A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 7

Last week: It takes sixteen years, but finally, I see the light.

Sorry this is a bit late.  I was actually WRITING today and I lost track of time.  It’s been a very good day 🙂

So that’s what it’s called

The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie...

The Way Out, or Suicidal Ideation: George Grie, 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I learned a new term last week: Ideation.  I didn’t know that those pesky and persistent thoughts of self-harm and violence had an actual name attached to them.  Specifically, it’s called suicidal ideation.

Thanks to a friend for that.

How I deal with my depression

This week, I just wanted to go over a few of my symptoms and the strategies I’ve developed to deal with them.  Some issues I still don’t have under control, but I’ll share how I’m working through them and my progress to date.

What I don’t do

I have chosen not to go through extensive therapy and after the Paxil, I chose not to take any other kinds of medication.  I know people who struggled for years to find the right medication or combination of them to address their symptoms and in some cases, they still become accustomed to a particular dosage or formulation/combination and have to search for and acclimate to new medications.

This takes a lot of time that I have decided I can’t afford to take.

Everything that I do, I do on my own, and I know that for some of you, that will make you uncomfortable.  It may mean for others that I think I know more than you do.  I assure you: I do not.  I only know what works for me and share it in the hope that others will be able to benefit from my experience.

Others still may feel that my depression can’t be that bad if I can manage without talk therapy or psychoanalysis, medications, or a combination of all of the above.  You are welcome to your opinion, but please do not abuse me for holding to mine.

How I learned

When my father had his breakdown, I was scared to death.  I’d heard that depression and other mental illnesses had a genetic component.  If nothing else, it might predispose you to developing the disease, or other diseases yourself.

I started to pay attention to my father and to what my mother said about him.  I started to pay attention to my friends who had other kinds of mental illness, and the behaviours they exhibited.  I started to ask questions about how they dealt with their diseases and to think about whether their strategies would work for me or not.

When I got into my self-help phase, one of the exercises in one of the many books on the subject indicated that you needed to examine your life and the past events that may have contributed to your depression.  I did this in detail, repeatedly.  The greater part of at least one journal is filled with it.

As life went on and I continued to experience symptoms and the fall-out resulting from them, I continued to adapt and refine my strategies.

Having a mental illness of any kind can seem like having another person inside of you.  Have you ever heard one partner say of another, ‘That’s not her talking.  It’s the depression.’?  It can be very true.

As you might do with any other person, adult or child, you have to treat your illness with respect.  You have to take the time to get to know and understand it.

As with anything, mindfulness is the key.  Be aware in the moment and hold the lesson of it close in your heart and mind.

Mellie’s deadlies

  1. Ideation
    I’ll start with this because I already mentioned last week a bit about how I handle these unwelcome thoughts and feelings.  First, acknowledge them.  If you try to ignore them, they’ll only come back more persistently.  Then, accept them.  They are a part of you because they are a part of your illness.  They are thoughts.  You don’t have to act on them and you certainly don’t have to fear them.  Fear will give them power.  You don’t want that.  Finally, thank them.  I’m serious.  They’ve made you aware of something important about you and the nature of your disease.  Once they feel this respect, they will go on their merry way of their own accord.
  2. Exhaustion
    I am tired all the time.  Most days, I feel like I could stay in bed all day.  On the occasional bad day, I might.  My depression is only one cause of this.  Insomnia is another.  Hormones are another.  My malignant hyperthermia (MH) may be yet another cause.  Ultimately, they are likely all connected.  MH is a funny condition.  I’ve read of some people who show symptoms of what used to be called chronic fatigue syndrome, and others who are largely bed-ridden because of their symptoms.  One of my relatives suffers from the much-debated fibromyalgia.  I believe that this may be an affect of the MH.  Regardless of the cause, several things have helped.  Regular sleeping habits.  Because of work, I have to get up at a particular time.  I find that I wake up about this time whether I’m working or not, and whether I choose to stay in bed or not.  I’ve tried sleeping pills for the insomnia and didn’t like their side affects.  I’ve always felt nervous using medication to solve a problem.  Naps don’t work for me.  I used to nap all the time, but if I sleep during the day, I’m more likely to have trouble sleeping at night.  I’ve tried herbal remedies, warm milk, keeping the bedroom dark and quiet, but the thing that seems to help the most is going to bed at a set time and waking up at a set time.  Exercise.  I find that if I’ve exercised, even just walking, at any time during the day, then I’m more likely to fall asleep quickly and sleep through the night.  Getting used to it.  This may seem a little harsh, but you can function when you’re tired.  I do it every day.  I’m very aware of my physical state and I can see the signs of when I’m getting too exhausted.  This will be an individual thing, but it’s important to know your limits and the difference between functional tired and dysfunctional tired.  When I fall into the latter situation, it may well be time for a day off.
  3. Rage
    In general, I’m a laid back person, so laid back, in fact, that sometimes I don’t react in the way people expect.  I never express it, but part of my depression is rage.  This is where some people find talk therapy helpful.  They can unload all the unpleasant baggage they’ve been carrying around and have someone tell then that it’s alright, that it’s normal to have these feelings.  I find this to be similar to ideation, but I substitute my journal for a therapist.  Like a therapist, my journal doesn’t judge.  It just accepts.  I don’t need the reassurance of anyone else.  I know that the rage is one of the effects of my depression.  Journaling my rage allows me to unload in a healthy way and unlike talk therapy I have an artefact that I can refer to.  I can return and examine my thoughts and feelings and see if there’s a pattern.  Because I journal about my dreams, creative ideas, and other everyday events, I can often connect trigger events to my written episodes of rage.  There was a period of several years where I had a lot of rage to vent.  Now, not so much.  I think my journaling has helped me immensely in this regard.
  4. Self-doubt
    This is related to number five, but finds its source more in the friend wars and in the negative experiences I’ve had as a creative person.  Since I’m socially awkward, I can get the feeling that nobody likes me, even though I know this isn’t true.  I try to keep a few central truths in mind.  First, the people in your life are there because they are equipped in some way to handle your shit.  This means that they are true friends and accept you even when you act like an idiot or say something strange or unkind.  They love you regardless.  Trust them.  Have faith in them.  The opinions of people who don’t ‘get it’ are not worth your time or energy.  By and large, I try not to care what people think of me, but I find that, when I look at it objectively, I am generally well-thought-of.  Creatively, I keep in mind that I have been published and not just by one source or in one genre.  Many of the rejections I get are encouraging ones.  I have also claimed my identity as a writer.  I’ve been writing since I was a child and I’ll continue to write until I die.  It’s who I am.  Publication is a wonderful validation, but I don’t need it to feel good about what I do, or to keep doing it every chance I get.  Writing is a healthy addiction.
  5. Self-hatred
    This is the biggie for me and strangely, I’ll spend the fewest words on it.  My version of hell is to be confronted with all the things that I’ve said or done that have hurt someone else.  At heart, I feel that I’m a terrible person and I don’t have to look far to find confirmation of this.  I don’t have to look far to find confirmation of the opposite either.  I have few, but intensely loyal friends, a small, but deeply loving family.  It may sound bizarre to some of you, but I’ve had a string of wonderful pets in my life that have all taught me what it is to love unconditionally.  My self-hatred is born of fear.  Striving for self-love is an act of courage.  I try to be brave every day.
  6. Emotional instability
    Though my crying-at-the-drop-of-a-hat days are long over, I can still be a basket-case from time to time.  Some of this I attribute to hormones.  I first noticed when I was younger and on birth control that my emotional instability was at its worst.  In the years since, I have occasionally had need to go on the pill again for various reasons, and though I’ve tried a number of different formulations, without fail, I become weepy.  Even without artificial hormones, I can still take a maudlin turn at certain points in my cycle.  The early years of my relationship to Phil were the worst.  The smallest things would send me into an ‘end-of-the-world’ funk for days, sometimes weeks, and Phil has confessed to me since that there were times when he thought we wouldn’t make it as a result.  Phil was, in part, my salvation though.  His intelligence stimulated and inspired me, his keen and twisted sense of humour, so like my own, has kept me laughing all these years.  He can make me laugh until my cheeks and stomach are sore, until my eyes tear up.  It’s amazing what a good belly-laugh can do for you.  We have several values in common and I trust him implicitly.  We are the best of friends.  We just happen to be married 😉

Above all, writing has been my best therapist, my best medication, and my best spiritual balm.  It was only when I started to write regularly that I really started to get my emotional house in order.  Much of my journey feeds into my writing and I continue to explore the themes of my life in the pages of my stories and novels.

There is something of me in every one of my characters and often pieces of the people I’ve known and loved.

Have you been able to turn an illness to your favour?  Have you mined your life and experiences for your stories?

This is not the end of the story, though it will be the end of this thread of the tapestry.  Next week I will return to my narrative where I had to leave it to discuss my depression in more depth.  This has been a story within a story that had to reach its conclusion before I could continue.

I hope these stories have served some purpose and will continue to do so.

Good night and I hope everyone had a happy Easter.

Caturday Quickies: What’s the deal with Briefing Notes?

The first time I heard the term ‘briefing note’ was when I was serving on a working group to set up a new unit to handle special enquiries for my business line.  Part of my roll on the working group was to source no-cost training for the unit as we did not have a budget.

Of course, I wasn’t informed of this particular lack of resource until after I’d found and started making arrangements for some fairly cost-intensive training on the subject.

The only free resources I could find were a couple of templates on our intranet.  No examples.

The next time I encountered a briefing note was during an exam for the assessment process that resulted in my current acting assignment as a Business Expertise Consultant (BEC).

I was asked to write one for the exam, and using only those two skimpy templates, I managed to write a briefing note sufficient to pass, and apparently with high marks.

Though the position of BEC includes the responsibility of writing briefing notes, I haven’t been clear on whether the reports, learning plans, proposals, etc. that I’ve been writing for my manager fall into that category.

I had had a course on briefing note writing on my personal learning agreement (PLA) for years, and this past week, I finally got the opportunity to attend.

So what is a briefing note?

A briefing note is a document used, as the name implies, to brief high level executives on various topics for various reasons.

I know that sounds vague, so I’ll give you a few examples to clarify:

  1. A news article appears that discusses a product or service that your business is implementing, but no formal press release has been made.  Executives responsible for that portfolio may need to be briefed on the nature of the coverage to see it there may be any impact, positive or negative, on the product’s or service’s release.
  2. An ongoing project needs to be altered due to unforeseen or uncontrollable issues (read scope creep).  The executive officer will need to be made aware of these changes, though they may have no direct oversight of the project in question.  If it’s under their umbrella, they need to know in the event their superiors, or external partners, ask.
  3. A court case involving your business is ongoing, or an appeal has been launched.  You will have to keep chief executives informed of the progress without weighing them down with a lot of superfluous legal information.

Does that help?

What I learned

  • What I’ve been writing does not fall into the category of briefing notes, though many of these documents serve the same or similar purposes.  What I learned in the one-day course can still be applied to the documents I need to produce.
  • If my unit has to write briefing notes of any description, there should be a set of unit-specific templates and examples on our shared drive (there are not).  I think I may have to see if we can gather some of these together (!).
  • Audience analysis is the single most important factor in writing a briefing note, or any other correspondence to upper management.  You need to know what they need to know.  If you don’t, make sure that someone who is privy to this information reviews your document before you submit it.  For me, this would be my manager.
  • Always think in terms of the absolute minimum that the executive needs to make decisions and otherwise conduct the business.
  • The directors, executive directors, and senior executive directors who might see my communications are a little lower on the totem pole than the chief executives to whom a briefing is generally directed.
  • The difference between an annex and an appendix: an annex is referred to in the body of a briefing note; an appendix is additional information that has not been referenced in the main document.
  • Summaries are optional unless the briefing note exceeds one page, or the summary is required in your unit or business line (which would be reflected in your template set).

Other than that, it’s a matter of using proper business writing principles, plain language,

pen.jpg

pen.jpg (Photo credit: new1mproved)

and impeccable grammar.

I have another tool in my writing arsenal now, something I’ll be able to keep in my back pocket until I need to use it.

Do you have to write briefing notes for your employer?  Will any of the information I shared be of use to you?  I won’t claim to be an expert now, but if you have any questions, I’ll do my best to answer them.  The research will help me to retain what I’ve learned 🙂

A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 6

Last week: A tumultuous year sets the gears in motion.

This week: Fumbling toward stability

But first …

A recent experience and how it led, in part, to this series

Last year, a co-worker of mine tried to quit smoking by use of a certain, psycho-active cessation medication.  I’d tried it in the past myself and warned him that while my reaction was atypical, that he should be wary.  Initially, he was undeterred, but a few days later, he said he’d had to stop.

He told me that he was in the kitchen, cutting vegetables, and the thought occurred to him how easy it would be to slice his flesh and he had the unsettling desire to find out what that felt like.  That moment frightened him so much he determined to stop taking the medication immediately.

I stood there, listening, and in retrospect my reaction wasn’t what it should have been.  It didn’t even occur to me that other people might not have these thoughts.

Ever since that fateful year when I was seventeen, I’ve never been on a balcony without thinking how easy it would be to climb over it and jump.  I’ve never been on a subway platform without wondering if I could really jump in front of one of the trains.  I think of car accidents (having them or causing them) all the time while I drive.

Often when doing routine tasks like cutting vegetables the unwelcome image of plunging the knife into my stomach—or worse, someone else’s—walks through my head.  I tell these thoughts to keep on walking of course, and to let the door hit their narsty asses on the way out, but the fact is, I have these thoughts so often, I actually thought that they were a normal part of everyone’s mental landscape.

Not so, obviously.

I was never so foolish as to think that my battle with depression was over.  It’s something that will be with me for the rest of my life and these thoughts are a reminder of that.  I’ve learned how to turn them down so they’re just background noise.  I acknowledge them and send them on their various ways.  They have no power over me.  Their work here is done.  Mindfulness restored.

I just got so used to them that I forgot not everyone thinks of self-harm every day.

The fumbling part

It took me until I was 33 or so to really address my depression.  That’s sixteen years.  Some struggle longer, others not so long, and every struggle is different.  This, again, is only my story.

When I left for university, I lucked out and got a room mate who really understood.  She suffered from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), something that she didn’t reveal to me until our second semester together.  She did so by asking me to read a short story.  It was a tactful and creative way of introducing the subject.

After that, we started to communicate through books.  It was a very cool and private way to conduct a friendship, like an exclusive book club.

My roomie saw me through a lot.  She helped me discover my parasomnias (I held conversations, got up, and moved around while asleep), helped me start my first journal to capture these experiences, held me when I broke down recounting my tonsillectomy trauma (there are things that I didn’t and wonn’t share with you), and let me talk until I was hoarse while my second serious relationship disintegrated.

She also helped me to rediscover my passion for writing, something that I will forever be grateful for.

We shared a harrowing ditching of my car on our way up to Elora Mills to visit a friend during a winter snowfall, baked and ate a crust pie (we were crust fans), and opened up our lives to one another.

When I moved away, my roomie told me that she’d started cutting.  On a visit up to Sudbury, I inadvertently broke her OCD with our hectic schedule.  I don’t know if I supported her through either of these transitions.

The Dad detour

In the second summer I was at Guelph, I got myself a job with a video film crew.  The business taped horse shows across Canada and into the US, edited the footage, and sold it to the horsey-set as memento, or training tool.

I was away in Southampton, NY for a couple of weeks and while I was down there, my father had a nervous break-down.  It was set off due to the dismantling of his unit at work and his potential relocation to southern Ontario.

Mom came home from work one day to find him sitting with a knife.

She didn’t tell me any of this when it happened, but only that Dad was fine, in the hospital and that she would fill me in when I visited home in a couple of weeks.

Dad was hospitalized for months and eventually diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder.  From there, he went on long-term disability though his employer’s health plan and eventually applied for Canada Pension Disability.

He never returned to work.

Not quite independence

There was nothing I could do for Mom when I went home.  I was just shocked by the news and returned to Toronto, where I moved in with BF number three and tried to survive.

Though I still saw my old roomie, I was without a constant confidant.  I turned to self-help books in a major way.

I wanted to spank my inner moppet and fast.  I was determined not to end up like Dad.  I feared it might be inevitable though.

Just before Christmas that year, my maternal grandmother passed away.  She’d been on borrowed time since I was a baby when she’d had multiple bypass heart surgery (see: Something I don’t remember).  I was about to start a job, but asked my new employer for a delay in my start date to go home for the funeral and Christmas.

It was surreal.  Once again, I didn’t feel connected to the event.  I couldn’t muster emotion at the appropriate times.  I continued to cry at odd ones, usually when I was alone, which, when you think about it, is the exact wrong time.  It’s like an alcoholic drinking alone, a sign of something wrong.

Really, I was worried about Mom.  She had been primary caregiver for my grandparents for a number of years.  Even though the burden should have been less, it wasn’t really.  She now had Dad to take care of too, and my grandfather was an alcoholic, something kept in check by my grandmother’s presence.

Mom was adamant that I couldn’t do anything to help, though, and so back south I went.

A series of jobs and the crash and burn of my third relationship eventually caused me to re-evaluate my life.  My attempts to find another place to live met with disappointment again and again.  I couldn’t survive alone, working a low-paying job in Toronto, and while I toyed with apprenticeship (masonry was kind of looking interesting for a while), journalism, or radio, or returning to university, my eventual move back to Sudbury decided me on two things:

  1. I was going to complete my degree in English and use that experience to become the best writer I could be, and
  2. I wasn’t going to get into another relationship until I’d sorted my shit out.

Growing up

Of course, I broke my second resolution and was dating Phil (now hubbie) before the summer was out.

Margaret was back in Sudbury too, and with her forever partner by then as well.

I was still not fit partner material, and I don’t know why Phil put up with my neurotic self.  I still became sad and cried often.  I fled from conflict, literally, and on several occasions Phil had to run after me.  If he hadn’t, I’d have retreated completely.

Still, he proposed, I accepted, and we were married the July of my second year at Laurentian.

Things changed again.  Margaret moved to Port Elgin when her husband got a job in the area.  Though I’d made some friends in school, I once more felt bereft.  My roomie from Guelph fell out of touch.  I was still searching.

Academically, I excelled.  Creatively, I was on a roll.  Several prize-winning short stories and poems led to my invitation to write a short story for the first issue of a new magazine.

I graduated cum laude with a concentration in rhetoric, but I still didn’t have any self-confidence.  I decided that I needed a master’s degree before I could be considered a ‘real’ writer.  All of my university friends were moving on to master’s degrees, or teacher’s college.  It just seemed like the thing to do.

Phil was in university now as well, and in order to pursue my degree, we’d have to live apart.  And we did.  For years.

I’ve written about my master’s experience elsewhere.  Here, I will only say that by the end of it, though I achieved my goal, I was beaten down creatively.  Despite having my poetry included in two anthologies and a handful of other journals and publications and despite having completed my thesis, a collection of short stories, I doubted that anything I had to write would have meaning or significance to anyone else.

I returned to Sudbury and a life of contract jobs interspersed with unemployment.  Those were rough years for Phil and I, and I still hadn’t sorted out my issues.  I still lived in fear of becoming like my father, of being as much of a burden to Phil as he was to my mom.

Then, Phil’s sister told me about an opening with her employer, which I applied for and was successful in getting.  Though it is the same employer I continue to work for today, the job was in a much different capacity.  I was working in a call centre.

The work was emotionally draining and I quickly reduced my hours to part-time.  Still, the wage was better than most jobs I could have gotten in Sudbury at the time and the benefits were even better.  Within a year, Phil and I had a house and mortgage, a car and car loan.  We were growing up.

I took advantage of the benefits I had, got a surgery I’d been putting off, braces, and therapy.  The talk therapy was limited by what my plan would pay for.  I hadn’t actually tried to kill myself or anything; I was just trying to figure out how to deal.

I also went on Paxil.

I’ve never been a fan of medication.  I tried all sorts of herbal and vitamin supplements to improve my mood, level of energy, and feeling of well-being.  No combination I’ve tried worked.

The Paxil seemed to work.  It gave me a respite from the anxiety and mood swings, but after a few months, I wanted to get off the drug.  I didn’t want to become dependant.

The withdrawal symptoms were easily the worst I ever experienced and I never want to go through that again.

Though it may not seem like much, it was my decision to get off the Paxil and get in control of my emotional life that was my turning point, not the therapy or the drug itself, nor any of the other, external things I had tried to that point.

I found ways to cope.  I’ll talk about a few of those next week.

Caturday Quickies: Other Writerly Goodness to share

In other writerly news

A couple of weeks ago, Mark Leslie contacted me about my submission to his Spooky Sudbury project which will be published through Dundurn Press later this year.  He’s going to include the piece I submitted 🙂

Last week, Sopphey Vance, editor of Enhance Magazine, advised that she was interested in one of my poems.

These were both submissions I had made last fall, while participating in Khara House’s October Submit-O-Rama challenge.  It’s wonderful to know that my efforts are bearing fruit.

On a slight downer, my submission to the League of Canadian Poets’ National Poetry Month Blog has not been accepted.  This is my fault.  I delayed in sending my poem in and they had too many submissions to post everything.  It’s a ‘live and learn’ moment.

Certified and certifiable

I found out the Monday following my return from Chatham, that I passed my certification (yippee!).  I am now a certified trainer through my employer.  This could open up several opportunities for me in coming months.

Also on the work front, my acting position as training coordinator has been extended through to August 31, 2013.  Given the chaos that is my portfolio right now, I’m not so certain that this was a wise move on the part of the powers that be (PTB), but I was happy to accept.

Monday, I’m heading down to Toronto again for a course in writing briefing notes.  This one I’m not facilitating.  Professional development rocks 😉

Platform impasse

WordPress

WordPress (Photo credit: Adriano Gasparri)

I’ve reached the anniversary date of my blog this month and with that have come some challenges that I hope very soon to turn into opportunities.

I have now passed my WordPress follower goal of 100.  I’m currently at 111 and am faced with the challenge of setting up a quarterly newsletter.  I’ve been dragging my heels on this, though, because …

I’m seriously considering migrating to WordPress.org from WordPress.com.  I can’t very well set up a newsletter on my current site and then leave it.

I’ve been reading up on the process of migration/blog set up through WPBeginner and Michael Hyatt.  I’m pretty certain I can make the leap, but I want to parse my posts first.  I need to ensure that my pictures are either my own, or provided courtesy of a commons license.  I want to edit some of my posts too, so that I can make sure that my best foot is put forward.  I know that few if any people will peruse the archives, but I want to be ready of they do.  This is going to take some time.

With the move, I’m also considering a change in theme/appearance.  This also deserves some careful consideration.

Do you have any suggestions for a new theme?  Any and all welcome in the comments below.

Alas, Google Reader, I knew him well

Only days after the announcement that Google Reader would be decommissioned in July, the option disappeared from my more + tab.  Not interested in spending the time trying to find a buried link, I decided to try Feedly.

Feedly Logo and iPhone App Design

Feedly Logo and iPhone App Design (Photo credit: imjustcreative)

So far, so good.  I’d definitely recommend giving it a try.

What I’m working on now

So … I’ve been mentioning for ever that I’m going to submit some more poetry.  I’m now thinking Sulphur will be one of those.  Maybe they’ll like the poem that the League passed on 😉

I’ve been trying to get back into the swing of Initiate of Stone, but since the beginning requires significant rewriting, this has not been easy.  The progress is painfully slow.

I’m having better luck with the short stories and hope to have them completed/revised in advance of their respective dues dates.

Just as a reminder: Writers of the Future closes April 1 and In Places Between April 4.

Recently, I became aware of the Rannu Fund prize.  Bonus: Cory Doctorow is one of the tie-breaking judges.

Conferences

Was looking at the CanWrite! conference this year and it looks quite good.  So good, I’ve just registered 🙂

My other goal is to attend the Surrey International Writers Conference.  Registration isn’t open yet, but I’ll keep watching.  Also, their annual writing contest opens April 1.

So there’s lots of Writerly Goodness going on.

What’s happening in your writerly life?

Caturday Quickies

Caturday Quickies: The Sulphur III launch reading

Last night, I attended the launch reading for Sulphur, Laurentian University’s Literary Journal, issue III.

Natalie and Kevin

Natalie and Kevin

I’d been invited by 100 thousand poets for change alums Natalie and Kevin.  Natalie had a couple of poems accepted to the journal.

Also in attendance were Kim Fahner (in support of a published colleague) and Louise and Paulette, two of my former collaborators on the Battle Chant project.  Paulette also had a poem in the issue.

The event took place at The Little Montreal in downtown Sudbury and featured many lovely

Paulette and Louise

Paulette and Louise

poets and a selection from a play, another publishing first for Sulphur.

It was a lovely evening and I enjoyed reconnecting with my fellow writers.  Though Tom Leduc was there as a representative of the Sudbury Writers’ Guild, several others who had been published in Sulphur III were absent, which was regrettable.

Me and Kim with Paulette and Louise

Me and Kim with Paulette and Louise

Thinkin’ thoughts

There was a little discussion about the relative merits of the arts community in Sudbury, and frankly, I think it’s doing just fine.  It could be better promoted, certainly, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, per se.

It’s long been held that Sudbury, essentially a blue collar town, doesn’t appreciate its artists.  Can I call shenanigans on that one?

There are artistic enclaves all over town: several centered on out institutions of higher learning, the Theatre Centre, several other community theatres, our small presses, the Art Gallery of Sudbury, the Sudbury Arts Council, the Sudbury Public Library, institutions like the Townehouse Tavern, and organizations like the Sudbury Writers’ Guild and the Sudbury Hypergraphic Society.  Several area high schools also produce excellent writers, musicians, and artists every year.

The concern is that many of these organizations, institutions, businesses, and services become insular over time.  When I sat down with Hally Willmott last weekend, she hadn’t been aware of the SWG or that there were any writers groups in town.

It’s not that we don’t talk to one another, attend each others’ various events, or try to cross-promote.  It’s certainly not that none of us have established web presences or hold community events like readings, workshops, concerts, art shows, or plays.  I know that each party does its best to advertise its presence and services and to promote any special events through various media, both traditional and online.

What the heck is it then?  Why doesn’t Sudbury claim its artists and arts community proudly?  I have no idea.

For the average Sudburian, it comes down to participation.  You get what you give.  You have the arts community you help to create.

You must, of course, take this with a grain (or handful) of salt as it comes from someone who hardly makes it out to SWG meetings and is very far behind in her critiquing duties for her guildies.

I say none of this to disparage current efforts, which I know are significant, or any of the organizations or businesses, which I know are doing the best they can.  Ultimately, I have no solution, but I wanted to highlight what some consider a problem in the hope of provoking thoughtful consideration of the matter.

Got thoughts?  By all means, share ‘em!

Six questions with Hally Willmott

Hally WillmottHally was born in Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. She is a Police Officer with the Greater Sudbury Police Service. Hally enjoys reading both fiction and non-fiction. She is a self-proclaimed writer of all things imaginative (both poetry and novels). She also believes that if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything!

She met her forever partner Jerry, and married him thirteen years ago. Together, they have accomplished the greatest feat, being blessed with two gifts from God, their sons Jacob and Jordan.

Between working full time, being a wife and mother, Hally finds the time to write when her kids go to bed, when Jerry’s at work or when their new puppy Jersey decides to wake her up every morning around five a.m.

She and her family enjoy long summer nights by the campfire and cold winter nights snuggled up watching movies in their home.

In 2009, Hally had an idea to write a novel. The idea for Awakenings came to her in a dream, the first in a series of four.

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I was amazed, and I have to say, a little freaked out when Hally reached out to me last week through my blog.  I had no idea that Writerly Goodness had that kind of influence or good will.  Ultimately, I’m flattered and grateful and very pleased to have made the acquaintance of another local writer of fantasy fiction.  A soon-to-be-published writer at that (yay)!

I think that’s what I’m most thankful for: that Writerly Goodness is creating a community and communicating to it in a meaningful way.

Since we live in the same city, I was able to meet with Hally this past weekend and we shared some of our writing ups and downs.

Now I feel privileged to share some of that with you.

Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions for me (and my readers).  Welcome to Writerly Goodness, Hally 🙂

HW:  Thank you for having me 🙂

WG: You mention in your bio (above) that the idea for Awakenings came to you in a dream.  Was it a single scene, or the story writ large, and how did you hang onto it long enough to get Jacey’s story down?

HW:   The actual part which outlined my main character Jacey Adison was only a flash.  Once I started telling Jacey’s story she pretty much took over and to this day is still writing it.

WG: For those who may not be aware, what is Awakenings about?

HW:  No matter how many times sixteen-year old Jacey Adison’s parents tell her they must move, she has never questioned their lifestyle. Until now. When Jacey was two, her parents fled the protection of their birthplace, the mystical dimension of Nemele. Leaving was the only solution her parents believed might allow them to keep their family together and alive.

The Adisons have been running from a sect of iniquitous beings from Nemele who covet Jacey. Her parents have repressed their adversaries’ relentless tracking efforts by not utilizing their own mystical powers. They have chosen to conceal themselves within the only realm they knew they’d be able to survive. They are living under their self-imposed powerless sanctions on Earth, which constitutes the nineteenth nation of Nemele.

Her parents have never revealed their true identities to Jacey, consequently keeping her true lineage and unique birthright from her. Jacey’s family has pretended to be non-magical humans as a ploy to prevent an ancient omnipotent entity from killing more innocent beings in its relentless quest to possess Jacey.

Born as an anomaly, Jacey possesses rare abilities that both virtuous and corrupt entities seek to use as their own. Should either side prevail, Jacey may be the saviour or downfall of every world within Nemele’s domains. Blindly thrust into life and death situations, Jacey learns of her true powers within her dreaming and conscious states.

WG: How long did it take you to write Awakenings?  Now the unpleasant second half of that question: how long has it taken you to edit?

HW:  Awakenings took me just under a year to write from start to finish.   ‘Awakenings’ is now in its final stage of edit through Limitless Publishing.

WG: You went through quite a journey to find your publisher.  Would you mind sharing some of that adventure?

HW:  Initially when I wrote it, I had only planned on writing a novel and saying hey I finished it!  It wasn’t until I received positive feedback from some ghost readers that I even thought of having it published.  Because I was green when it came to the publishing world, I thought hey – why not?  Can’t be that hard…can it?  Well, after at least one hundred rejections from both publishing houses and agents I finally got one YES – And that’s all it takes 😉

WG: Now for the introspective question: how do you keep everything balanced and find time for work, family, and writing?

HW:  I’ve never been one to do something half heartedly.  So, sometimes others facets of my life may take a back burner while I focus on something else.  I have to say I have an EXTREMELY supportive family.  Without them and God I would have never been able to get to where I am today.

WG: What’s coming up next for Hally Willmott, Author?

HW:  The cover reveal for my first novel is on Wednesday the 20th of March 2013, and ‘Awakenings’ is set to be released in late May early June 2013.  I’m excited about the release of my debut novel and I will be actively promoting its success over the next while.

Thanks again, Hally, and the best of luck with your future writing endeavours!  Knock our readerly socks off 🙂

Bits and pieces

First: Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Though my mom was adopted, she was of Irish descent.  It was something my grandfather liked to tease her about.  So though my last name is Finnish, I claim Irish into the mix and feel very proud to do so.  Besides, isn’t everyone Irish on St. Patrick’s Day?

Second: Remembering Dad

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I was entering my “season of sorrow.”  The first of the sad anniversaries passed last Thursday, March 14th with Dad’s birthday.  He would have been 73 this year (I think, I’m beginning to lose track—it’s shameful).

I posted this to Facebook on the day, but I wanted to post it again, just because.

RememberingDad

Third: Mini Pupdate

I’d hoped not to have to write any more about Nuala in the near future, but it seems she now has a urinary infection, poor dear.  The snow reveals clear signs of blood in her urine 😦

We decided to take her off the Metacam last month, and the blood tests confirmed that her liver was being compromised by long-term use.  She’s still been limping, but it’s different than it was before.  Now we’re fairly confident that it is the arthritis in her knee that’s causing the her hobble, and we were looking to see if we could find some other treatment for her joint issues without resorting to the same kinds of medication (with the same kinds of side-effects).

So we’ll be making another appointment for Nu this week to see if we can figure out what she has.  It will be interesting and possibly messy getting the urine sample from her to get a proper diagnosis.

Have you ever had to collect pee from a female dog?  I have.  Interesting and messy is the nice way of putting it.

Best for Last: Upcoming excitement

This past week, I was contacted by a local writer who will be publishing her first young adult fantasy novel in May.  Her cover reveal is Wednesday, so I’m going to break the “weekend only” blogging rule to publish an interview with her on Tuesday.  I hope that you’ll all give a warm Writerly Goodness welcome to Hally Willmott!

A life sentence with mortal punctuation will continue next weekend as well, and I’ll keep you up to date with all things writerly as I continue on my journey toward publication.

That’s it for today.  Off to Mom’s for stew.  Is it Mulligan?  Don’t know, but it will be tasty 🙂  Kim, need you to make me some soda bread!  Or share the recipe?  All out of Guinness!  Oh, ‘tis a sad St. Patrick’s without Guinness!

Have a happy week, everyone!

Writerly Goodness, signing off *wags*

 

A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 5

Last week: A second routine surgery turns complicated and results in my second near-death experience.

The hits don’t stop coming

1987 was a massive year for me, not only because of my appendix problems, but also due to several other events, both related and unrelated to that trauma.

I mentioned some of the related bits last week: the implosion of my first serious relationship, academic struggles, and the revelations of the second surgery.

My first serious relationship yielded to my second in a few short months.  By the time of the second surgery, I was firmly entrenched in coupledom again.  At that point, I really didn’t know how to function socially without a partner.  I was still so awkward on my own, still doubted my own value so much that it seemed the only option.

The man in question was attracted to wounded women.  This is not to disparage him in any way, because he was an excellent person, but I still have trouble seeing my virtues and can’t figure out why else he decided to enter into a relationship with me.  This is just a statement of fact, something he revealed to me later himself.

With regard to my academic difficulties, I missed a lot of school and because I tended to fall asleep toward the end of the day, I was doing poorly even in the courses I was there for.  In an attempt to catch up, I wanted to enrol in a correspondence course in history to offset my poor performance in other classes.  My mom and I met with a counsellor to discuss my options.

I was told, point blank, “You’re not smart enough to complete a correspondence course successfully.”  The counsellor in question was clearly looking at my recent marks, not on the A’s and B’s of previous years’ courses.  When I tried to press the issue, she said that I didn’t have the time and dedication to complete a correspondence course.

“You’re recovering from surgery and still pretty sick.  You’re heading for a second one in a few months.  You have enough to worry about without a correspondence course.”  Essentially, she thought I was too lazy to complete the course.  This was not the case, but I couldn’t convince her otherwise, so I left the session empty-handed.

Other events were converging to form a perfect emotional storm.

English: Tropical Depression One upon being de...

English: Tropical Depression One upon being declared (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the winter, my paternal grandmother had a stroke while driving home from visiting my aunt and uncle down south.  Her car shot through an intersection just after entering Sudbury and ended up on an embankment.  Fortunately, no one else was injured, but the car was totalled.  She was admitted to hospital, but as the days and weeks progressed, she did not wake up.

At first, they thought the stroke had caused more damage than they originally determined.  Further scans revealed that this was not the case.  As time went on and her coma continued, they needed to insert a feeding tube to keep her alive.  She could not continue to survive on intravenous alone.

They couldn’t insert the feeding tube.  Something was in the way.  A quick exploratory revealed that her abdomen was full of cancer.

We couldn’t imagine the kind of pain she must have been in during her long months of silence leading up to the stroke.  My grandmother was an intensely private and fiercely independent woman.

Due to my own health issues, I was not encouraged to visit my grandmother much.  Then, when my state of infection became clear, I was discouraged from seeing her at all.  Finally, I was brought up to say my goodbyes.  Without the intervention of a feeding tube, my grandmother would slowly starve, if the growing cancer didn’t get to her first.

The decision was made to remove all supportive measures and let nature take its course.

Family came up to visit and either stayed or returned for the funeral.  It was about that time that I started to cry for no reason.  I couldn’t cry when it seemed appropriate: when saying my goodbyes and at the funeral, but at odd times, I’d just sob uncontrollably or stare off into nothing.

I had no idea what depression was then and even though my boyfriend tried to tell me, I was closed to the message.

My friendship with Margaret suffered as well.  My first boyfriend was very jealous of my time and rarely let me do anything on my own.  He was everywhere and became sulky when I wanted a “girl’s night” or to do anything with Margaret that didn’t involve him.

My quick turnaround into my second relationship didn’t help matters.  This time I was the needy one and relied on my boyfriend, the picture of the strong, silent archetype, almost exclusively.  Margaret found a relationship of her own to fill the gap.  She needed someone she could rely on too.

Margaret’s mother was getting remarried and would be moving to Mississauga at the beginning of the summer.  Margaret was allowed to stay on with me for the summer, in my grandmother’s house until she joined her mother in Mississauga and I went away to the University of Guelph in the fall.

My parents had settled my grandmother’s estate in the spring and my father had to buy out his brothers of their shares.  My grandmother hadn’t left a proper will and a lawyer was hired to sort through the mess.  They would be moving into my grandmother’s house in September after I relocated to Guelph and renting out their house to pay off the second mortgage they had to take out to make the proper financial arrangements.

My grandmother’s house, though large, only had one bedroom.  My move down south would be a permanent one.  There was no place for me at home anymore.

Throughout this time, I didn’t write, or even think about writing.  There wasn’t any room for it in my life and I was too busy trying to fast-track through highschool and try to maintain some form of a healthy relationship with anyone to spare any time for my creativity.

In a relatively short period of time, I had a serious infection bookended by two surgeries, ended my first major relationship and entered my second, lost my grandmother, my home, and my best friend.  This was the beginning of a situational depression that it would take me years to recognize and sort through.

Next week: Fumbling toward stability.

Six questions with Alon Shalev

Alon ShalevAlon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes, At The Walls Of Galbrieth, and The First Decree. Alon tweets as@alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.

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Welcome to Writerly Goodness, Alon!  Thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions for my readers.  I must say that I’ve been following you with great interest since we “met” through Author Salon and I became aware of your progress through last year’s Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award (ABNA).

WG: I know you’ve probably written a lot about this, but I must ask about your experience with the ABNA.  Some of my friends have expressed interest in the competition (or entered) and I’m sure they would love to know about the process of getting to the quarterfinals and how it contributed to your success with At the Walls of Galbrieth.

AS: I think ABNA is an amazing opportunity even if you do not win. It pushes you to finish and polish a manuscript, and prepare what is essentially your media kit. I have reached the quarterfinals with three different books and enjoyed the tension around it (I had my acceptance speech all worked out!). When you reach the quarterfinals, experienced people in the industry critique your novel. It can be tough, but you do learn a lot. Finally, there are many agents trolling the competition, so it is an effective way to avoid the depressing slush piles.

WG: Now The First Decree, the second novel in your Wycaan Master series has been published.  How was writing the second novel in your series different from the first and what did it teach you about yourself as a writer?

AS: The most significant difference is allowing for a story arc that gives a satisfying climax, but also extends tendrils into the next book. In fact, there is a similarity at the beginning, because you want to bring the reader who has not read your first book (or read it a while ago) up to speed without imparting a huge information dump or giving away too much from the first book. I found this very challenging and had a number of friends critique this aspect in order to find the right balance.

What I love most about writing a series is that I can really develop my characters. They have time to grow up and mature. Outside of writing, I am a devoted father (which is what got me writing epic fantasy in the first place) and work with college students. So I realize that I am imbuing this love for seeing young people grow and develop into my writing and, I think, only a series can allow for this.

WG: How did Seanchai’s story begin for you and how did it evolve? 

AS: Every summer, my family goes camping for two weeks in Northern California. After we had set up camp, my sons (then 11 and 7) went off to explore the campground and I whipped out my laptop. They soon returned and objected to me writing during family time and this was the compromise we reached. During the two subsequent years, I wrote The First Decree and Ashbar, and read a couple of chapters each night either around the fire or snuggled in my tent.

I realized that many aspects of Seanchai are a mix of both sons, and perhaps how I would like them to turn out.  My fears that I will not be there for them one day plays out as Seanchai is denied a parent or mentor so many times. But there is also the desire to cultivate deep friendships, which I believe is central to the values that both boys have, as well as dealing with teenage romance and pressure.

All my characters are now part of my family. When I killed one off, I cried. When I edited that chapter several times, I cried…several times! I often imagine conversations with them, counselling and encouraging them, as I strive to do for my sons.

WG: I’m a big process geek.  Would you share something about your writing process? 

AS: I am not a good person to ask. I plunge in and trust the creative juices. I usually finish a 100,000-word manuscript (a rough draft full of mistakes) in three months, writing an hour a day and more on weekends. I keep a contents page for myself to track chapters and a characters page where I add physical traits or history. I also have ongoing plot notes that are threads between chapters and stories. This is written at the bottom of the chapter I am writing and I cut and paste on from word doc to word doc and erase an idea after it is included.

In terms of workspace, my desk is in the kitchen and I can write on the train, bus, anywhere. Once the idea is there, everything flows. It is a truly exhilarating experience. My family would probably tell you that I am a bit crazy when in the creative process. If I do not have the time to write I can become somewhat cranky and have a propensity to talk about little else. I am constantly worrying about my characters and the danger or emotional turmoil that I put them in.

WG: I’ve been told by industry experts that traditional fantasy is a hard sell in today’s market.  Did you find this to be true and what are your thoughts on the genre’s continuing potential? 

AS: My marketing guru is John Locke (the author) and I am fastidiously following his business model. He says it is better to have a smaller, clearly defined target audience, than a larger, less identifiable one. I have more problems placing my social justice-themed novels than fantasy.

Fantasy readers are passionate, fun, social and happy to share opinions. They are on line and engaging their peers all the time. In addition, every movie – Lord of the Rings, Eragon, Hobbit, Harry Potter, Oz, Jack and the Giant Slayer – brings waves of new and eager readers. Parents, who want to encourage their children to read, will buy them the books that reflect these movies. As long as these movies are being produced, as long as there are great authors writing quality stories, I think the future is bright and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

WG: What’s coming up for you and The First Decree?

AS: Following John Locke’s model, I am very focused on writing and publishing. Ashbar – the third book in the series is scheduled to come out in the fall. I will finish writing Book 4 during the summer and then spend the rest of the year editing it before turning it over to my editors.

The new marketing reality is that we are in an age of instant gratification. You finish Book 1 and if you enjoy it you want the next and you want it now! How smart were Amazon with their 1-Click? There is so much social media that to keep your readers waiting a year for a book is dangerous if your name doesn’t end in Brooks, Salvatore etc.  The First Decree

Meanwhile, I continue to build my online platform through my weekly blog (www.elfwriter.com) and twitter (@elfwriter – 22,000+ followers). I spend a fair amount of time here and on Facebook (and just getting into Goodreads), and I truly love the interaction with fellow writers, readers and fantasy fans.

Thanks for sharing your time and expertise, Alon.  All the best for your future writing endeavours!

Thank you, Mel, for this opportunity.

A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 4

Last week: Friend wars.  Can a girl get post-traumatic stress disorder from those?

And now:

The appendicitis odyssey

I’m going to skip forward a few years.  They were largely unremarkable, trust me.  I wasn’t anything special in high school.

At fifteen, I entered my first serious relationship.  This pulled Margaret and I further apart, but in the summer I was sixteen, she invited me to go with her to a star party.

Margaret was and continues to be an amateur astronomer.  My interest lay mostly in continuing to spend time with her, though I did enjoy learning about the constellations and how to recognize them in the night sky.

Margaret and a group from the local astronomy club headed down to Star Fest that August with me in tow.  The weekend went well.  We stayed up late to look through various telescopes to see planets, nebulae, and galaxies far, far away.

The day we left, though, I wasn’t feeling so hot.  I had a stabbing pain in my gut.  That was the first attack.

Others followed and though I went to my doctor, my pain didn’t present as typical appendicitis.  It wasn’t in the right place.  So I had tests.  And more tests.  All with varied but negative results.

As the school year wore on, I started to fall asleep in science class, which had to that point been one of my favourites (organic chemistry-yay!).  I was still serving as acolyte at my parents’ church, looking more like Quasimodo as I walked, hunched over, to light and snuff the candles.  The pain got worse, and after a particularly terrible day, my parents took me to the hospital.

Typical presentation or not, emergency exploratory surgery was ordered.

Once again, I don’t remember the surgery, but I woke up feeling rotten with a drain poking out through my stomach.

For those of you who may not have had this particular medical procedure, let me describe it.  First, a six by six gel patch was placed over the incision site to stabilize the soft flesh.  Then a four inch incision was made.  There was a lot of infection inside of me (I’ll get to that in a bit) and so a length of surgical tubing was inserted to let it drain out, the wound packed, and I sent to recovery.

The doctor explained that I had not only an inflamed appendix, so inflamed that the complications were the same as if it had ruptured, but that I also had a grapefruit-sized (he described it to my parents as a softball) abscess on the appendix.  The reason it didn’t present as typical appendicitis was that my bowel was inverted (upside-down) and the reason ultrasounds had found nothing was that the massive, puss-filled abscess had obscured the appendix and unorthodox arrangement of my innards.

The appendix had not been removed.  The infection was so wide-spread that the surgeon would have had to remove most of my bowel along with it and leave me with a colostomy.  He had a daughter about my age and decided that he couldn’t do that to me (bless you, Dr. Keeley!) but this would mean a second surgery in a few months and intensive antibiotics in the meantime.

I was in the hospital for over a week.  They couldn’t get me back on solid food and I was so weakened by months of infection that my veins kept collapsing.  I had holes all over my hands, wrists, and arms by the end of it.  I wept when they had to change the intravenous site for the sixth time.

Other than the obvious, though, I had no clue that anything was amiss.  Friends and family all came in to visit, smiling, making small chat, all except my then boyfriend.  He came in and sat, silent and moping the whole time.  Eventually, I demanded to know what was wrong.  Why come to visit me if he wasn’t even going to bother talking to me?

“I almost lost you!” he blurted.  And that’s how I learned that I had nearly died.  Again.

He was certainly entitled to his feelings, but his selfishness astounded me.  In short order, as ill as I still felt, I returned his gifts to me and told him to hit the road.

The next three months were a trial.  Lots of antibiotics, and though the drain was removed before I left the hospital, the incision remained open and had to be packed, the dressings changed twice a day.

It stank.  Pus seeped through the dressings and my clothes on a regular basis.  The scar remains a puckered mess to this day.  My body is fond of forming cheloids.

The second surgery, the actual appendectomy, was coordinated with a test for malignant hyperthermia.  The condition had been detected in my family some years before and the test required the removal of a six inch strip of muscle.  Three were for the actual test and the other three for research.

Malignant hyperthermia is passed on genetically and is a condition which requires me to avoid both stimulants and standard anaesthetics.  Certain substances accumulate in my muscles and in situations of high stress, temperatures, or with exposure to certain anaesthetics, my body will go into a hyperthermic reaction.  My temperature rises until my muscles, including my heart and the intercostals, which facilitate breathing, shut down.  Cardiac arrest.

Fortunately, I’ve never had a full reaction, though I have always “run hot” and my muscles will twitch from time to time, often after exercise.

The surgeon for the second procedure was a clinician, and though excellent, was somewhat lacking in bedside manner.

Following that surgery, I was informed that Dr. Keeley should have removed the appendix and all the infected tissue the first time and that not to do so verged on malpractice.  A colostomy would have been better for me than the subsequent risks from the continuing infection.

She could not use the same incision site because, even after three months, I was still full of infection.  I had hoped that she would have been able to use the same location, if for no other reason than to remove the existing, twisted wound and create a more or less “normal” looking scar.

I was then informed that I had the highest level of the disease (there are eight) and that I could no longer have anything containing caffeine (coffee, tea, pop, or chocolate), alcohol, antihistamines, or any pain relievers that included muscle relaxants.  When I began to tear up (remember, I was only seventeen at the time, and I kind of enjoyed a lot of those things that she said I couldn’t have anymore) she looked at me, somewhat incredulously, and said, “I don’t know why you’re crying.  This is a good thing.  You’ll have a much longer, healthier life.”

At the time, researchers did not know everything about malignant hyperthermia and outlawed a lot of substances on the chance that they might predispose me to have a reaction.   Since then, I’ve learned that moderation is the key.

I missed a lot of school and barely made it through some of my courses.  It was my final year of high school too and though it was a little tense, I was actually accepted to my choice of universities for the following fall.  Other things happened that year too, but I’ll leave that for my next post in the series.

So that was my second brush with death.

Next week: Trauma mounts and depression rears its ugly head in earnest.

Has a routine surgery changed your life?  How so?  What came of your adventures under the knife?