Today, my mother turns 92 years old. She never thought she’d see this age, yet here she is. Like many of us, we are never aware of what we’re capable of doing. We just do it.
2020 is a transition year for me. There are things that must be done, and only by working off property will I accomplish them. So, this spring, I plan to begin working 40 to 50 hours a week, which will take me away from writing in the short term, yet will deliver me closer to a few long-term goals I want to accomplish in the next five years.
Much like when I worked at the garden centre a few years ago, this job will be physical (my favourite type), and I’ll be outdoors most of the time. It will chew up most of my time from April to December. Then I’ll be free to write through winter again.
I’m going to state this right upfront; get it over with; air my thoughts before we delve into this subject deeply: I don’t understand how people get through life without music. A life void of melody is unfathomable to me.
My parents listened to music every day and I’m told when I was strong enough to stand, I was holding onto the crib rail and bobbing to Cal Smith singing on the old black and white television. The radio in the kitchen was on every day without fail. If it broke, as tight as money was, a new one appeared without delay. The radio in the truck was always tuned to music; no talk shows for us. When my dad installed an 8-track player in the truck, that played more than the radio.
We had a floor model stereo with a radio and record player, which could easily be moved to the deck or the lawn. That thing is more than 40 years old and still going.
Two weeks ago, giddy from riding a wave of confidence growth, I tried to explain to my sister how I felt. In my mind, it was like dragging that Krazy Karpet to the top of the hill in two feet of snow, then pushing it to get started because the snow was soft and the friction kept me still. After about six feet, I felt the momentum of the Karpet, and I had to use less effort to increase speed and then, I hit the smooth, icy section and I was off!
Confidence is like that. I’ve never really had much in life; it was something others had, something I envied and sometimes felt annoyed by because some had too much and were in my face or not bothering to look back to see how they looked from the perspective of others. That was my problem, not theirs.
Long ago, I gave up the desire to obtain confidence because I thought it was something not for me. It was like the talent to play guitar, the ability to recall phone numbers after hearing them once, the skill to walk in high heels and not feel like an idiot.
Over the past two months, that’s changed. I can’t thoroughly explain why; I don’t understand it myself. I just feel different.
This is one of four posts on life and how my perspective of it has drastically changed the past three months. The transition started July 2018, but it has taken me until this spring to fully realise the path I travelled up until last July has changed. From the outside, I look the same (except I’ve lost over 35 pounds). The major changes have taken place inside. It’s like someone else’s brain fell into my head, and it’s looking around thinking, let’s renovate this life. There will be exceptions to how I think, but the exceptions don’t change the rule.
I’m writing these for two reasons: 1) to remind me of my journey and where I really want to go (out there, beyond where I’ve been); 2) to share my experience with the hope others will be inspired to change their perspective, so they can live a better life. My journey has been helped by those who put into words a better way to live.
Last fall, while sitting around dreaming about what 2019 would give me, something clicked in my brain: I didn’t want it to give me anything; I wanted to earn and control what entered my life, take what awaited me. I could only do that if I had the courage to change my attitude, the way I looked at my life and what I was willing to give in return.
For those who seek more from life than society dictates for them.
Spoiler Alert: I’m going to describe only the basis of the story without too many details. I won’t go into the characters’ motives or their individual stories, and I won’t share the ending. You’ll be able to watch after reading this review and still not have scenes spoilt. The trailer gives more away than this review. I’m going to talk about the spiritual side of the story. Don’t mistake this for the religious side because I’m not religious even though travelling el Camino de Santiago is a traditional Catholic pilgrimage (not really, before this it was the traditional Celtic and Pagan pilgrimage to the end of the earth, but that’s another tale.).
The story begins with the main character Dr. Thomas Avery (Martin Sheen) learning his free-spirited son, Daniel (Emilio Estevez), has died during a storm while walking El Camino in the Pyrenees, France. He goes there to collect the remains and decides to walk El Camino for his son.
I recently read an article about waiting for the muse to inspire a writer before they sat down to write. The jest of it was that one shouldn’t force the writing.
While this might work for some writers, I fear it doesn’t work for most writers. Writing only when inspiration hits creates a few problems.
Inspiration hits at inconvenient times: while driving from Nova Scotia to Fredericton at 3 o’clock in the morning; eating watermelon on a horse; paddling in the middle of the harbour; sitting at a writers’ meeting; waiting in the pouring rain because someone is late…you get the picture.
In many instances, you can’t even scribble a sentence on a napkin let alone write out a complete paragraph or half a short story.
I have designed all the covers for my books. For me, it’s the treat of the whole publishing process. I love playing with images, text and light to find something that attracts my eye.
Although many will say, Don’t judge a book by its cover, it’s a fact that many people do just that. I know I do.
I’m more likely to buy a book if its cover appeals to me, and I will pass on a book if the cover hits a wrong nerve or is unattractive. Trashy fantasy novels with half-clad women never go into my cart. It doesn’t matter who the author is or how many people brag up the story.
I’ve been asked many times where I find the ideas for my covers. My answer is everywhere.
I was a thirteen-year-old kid, racing after my friends through the lounge of our Girls and Boys Club when pixies first sprinkled magic dust of Dungeons & Dragons in my hair. It wasn’t my first glimpse into the lives of elves, dwarfs and halflings, but it was the first time an entire world was exposed. Until then I had thought these creatures lived amongst us, hiding in the shadows of the forest, deep in forgotten caves and in rock structures invisible to the human eye.
About a month ago, I decided the family needed a change. I wanted to shake things up a bit and in the process, stir up some inspiration dust. I also decided my kids needed pets to hang around, but it wasn’t going to be your standard guinea-pig-in-a-cage pet. It was at that time, I began to understand why some folks look at me and wonder about how many crayons are in my Crayola box.
I opened my inbox this morning and found an interesting blog post by Christi Corbett. She had written about pictures that inspired her, got her into the mindset of her characters and set the scene. She asked, “How about you?” Do you use images for writing inspiration?
My answer was a loud, “Yes!”
I’m a very visual person. When I’m writing dialogue, I can picture in my mind the character, what he/she’s wearing, their dialect, stance and hand motions. I know when an eye brow goes up or a lip is curled. My characters scratch their heads and their butts and put their hands in their pockets.
I often sketch my characters to better see their faces. Sometimes, I stumble upon an image that cries out, “I’m Anna!” I snatch it, print it and stare at it when I’m writing.
For example, last year, while googling my name to see where it appeared on the Internet, I came upon a page
containing a black and white image. The intense stare spoke to me. It said, “Hello there. I’m Tam. It’s been a hard day at the castle. My brother’s being a wingnut again, the lords are asking for tighter security and the plumbing is backed up in the guard house. I just need a cold one to relax.”
I saved the photo to my hard drive, naming it ‘Tam Mulryan’.
Searching the page further, I discovered it was Gerard Butler’s face I had stolen. But why was my name on the same web page as his? Oh, I had written a review of Nym’s Island several years ago and he was one of the stars. Little did I know that little review would link me with the photo I’d use to identify with one of my characters.
I googled Gerard Butler’s name to see if I could find Tam in another setting. Jackpot! Butler had starred in Timeline, a movie in which the characters travelled back in time to the age of sword fighting and castles. I found Tam in rugged
clothing with longer hair and a thicker beard. Almost perfect.
While living at the castle, Tam was clean cut with a short beard, but while hiding out on the trail, he’d become a little rough around the edges with longer, shaggier hair. The intense stare in this new photograph was perfect for Tam. He thought more than he spoke.
Printed and posted on the wall behind my computer, this photograph of Tam keeps an eye on my writing, making sure I write him true to character. Whenever I need inspiration for him, I just stare into his eyes and he lets me know what I must do.
A few weeks ago, I was struggling to meet a deadline. Everyone else in the house was doing their thing: chatting, playing games or watching television. I was at the computer, forming sentences, creating paragraphs and editing to get an article completed.
The commotion in the kitchen – where my make-shift office is located – was more distracting than usual. It was a no-school day, so all the kids were home. Blocking out noise, refereeing arguments and serving meals are the disadvantage of working at home.
My kids don’t go to a babysitter’s or a daycare on a no-school day even though it’s a work day for me. They can sleep in, we can stay home and if we want, we can take a day trip to a museum, beach or visit with family. Storm days, sick days and any other stay-home day are a breeze because I’m already home. That’s the advantage of working at home.
But on this day, the day I struggled to meet a deadline with the noise level continuing to rise, working at home with kids in the house didn’t seem like an advantage at all.
For a moment, I sat back in my chair and took a deep breath. I knew I’d eventually finish the article – I’d done it many times before under worse circumstances – but that day, it just seemed like more of a challenge.
That’s when my youngest, only seven years old, crawled onto my lap. He’d been bugging me earlier about finishing the back cover for the book he’d written and I thought he was going to ask about it again even though I told him I didn’t have time until later. But he didn’t. Instead, he looked at the computer and gave me a big hug. Then he looked up at me and said, “I’m glad you’re a writer.”
He gave me a sweet little smile, jumped off my lap then raced off to play with his older brother. As I watched him go, I couldn’t help but smile, too.
My energy renewed, I returned to the keyboard to finish the article. I was happy, too, that I was a writer and had a deadline to meet and that my kids were at home with me.
I love rambling along the garden path but a list reminds me I have important things to do.
More than a dozen years ago while taking a break from installing vinyl siding on a building we were renovating on the Shearwater Air Force Base, I took out a list I was following. Another worker – the fellow who amazed me by driving his motorcycle ten months of the year – leaned over and asked me what I was doing. I told him I was checking my weekly list.
He chuckled and said, “I used to make lists, but I’d never follow them. I’d have to make a note to remind me to look at the list.”
To this day I think about his comment every time I make a new list. He was right in many ways. People make lists all the time only to forget about them the moment they’ve been made. I’m guilty of that. I’ve made many lists over the years that were useless, useless in the fact that I didn’t follow them.
Still, it doesn’t mean lists are useless. Sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes the things on the list weren’t as important as first believed.
In fact, lists are very important to me. They remind me of what I need to do. Without them, I ramble, dilly-dally, believing there’s nothing important to do, and I daydream, wondering what I might do.
Sometimes it takes a few weeks for me to realise I’ve been without a list for too long. It’s when it suddenly occurs to me that nothing is done on an assignment and the deadline is fast approaching, or a project I intended to start was forgotten about.
Making a list of things to do gets me moving forward. I check them off when completed, and if I finish the list, I feel as though I’ve accomplished something.
Do you find yourself floundering, wondering why you can’t get things done? Then maybe a list will help you get back on track.
Let’s get this straight: I love snow. Okay, maybe sometimes I think I don’t, but deep down inside, when the forecast mentions snow, my ears perk up and my Nova Scotian heart skips a beat. Is there anything more perfect than snow?
Can you tell I’ve just come inside from shovelling the patio, walkway and part of the driveway? It was 30 minutes of fruitless shovelling because the snow is still falling like hares and polar bears. By the time my son and I returned to the step, it was already covered with a centimetre of flakes. My son gasped at the discovery, but I smiled inside, knowing there would be plenty more to shovel come morning. The way it was blowing, there’s going to be drifts to conquer.
Snow is one of those things some people dread. But I think they – and sometimes me – think too much about the bad things of snow to enjoy the good. We think of the cold, but if we dress appropriately – snowsuit, mittens, hat, boots – then the cold can’t touch us. We think about leaving the comforts of the inside to deal with something heavy and wet that will go away eventually when the temperature rises. What we forget is that exhilarating feeling of being outdoors, the fresh air and exercise. It is energizing and uplifts the spirits.
Snow has a special quality that can’t be measured in centimetres or inches. This quality can’t be detected by standing near a window and watching snow blanket everything in white. One must be outside, stirring it up by shovelling it, walking through it or piling it into mounds to feel its magic.
I’ve felt it many times and have become lost in it. It is why I make snowwomen, build castles with tunnels and shovel driveways fruitlessly. It is why I set out to get the mail, spot the shovel leaning against the step and begin shovelling a driveway that would be ploughed anyway. I promise myself, just ten minutes . . . that’s it, then I’ll go back inside.
I’ve seen those ten minutes magically turn in to an hour or more. Once I get started, it’s difficult to stop. One line across the driveway stirs up something. I’m forced to make another. Then I must join the two. Back and forth, sometimes at strange angles, I plough my shovel through the snow. It is hypnotic, therapeutic . . . magical. Before I know it, the driveway is clear and a sense of accomplishment stirs within. I return my wand . . . I mean my shovel to its home and get the mail.
Now and again, I find myself looking out the window, admiring my work. A plough truck can’t create something that neat, that precise, that pretty. The truck can’t stir magic, feel it or create with it. Only hands can do that.
Some might wonder what’s going on in this crazy woman’s head and what does this have to do with writing?
Learning you love snow has everything to do with writing. Let’s get this straight: I love writing. Okay, maybe sometimes I think I don’t, but deep down inside, when someone mentions writing, my ears perk up and my Nova Scotian heart skips a beat. Is there anything more perfect than writing?
Sometimes though, to fall in love with writing again, I must begin reading the unfinished draft from the beginning, sit and dream about my characters or discuss the plot over a cup a tea with a friend.
Writing is one of those things some writers dread. But I think they – and sometimes me – think too much about the bad things of writing to enjoy the good. We think of the blank page, but if we are prepared – notes, dictionary, story outline, cast of characters – then writer’s block can’t touch us. We think of words as if they are things to deal with to get the story down, a story that may not be out best. What we forget is that exhilarating feeling of being in the middle of the plot action, becoming intimate with characters who jump off the page and igniting the fire that fuels a story. It’s energizing and uplifts the spirits.
Writing has a special quality that can’t be measured in word counts or pages. This quality can’t be detected by standing near a blank screen, watching the curser blink on and off. One must sit down, strike a few keys, put dialogue in a character’s mouth and toss them into one incredible situation after another to feel its magic.
I’ve felt it many times and have become lost in it. It is why I drag my leading men through the forest by their scabbards, swing my heroines from a frayed rope on a castle wall and send my horses to find their masters in snow storms. It is why I set out to get the mail, spot the curser flashing and begin typing the great idea that just popped into my head though it may not have anything to do with what I’m writing at the moment. I promise myself, just ten minutes . . . that’s it, then I’ll go get the mail.
I’ve seen those ten minutes magically turn into an hour or more. Once I get started, it’s difficult to stop. One sentence is written, then another. I think of a second character and write his dialogue. Then I create a setting. My fingers fly over the keys. A twist in the plot is added. It is hypnotic, therapeutic . . . magical. Before I know it, the page is filled and a sense of accomplishment stirs within. I return my wand . . . I mean slide my keyboard in and get the mail.
Writing is like snow: Sometimes we must remind ourselves we love it.
I’ve been often asked, “How did you get started in writing?” After stumbling over several fascinating possibilities which aren’t true, I always came back to the same answer: I just began writing.
This is a hard answer for some to swallow, but it’s the truth. I didn’t become a writer by watching television, cruising the mall or paddling a canoe on the harbour. I became a writer by sitting on a chair and writing.
Sitting and writing is one of the hardest parts of writing.
The more I wrote, the easier it was to write. It was just like hockey; the more I played, the better I became and the more chances I took with the puck. When I felt comfortable with my writing, I wanted to share it.
Sharing is the other hardest part of writing.
This is where writers – good and bad – freeze, thinking they’d rather cross the Atlantic in a leaky boat than submit a piece of writing for an editor to judge if it’s good enough to print.
Thankfully, these two elements of writing become easier after time. Once one page is filled, it’s easier to fill another and another. Once you allow one editor to read your material, you become eager to submit to others.
Don’t believe me? Take a chance and write something – anything: an article for the newspaper, a short story for a magazine or a book for the fiction or nonfiction market. Be fearless and make that keyboard sing.
Discouraging thoughts abound. They lurk in the shadows, waiting for when our courage is at its weakest before pouncing. Once attacked, writers can fall victim to the dreaded ‘I’ll never write as well as – fill in the blank – so I should stop writing’ fever. There are only two things a writer can do under these circumstances . . . okay, three.
1) Knuckle down and fight off these dastardly thoughts.
2) Throw in the keyboard and choose another passion.
3) Accept the fact you won’t be the best and soldier on, revelling in the fact you are doing what you love.
I seldom, almost never, fall victim to this fever. That’s not to say I don’t wish I had written that award-winning novel or thought of that unique idea. I do, but they don’t discourage me from writing.
I can offer only one reason for this: I am number ten of eleven children. As a result, I’ve lived a life of second bests, hand-me-downs and never first in lines. I’ve grown accustom to never being number one. I’ve also developed an attitude that I’m going to play the game even though I don’t have a hope of being the best. Instead of focussing on the win, I enjoy the ride.
When applying these lessons of life to writing, I live by the philosophy that I’m not the best, not even close. This gives me the freedom to write without worrying about being as good as the best. Some may think I’m fearless, that I’ll try anything. Perhaps they’re right because when it comes to writing, I’m not afraid of failing or writing a novel that stinks. I assume I will.
Never being good enough also inspires me to keep learning, keep working to be better. I’m constantly reading ‘How to . . .’ books, writing magazines and surfing the web for writing advice. Lack of confidence in my spelling and using the correct word means there’s always a dictionary within arm’s reach. Punctuation is something I’m still working on and I’m learning different rules apply depending on location and influences.
The one thing I can say for sure is that I’m a better writer now than I was a year ago.
Oh! . . . Maybe that’s who every writer should compare themselves to – the writer they were a year ago. That type of competition can only encourage writers.