Tuesday 26 May 2015

Practice Makes Perfect

Malcolm Gladwell wrote that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Writing is all about the practice and I have one dear friend, Matthew, who helps me do just that. He is my sounding board for ideas; my beta reader for stories, blog posts, poems, you name it; and someone who encourages me and challenges me along the way. He asks poignant questions, makes me think and often helps me see things through different eyes. Most of all he forces encourages me to write.

A few weeks ago, Matthew asked me to write a beach scene. The challenge was to write it from two different points of view, one being of a woman in love and one of a woman with a broken heart. Same beach but different feelings. At first I thought, easy peasy, but then I started writing. The difficulty came from the fact that the emotion I was writing about was something I wasn’t currently experiencing. So I had to dig deep into my memories from so long ago and see if I could dust off the cobwebs and “be in love” again. This proved challenging, which made me begin to wonder if I had ever really experienced “true love”. So I tried my hand at the broken hearted point of view.

What can I say? This was much easier. Perhaps along my journey, I have let my broken heart consume me and shield me from allowing myself to love again? Whatever the case, this writing challenge made me re-think where I am in life. Have I been fooling myself into thinking that my previous broken heart was mended? Am I afraid to to open my heart again? One beach scene and I was analyzing the writer's block and feeling like I hadn't allowed myself to truly feel all these years. It is time to take that leap of faith and jump. If I end up with a happily ever after then FABULOUS! If my heart is broken again, then at least I will be feeling something instead of hiding my heart away from the world.

For those curious, here are my two paragraphs that describe a beach from two points of view:

Fourth of July fireworks erupted, hiding the night stars with magnificent, colourful explosions that danced through the sky. The perfect end to the perfect day, Nora thought as she stood on the only white rock along the shoreline. Love permeated the air and Nora inhaled deeply, drawing in its sweet scent that mixed so deliciously with the salty ocean air and the lingering of Rico’s muskiness left on her skin. It was an unusually hot and sticky night but despite the uncomfortableness of the heat, Nora felt the magic of love around her. Rico loved her. Really loved her. "HE LOVES ME!" Nora yelled out over the water and then jumped in. Her hot skin tingled from the coolness of the ocean water. It felt wonderful. Making her way back to shore, Nora lay back along the sandy shoreline. She smiled quietly to herself as a warm breeze holding infinite possibilities drifted across the sand, carrying them to the horizon and letting them go.

Her skin pimples as the abnormally cool July breeze that scurries across the ocean meets her at its edge. Nora wraps her arms around herself as she tries to make sense of it all watching the angry waves crash into the shore, pummeling the sand with no reprieve. The irascible ocean spews its bile of white foam onto the grains of sand, ridding itself of mans impurities. The remnants of her shattered heart pounds fiercely in her chest. Her sobs take over her body, uncontrolled and erratic. Each breath filled with salty ocean air punctures her lungs in the caustic wake of the day’s events. He no longer loved her. Nora shuts her eyes and lets out a harrowing cry into the abyss that now lies ahead. All the pain, passion and love within her thunders out across the water, disappearing into the horizon. Collapsing on the cold, wet sand, Nora summons the tide to carry her away, past the horizon, where the pain lives no more.

While the writing exercise allowed me to understand how emotion changes how we perceive the world around us and get closer to the mastery my craft, perhaps the lesson learned here is love needs to be practiced and I need to open my heart to the possibilities again.

Talk to me! How many hours do you put into practising what you love?

Wednesday 20 May 2015

Boxing Up Your Life

Packing up a home tells you what you hold important and what is purely excess. My wonderful realtor did a once through of my home, nonchalantly naming off this, that and the other thing that needed to disappear until I sold my humble abode. They held no meaning to him and I soon discovered there was a lot that meant nothing to me either.

My first step in the process of selling was to de-clutter the six years worth of "stuff" I'd accumulated for no better reason than "I wanted it". These objects were the easiest to box up. I didn't even think twice about packing them away and possibly keeping them hidden forever. As I packed up the items to depersonalize my place, I found myself reveling in the past and becoming reacquainted with precious things I had put away carefully. These particular items had a life of their own. Not shiny or sparkling, not cutting edge or technologically advanced, they held pieces of the past, memories and thoughts in their matter.
Photo albums of every shape and size, brightly coloured or plain black took me from high school to motherhood; from across Canada to Europe and the Pacific Rim; from family moments to family ghosts. These books filled with hundreds of photos held so many memories. I found myself entangled in years gone by, relishing in memories and bringing them back to life. I could taste decadent meals that loved ones spent hours creating; I could smell the perfume of frangipanis and the sea while I was basking in the sun of the Australian beaches I called home for a year; I felt the warm embrace of my grandfather as we wished each other a very merry, happy, good "whatever the occasion” was. The thought of storing these photographs in a dark locker deep within the bowels of my building scared me. These were far too dear to be stored, even temporarily, in a wire cage.

As the de-cluttering moved into my bedroom, I pulled out an old tattered leather file box filled with beautiful folders, delicately designed in pastel motifs that held hand written stories from my childhood and typewritten stories from my teenage years and early 20's (before the time when every home had a computer). These stories still appeared in between writing projects to revise, enjoy and then tuck away again. Stories that represented a younger, more vibrant me when everything seemed possible. The pencil markings on some were fading, the paper crumpled from years of handling. Every time I pulled these out, I felt like I was reading the diary of my younger soul. This old, brown file box lived upstairs and it would just have to stay where it was.

As I continued to plough through this erasing of my personal effects, I was faced with the insurmountable task of packing up my bookcases. One of my previous posts, The Bookcase mentioned how important my books are. These cases house not only recent purchases of books that caught my eye but also my precious collection of rare and antique books. These works by some of the greatest writers in literature were the birthplaces of my love of the written word. Their smell, the delicate pages and beautiful covers are of an era when books were revered and not digitally downloaded to enjoy.
It pained me, knife-through-the-heart type of pain, to think that something horrible would happen to these precious pieces of me if they were out of my sight. It was then that I realized that besides my children, these were the only things that, if lost, damaged or destroyed, would leave a void in my life I could never replace.

Funny how when the time comes to box up your life, the reality of what is important, I mean really important, hits you in the face.

Talk To Me! What are the things that would leave a gaping hole in your life if lost?

Tuesday 12 May 2015

137 Days

The journey we take makes up what our life becomes. It could be long, short, happy, sad, adventurous or bordering on the mundane. From the first breath we take, it begins, first being led by those who love us. At some point, we veer off the path of our loved ones and start carving out our own, making the journey of our life relevant to who we are. It is along our journey that we meet obstacles, fall in love, deal with grief and sometimes stop because there is a gaping hole in front of us. These holes represent the catalyst to change and growth.

I faced this hole many times in my life but I never realized what they meant or what I had to do.  This abrupt stop in my journey happened recently, in fact 137 days ago. It happened right after I wrote my last post. I experienced a profound sadness after losing someone who had been such an important part of my whole life. 

At first I felt the overwhelming desire to do nothing; to get lost in the everyday minutiae that was safe and secure, like a favourite plush toy that gives you comfort in the dark. I allowed myself to just be and not do. I sat there, staring at the nothingness in front of me; my ever moving mind battled between sitting still or getting off my ass and doing something. I knew that in my current spot I would whither away but what I didn't know was what my desired spot was. My life is good, I am surrounded by wonderful people, have an amazing family and have done some incredibly fantastic things in life and some insanely stupid things. So what is it that I need to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes?

In the 137 days, I have set myself up to build a bridge between my current spot and where I want to be. It is funny how when you start seeing life this way, things begin to fall into place. These periods of transition help catapult us to the next level. But it's how you build these bridges that determine if you achieve your goal or not. I identified that happiness had to stay with me on the other side, as did the love I have for my family and friends. They are, afterall, the pillars in my life. I needed a new space, one that was larger and brighter, with new energy and soul, that could accommodate the growth I'd experience in this crossing. But what was my ultimate goal? I had many ideas, some lofty, some more modest, some that helped build courage and others that solidified my strength. I needed to move forward and hone in on what my goal was. 

To feel good about myself. 

Writing. Writing was the one thing that fell off the radar. It was the easiest thing to forget about since it didn't rely on me to feed it, drive it to swimming lessons or create strategies to make the year's numbers but it was the one thing that I felt breathed life into me. No wonder I became so listless and walked around with a heaviness that would crush a diamond. You see, writing isn't something I want to do, it's something I need to do. It allows me to free my psyche from the constraints of all the "must dos" that I face daily. It has always been my reprieve. I always felt better when I wrote, even as a young girl. It could be a journal entry, a university paper, a short story or one line with which I painstakingly grappled for hours. That act of creating fills me with purpose, contentment and power. 

The bridge I built that took me from where I was to where I am is made up of fellow writers who encourage me and challenge me. They helped me battle the self-imposed obstacles, aka excuses, I overcame.  Over the past 137 days, I have seen one friend publish her book and another is half way done editing his third novel. I watch them in awe, envious of the focus they have, forever making excuses for my laziness. "I am too busy, too tired, have no inspiration". All excuses, all obstacles. My end game just didn't make sense anymore and then a good friend gave me a great piece of advice. Just write. Don't think. Just write. 

Life changing words. 

So I started again, one word at a time. A note to my child, a letter to a friend, a poem, a writing exercise. It was my first step to building that bridge. 

Next was carving out time for writing. My schedule over the past few months has been insane and at then end of all the craziness, when I would sit down to write, I found myself falling asleep. I had to establish a routine. Not only for writing but for everything. That constant feeling of being rushed was not conducive to my well being.

My calendar now looks ridiculous. I found that scheduling for every hour of my time makes me accountable. Accountability and organization, believe it or not, are giving me freedom to do all that I need to do and want to do. It's a little thing but it makes a huge difference. 

The next thing I am starting to do is to let things go. I tend to let the things I can't control take over and it affects me mentally and physically. Stress is a hateful enemy that, if allowed, will drain the life from your veins. I need to become my own defence shield  in this war and counter attack. I am learning to breathe deeply, become mindful and relax. This is by far the hardest part of the bridge. High octane fuel runs through this body and after years of constant acceleration you can't make a hard stop. I have faith that slowing down can be learned before I am forced to against my own will. 

My bridge is slowly being built and I feel better. It's my healing process, my reset button in the here and now. It isn't the first I've built and I'm certain it won't be the last but it's the one I feel I have actively identified and am managing. It took me 137 to start building this and I don't know how long before it's done but I have surrounded myself with people and strategies that help construct the road I am travelling. 

And I'm travelling with a smile on my face. 

Talk to me! How do you build the bridges in your life?