those things you think you could never do. Do them. Do them once. Do them twice. Do them whenever the opportunity arises. You’ll find that the sixth time is just a little bit easier than the fifth.

One day, I hope to master this public speaking thing. I’ve been having a lot of opportunities lately to speak. Last month I did a writing workshop on Pantsing and Plotting. I was constantly waiting for the wall of nervous jitters to hit. The thing is…it didn’t. I was comfortable. Admittedly, some of the things I wanted to discuss in the workshop left my brain. I stumbled and stuttered a bit with the odd brain fart. But…here’s the thing…I did NOT pass out. I remember the first time I read in front of the writing community I am a part of. I had to sit down with my back to the audience. How insane is that. If I didn’t sit, I would have fell…my legs were made of that much jelly.

So, whenever fear strikes I just sing The The lyrics to myself. I have those lines chase me into submission. I will not cower away from opportunities I know I will enjoy. I will not cower away from opportunities I know I will enjoy. This conquering of my own will has brought me to a lot of cool places in recent years. I laugh when I think of the way I begged a play festival producer to give me a chance to be a playwright in his festival. ME! A playwright. That would never happen! And five years later I now have two plays in an upcoming festival in Toronto. These will be plays number 6 & 7. And did I ever imagine that I would be in a recording studio at the CBC building, actually recording something I wrote for the radio? Not in my life! But after getting over the initial horror, I think that experience went okay as well. Thankfully, I had a fellow writer friend with me!

What’s this all about? Taking chances. LIFE OPENS UP WHEN YOU OPEN UP TO LIFE. Just keep on singing those terrifying lines I quoted up there.    ^  Nobody wants to get to the end of their life and think, “I wish I would have done all those things I was too afraid to do!” Take chances. Push yourself well beyond your limits. You may just enjoy doing those things you’re a little nervous to try. (Disclaimer–if this prompts you to go jumping out of an airplane and your parachute doesn’t open, please don’t pin it on me.)

Go forth. LIVE!

How Many of You People Know You’re Alive?

So asked Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison in the biopic The Doors. Did Jim Morrison really stand up on a car and ask the living world of passersby around him this prophetic question? Who knows? Furthermore, who cares? The fact that it was asked in the movie is enough. How many of us really do know we’re alive? Sometimes I’m almost certain I’d have to be run over by a tank just to realize I’m breathing. But that’s the thing about breathing. You don’t need to practice it. It just happens. It’s one of those things-like blood flow-that just happens to us…come what may.

But is that enough? Do the facts that our blood pumps and our breath breathes make us, in fact, alive?

I say no. These facts just make us slightly different than rocks. They keep us alive. Alive is different than living. You have to live to be alive. You have to breathe the light fantastic. Or is that skip the light fantastic? Ooh…a cliche. Those things we’re never supposed to use. Anyway, I prefer to skip the light fandango…turn cartwheels across the floor. Now that is living.

I’ve lost the thread, haven’t I?

How many of you people know you’re alive? When Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison screeched that question into the Los Angeles night he was higher than a kite. He thought he was alive. He was passing judgement on everybody around him who he saw as ants struggling within the human condition. In other words, he was living.

At times like these, when I am knee-deep in my writing, I sometimes stop and ask myself that question. Do I know I’m alive? I mean, I’m involved in all this STUFF. And yet…none of it really touches me. I have 2 plays being produced within the next month. My 3rd novel was just released. I just helped pull off a hugely successful writers’ conference. I’m stepping into an important role on my local writing community’s board of directors. All these things should give me pause. Should make me feel something. Should make me think, ‘yes…I know I’m alive.’

But they don’t.

Those things are just for fun. Sure…I get excited about them. But only on a surface level. They are not proof of my existence. In other words, as much as I care about getting these things right…about people enjoying the work that I process, the writing that I create…they don’t help me in the least to breathe. These things are incidental. They are just things that I do. When I write, I pass the time. It’s almost the same as breathing…no effort on my part. It just happens. Does my writing answer the question that Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison asked while perched up there on the car looking down on the little people who surrounded him?

No. The answer is an emphatic no. Writing doesn’t even scratch the surface. It doesn’t suggest to me that I’m actually alive. I love it…don’t get me wrong. But it doesn’t seem to create a reaction in me that tells me I’m living life. On the contrary…being a writer sometimes requires one to remove oneself from the treadmill of life. I agree, you must live to be a writer of any talent. What we do as writers is reflect life. If we are not living it, we cannot reflect it…we would be nothing more than vampire attempting vainly to look at ourselves in the mirror.

What the hell am I even trying to say here?!

I live life. Spending a week at the cottage staring off into the bowl of paradise from my Muskoka chair, my wet dog at my feet. THAT is living. Holding my grandson’s hand as he walks me to the light standard in the middle of our court because he’s fascinated with lights and he wants to tell me that said light standard is… “It’s OFF!”…that’s living. Taking in a Leafs game with my son…who can make a hot dog disappear in ten seconds flat…THAT is living. Laughing at my daughter’s crazy sense of humour and wondering where on earth she gets it from? THAT is living. Hurting to the point of being ripped apart? Laughing to the point of pissing myself? Getting lost in a movie at the theatre and holding my breath as I wait for the big something to happen and transform my life within the confines of that dark theatre? THAT is living. Christ, even filling the grocery cart every week and making sure we have the things on the list that my teenage dirtbag son requires to make him artificially happy? Even THAT is living.

Writing…putting words down one after another? That’s not living. That’s just breathing. Anyone can do that. You don’t even have to try.