Category Archives: writing

one summer day

Puffs of cotton candy, sticky sweet, are on my fingers. The air shimmers above the pavement. A bell signals the ride is about to start. Dangling, kicking feet. Squealing, blissful kids are lifted higher, higher until they touch the sky. I’m on the ground smiling, squinting into the sun remembering my nervous, nauseous stomach as rides turned, flipped and spun me around.

Glee everywhere, children racing to stand in line, I think of my childhood, of skipping toward my house and saying to no one, to everyone, “I’m happy! I want to stay nine forever!” My life unspooled on the sidewalk under my feet and I saw it was perfect, like only a child can see. Pink bubble gum perfect. I couldn’t ask for more.

Now. All grown up. With the many seasons of me. Overheated, summer glum Heidi. Looking forward to fall, fresh outlook Heidi. Life looks different. Smudged, good, restless. Life is presented to us in horizons, sprawling and boundary-less! The world is your oyster, at your feet. The great wide unknown. Oh, the anticipation! But, I’ve always liked life where I can see it. In nooks, in my hands, all around me.

The here-and-now serves me well. When asked where do you see yourself in 10 years? I shrug, with no answer. I’ll leave the visioning to someone else. I mark my calendar with schedules and birthdays and plans, a map of where I’m going each month. Since the age of nine my world has opened and narrowed and opened, more knowns than unknowns. I have priorities instead of dolls. I own another kind of happiness, one that is earned with growing up, and one I cherish. When I’m flattened I can count on the line of the horizon to buoy me, the glow of possibility and potential in an open sky. Hope is one of my favorite things.

I can’t be anything I want to be, but I can be something, someone who matters. Someone who is doing her best. And isn’t that all we can ask of ourselves, of anyone?

Today, today my life is here. Now. Eating a mini-donut. Riding a non-metaphorical rollercoaster. Giant pandas perched on shelves waiting to be won, the day stuffed with excitement and flavor and vendors calling out to “Come on over!” As the ride twirls and dips, and the clouds of candy dissolve into grit on my tongue, life is all around me. Imperfect and perfect.

swept up
in Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

I read an early review of this book and I was hooked. I had to read this book. As soon as it came out I downloaded it and I couldn’t put my e-reader down. The story, the writing, the suspense, Amy! – it’s one of the best thrillers I’ve ever read. I was so taken with the author’s writing I downloaded and devoured her previous books Sharp Objects and Dark Places. Her writing is sharp, clever and I could not get enough. I’m just disappointed I have to wait for the next novel.

motionless

I was consumed with a calling. This calling came with a voice. Write, dig deeper, delete, write. Phrases and purpose filled my head and filled me. This is what I’m supposed to do. This is what I have to do. I fell in and out of love. I got goosebumps. I cried. When I was unsure, and felt like I was not cut out for this, I put my memoir down and it wasn’t long before a question demanded to be answered, a chapter needed to be completed, and I’d return to the computer.

When you’re consumed with a calling and that calling comes to an end, the voice satisfied, what do you do when purpose leaves? Instead of relishing the quiet I panic, worried about how I’m going to fill the void. I was busy making a tragedy count. I was busy pursuing. Focused, I wrote. I received criticism. I harassed agents. I found a publisher. I revised. What happens when the pursuit is over?

You can read the rest of this post here. I’m with the wonderful community at Studio30 Plus and I’m honored to be one of their featured writers today. Studio30 is a great way to connect with fellow writers as you find support, advice and inspiration for your writing. See you there as I figure out what to do when purpose leaves.

the worst job ever

For seven summers, from the age of seven, I picked raspberries with my mom and two brothers. My mom cleaned houses and offices from September to June, and in the summer, family in tow, picked raspberries. Rows and rows of bushes that needed to be plucked clean for farmers. I hated picking raspberries.

My mom woke us each morning just as the sky began its transformation from night to sunrise, awash in orange and pink. Yawning and shivering in the misty dawn, we made our way to the field of farmers I only knew by last name; buckets tied around our waists, coolers of food and blankets in hand. We found our rows by the numbers on the posts and claimed our spots. My mom at the beginning of the row, me at the end, my brothers in the middle. My mom was quick, her hands lined by hard work, she was a machine. She led and loved us with her efficiency, her preparedness. If it rained she brought garbage bags and cut out holes for heads and hands. We slipped them on over our clothes and continued picking. She laid out a blanket for us in the shade where we took refuge when it was too hot, too much. She doled out food and warnings. “Just for a little while and then back to work.” “Okay, mom.” If we were quiet we could stretch out our reprieve. My brothers and I drank apple juice, dug out worms, ate homemade cookies and smashed raspberries between crackers.

The sun hot on my neck, I lifted branches and leaves to pick-pick berries. Fingers stained red, juice running down my arms, I created a game to amuse me. This cluster of berries to the right is a family. The isolated berry nestled in the bush is lonely and it’s pleased to join the others. Low, low on the bush they didn’t see me coming… Gotcha! A few berries begged, “Please, eat me!” “No!” I shout. “You’re too mushy!” Some are sad to be taken, not wanting to leave home. They’ve never been anywhere else! They scream and cry as I send them to the bucket. Once my bucket was full, straining the thick twine at my waist, I emptied the berries into a plastic flat which would be lifted and stacked with many flats, then loaded onto a truck. Roaring to life, the truck rumbled as it drove the unaware and ill-informed raspberries to be sorted and squished, their destinies fulfilled as they became juice and jam.

When I shut my eyes at the end of each day to sleep, dark green leaves holding red berries were all I could see, like they were stitched to the backs of my eyelids. My hands smelled sickly sweet even in my dreams. While others kids played at home, in yards and playgrounds, we were in the fields working. There were moments of freedom; of picnic lunches, and jumping on trampolines slippery with water and soap and no safety nets. We earned money. I learned diligence and discipline. I learned how to work all those summers with my mom and when the season was over we put our money into bank accounts. She said, “You’ll do this with your kids one day.” In my head I was emphatic I will not.

As my kids and I drove up to a farm today, the tires crunching on the gravel road, acres of berries in front of us and people pick-picking, my kids asked, “Can we pick?” I laughed, “No way! You and your dad can do that.”

I parked the car, shuddered at the rows and rows of raspberries and strawberries, walked into the cool store and bought my berries in neat, tidy baskets.

After being on a brief blog hiatus, I’m hanging out with yeahwrite this week, lounging and eating my picked-by-someone-else berries.

finding ordinary in extraordinary

Looking into the mirror I am quick with my face, my hands. I apply make-up, think about today’s schedule, this month’s calendar of field trips and practices for recitals, and as I add mascara to my eyelashes I catch the green of my eyes, the scar that curves around the right side of my chin, the faint lines around my mouth. I see someone who has lived.

On our way to school, in the car, Annie asks me about Ottawa. “Is Ott-o-wa in Ontario?” Yes, it’s the capital of Canada. I tell Annie and Benjamin how we have nothing to do after school – a day of rest! They cheer! We arrive at school in 2 minutes and they lean into me to peck my lips before they tumble out of the car in a blur of backpacks, jackets and eagerness. Annie is the last one to leave. “Bye, mommy!” There is a moment where I see her. How our eyes are the same shape. Her face is changing, she’s growing older, determination set in her small shoulders. I see someone whose life has just begun.

I come home to a phone call from a family member asking can I talk to this girl who just lost her leg. After I find out what happened, I ask, “How old is she?” 23. The same age as me when my life changed. When I suffered burns and limb loss. When my life was divided into before and after…

To read the rest come over to Kimberly Speranza’s blog Sperk*and her fearless examination of life with two adolescent daughters. She is thoughtful, wise, and truly fearless with her writing and her heart. Seriously, her writing is fantastic. What a delight to be Wednesday’s Woman today where Kim honors woman bloggers! Read the rest of my post here.

be generous

If we want a platform we have one. Twitter, FB, our blogs give us the space and freedom to say what we want and mean it. Within the week I move from those platforms to the others – school, ballet, soccer, work where I find more words, many sides which must be shared. After my day is done I am full, brimming over with opinions and attitudes. And, the truth is, I’m exhausted.

Right now I am deep-down-on-the-floor-of-the-cave revising and all I can see are the cracks, the faults of my book. Sloppy sentences and holes. Commas misplaced and chapters deserving better endings. I can’t see a poignant moment or heartfelt dialogue because I’m busy seeking the bad. Is this what we do with life? Wanting more, we’re overwhelmed with obstacles. We are burdened by flaws, blind to beauty. Insecurity lurks behind lofty words, a flippant response.

I don’t use this space to rant, but it’s been a few weeks of things that make me shake and I want to yell enough! I’m an advocate of boat-rocking and using our voices. I was born opinionated.  I’ve just grown weary of the know-it-alls, the interrupters. When did we stop choosing our words wisely? Why do we care so much about what others think and then why don’t we care more? How did we get so big behind our small screens? What happened to listening and being responsible with what we’re given? And sometimes, sometimes it’s not the words spoken; it’s what is unspoken, that something ‘off’, a brittle smile disguising true feelings.

I’m not better or less than anyone else – I’ve been guilty, an offender of doing both. I worry I’m too much and I worry I’m not enough. (I wasn’t going to get into specifics on my list of maddening, but I’ll allow myself one. When I’m playing the part of peacemaker to a disgruntled mother, I miss out on the wonder of my little girl. I’ll admit when that light turned on, it made me heartsick.) I admire honesty. I try to be honest. I am one of its biggest fans. But when it hurts people, isn’t it time to step back, to examine, to be quiet.

Sometimes we need to climb off our platforms, our high horses, and plant our feet on the ground. Cast off judgment, untangle from another thread of presumption and connect to what’s good. Notice the stars, the pink of blooming flowers. Cheer loudly. Laugh hard. Behold a beautiful story. Love your friend. Seek a soft heart.

Be generous.

In the spirit of generosity, I want to share a few posts that brought me perspective this week. To these writers, thank you, I really needed your words and your heart. Behold these beautiful stories.

Memories Captured by Galit Breen from her blog These Little Waves
On plates, my village, and hula hoops by Tara Pohlkotte from Pohlkotte Press
Monday Catch Up by Anna See from An Inch of Gray
Adventures with Cancer-Part 2
by Jennifer Liberts Weinberg from Kvetch Mom

I could go on and on linking more incredible posts, but I’ll end here. For now. And link up with Yeah Write on the Hangout Grid, where it’s cool, laid-back, and just the inspiration I need as I finish revising.

stuck

Sighing, squirming, brewing coffee, clicking on site after site I’m avoiding what’s in front of me. Notes line the margins of my manuscript and questions fill my mind as I tap, tap the keys attempting to ‘say what I mean’ and develop this story.

I write about the sounds and sighs of summer – how it became a season of scars. I write about losing Betty. What did she say just a couple of weeks before she passed away? And I write about my reaction to the doctor delivering the news. “I’m sorry, Heidi. We have to amputate.”

When I began this memoir I knew it would take a toll. I cried, drove on winding back roads, wrung my hands, and got it out. Almost three years later I have the incredible fortune of a book deal. I’m grateful. This is a rare opportunity and it’s a dream come true. And now, right now, I’m a little stuck.

I delve into my story, tugging on a history I worked hard to overcome. I realize this is the point of the book. To know one can be devastated and survive. It is possible to get to the other side. I just hope I can write to the other side. I want to finish well. While I have supportive, loving people in my life, writing can be lonely. I am my very own annoying exhausted cheerleader. You.Can.Do.This. Keep.Going. And I don’t know about you, but I am easily distracted.

There is a life to participate in and pursue. It wasn’t my intention to let life get this busy and I wish I could be all Little House on the Prairie running in the meadow and splitting wood with Pa. But, that is not my reality. I have a family, a house and a DVR to look after! This week my job is to temper my daughter’s dream of becoming a ballerina, work on my son’s listening skills, fold the laundry this time, wrestle with guilt, watch Parks & Rec, and nosedive into recovery.

I sit behind the computer staring at my screen. Start, stop, start, stop. Stand up, sit down. So. This is writer’s block.

What do you do when you can’t write?

best and worst parts

I met Kelly not too long ago when I became a member of Studio 30 Plus, a great site for writers. I submitted a piece for Weekend Spotlight and I did it all wrong, showing off my technological ineptness. And Kelly was there to guide me with utmost patience and care. She helps run Studio 30 AND she holds court at her own blog, Naked Girl in a Dress. I am honored to be there today.

Kelly is celebrating the two year anniversary of her blog. She is a writer and photographer. I lifted this quote from her blog because I love it so much.“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us.”  ~Helen Keller

Kelly moved beyond the closed door, opened the right door and walked through. I admire her tenacity and talent.

At her blog I write about my family, our dinner-table tradition of best and worst parts, and my struggle to embrace parenthood. You can read the post in its entirety here. Come join me over at Kelly’s!

firsts

13 years ago I woke from a coma. To tears, bright light, parents in hushed voices, a sterile room. I didn’t know what had happened. I knew it was bad, but I couldn’t name it. The first words I heard were from Scott, “Heidi, do you want to live?” I understood then, I existed between life and death. I said, “Yes.”

If I could hinge my life on one word it would be hope. Hope saved me. From the firefighters who rescued me to learning the word survivor at the burn unit and taking my first precarious steps on prosthetic legs, hope was with me.

When I began speaking in front of audiences, telling my story, people asked, “Will you write a book?” I shook my head, “No, I don’t think so.” Summing up my story in 20 minutes with a positive spin came easily, but to lay out a painful past I had fought hard to overcome seemed irresponsible somehow. By dredging up every surgery, every disappointment wouldn’t I undo everything I had laid to rest?

The short answer is no. I didn’t hurt all the hard work I’d done over the years. But, it was exhausting. I cried a lot. I took breaks and deep breaths. I kept going. I carried a notebook with me everywhere. At that time I could barely contain the words in my head. This story was relentless, determined to get out. I worried about being exposed, everyone will see my insides! I swallowed doubt and continued, hoping this was right.

This week I’m taking stock, poring over my life, thinking about firsts. The first time I rode a 2 wheeler and the first time I crashed it. Being captivated by Charlotte’s Web. Getting a main part in a play. Hearing laughter from an audience. Perfecting the walkover. First dance, first kiss, first heartbreak. Choosing life. Standing on man-made legs. Losing a best friend. Walking down the aisle. A baby girl. Then, a baby boy. Using my voice. The delicious chill that ran along my spine when I fell head over heels for writing. Pitching my story out loud. Getting ‘the call’. The first time I signed my name beside Author.

A week ago I received some of the best news of my life. I’m going to be a published author; my story will be a book!!! There are not enough exclamation points to express how thrilled I am. I am honored and ecstatic to announce that Behler Publications will be the publisher of Fancy Feet! My dream come true.

In almost all firsts hope is born. And courage follows.

Swept up
in Spring! It’s finally, finally here. As proof…
Cherry blossoms in Vancouver

I’m linking up with Yeah Write this week! Come check out the gorgeous writing over there.

blog bash (I Love You)

I am joining Alison and Ado’s Blog Bash today! They are fabulous women and writers I recently met through Yeah Write. As fellow party-ers we are to include and link one of our favorite posts. In true party fashion there are great prizes. If you want to join in the fun click on the pretty badge below.

I wrote this and posted it last summer in July 2011. It’s included in a chapter of my manuscript. This is one of my favorite posts because it’s about my family, my heritage and how their lives have shaped mine.

I Love You

I come from a long line of doers. Good Mennonite stock that emigrated from Paraguay, South America. This means there is nothing you can’t fix by doing. In church circles it’s called the gift of hospitality. It was like a calling for us as Mennonites. You don’t sit around and wait for things to fall into your lap. We may be pacifists in war, but in life you cook, clean, bake! I had a lot of family who wanted to help.

When I was at my worst, no one knowing if I was going to cross over to the other side, family came out in droves. My two younger brothers, aunts, uncles, and cousins parked themselves on chairs in the waiting rooms and took turns sitting with me while I was oblivious, trapped in a coma.

One of my cousins was willing to donate skin. Some were silently supportive, stoic in their pacing around the room. Others sat with me and held my hand. Some prayed and recruited their church congregations in prayer. Others had questions for the doctors. What could they do? How could they help? This is the Mennonite way. There may be a situation which is beyond our control, but one can always find a way to help. We demonstrate our love through action. The gift of hospitality is something we are not in short supply of.

Another way we help is through food. There is always more than enough food. You don’t go without, not if my mom or any of her sisters have anything to say about it. I have never left one of our family gatherings without somebody pressing food into my hands saying, for lunch tomorrow. You look down and it’s already been covered in plastic wrap or tucked into a Tupperware container. You cannot refuse. It’s not a choice. You say thank you and go, grateful for how your body will be nourished tomorrow.

I grew up in a house where you pray, but with efficiency. Short and to the point, amen. God doesn’t need for you to go on and on. He’s a busy God and not interested in flowery prose. He’s God. He knows your needs. My prayers growing up were all said in German. They were memorized, traditional prayers – one for mealtime and one for bedtime.

As a child I believed God preferred German. It was the language I learned first. If I said a prayer in English it would not be received as well as if I had spoken it in German. Our prayer at mealtimes went like this, Segne Vater diese Speise uns zur Kraft und Dir zum Preise. Amen. (Father, bless this food for our strength and to you as praise) It is said swiftly but with reverence. When we were children, to amuse ourselves, we recited it as fast as we could, picking up speed as we went along. It was a race. Who could finish first?

“SegneVaterdiesespeiseunzurkraftunddizumpreiseamen!”

My dad did not appreciate this. With a stern look and a “Nah” with the ‘a’ drawn out, so it came out a Naaah, the word coming up at the end, we shut up and looked down at our plates, very busy with our forks. This meant he also didn’t appreciate when we said it slowly enunciating each word as if we were delivering a powerful sermon, sometimes with emphatic arm gestures. This was considered disrespectful too. I’m pretty sure I saw my dad hiding a smile more than once during our attempts to spice up our prayer lives.

My dad wasn’t a man big on I-love-you’s. We were loved, so it didn’t need to be said. That changed after June 12, 1998, the day of the car crash.

When I was newly born my dad cradled me in his arms and carried me around in the middle of the night to lull me to sleep. From infancy on I liked to be near him. There’s evidence of this in photos of us sitting side by side, my dad sipping his Yerba Mate (a South American herbal tea) and me leaning into him. My brothers and I spent a lot of time on my dad’s back as he crawled around on all fours as a bucking bronco, a galloping horse! He wrestled with us, played street hockey with us, but he never said I love you. When I was sixteen I worked up the nerve to say, “I love you” and it was met with uncomfortable silence. There was no I love you too.

My dad’s very first I love you came when I was in a hospital bed hovering between life and death. He said, “When you were brand new to the world I dedicated you to God. I told Him, she is yours first and mine second.” He spoke in his well-worn German broken with English, the voice of my childhood. He cleared his throat, “I prayed, wondering if God was going to make good on the dedication. But, God gave you back to us.” He paused, looked at the floor, and then his eyes met mine. “I love you, Heidi.”

Blog Bash

something good

In the dark, near midnight where magic and reality blur, I can dream anything. “Do you think it will happen? I feel like this could happen.”

Scott’s answer is instant. “Yeah, I think it will happen.”
***

In school my favorite class was creative writing. I took on every assignment with gusto and conviction. This will be the best thing I ever write! I scratched out stories and poems on my bedroom floor. Born with longing I kept journals; logging my days, my feelings as if everything I wrote was meant to be. If I wasn’t writing I was reading, safest among words.

I wasn’t a writer. I just loved to write.

After the car crash words failed me. I had little to say, nothing to write. I couldn’t put pen to paper, afraid of spoiling the page. My fear, my pain in ink. Empty journals traveled with me from hospital to rehab to home. They remained blank and unharmed.

In May 2005 a good friend asked me to speak at a fundraiser for firefighters and burn survivors, to tell my story in 5 minutes on a stage in front of two thousand people. I picked up my pen.

Two and a half years ago on a dare and a dream I began to write my memoir. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until my very first writer’s course when all the longing I was born with shook my hands and my heart. After the first class I walked swiftly to my car, keys in hand. I slid into my seat, slammed the door shut and sobbed. I don’t know if I can do this, but I’m home. I’m home.

On March 15th 2012 I received a call from Elizabeth Kracht from Kimberley Cameron & Associates. I am thrilled to announce (because, my friends, it is an announcement) she is now my literary agent. My agent! To say I feel lucky doesn’t begin to do this, me, my life justice. I am lucky, blessed and elated! It’s another piece of redemption, something good from something bad.
***

Scott was right. It happened.

I wrote this in response to a Studio30 Plus writing prompt this week just when I thought that luck didn’t exist. I’m happy to say it does.

Swept up
In these gorgeous celebratory roses from my friend Tanya who was there from the beginning.