Category Archives: in it

surrender

When you come from a long line of women who move with bravery and backbone, you’re destined to do the same. Perseverance is your crown. And like the women before me I wear it well. I was born a fighter. My dad said so.

I close my eyes and I breathe. In and out.

Under obligation, through worry and over the unknown I search for that spot inside me where peace resides. The place that tells me I’m going to be fine. No matter the outcome I am here – whole and healthy. My life is good.

While my body rests my mind races. It is dark, the house is still. Outside and over my children is a blanket of stars. The night isn’t enough to quiet me; there is always one more thing. While determination is in my bloodstream rest is foreign to me, to the women before me. If one learns by example then my example is to never stop.

I am crowded, too full to sleep. Thoughts zig-zagging through my brain. Longing for more, always for more, I wonder where I will go, where life will lead. What can I do? Change is everywhere.

I’m on my side, pillow scrunched under my head, hands curled under my chin. I remember holding my babies when they cried; gently patting their small soft backs as I sang lullabies into virgin ears. Soon, soon with long slow blinks, their mouths forming an ‘o’ they surrendered to sleep.

There is a time to fight and this is not the time. I breathe. In and out. I give in to the night. I surrender. To peace. To rest.

Swept up

In this ballet girl!

Annie is part of a ballet character duo this year and here she is on stage mid-performance as one of the two Dueling Maestros!

let the light in

I crack open the blinds to discover what I had anticipated. Sun. Light streaming in through the window, I quickly open all the blinds to let more of it in, until the house is alive with sun, until sun sheds its light on me.

I’m startled by Benjamin’s appearance, his hand on my arm. I didn’t hear him come down the stairs. Hair rumpled and face still soft with sleep he says, “Mommy, my chest hurts.”

I bend to him, my ear to his chest, “Okay, take a deep breath.”

Ben’s small chest rises and falls. “Another breath. Really big.”

There it is. A faint rattle. “Alright, go grab your blue puffer.”

I tidy the kitchen and Ben returns. He holds up two fingers. “I took one, two puffs.”

I ask, “How do you feel?”

He shrugs.

“Well, why don’t you get changed and we’ll see how you feel in a few minutes.”

It’s time to begin a new day, a new week and I don’t feel ready. I’ve filled out school field trip forms, called the pharmacy to refill Ben’s prescription and lunches are made. I shiver and wrap my arms around myself.

I woke up to anxiety, my eyes snapping open at 5am. I showered, hoping worry would wash away.  I carried anxiety down the stairs and tried to put it down, to leave it with my laundry as I stuffed it into the washer, to place it on the counter with the dishes, but it clung to my chest and furrowed my brow.

I need to breathe. Just breathe.

I gaze out the windows and I take stock. I’m stressed. I’m waiting. Are my kids okay? Is Annie doing too much? Money’s tight. March is busy already. What am I doing? What am I doing? Good things are coming. They have to be, right?

“Benjamin, how are you feeling?”

He’s at the dining room table crafting, assembling a small house made of foam. “This is making me feel so much better.”

I smile and kiss the top of his head, bury my nose in his bedraggled hair inhaling the scent of him – of shampoo and little boy. What is that saying? Life is what happens while you’re waiting.

I look up.

Through the blinds, through the glass there is sun, blue sky, glory.

I draw a deep breath. A little anxiety falls to the floor.

I want; I need to let the light in. And when I do I feel so much better.

Swept up
In The Civil Wars
I love all kinds of music, but I especially love music that makes me feel and these guys make me feel. One of my favorite songs of theirs is Poison & Wine. Check it out here.

part 2 – be true – your life is a story

I should have prefaced my previous post with from the past. (I did change it a couple of days ago.) 2 years ago I was wrestling with writing my story. Even though I had been giving speeches I was terrified of spending time in dark places to tell my story beyond 30 minutes. Now I’m all in.

Near the beginning of a speech and toward the end I say this: Everyone has a story. This is mine. What are you going to do with your story? Your life?

Each of us has something in our lives we need to be true to; whether it’s to stay the course knowing this is exactly where you’re supposed to be or to pursue another direction or to uncover a path you didn’t know existed like finding a secret door to a secret garden where wonder and delight flourish (my childhood wish). Whatever the choice is, it’s about creating meaning in our lives. Not merely existing. Not giving up. Being true. Meaning can be found everywhere.

We live as story – as a work of art with many parts, colors, and layers. A significant word in the top corner, a ray of sun to the left, poetry to sum up your soul, a stormy cloud that threatens, roots that run deep into the earth. Parts of your story haven’t made it to the page, yet to be discovered and explored.

My story isn’t only about recovery after a devastating car crash, but about my childhood, my marriage, parenting, the wacky things my kids do that make me gasp and laugh sometimes all at once. (Oh, the day I had yesterday.) Friendships that enrich my life. Obligations I must meet. Being compassionate. Still, there is more. Destiny that begs to be drawn.

And I want meaning in it. I demand it.

Sometimes we can’t control the circumstances in our lives, but we can choose how we’ll respond. A part of life slammed into me, undid me and emptiness stalked me while I sought my version of whole. Finances continue to make me batty and I can’t chase every dark cloud away, but I can choose well and reach meaning.

While we fill in our stories and attempt to make pieces fit as others slip through our fingers, through our stories we get to help people. The meaning in our lives can be in front of us, beside us. It can be simple. Sometimes it’s picking up a friend’s child for school to help them out, buying someone a cup of coffee, being good to your spouse, teaching our kids about compassion, and noticing others. Sharing grief. Going out of our way, we let people know they’re not alone. Our stories cross and intertwine.

Your story, your life is never done with you. It’s always moving, shifting and you’ll want to be in it – right smack in the middle. So you can’t miss it. With all the cost and risk. With all the sadness, delight and wonder. With all that you have to offer. Living your story is worth it.

Swept up

In Barefoot Contessa Vancouver

Now for something frivolous and fun, and meaning can definitely be found in fun…this sweet store is one of my favorite places to shop. From clothes to belts to jewelry it is all things lovely as the ladies that work at Barefoot Contessa will tell you.

be true

Nearly 2 years ago…

I pulled out a dish from the dishwasher and banged it onto the counter. I yanked open the cabinets and shoved in the mugs until they clattered loudly in protest. When I got to sorting the cutlery tears filled my eyes and I sighed, defeated. I’m crying. Again.

I was guilty.

Exercising deep breathing I leaned against the counter, my back to the dishes and stared at my fridge.

Among school photos of my kids and their friends, photos of families that no longer lived near us, magnets with clever quotes from unknown authors the letters that spelled story stood out. Write me. Pursue me. Be true.

Story had been stalking me for almost a year. I had reasons to run. What if it’s just too hard? What if dredging up the past is damaging? What if I’m not a writer? What if it’s for nothing?

Compelled, called – whatever the word was for this thing I couldn’t escape. Passion, dream. Nothing made me the feel the way writing did, like it was an answer to every question I ever had. Could I follow a dream not knowing where it would lead? Would I surrender to the unknown? Unable to commit I became busy with a job, my family, and distraction.

Not following my heart began to hurt. Discontent seeped from my eyes, squeezed my chest in every dark corner, at every quiet moment. Be true.

I walked over to the fridge, peeled off each letter and lay story in the palm of my hand. I sorted the photos, quotes, my life to make room; and letter by letter I placed story in the center, where I knew I could find my heart.

Swept Up

In the Valentines my kids gave me
Annie made our family a giant Valentine and Benjamin handed me 7 pennies along with 3 kisses. Before you think Scott is a schlep, he gave me a dozen gorgeous red roses, which are not featured here but displayed on our mantle.

before and after

I have always called myself an optimist with realistic expectations. What I’ve discovered though is that I’m sort-of a pessimist. (Putting the sort-of in front of it makes it easier to swallow.) In fact, Scott called me a fatalist the other day. Wha?? I was insulted. Me? A fatalist?

I’m practical. It’s the survivor in me. I know how to hunker down and weather the storms. What I’m not good at is the big picture, having vision for my life and dreaming. It’s a flaw I own. I hope for the best and am positive the worst will happen.

Sometimes it’s easier to dig your heels in, and grin and bear it than to leave the trenches and walk on.

I’ve come close to death and lost someone beloved and I never fully recovered. It’s been 13 years and I’m better, so much better, but my life can’t return to ‘before’. A line was crossed and I live in the after with a smattering of before. I mean, I knew bad things could happen, but I didn’t know. Not like this. You’re crushed and you want to recapture your heart. The way it was. You want to take life for granted again. And you can’t. You won’t.

Someone once said to me you’ll never be okay unless you’re completely healed. I reject that statement. Life is defined differently for me now and, after much time and relentless surrendering, it is okay. I am okay. I’m well. While there are many of us who can’t return to innocence and see the world with a rosy glow, we can see the sweet through the bitter. We can appreciate that life is fragile and if we explore it we’ll find beauty.

I only have to look at a pitch black sky with stars drawn across it to know our world is a mysterious place, magical and perplexing. There are some questions I will never have answers to and the not knowing can be maddening, but I can rest in the mystery, in being small in a big world. Maybe I’m a pessimist or a fatalist. Who knows and who cares? I do know that I’m still learning, always learning. For those of you who are suffering and can’t believe this is your life, know you are not alone. Right now you’re in the trenches. And one day you’ll do more than survive. You’ll live.

Swept up


In Skydive Professional

Speaking of living…this is Scott’s passion. This is what makes him feel truly alive. I don’t claim to understand it, but I support it because I’m nice like that. Recently, he started up this blog on being a professional skydiver and there are some exciting things happening for him, including interviewing author and skydiver Dan Bronsky-Chenfeld.

known

I stood in the kitchen wondering if I should sweep the crummy, sticky floor or just lie down on the couch and call it a day. My kids whispered on the staircase after I had shooed them to the basement. Ben said, “I have to tell her.”

My six year old boy, hair disheveled and jeans slung low, shuffled over and planted his feet in front of me. “Mommy, I have to tell you something.”

“Okay, Ben. Lay it on me.” I expected a confession.

He took a deep breath and opened his mouth. “Mommy.” He couldn’t make eye contact and he appeared nervous, but Ben rarely looks me in the eye, so I let it go. And then I thought, is there a puddle of pee somewhere? Did he break my phone? No, not my phone.

“Mommy, you are my hero. You are brave and smart and you finished a whole book and that is hard work. I’m lucky you’re my mommy.”

He sped through his speech, threw his arms around me and hung from my neck. “You are my hero. I just had to tell you.”

“Benjamin,” I cried, “I’m the lucky one.”

He drew back and his eyes widened. My tears alarmed him. “They’re happy tears. You make me very happy. Thank you, thank you!” I smothered him with kisses. He dutifully let me kiss him, and as soon as he could, he made a break for it and ran to the basement.

One of the things I cherish most in this life is to be known. To have people in your life that just get you. You make sense even if you feel you don’t, and if you don’t make sense it’s not held against you. We’re not defensive. We’re not constantly explaining ourselves. I can let my guard down, I can settle into our relationship because I trust you. You know me and I know you. And in this knowing sometimes perfection happens.

It’s not that I’m a hero. I wasn’t waiting to hear those words. It’s that my little boy, who isn’t so little, more long and gangly, brought me perspective. It’s that he saw me for a few seconds, as his mom who cleans up after him and yells at him to pick up his Lego which has become a death trap to anyone that walks across our floor, and as a person. A person, a mother with feelings and goals and dreams.

We’re so busy and know so many people. At work, at school, at kids’ play dates and activities. We’re everything to everyone, so when you get to be just you and you are loved, regardless or ‘because of’, by those family members and best friends, it is gold.

Swept up

In you guys!! I was blown away and humbled by your kind words and encouragement after my last post (oh, the encouragement!!). I just want to say thank you for your being here and your belief. For taking me to a higher place.

This is how Benjamin looks most of the time: happy, even without the bubbles.

Again, photo taken by the fabulous Anastasia Chomlack

for writers

I’ve fallen out of love with writing over the last few months. It could be that I’ve been looking at the same story for so long I can’t find the story for the words or the words for the story. I’m near the end now. Again. Another reason is I don’t write enough. I’ve been busy and it’s a good and legitimate excuse, but the longer I’m away from it the harder it is to ‘get back on the horse’ or something like that. It could be that as I’m learning more about the publishing industry writing has become a cartoon devil perched on my shoulder poking me with its sharpened pencil whispering, “This sucksss.” A devil would definitely hiss at the end of that, right? “Just go make another coffee and watch an episode of Parenthood on the PVRrrr.” It must be a German devil. Writing equals pressure and who wants to sit at their computer completely stressed out each time they hit a key? Trust your instincts unless they’re wrong!

I attended the Surrey International Writers Conference this past weekend. It was my second writers’ conference this year, so I came to it prepared this time. I was a newbie at the previous conference and it showed. This time my pitch was polished. Armed with notes and comparables and calm I knew why I was here. To learn, pitch my story and be surrounded with a whack of writers.

From agents to editors to social media experts and authors I heard different versions of how one gets their book/their writing out there. Published authors tell you writing is paramount. Write what you love, write what you know, just write. Agents and editors want a Hollywood hook, sharp writing and a platform.  It’s about the numbers, the marketability of your book – how many followers does your blog have? How many people love you on Twitter and Facebook? And then it got tricky… Generally people didn’t love Facebook. Twitter is where it’s at. Blogs might be on their way out. Your blog doesn’t count unless you’re posting something every 3 days. (This means I’m screwed.) The landscape of traditional publishing is changing fast and self-publishing is the new black or whatever. It’s the best time to be a writer/It’s the worst time to be a writer. This isn’t new. I’ve been reading and hearing these messages since I decided to foray into this world.

There is a wealth of information and opinion out there and it’s a lot to take in and sift through. Not enough to give up, just enough to add pressure, to resurrect that devil on my shoulder.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a fun and inspiring weekend. I had an appointment with an agent who, and I’m paraphrasing here, said, “Platform Shmatform.” What a breath of fresh air. I went to a great and well-organized (nothing tugs at my heartstrings more than organization) workshop on dialogue run by Author Susanna Kearsley and sat in on Robert Dugoni’s workshop on editing which was both entertaining and helpful. I could have listened to Author Anne Perry speak all day. She was the keynote on Saturday morning and immediately afterward I got on my phone and tweeted because, apparently, I have to tweet more, “I felt like her speech was aimed right at me.” Seriously, my heart ached with the richness and beauty of her words.

During one workshop I had an idea for my next book. It’s one I had been toying with a few years ago before I started writing this story. I’ll save that for another post. I had lunches and dinners with fellow writers and heard their ideas, their stories. Oh, and just because the universe has a sense of humor and likes to keep me humble humiliated I spat on an author accidentally while telling him how much I enjoyed his speaking. Let me tell you, it was hella awkward.

Amidst all the words both inspirational and conflicting there was one message that persisted loud and clear from everyone; keep writing. So, for all writers out there on blogs big and small, novels self-published or manuscripts submitted and waiting for that YES we want your book, write. Write.

bitterball

“I’m a ball of bitter. A bitterball.”

I sat down hard on the couch and put my head on my knees. I sighed at Scott and turned my head to give him a look that pleaded with him to say something, anything nice.

I learned how to be honest with my feelings in my very early twenties. I taught myself to be clear-eyed and self-aware. I would get frustrated and wound-up and whisper, “I think I’m angry.” I’d say it out loud to the air, to the furniture in the room so there was no confusion. Before correctly indentifying my feelings I used to pretend they weren’t there or bury them. It was a temporary fix until my feelings snaked and slithered their way free. They weren’t going to be ignored or tied down. They would do damage until I could name and tame them.

Sometimes I have to be ‘in it’ and let myself feel when I would rather jump out of my skin, jam my fingers in my ears, because, you know, feelings are known to pour out of your ears, and run, shouting, “I’m feeling things!” (This is basically what I did yesterday when I drove for an hour and a half to Anthropologie in search of distraction and cute tops. I came home with cute tops and my problems totally disappeared still intact.) I need to slow down and be with myself. I heed the warnings about navel-gazing and preening our emotions. I know there’s a fine line between self-aware and self-absorbed. If I don’t spend some time being quiet and figure out what’s bugging me I become paralyzed. I’m after perspective. To know enough to say, enough! I need to do something for someone else or spend time hanging on my kids’ words or go for a walk because I need to be alone. It’s about understanding what’s going on so I can move forward.

So, I know I’m a bitterball, a ball of bitter. The kind of bitter where I look like Pig-Pen and his cloud of dust that travels with him. These days I’m part fine and part insecure and the bitter comes from the insecure. I’m grumpy and mope-y. I’m the clichéd spinning my wheels with nowhere to go. I have a bad taste in my mouth and to remedy it I’m going to make homemade mac-n-cheese, watch a movie that makes me laugh or cry (I haven’t decided yet), uncurl and start over.

Swept up

In Toms!

They’re a Canadian company and for every pair of shoes you purchase they donate a pair to someone in need. And they’re ridiculously cute and comfortable!

hell bent

I’m nearing the end of this experiment that has zigzagged its way into a manuscript. I’ve been busy slashing my words and filling in large holes. I’m affected by tunnel vision. All I can see is my screen and sentences that need better structure. Where are my transitions? This is messy. Where did that come from? Oh, I like this, but I hate that! These are my thoughts all day long. I’m fidgety and hand-wringing. I’m bleary eyed with lack of sleep. I feel a little crazy. I feel like a writer.

Some of this has been punishing. I’m digging into my past; plunging headlong into a time I’ve moved on from. Old feelings resurface, tears are shed, and deep breaths are made. It brings up questions. Most of December I asked, what’s the point? Why am I doing this? Should I keep writing this? I’m so entrenched in the past and it isn’t normally how I choose to live my life. I feel like myself, but myself from a decade ago with perspective. I can’t stop now, though. I’ve come too far and I’m reaching the end. What a waste if I let fear get in the way now. Because that’s what all the questions are about – I’m afraid.

I’m afraid of failing. I know – who isn’t? The story is really taking shape and I’m starting to think about agents and publishing and what if my book is total crap? We’ll just keep the blog and the hope of a book between us and all will be well. It’s tempting to print the pages, plunk them into a drawer, and slam it shut. I don’t have to try. But, I do. I have to try.

There’s a writing group I’m a part of. We meet downtown and pore over our work, reading and critiquing, suggesting and exclaiming. These women can write, achingly and brilliantly write. I jot down notes in my margins, happy that I’m in a chair across from them, and secretly hoping we’ll meet forever. Not only is it good for my writing, but it feeds my soul like nothing else has in a very long time. It is life-giving.

I’ve rewritten a lot of the story. I’ve gone back to the beginning and worked my way through. There’s a lot that doesn’t make it to the internet. Some of it will be saved for the book. There are pieces I can’t bring myself to throw up as ‘post’. I still have a lot of work ahead of me, but it’s wrapping up. The end is near. I can feel it. It makes me hell bent. Hell bent on finishing. Hell bent on trying. Hell bent on telling the story. That’s the bottom line of it all. I just want to tell the story.

I still couldn’t give you a solid answer, an answer to the why. I don’t know why I’m telling the story. Not really. Not definitively. People have asked and offered guesses – closure, catharsis, self help, and even entertainment. I don’t know that it’s any one of these or all of these. I only know this is the story I want to tell. And, for right now, that will have to be enough.

to live

“Not you. I can’t believe this happened to you.”

For some reason I never fully understood I wasn’t surprised by what had happened to me. When a friend sat by my hospital bed and slowly shook his head in disbelief ‘why not me’ ran through my mind and I was startled at my openness, my acceptance. It wasn’t that I went through life with a dark cloud hanging over me expecting calamity. Not at all. I would call myself a realist with optimistic tendencies. Maybe it was that I knew it didn’t help to fight it, to resist what happened. It happened. And there was so much to do. If I could accept, maybe it would help speed up my recovery. However, my acceptance didn’t mean that I liked my situation.

My body was not mine anymore. Air where ankles and feet should be. My body was thick raised scars, slashes of purple and red, thin rice paper skin that broke easily, open wounds stubbornly refusing to heal. I wasn’t repulsed exactly – I just didn’t like what I had become. I made sure to avert my eyes when I passed a mirror. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore.

Before the car crash I was 5’6″ and 120 pounds with muscular legs and strong arms. I had a toned, flat tummy which was now puckered sewn skin, divided by a long line made by a scalpel that began at my belly button. I had a 23 year old body, in good shape, skin hard and soft in all the right places. I ran. I walked. I rarely stopped moving. And I had suddenly aged, my skin sagging where it hadn’t hardened with surgery. I joked that my butt had burnt off. It was true. It was mostly grafted, the skin so thin it was difficult to sit for any real length of time. I could handle maybe an hour of sitting, even with a specially designed cushion, but I often excused myself to go lie down and take the pressure off my bony bum. I wasn’t comfortable in my new skin. I didn’t know how to be.

“You’re still you,” well-meaning friends, social workers, family said. Yes, and. That was my response. Yes, I was still me and I’d lost a body that carried me, housed me for twenty three years. To have it change so swiftly, to have pieces of me taken wasn’t something I could simply get over. I wished I could separate my body from my soul, that the damage done to me was only to my body. But when you don’t recognize yourself in your reflection and you can’t stand to see your eyes because you know the damage is deeper than you can comprehend, you realize that body and soul are entwined, impossible to sever. ‘This will grow your character’ was advice I heard more than once, given to comfort me, but there was little comfort in the promise of character growth. The loss took my breath away and left me terrifyingly empty.

I had good days and bad days. Some days it was too much work to turn around a bad day, to search for the silver lining. It was best to make peace with it and hope the next day would be better.

I allowed myself to mourn. I needed to honor what was and not worry about how to do grief. There was no proper way, no right way. I was unable to make this nice, to dress it up. Grief isn’t polite. It is raw, messy and everywhere. I was content to take my life a piece at a time, a day at a time, and go through it. Through. Not around. That meant I was angry, sad, lost and, once in a while, I laughed. Because there was much to cry about, developing a dark sense of humor came with the territory and my sarcastic streak grew. I feared if I didn’t grieve it would stick around finding a place to hide. Then, when I was least expecting it grief would attack me with its ferocity and largeness. I believed it would grow if I didn’t tend to it. With my eyes wide open and summoning all the strength I had I lived through the worst thing that had ever happened to me.