The post in which I write about happiness: A life sentence with mortal punctuation, part 10

I’d wanted to wrap things up this week, but the happiness post seems to have a mind of its own 😉  So next week will be my finale for this series in which I will talk about how my life and experiences have influenced my writing.

For now, though:

What I’ve learned about happiness

supreme happiness

supreme happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

First, it’s an amorphous thing.  It’s hard to pin down.  Sometimes you only realize in retrospect that you were happy because of its sudden absence.  Sometimes you know that you’re happy because your friends and family clearly aren’t and by comparison, you’re feeling pretty good.  Sometimes, you just need to find a still moment and let the happy come.

Here is the Dictionary.com definition (linked for your convenience):

hap·pi·ness [hap-ee-nis] noun

1. the quality or state of being happy.

2. good fortune; pleasure; contentment; joy.

Origin: 1520–30; happy + -ness

Related forms o·ver·hap·pi·ness, noun

Synonyms:
1, 2. pleasure, joy, exhilaration, bliss, contentedness, delight, enjoyment, satisfaction. Happiness, bliss, contentment, felicity imply an active or passive state of pleasure or pleasurable satisfaction. Happiness results from the possession or attainment of what one considers good: the happiness of visiting one’s family. Bliss is unalloyed happiness or supreme delight: the bliss of perfect companionship. Contentment is a peaceful kind of happiness in which one rests without desires, even though every wish may not have been gratified: contentment in one’s surroundings. Felicity is a formal word for happiness of an especially fortunate or intense kind: to wish a young couple felicity in life.

You can look at as many definitions as you like, but you won’t find one that actually conveys what happiness feels like.  It’s all just wordage, and one time when post-modernist or semiotic analysis might tell you more about what happiness actually means than reading a bunch of words on a page or website.

Last year, I finally got around to reading Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project.  It came highly recommended by a colleague from work and a few online friends, but I have to say that I was less than impressed.

I appreciate Gretchin’s candid style and some of the insights she gains in her year-long happiness project (which has subsequently been renewed in ensuing years), but I couldn’t relate to a lot of what she wrote about.

She was honest about it, indicating that her life was pretty darned happy already.  She didn’t have many crises or tragedies to make her personal search for happiness compelling, and she admitted that this might make her happiness project ring hollow to some readers.

I didn’t really find this, but what I saw was someone who really didn’t have to dig deep to find the happy in her life.

I did agree to a certain extent with her philosophy of “act the way you want to feel,” but I found it to be disingenuous.  I’m not a gloomy Gus, generally speaking.  I smile and say hello.  I chat with people, but I don’t go out of my way to pretend that things are peachy when they are so definitely not (for me).

Still, I have to admit: I’m happy most of the time.  The key is to recognize your happiness and observe it.  Happiness is kind of a sacred moment that has to be respected and cherished.

Happiness

Happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Retrospective happiness, A.K.A. Big Yellow Taxi happiness
The first kind of happiness I noticed in my life was retrospective happiness.  This is the kind of happiness you realize after the fact because you’ve suddenly been faced with a sad or difficult situation and the change in your mood helps you to understand that you were, in fact, happy, before the situation arose.
It’s important to take some time, even a few moments, to think about that happiness.  What did it feel like?  How relatively easy was it to be productive, proactive, and socialized with friends and family?  This way, you can more readily recognize happiness the next time it enters your life.
Happiness is like a child.  It likes attention and will hang around if you show it that you appreciate it 🙂
I characterize this happiness with the lyrics to the song Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell: “Don’t it always seem to go/that you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone?”

Comparative happiness, relatively speaking
I often noticed when I was happy because Phil was not.  Often it seemed that when he was having a rough go of it at work, things were going swimmingly for me.  I like it when things turn out well and this makes me happy.  Currently, we’re both having a bit of a bad time at work, but interestingly, we’re both fairly happy at home.
Again, notice how this kind of happiness feels.  Is it based on accomplishment, recognition, or something else?  Is there a way that you can foster these happy-making elements in your life?  Happiness is an opportunity.  Learn how to invite it to come knocking 🙂

Happiness-in-the-moment, A.K.A. Zen happiness
Sometimes, you just have to take a moment to realize, regardless how you think you feel, or should feel, that you are happy.  It’s a weird phenomenon, owing in no small part to the inexact and un-pin-down-able nature of happiness.
Also, in the Buddhist tradition, there’s this idea of non-attachment.  In order to experience something, you have to stop wanting it, let it go, become disinterested in it.  Happiness can sneak up on you at the strangest times.  If you’ve been careful in your observation of your happiness in the past, you might be “surprised by joy” at an unexpected moment.
I also think of this as serendipity, or, as I like to say, surrend-ipity.  It’s only when you surrender to the moment that you can find your greatest happiness.

So that’s it.  Three ways to find happiness.

happiness

happiness (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Do you have other techniques you use to find the happy moments in your life?  I’d love to hear about them.

Tonight’s TV line-up: Once Upon a Time, Game of Thrones, and Vikings.

Have a great evening!

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The Next Chapter: Progress by inches (and bounds)

It’s been a while since I’ve posted about my progress, or lack thereof, on my writing.

Initiate of Stone

I’ve been struggling to rewrite my first chapter.  I’ve now made progress, after writing, and rewriting it several times.  I really had to go back and decide what it was necessary to accomplish in my opening chapter.

A short list:

  • Introduce my protagonist – Ferathainn, or Fer, is fifteen, and her coming of age is in two moons, at the next goddess festival, Sestaya.  She wants to become an Agrothe mage, and will be the first girl to do so in a very long time, but she chafes under the tutelage of her master, Aeldred.  Fer has been studying from the moment she wakes to the moment she sleeps (except festival days) with Master Aeldred for 12 turnings of the sun through the seasons, but it’s all been mundane. He’s forbidden her from using her innate talent, to speak with the spirits, or souls, of animals, plants, elements, and perhaps even people, like he controls who the spirits speak to …  Fer desperately wants to be initiated so she can start using her talent and learning “real” magick.  She knows she’s capable of more than what Master Aeldred permits her to do.  The process is long and demanding, though, and she will have to make sacrifices.  She loves Leaf, the eleph finiris, or song master, and will marry him on Sestaya as well.  She sees her astara, or soul-lights, in his eyes, something that only the eleph are supposed to see.  She’s not so sure about children, though they seem to be the natural consequence of marriage.  She’s just been so long separated from other girls her age by her studies that she wants something that everyone else takes for granted.  Fer worries that love, marriage, and family will be the sacrifices that she will have to make to become a mage.  She’s determined to have at least love in addition to the solitary life of a mage.
  • The “normal” world – Hartsgrove, Fer’s village, is a “free town” and the eleph and people of Tellurin live side-by-side in relative peace.  It’s an agrarian village that sends tributes to the surrounding, larger, towns and cities to show fealty and secure support in times of need.  The predominant religion is worship of the Goddess Auraya, creatrix of Tellurin.  Every year the season of Vedranya brings deadly storms to besiege the land.  This has been the way of things since the Cataclysm, two centuries before, changed the face of Tellurin and reduced much of Tellurin civilization to rubble.  Fer lives in a small, but sturdy cottage, with her mother and father, Selene and Devlin, a seer and a bard respectively, and her younger half-sister, Aislinn.  She has never left Hartsgrove.
  • Hook the reader – What’s the root cause of Fer’s resentment of her master, the man who could grant her wish to become a mage?  Why does he want to keep her from using her talent?
  • Ask a question (that needs to be answered by the end of the novel) – What is the secret Master Aeldred feared so much he magickally bound Fer’s friends and family to silence?
  • Foreshadow the inciting event – An earth elemental, or nomi, tells Fer the secret is a potentially deadly one though it cannot more than hint at the nature of the secret; she must be strong to face the trials to come.

So I’m slowly working my way through the list without dumping too much backstory or world building on the reader.  Beginnings, why are you so hard?

Some links about beginnings:

On a whim, I’ve signed up for Margie Lawson’s course, A Deep Editing Guide to Making Your Openings Pop, starting May 6, 2013.  She focuses on psycho-linguistic and rhetorical techniques to improve your writing.  My undergrad was focused on rhetoric and I love psychology, linguistics, and brain science, so this looks like it’s right up my alley.  Will let you know how it goes.

I might do the crazy and send my beginning (when I’m more or less happy with it) to Ray Rhamey’s Flogging the Quill to see if it passes his test.  Stay tuned.

Short Stories and poetry

Well, so far, I’ve kept up with Kasie Whitener’s Just Write short story challenge.  I’ve written a completely new short story for each of January, February, and March.  I’m a little behind in April, and may opt for flash fiction to make up the short fall.

The short story that I revised and sent to On Spec in January has been accepted (!)  I am very (like !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) excited about this, even though I know that it won’t be in print until sometime next year.  I’m looking forward to working with their editorial team to whip “Downtime” into shape.

“Beneath the Foundations (original story #2),” my attempt at medieval Cthulian for Sword and Mythos was rejected.

“A Terrible Thing” was rejected by the editors of Tesseracts 17.

It’s too early to have heard back from either Writers of the Future, to whom I sent “The Gabriel,” or In Places Between, to which I submitted “Molly Finder (original short story #3).”

There wasn’t room for my poem “peregrine” on the League of Canadian Poets National Poetry Month blog, but I have subsequently submitted that poem plus two more, “contain you” and “infant crawls,” to Sulphur.

From last year’s submissions, I learned that my submission to Mark Leslie’s Spooky Sudbury will be included in the publication, and my poem, “north of thule” was included in the fabulous Sopphey Vance’s Enhance no. 11.  It’s been a good month (and a bit) for happy dancing!

I’m going to work on something flashy this week to round out April’s short story quota, and set to work on another original for May in hopes of garnering some attention in the Rannu Fund competition.May Submit-o-rama Choice

I’ve joined Khara House’s May submit-o-rama and have committed to 1 submission per week in the Choose Your Own Challenge category.  Rannu will make up only one of those, so I’ll have to get my arse moving on identifying other submission opportunities (!)

Critiquing

Actually finished the BIG critique for my online group and am working on a review of the first 100 pages of another online critique buddy.

Have only three people left to critique for the Sudbury Writers’ Guild before I’m caught up with them.  We’re trying to get our stories and poetry together for an anthology.  I put forward “A Terrible Thing” and “Old Crow,” another short story of mine that was rejected by Tyche Books last year (Masked Mosaic anthology).  It looks like “Old Crow” might be salvageable as a short story, but that “A Terrible Thing,” as editors have said—and I’ve thought—in the past, is really a novel in the making.

Conferences

A local effort, Wordstock, will be happening June 7 and 8 at the Sudbury Theatre Centre.  This is the first year for the event, and the organizers are hoping to build on what they hope to be this year’s success.  The SWG has a block of time for readings.

I’ve registered for the Canadian Authors Association CanWrite! conference in Orillia, June 12-16, and booked my room in the Orillia campus of Lakehead University.

I’m still waffling about When Worlds Collide August 9-11.  The registration fee is reasonable in the extreme, but I still have to bear the cost of the flight and accommodation.

One reason I’m waffling is because I want to go to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference this year (Oct 25-27).  Domestic flights are sooooo expensive.  Right now, a return to either Calgary or Vancouver for the conference dates is showing as over $1000.  It may be an either/or kind of thing for me.  Or I might just cash in my Avion or Aeroplan points for one or the other flight.  That’s an idea!  Thanks for letting me suss that one out online 😛

I think that’s all the conferencing I can take for this year.  Next year, I hope to add some fancons like Ad Astra.  We’ll see how the financial situation sits.  And my various air rewards plan balances 🙂

Other stuff

Taxes done and refund received 🙂

Am still putting off the decision to move to WordPress.org.  I think I just need some dedicated time to devote to research and reflection.

Hope all is well with you and your writing lives.

I’d love to hear from you about your latest literary adventures!

Tonight’s viewing line-up: Doctor Who and Orphan Black!

Tomorrow, I’ll share my thoughts on happiness and how my experiences have influenced my writing in the final instalment of a life sentence with mortal punctuation.

The one where I post about Dad: A life sentence with mortal punctuation, part 9

You may have noticed that I didn’t post in my series last week.  Truth is, I needed a break from the angsty.  While I feel that this series is important to write, and that I have come to a point in my life that it is necessary to purge certain things, all this exposure of my tender bits is difficult for an introvert like myself.

In the last instalment, I wrote about some of my encounters with death I had during the sixteen years in which I sorted my depressive condition.

About Dad

I love my dad and that’s in the present tense because even though he’s gone in the physical sense, he’s still here with me every day.

In order to tell the tale of his last two years of life, I have to give it context and that begins with his birth.

Dad was the youngest of three brothers and in those days, they lived out at long lake.  Doctors still made house calls for deliveries and that day he was running late.  The woman attending my grandmother, I’m not sure whether she was an actual midwife, or just a family friend, but she told my grandmother to keep the baby in until the doctor got there.

In the story I was told, she said, “cross your legs.”

When the doctor eventually arrived and my father was delivered, he had a brain bleed (subdural haematoma) and almost died right there.  He was given a poor prognosis, but he survived.

Dad was subsequently diagnosed with epilepsy as a child and was on medication from a very young age.

When I was very young, I was his darling.  We’d watch wrestling on the weekends and he’d let me wrestle him on the couch.  Good times 🙂

Then, he fell off the car-port roof, and was hospitalized for a while as a result.

In the years that I was catching all the typical childhood diseases: chicken pox, measles, and mumps (that was terrible, I had them one side at a time so it lasted twice as long as normal 😦 ), by dad was hospitalized for various other reasons.

He had his gall bladder removed.  He developed a hiatus hernia, which was initially mistaken for a heart attack.  He had surgery for that too.  A haematoma developed after that surgery as well.

At home, he’d return from work absolutely exhausted, collapse into his recliner, and fall asleep before dinner was even ready.  After dinner and the evening news, he rarely stayed up late, or fell asleep in the recliner again.

When I hit puberty, things changed again.  I don’t think Dad really knew how to relate to me after that.  His sarcasm became biting, not only with me, but also with my friends.

By then, the malignant hyperthermia had been detected in my family and he had to get tested for that.

Only a few years afterward, Dad suffered his breakdown and was hospitalized for three months as a result.

The spectre of mental illness

For a while, Dad was doing well.  He was getting regular talk therapy and attending a support group.  He started walking everywhere: down to the corner to pick up groceries, out to his get-togethers with the support group (they had coffee klatches outside group).  It seemed, for all intents and purposes, that he was improving.

Then the therapist he was seeing indicated that their sessions would be coming to an end.  Dad should look at trying to get his life back on track, maybe going back to work.

There was a problem with that though.  His employer had disbanded his work unit and there was not job in Sudbury for him anymore.  He couldn’t imagine trying to start over and I’m sure he had anxiety attacks just thinking about it.

Plus, he’d successfully gotten on a disability pension and was, I think, comfortable not working.

Soon, he stopped attending the support group and he stopped walking.  He gained weight and developed sleep apnea.  He also got prostate cancer and though a combination of hormone therapy and radiation put the cancer into remission, Dad suffered the usual after-effects of prostate issues.

His behaviour became more erratic as he went through his manic and depressive phases.  When he was manic, he’d spend like crazy, buying things from the Shopping Channel and Readers’ Digest.  He’d enter every charity lottery he could and spent hundreds on provincial lotteries.

Toward the end of one of his manic cycles, he’d always get struck with buyers’ remorse and his guilt took an odd turn.  He’d start to accuse my mom of trying to leave him, or of hooking up with one of his friends.

When he was depressed, he slept much of the time and tried to undo his financial miscarriages until the next manic phase hit.

My mom was taking care of him as much as she was taking care of my grandfather.  And she was still working.  I worried about her.

Even after my grandfather passed away, Mom didn’t seem to get much time back for herself.  Dad demanded (without really understanding that he did it) every bit of her spare time.  Mom started to go out with friends more as a respite from his illnesses.

By then, he’s also developed an arrhythmia that required the insertion of a pace-maker and was in the early stages of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF).  He started to fall and though his knees required replacement surgery, he was too overweight and his doctor wouldn’t authorize the surgery.

The beginning of the end

On March 4, 2010, I was part of the training team at work and away training.  I got a call to my hotel room late at night.  Phil had had to take my dad to the hospital.  Nothing life threatening.  I was coming home in another day, in any case, and so it wasn’t a situation where I would have to come home, but he just wanted to let me know what was happening.

When I got home, Dad was already out of the hospital.  He was agitated and focused on financial matters.  He’d taken to bed instead of doing his taxes and Mom was worried.

Things got stranger from there and on March 18, 2010, we had to call the ambulance to come get him because he refused to leave bed and refused to eat or take his medications.  Earlier in the week, he had once again been obsessed with their financial situation.  He kept telling Mom that he’d bankrupted them, and while she assured him that was not the case, he kept insisting that she had no idea what he’d done.

At first, Dad was in what was referred to as “ground psych” at the soon to be closed St. Joseph site of the Sudbury Regional Hospital.  Due to his intransigence, he was catheterized, put on IV, and fed food and medications by syringe.  He had to wear diapers as well, because he wouldn’t get out of bed, even to go to the bathroom.

Mom and I visited daily and tried to get him to eat.  What made my heart hurt the most was how he screwed up his face like a little child and clamped his lips shut, turning his head away from the spoon.  This was definitely not my dad.

He continued to say crazy things, that the police were coming to get him; that they were going to have a news conference and put him up as an example of government fraud.  At the same time, he insisted that he didn’t need to be in the hospital.  He was still convinced that he’d bankrupted himself and Mom (not possible as Mom had separated her finances years before because of his manic spending).  He kept asking if we were living on the streets yet, had the bank not foreclosed on the house?

He thought his “fraud” so widespread that it even affected Phil and me, though we were both working full time by this time and doing well by all accounts.  I even told him that we had enough to support Mom, if she needed it, but it made no difference to Dad.

From ground psych, Dad was transferred to the Laurentian site of the hospital on their psychiatric floor.  It was determined that he had suffered a psychotic break, and though not violent, was living in delusion.

We still visited him daily and though still stubbornly clinging to his delusions, Dad eventually started to eat, got off the IV, and through our insistence started the process of getting the catheter removed and out of his diapers.

The psychiatrists on the floor could get nothing out of Dad after a while.  He decided that he’d just not talk about his delusions anymore if they got everyone into such a fluster.  They transferred him out to the medical floor as they could do nothing more for him, and he didn’t appear to be a danger to anyone.

On the medical floor, Dad succumbed to C-Difficile not once, but twice.  He was very inconsistent with his toileting, and remained in diapers.  He was so weak that he couldn’t get out of bed unassisted anymore.

At that point, we were in the position of having to get Dad into a nursing home.  The hospital couldn’t continue to care for him as a patient.  He’d already been there for five months.  Mom couldn’t care for him at home, as the hospital initially suggested.  There were stairs, and she couldn’t lift Dad on her own.  Home care could be inconsistent, and would only cover so many hours in a day.  What would happen at night should he fall or something else take place?

So, we had a family conference with the attending physician, the social worker, Mom, Phil, and me.  Dad seemed to understand what was going on and didn’t object to it.  Mom would have to do some financial manoeuvring to make the arrangement work.

You see, as soon as Dad was in the queue for a nursing home, he was considered an “alternate level of care” patient.  Even while he was in the hospital, he’d be charged the ACL rate, which was about what a nursing home would have cost.

Mom had to file papers for “involuntary separation” so that she and Dad could file their taxes completely separately, for the first time since they were married.

In ensuing weeks, the social worker guided us through the process of selecting a nursing home, and every time my mom signed a form, we were careful to ask, what does this mean?

Dad was transferred again to the hospital’s ALC facility while he waited to be placed in a home.  It was fall by then, and Dad caught C-Difficile at least twice more.  Mom and I became very adept at gowning and gloving before we went in to visit him.

Nurses redoubled their efforts to get Dad out of his diapers and physiotherapists tried to get him up and out of bed.  Sitting upright for a while was all he could manage.  He never supported his own weight again.

Eventually, Mom received the news that Dad would have a bed at Falconbridge Extendacare.  We went in for the intake meeting and left with a mass of reading material.  The place seemed ideal, though.

If Dad could eventually get mobile, even in a wheelchair, there was a pub (the main floor dining room was taken over by a musical group for the evening and they’d be allowed a beer if they wished), an interdenominational faith service several times a week, and an activity room with everything from the internet to flower arranging courses, and they kept canaries and parakeets for the residents.  There was a garden to putter around in outside if he wanted as well.  If he wanted.

The move took place in December of 2010 and Mom and I were impressed with the care he received there.  She still went out to visit him every day, but back in the summer, I’d cut back my own visits to 2 or 3 times per week.  Because of my training obligations, there were some weeks in which I couldn’t visit at all.

Things again began to look good for my dad.  The care was far more consistent at the nursing home, and they were fitting him for a wheelchair.  Mom and I were trying to figure out what his plan would cover and how much extra she could afford to pay for one when Dad set his heart on having a motorised wheelchair.

On Monday, April 4, 2011, Dad was zooming around the halls on what was to become his loaner chair pending the fitting and financial approval for the one we would purchase.  That night, Mom and I were called out to the nursing home.  Sometime after he’d been put to bed, Dad’s CHF went into overdrive and tried to drown him.

He was labouring to breathe, in-and-out of consciousness, unable to speak.  He’d shake and moan from time to time.  The doctor and the minister both came out to talk to us.

Dad was a DNR, that is, no extraordinary measures were to be taken to preserve his life.  He was declared palliative and all medication but those used to keep him “comfortable” were withdrawn.  Mom and I set up a vigil with one of Mom’s friends.

We stayed with him throughout the week and many friends came to visit him.  After the first couple of days, Dad didn’t regain consciousness.  Though I brought books and my laptop to help pass the time, I often sat and just watched him breathe for stretches, held his hand, changed the cold cloths on his head and behind his neck, swabbed his mouth with a damp sponge.

On April 9th, Mom came to relieve me for the evening shift and I went home to bed.  Just after 11, she called and told me to come back right away.  Dad passed away before I got there.

I was still able to say goodbye, though.  What was more important was that I had spent the time with him that week, bearing witness as he taught me what it was to die.  Really, he was showing me all along, and I treasure every moment I spent with him, even the difficult ones.

In memoriam

This is what I characterize as my season of sorrow: from the beginning of March, when he started to show signs of his psychotic break, through March 14, his birthday, March 18, the day he was admitted to hospital, April 4, the day he took his turn for the worse, April 9, the anniversary of his death, and April 15, the anniversary of his funeral.

In a maudlin mood, I might extend that as far as Father’s Day, but a month and a half is enough time to dwell on death.

At his funeral, I read the following poem.  Afterward, I created the picture and we had copies made for the family.

ArtofFloating

The picture is one of my dad tubing at my uncle’s cottage. Sadly, we have no pictures of him floating.

 

Dad had a nigh on miraculous ability to float.  He could lie on his back in the water, put his hands behind his head, and just float, head, belly, and toes all poking above the surface.  He was unsinkable.  My cousin swears that he caught Dad sleeping that way.  I like to think of my Dad floating away in the afterlife, still unsinkable.

I chose The Water is Wide by Connie Dover as a song for the funeral recessional as well.  Though it’s more of a love song, the water theme prevailed.  While Dad’s gone before her, I like to think that he’ll be back for Mom with the boat when the time comes.

Sadly, I couldn’t find a version of the song to share with you, but I encourage you to give it a listen.  Connie Dover has one of the world’s most beautiful voices.

Next week, the final episode of a life sentence with mortal punctuation: Thoughts on Happiness.  That’s where I’ll tell you a bit about what my experiences with death have taught me about living.

Have a great evening, everyone.

Writer tech: Converting from WordPress.com to WordPress.org

In my continuing indecision regarding whether to make the leap to WordPress.org or not, I’ve been doing some research.  Gemma Hawdon has graciously consented to let me post our conversation.  I’m sure it will be as enlightening for you as it was for me.

____________________________________________________________________________

How long were you blogging on WordPress.com before you decided to make the move?

I was only blogging for 6 weeks before I decided to swap to self-hosted WordPress.

What kind of research did you do and what were your considerations?

I started by talking to a few friends who had already taken the plunge into self-hosted blogging. I was lucky to have one friend in particular, Caroline of http://presentimperfection.com – a marketing and communications strategist – she was extremely helpful.  I think it’s important to seek the opinions of others and to have someone you can turn to for help.

I also read information provided on the WordPress site: http://en.support.wordpress.com/com-vs-org/.

Another helpful article was this one by Problogger: http://www.problogger.net/archives/2012/03/04/wordpress-com-or-wordpress-org-which-ones-right-for-you/

In terms of considerations, I wanted to find out which version was more suitable from a long-term point of view. Although a complete beginner, I didn’t like the thought of wasting time and effort building a blog that might restrict me in the future.

What made you decide to take the plunge?

In the end it was the flexibility of self-hosted WordPress (WordPress.org) in terms of wider choice of custom themes and the ability to increase functionality of the blog through plugins (i.e. to enhance SEO, email newsletters etc.) I wanted to build something that I would have full control over creatively and (if in the future I’m lucky enough!) commercially. Have I actually utilized many of these options yet? Absolutely not! I’m a little lost to be honest, finding my feet, tepidly…

Are you with a hosting “farm” where you’re largely in charge of everything, or do you subscribe to a hosting service where they have people who can help you with technical questions?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what a hosting farm is! But yes, I am pretty much in charge of everything (terrifying). I chose to host with hostgator.com – who were recommended to me because they have a solid reputation and competitive pricing. I have the Hatchling plan which is only $3.96 p/m unlimited disk space (you can upgrade at any stage). This plan also offers 24×7 technical support.

Mel’s note: If you have technical support, it’s not a farm 😉

From what you mentioned, there are good and bad points about the move.  What are they and what would you do differently if you had the chance?

The main shock after swapping to WordPress.org was the terror of suddenly feeling completely alone! WordPress.com takes care of everything for you. You feel part of a community because they publish your posts across Reader. When I switched to self-hosted I lost a huge chunk of traffic. Previously, I was gaining 5-10 new followers each week – that has fizzled out to 1 if I’m lucky!! Plus it’s amazing how encouraging those simple ‘likes’ can be – you get none of that with WordPress.org.

To help me transfer, I used a friend of a friend because he was incredibly cheap and he did a great job, but initially I lost all of my followers. I had to contact WordPress in the end and they transferred them across for me, but it took several weeks. In the meantime, I had to post from both platforms. I think If I had to do it again I would use WordPress’ own guided transfers – they cost $129 USD.

I’m still feeling lost on the technical side of things. With WordPress.org you’re the one responsible for stopping spam, for creating and maintaining backups and for updating versions of software. I haven’t taken full advantage of the creative freedom yet because it would mean paying someone to build a logo and banner and I can’t justify that right now; however, I’m learning about new things each day and certainly making progress.

One thing that is working for me is having a Feedblitz icon on my site. Feedblitz allows subscribers to view all of their blogs on the one page (a little like WordPress Reader). Followers who subscribe through this software are generally savvy Internet users and bloggers themselves.

I have to keep reminding myself that I’ve only been blogging for 5 months and it takes time and effort to build a solid following. However, I do feel as though I’m finally making progress. I’m rising in the ranks of Google and Twitter and my traffic is increasing! More than anything, I enjoy the creativity of what I’m doing and the fact that I’m the boss of something that is completely mine.

I think it’s important to figure out what you want from your blog and you’re reasons for blogging before you decide which WordPress version to go with.  For me, the benefits of starting with WordPress.com allowed me to experiment before investing any money. I gained an insight into how people responded to my voice and writing and whether there was a demand for my topic or not.

In the end, I think WordPress.org is better for the long-term if you want to build a blog that is completely yours, which you have full control over – no limitations.

I hope this is of some help – Thanks Melanie for your questions – Happy Blogging!

So what do you say, blogophiles?  Will Gemma’s expereince be helpful to you?  I’ll certainly benefit!

I’d love to hear what you have to say.

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Gemma Hawdon

Gemma Hawdon

Gemma Hawdon lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband, two children, one dog and a couple of rabbits. Having always worked in marketing prior to having children, she turned her attention to writing about 4 years ago and has never looked back! Gemma has published articles in parenting magazines across Australia including Melbourne & Sydney Child and Parenting Express and dabbles in writing ghost-articles for extra income, but her most passionate project is the children’s fantasy she is writing which she never seems to get the time to complete! Gemma is also responsible for running the administration and finances for their family-run business in the building industry.

Gemma’s blog, topoftheslushpile.com, documents the challenges, highs and lows of writing a book and getting it ready to tackle the competitive publishing industry.

Caturday Quickies: Oh God, not another … Pupdate

My last mini-pupdate was posted March 17th.

Nuala lounging

Nu lounging on the driveway–her shaved hip is growing in well 🙂

“Let me explain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up.”  ~Inigo Montoya, from The Princess Bride

So when last I mentioned her health, Nuala had contracted a urinary tract infection (UTI).  That was addressed with antibiotics, and we would have to go back in 2 weeks’ time to have her urine tested again.  Also at this time, the vet wanted to take another blood sample to see how her liver was recovering after the Metacam.  Her annual exam and shots would be due then as well, so we decided to make a day of it.

While the UTI had cleared up, there was still significant protein in her pee, or proteinuria.  This is an indicator of kidney damage.  Nu’s blood was also analyzed for kidney enzymes, and they were all in perfect balance.  So on one hand, there was evidence of kidney damage, and on the other, there was none.

Nuala's aural haematoma

This shot from the back shows her injured ear. It used to be mostly upright, like the other one.

In the meantime, Nu had somehow ruptured one of the blood vessels in her right ear and had developed an aural haematoma.  We had to get some drops for her ears to treat the ongoing inflammation that likely caused her to rupture the vessel with scratching in the first place, but neither draining nor surgery was recommended (too painful).  Her body will take care of the situation on its own in a few weeks, though her wee ear will never be the same.

Other than having a ridiculously fat ear, she’s doing fine.

The vet wanted her in to test her blood pressure (hypertension in dogs can cause proteinuria) and take some abdominal x-rays to see if a growth of some sort, or kidney stones could be detected.

Nothing abnormal turned up on the x-rays.  No stones, no growths.  On her kidnies, anyway.  What the x-rays did reveal was an enlarged liver and spleen (sweet Jesus).

Nu’s blood pressure was elevated and so a course of ACE inhibitors was started.  She’ll likely be on those for the rest of her life, but we’re going back in a month to have everything checked again.  We are also transitioning her to a new food (a specialized kidney diet) and hoping that her food allergies don’t result in the mange-like fur-loss she’s experienced in the past.

More diagnostics were recommended to establish the reason for the liver and spleen enlargement, involving a trip to Newmarket, the closest town equipped to do veterinary ultrasounds.  Alternatively, our vet could perform a laparoscopic procedure and possible biopsy (if required).

Phil and I discussed it, and even though the option of sedation was offered, the travel would be more torture to Nuala than any resolution the ultrasound might reveal.  She HATES the car.  Even laparoscopic procedures are invasive, though minimally so.  We had to decide where we would draw the line.

If there is some infection or tumour causing the enlargement of her organs, there’s little that can be done in either case.  Liver and spleen are pretty important and highly vascular organs and several diseases that affect either usually result in internal bleeding, or disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).

We’d already gone through the heartbreak of hemangiosarcoma with our last dog, and though we authorized surgery, it did little for her other than to confirm that her condition was terminal.  Ultimately internal bleeding was the cause of her demise.

Organ failure is another possibility, but there are no transplant programs for pets.

There’s also a chance that whatever condition she has that’s causing the enlargement of her liver and spleen won’t become an issue in her lifetime.  She’s just passed her eighth birthday and most dogs don’t make it very far into their teens.

You might see this as naive optimism, or unnecessarily harsh, but Phil is Mr. Science and he used to work as a laboratory technician for humans.  He’s well-aware of the potential issues and has shared his insights.

Whatcha got there?

Nuala hoping to scam noms from Phil 🙂

Aside from which, Nu is behaving normally.  Other than a little limp, exacerbated by the leg-tugging required to get a good abdominal x-ray, she’s fine.  In this morning’s snow, she was doing her usual pup-angels and seal impression.  She was also scavenging for dirty tissues and all manner of tasty (to her) garbage.  By all accounts, she’s a happy dog.

It would be different if she was experiencing further pain, or other abnormal behaviour.

We’re going to take things a step at a time.  Use the ACE inhibitors and k/d (Hill’s Kidney Diet) for the month and see if they improve her blood pressure and proteinuria.

For us, it’s a matter of quality of life for Nuala.  The ACL injury we had to do something about.  It caused her a great deal of pain and could have caused other injuries and difficulties in the future.  When she sheared a tooth off, oral surgery was a must.  When she lost patches of fur due to a food allergy, hypoallergenic food was the fix.

Now the kidney diet and ACE inhibitors are necessary.  We’re just about at our limit with what we can reasonably do to ensure Nu’s continued, happy existence, though.

Will let you know how all of this pans out.

How are your animal muses doing these days?  I sincerely hope all is well.

Caturday Quickies

Caturday Quickies: A nod to tragedy

Unless you are completely divorced from all forms of communication (and if you’re here, you obviously aren’t) then you know about the tumultuous events of this week in Boston, Massachusetts and West, Texas.

Skyline of Boston. Picture was taken from a wh...

Skyline of Boston. Picture was taken from a whale watching ferry that left from the aquarium dock. It is the Eastern side of the Boston peninsula. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every newscast was focused with laser-like intensity on these two communities this week, hanging on every bit of news, legitimate and otherwise.  Twitter was alive with blow-by-blow descriptions of what was being reported during the man-hunt for and capture of the second of the two Marathon Bombers.

I’m not going to repeat any of that.  It’s not my story to tell.  The news channels are still recapping everything and coming out with additional facts (at last) as they become available in any case.

I know no one who lives in either Boston or West.  I’ve never visited either city.  I have no ties to either.  If it hadn’t dominated network and radio news and social media, I probably wouldn’t have a clue what happened in either place this past week.

It’s a testament to the global village we now live in that people everywhere know about and feel for the victims of the bombers, and the explosion of the fertilizer plant.

I have felt for, been engaged by, and responded to these tragedies in my own small ways, but I can’t continue to do that.

I’m just posting this by way of letting you know that I am not ignorant, or uncaring, but I also need to move on.  As I post about my own trivialities, try not to think poorly of me.

To the people of Boston and West, to the friends and families of the victims, my heart has gone out to you, but I need it back now.

Please see Heather Button’s wonderful love letter to Boston.

And Bolton Carley says: Convert tragedies into brownies.

Both are thoughtful reactions to what’s happened in the past week.  In the end, the best victory is to continue to live your most authentic life, to find a way laugh, and otherwise let the bombers of the world know that you have not given in.

Caturday Quickies

Six questions with Barbara Morrison

Barbara MorrisonBarbara Morrison, who writes under the name B. Morrison, is a poet and writer, a publisher, teacher, and dancer. A few years after graduating with a BA in English, her marriage collapsed and she found herself forced to go on welfare. It is this experience of a world very different from the one in which she grew up that she describes in her memoir, Innocent: Confessions of a Welfare Mother.

She attributes part of her success in escaping poverty to her involvement in the world of traditional dance and music. She performed as a morris dancer for thirty years and continues to be active in the Country Dance and Song Society and several of its affiliates.

Barbara is also the author of a poetry collection, Here at Least, with a second volume, Terrarium, scheduled for 2012. She is currently working on a novel. Barbara has won multiple awards, been invited to speak as a featured author, and been published in magazines such as The Sun, Sin Fronteras, Scribble, and Tiny Lights. She conducts writing workshops and speaks on women’s and poverty-related issues. She is also the owner of a small press and speaks about publishing and marketing. Come by her website for more information.

Barbara’s Monday Morning Books blog is where every week since 2006 she has been sharing insights about writing gleaned from her reading. You can also find her on Twitter where she tweets regularly about poetry and on Facebook. Be sure to visit her GoodReads Author Page and her Amazon Author Page.

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I met Barbara through Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Challenge last year and am pleased to welcome her to Writerly Goodness.

Terrarium will be Barbara’s second collection of poetry and will be published in May 2013.

WG: When did you begin to write poetry and how do your poems come to you?

BM: I began writing poetry in high school and continued through good times and bad, even when I was a single parent working three jobs. Although I’ve also kept a journal, it is in poetry that I seem to have chronicled my life. At first I thought I had to wait for poems to come to me, but after I spent a couple of years making myself write a poem a day, I realized that there would always be something troubling or tickling me, something I wanted to praise or puzzle over.

WG: What is your creative process like?  Do your poems incubate for a while?  Do you edit extensively?  What role does your publisher play in the process?

BM: They often start with a single phrase. Some poems come quickly while others take their time. I then put them away for a while before starting another round of editing. I often repeat this process several times. I self-publish my poetry, but once I put on my publisher’s hat, I might demand further revisions.

WG: Terrarium’s theme revolves around various interpretations of home.  How did this theme evolve for you and how does it reflect the “place” you find yourself in at this point in your life?

BM: I actually started with the theme and deliberately wrote poems around it. I often dream about a particular city. It doesn’t exist in our world, as far as I know, but I could draw you a map of it; the streets and shops and houses are the same whenever I revisit them in dreams. Trying to work out why my unconscious needed to construct and continue to inhabit this place made me wonder how our places, both those we choose and those where we find ourselves, influence who we become. I never meant to stay in the city where I now live, so on some level I continue to feel even after many years that my life here is temporary, which in turn reminds me that our stay on earth is temporary, and I must make the best use of it that I can.

WG: How was assembling Terrarium different from working on your first collection, Here at Least, and what has the experience taught you about yourself as a poet?

BM: With the first collection I agonized over selecting and arranging the poems. I must have changed my mind a thousand times! With Terrarium I was more focused. Also, each of the three sections has a kind of chronology which helped.

WG: Is a launch or reading planned?  Will there be an online component to your promotion?

BM: Yes, I have a book launch party scheduled for 10 May 2013 at The Ivy Bookshop in Terrarium CoverBaltimore, MD. I also have several readings set up; see my website for details. One thing I’ve learned about online promotion is that there is no end to what you can do, so I will pace myself.

WG: What’s coming up next for you?

BM: I’ll be teaching a five-day memoir workshop called Sharing Our Stories at Common Ground on the Hill in July; for more information, see my website http://www.bmorrison.com. I am also working on a novel.

Thank you for sharing your creative journey with us!

Six questions with JL Madore

JL MadoreJL Madore is the writer of fast paced, sexy fantasy and paranormal romance series with heat levels ranging from sizzle to erotic. She is the winner of the Writing Fairy Scholarship for New Writers 2012, a board member of WCDR – the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (a 300+ member writers group focused on developing authors in all aspects of writing), a member of two writing critique groups and a two time student of ‘A Novel Approach’, a yearlong workshop to study the craft of writing novels and hone ideas into working manuscripts.

You can find her at www.jlmadore.ca and on Twitter @jlmadore

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Welcome to Writerly Goodness, Jenny 🙂

After working together for a short time on an online critique group, I lost touch with Jenny.  I’m so happy that the publication of her novel, Blaze Ignites, was what connected us again.  Congratulations!

WG: When did you first start writing, and when did you know that writing was what you wanted to do, long term?

JLM: Writing actually snuck up on me. I often read about authors who say they ‘knew since they were a kid’ or ‘have been jotting down stories since they could hold a crayon’, but that wasn’t me. My interest actually came about when my husband and I got fed up with the day-to-day and moved our family to Central America for a year. From September 2008 to August 2009 we lived in Llano Grande, Panama. No jobs. No school. Nothing but the four of us on a stunning tropical rainforest property for a solid 12 months. It was during those quiet afternoons, lying in a hammock, reading the one and only novel we brought with us–my daughter’s copy of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight–that I started to imagine different ways the story could have gone. That lit the fire.

WG: How did Jade’s story first occur to you, and how long did it take you to write your first draft?

JLM: Well, I’ve always been a huge lover of Elves. As a pre-teen I devoured the Elf Quest graphic novels and who isn’t in love with Legolas Greenleaf from Lord of the Rings? I mean, really. When we returned to Ontario in the fall of 2009, I decided to get the story out of my head. Casting Galan was easy and I knew I wanted the protagonist to be a kick-ass female, so Jade had to be able to hold her own. The first draft was written in six months, the only problem was I didn’t know how to write well. I recognized that if I wanted the novel to be any good, I needed to study the craft of writing. After three years of courses, critiques and revisions, Blaze Ignites is ready to hit the public eye.

WG: Are you a pantser, or plotter?  How does that play into your revision and editing process?

JLM: Most definitely a plotter, but not too tightly bound. I write linearly with a general story and loose outline and let the characters adjust things as they go. The funny thing for me was that I saw the big picture story arc for the Survivor Series and kept writing. Before I went back to finalize Blaze, and while I was learning the craft, I’d written the first drafts of the following three books. After that, the editing and revisions just seemed to fall in place.

WG: You’ve gone the self-publishing route.  Were you always set on self-publishing, or did you try for a traditional deal first?  Why did you ultimately choose Lulu?

JLM: I queried traditional agents and publishers over 2012 and although it sounds funny, during that year I received some genuinely supportive rejections. It seemed the industry opinion was that though they liked the story and many commented positively on the voice and humour, ‘Elves won’t sell. The market won’t support a fantasy love story with Elves’.  I disagree. And if I’m wrong, so be it. Galan is an Elf. Decision made, self-publishing it is.

Lulu seemed the most user friendly for a launching platform for me and where I am right now. I’m currently working on uploading to Createspace and others, as well as talking to a printer, but life gets in the way sometimes and it is slow going at the moment.

WG: When did you start building an online platform and how is that supporting your work as a writer?

JLM: My online presence is definitely a work-in-progress. I’m not technically inclined in the slightest, so that side of my writing career is a struggle. I think I probably did everything backwards, but my website, www.jlmadore.ca is only recently up and I tweet when I think I have something worth saying. It’s too early in the game to say how it’s working, but I’m on board for the long haul.

WG: What’s coming up for JL Madore and Jade Glaster?

JLM: The survivors at Haven have many sexy adventures ahead of them: Book 2 – Bruin’s story and Book 3 – Lexi’s story, are being reviewed by critique groups and beta readers, Blaze full page coverwhile Book 4 – Lia’s story is almost finished and waiting in the wings. Currently I have a paranormal erotic/romance series that’s been getting interest from the traditional publishing world, so I’m working on that. I’d love to have a hybrid publishing approach and span both worlds. Fingers crossed.

Thank you for sharing your time and experience with us, Jenny!  Break a pencil with your future writing endeavours 🙂

My pleasure, thank you so much for the opportunity and my best to all your readers.

A year (and a bit) in the life of Writerly Goodness

This post is one in a series of Anniversary posts for Wordsmith Studio (WSS).

What is WSS, you ask?

It’s a group of people who originally bonded through Robert Lee Brewer’s April Platform Challenge last year and who have gone on to create a community online, not only through our blogs, but also through social media (Facebook, Twitter (#WSchat), LinkedIn, G+, Goodreads, Pinterest (sorry, not a pinner, so no link for the group there), and probably a few other places that I don’t know about yet).

Originally the MNINB Challengers, or Not-Bobbers, we slowly evolved into our own collective.

Part way through the year, a group of fabulous people got together to create the Wordsmith Studio site on WordPress.org.  Since December of last year, a number of members have been blogging regularly on the site as well as on their own blogs.

Others have been attracted to WSS who had nothing to do with the original challenge, and others who participated in the challenge have moved on to other projects.

So now you know, and knowing is half the battle Go Joes! 🙂

Prelude to a kiss challenge

One thing that amazed me was the diversity of people who participated in the challenge.  Some of them had been blogging for years already, or had several blogs.  Others, like myself, were new bloggers.  Others still didn’t start blogging and platform building until Robert’s challenge prompted them to.

I actually started my platform building in September of 2011.  I tried Joomla! first, but found it to be less intuitive than I wanted.  Plus, I was posting a blog more than anything else, and couldn’t figure out the proper way to set a blog up on a Joomla! site.  I wasn’t interested in bothering my techie husband, or in paying someone to sort this out for me, so I looked at other options.

In short order, I found WordPress, and gleefully uploaded the software to my self-hosted domain, labbydog.ca, converting all of my content into proper posts for my blog.

I learned as I went, relying heavily on experts such as Robert, Jane Friedman, and Michael Hyatt and the resources to which they referred me.

Then in February of 2012, disaster struck.  My blog was hacked, and our hosting company insisted in a complete wipe.  RIP labbydog.ca.

After playing around further, I decided, gun-shy and tender creative person that I was, to move to WordPress.com.  On Robert’s advice, I’d purchased my domain name, mapped it to WordPress.com and www.melaniemarttila.ca, A.K.A. Writerly Goodness was born.

At first I was merely attempting to recreate my content and was posting 5-6 days a week.

Enter the dragon challenge

I was already following Robert at the time, and when he announced his April Platform Challenge, I jumped onboard.

For a month, I eagerly awaited my daily dose of platform.  I’d been on Facebook since 2007, and had, as part of my amateur platform building program, already joined Twitter, LinkedIn, and G+, so the days in which the challenge task was to set up accounts on these services I had things a little easier.

It’s a good thing too; otherwise, I’d have fallen waaaay behind.

I learned about having a mission statement for my blog, about using a blogging schedule (doesn’t blogging in this sense sound like a colourful euphemism?  What the blog?  Blogging work!), about calls to action, guest blogs (hosting them and proposing them), interviews, tools like Tweetdeck and Hootsuite, hashtags and Twitter chats, mailing list, business cards, newsletters, Goodreads and other kinds of social media.

By the end of the month, I verged on the overwhelmed.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

I cut down on the frequency of my posts.  A new position at work meant that I had even less time and energy to spare for my blog if I wanted to keep up with my novel and other creative writing.

Something I’ve learned is that, as a writer, the writing comes first.  Blogging is a part of that, but if I don’t get my stories, poems, and novels written, submitted, and published, the blog is tantamount to an online journal and practically useless for the purpose of promotion or true platform building.

Now I blog on weekends only, and it’s been working for me, which is the most important thing.  I’ve been getting the writing done and have achieved a greater balance between my professional, creative, and personal lives.

I have several new pages, with links to those of my books that are still available for purchase from the publisher, my blogging schedule (such as it is), an invitation for guest bloggers, awards, and so forth.

I’ve started doing interviews with a number of friends, online and in real life, and was surprised but ultimately pleased when a fantasy writer right here in town contacted me out of the blue on my blog to be interviewed.  It speaks to the unexpected impact that blogging has had on my creative life and the community that I am, however back-asswardly, building 🙂

This post will be my 190th, I have 118 followers through WordPress, and publish my posts to 243 friends on Facebook, 412 followers on Twitter, 112 connections on LinkedIn, and 90 people have included me in their G+ circles.

I’ve participated in a few challenges (October submit-o-rama, I ❤ my blog, and the Just write 2013 short story challenge) and a couple of the Goodreads group craft book discussions.

I’ve posted a grand total of once on the WSS site and am currently waiting to hear from Robert regarding a guest blog on My Name is Not Bob.  **Hint: Look in your spam folder, Robert 🙂

It’s a humble beginning, but I remind myself that platforms take years to build and that until I have something more than a couple of old poetry anthologies to shill, that I’m not likely to have a massive following.  Even then, unless I turn out to be the next big thing for real, I’ll probably only see modest growth.

Next

I’ve been threatening to move to WordPress.org for a while now.  I still haven’t found the time to parse my archives and clean up some of my old posts.  I have to rework some of my images too, since in the early days of my blog, I just did a Google search for my images.  I have to find creative commons equivalents, use my own, or remove them entirely.

Nor have I settled on a new hosting company.  The fear of hack still lives in me and I’m admittedly dragging my feet on this one.

I’m also considering a greater involvement in WSS.  The site is still in evolution and I’m not sure what I can commit to.  Want and need are two entirely different things.  Keeping that distinction in mind will help me stay sane.

What I will do is encourage all of you to visit the Wordsmith Studio site, peruse the wonderful diversity of our members’ sites and blogs (photo bloggers, pet bloggers, health bloggers, poets, fiction writers of all genres, non-fiction writers, publishers, and so much more).  A weekly round up of our anniversary blogs will be posted on the Veranda, so please read on.

Also visit My Name is Not Bob to see some of the lessons learned posts from several of the original challengers.

Many of my online friends have had amazing years, some good, some bad, some demoralizing, and some downright inspiring.  Most of them are far more eloquent than I am.

Consider liking, commenting, sharing or subscribing.  They are teh awesome, with a little awesomesauce on the side 🙂

Happy anniversary WSSers!  Love you all, even if I don’t show it often enough.

A life sentence with mortal punctuation: part 8

How did what was supposed to be a mere two-part guest post get to be this huge?  I think it’s what project managers call “scope creep.” 🙂  Essentially, the story demanded something more, and as with many of the things I write, it told me the shape it wanted to be in.

Thanks to everyone who’s stuck with me through this very personal tale.  If it touches you in any way, I encourage you to like, share, comment, or subscribe as your conscience dictates.

I’ll take the opportunity here to remind everyone that while this story is based on my life, that it is filtered through my frame, and is, no more and no less than anything else I write, a story.

Last week: I discussed some of the things that I do to keep the wolf of my depression from the door, or perhaps invite it in, let it curl up by the hearth, and make itself at home.

This week I’m going to pick up the original thread of the tale where I left it.

Those sixteen years

The years during which I was “growing up,” getting a job, and learning how to deal with my depression were largely fallow ones for me creatively.  I got off to a good start in my undergrad years, both at Guelph and at Laurentian, but faltered during my struggle to achieve my master’s degree.

Though my primary poetic publications, NeoVerse and Battle Chant, emerged around the time that I finally received my graduate degree, I found it difficult to continue writing.  A handful of scattered publications in poetry and a short-lived foray into publishing weren’t enough to validate my still-fragile writer’s ego.

I’ve never had a thick skin.

As I slowly worked through my issues, however, I started to realize that writing wasn’t something I did or didn’t do.  It’s something I am.  My inability to commit to the writing life on a regular basis made me question my calling.  If I couldn’t write, how could I call myself a writer?  Maybe it was time to throw in the towel and commit to a life without magic.

The sheer impossibility of that thought told me that writing was what I was meant to do.  I just had to find my way to it without a map or any orienteering skill whatsoever.

Upon my triumphant return from Windsor and contract jobs interspersed with unemployment, Phil and I decided to get a puppy.  We already had two cats, one a three-legged refugee from my days at the Veterinary Emergency Clinic in Mississauga, the other a sweet-natured black cat that Phil got me for my birthday one year.

Our dependent quadrupeds helped me immensely.  I believe that pets have a lot to teach us about unconditional love and being good people.  My pets are some of the best people I’ve known 😉

I got my full time job with my current employer.  Phil and I got a house and a car.  I made use of my new benefits to get some serious work done on both my body and my mind.  I figured out that medication was not the way to address my feral disease.

My mother was still working, part-time at the local hospital, at home, taking care of my father, who had graduated to a disability pension and therapy, and at the seniors’ residence where my grandfather now lived.

I went out with her to see my grandfather about once a week, and helped her to transport him to his various appointments.  My father began to have issues with his heart, eventually diagnosed as arrhythmia and congestive heart failure.  He got a pace-maker, and a new suite of medications.

Shortly after retiring from the hospital, my mom developed diabetes.  Dad started to fall.  If it happened at home, either Phil or I, or both of us would have to help Mom, because Dad couldn’t get up under his own power and she couldn’t lift him.  If it happened outside home, it generally involved a hospital stay.  Dad was on Cumadin by this time and as a result, even the smallest injury could become serious due to the complications of the medication.

Then my dog died

ZoeIt wasn’t something sudden.  Zoe developed hemangiosarcoma and though we caught it early, the vet wasn’t able to catch it all with surgery and internal lavage.

The issue with this particular type of canine cancer is that it likes vascular areas, that is, places in the body where blood vessels tend to gather, like the spleen and the liver.  Once it takes hold, it disseminates quickly and almost always results in death.

The biopsy taken in the surgery came back malignant.  It would only be a matter of time.  As it turned out, we only bought Zoe a couple of weeks.

At first, it seemed like she was recovering.  Phil and I had taken to sleeping on the futon in the living room so we could be close to her if problems arose.

The morning she woke me at 5 am looking for comfort was her last.

I won’t describe that morning other than to say that I called in sick.  I was devastated.  For the first time, I cried legitimately over the loss of a loved one.

Papa

My maternal grandfather was the only one of my grandparents left alive.  He’d been a hard-core smoker, and alcoholic for most of his life.  When my grandmother passed away, he reacted poorly and within a few months, a fall resulting from TIA, landed him in the hospital.

From there, arrangements were made to move him into a seniors’ residence and for many more years, he lived happily, adjusting to the fact that he couldn’t drive anymore, that he had to go outside the residence to smoke, and that he had to depend on my mother to ration him a few beer on special occasions.

Some irregularities regarding his heart landed him in the hospital and when I got the call at work that I should come to the hospital, I had a bad feeling.  In the time it would take me to get the car, drive to the hospital, find parking, and get to his room, I could walk, so I sped along as quickly as I could, hoping that he would hold on long enough for me to get there.

Turns out he’d already passed away when I got the call.

Papa’s passing wasn’t all that traumatic for me.  He’d lived 94 years despite his addictions and was, so far as I know, happy.  I also felt confident that I had been there for him as much as I could.

I helped Mom settle his estate.  Being able to help her out in that way made another big difference for me.

I received a small inheritance, just enough to invest in my first laptop computer.  That year, I started to get back to my writing and the novel I’d conceived of all those years ago in university.

In another year, Phil and I felt that we could bear the love of another pup.  That was when we got the Nuala-beast.

The butt-in-chair breakthrough

Though I was writing more, I wasn’t writing daily yet.  It wasn’t until Nino Ricci came to town to do a workshop with the Sudbury Writers’ Guild that my head got turned around the right way on that.

It was his sharing of his own guardian tale that helped so much.  Every writer has at least one, that big name, well-established Author who tells you that your work is crap.

The breakthrough was that I could choose not to let the well-meant, but unfortunate words of my guardian keep me from entering the inner sanctum and gaining my prize.

Productive or not, I’ve been writing every day since, and that, as the poet said, has made all the difference.

The diabetic cat

Our little black cat, Thufir (named after the Mentat Thufir Hawat due to his fondness for Thufir Hawat the Mentat Catflashing lights) developed feline diabetes.  Phil and I were surprised because he wasn’t obese or showing any of the other signs, but his blood glucose level didn’t lie.

He was on Metformin for a year and graduated to insulin after that.  I became very adept at taking his blood sugar levels and injecting him daily.  He came to tolerate, if not anticipate his injections, like he knew that they made him feel better.

Once again, however, it was a matter of time.  Eventually, organ failure took out little guy.

I wasn’t sad this loss either.  I’d been the best kitteh-mama I could have been and I knew that I’d done well by him.  I’d kind of made my peace with death by this time.

I’m going to leave things here for now.  The next big event for me was the death of my father, and that’s going to need a post unto itself.

After that, I’m going to delve into my insights into happiness as a result of all I’ve learned and that will be the culmination of the series.

Tomorrow I’m going to be writing the Wordsmith Studio Anniversary post 🙂  What’s that, you ask?  Read and find out, my friends.

Coming soon: I have a few wonderful authors who have agreed to do interviews for little ole me.  Look out in the next few weeks for six questions with fantasy author J. L. Madore, poet Barbara Morrison, and D. J. McIntosh, author of The Witch of Babylon, and the soon-to-be-released The Book of Stolen Tales.

I’m finding all sorts of writerly goodness to share 🙂