Muse-Inks: My day at Graphic-Con and the struggle for balance

Greetings, writerly peoples!

Before I get to the meat of this post, I’ll give you a little update on the writerly happenings of the week.

This past week, there was just one. The Sudbury Writers’ Guild booked a table at Graphic-Con, which was held at the Sudbury Arena, Saturday, June 10th. While it’s not a huge event as comic cons go, it was big for Sudbury.

Fandom was well-represented. There were cosplayers, LARPers, gamers, table top gamers, RPGers, comic fans, art fans, and television and movie fans (Degrassi actors were in attendance). And there were readers.

SWG co-chair, Andy Taylor, committed to be present for the full day as this was our first year booking a table and he wasn’t sure whether it would be worth it or not. Liisa Kovala helped out from opening to noon. I helped out from noon to 6 pm, Clay Campbell walked over after his CKLU radio show and stayed through to 7 pm, Liisa returned to finish off the day and help Andy pack up the table, Kristan Cannon had her own table (right beside the SWG table), and members John Jantunen and Sabine Gorecki stopped by and hung out for a while. It was a team effort 🙂

GraphicCon

Andy took this picture just after Clay (Rincewind) and I arrived and before Liisa left (noonish).

We had on display various books by Guild members, including a few copies of my wee poetry chapbook, NeoVerse. We sold just about one of everything (well, except NeoVerse—I didn’t expect poetry to be a big seller, though there was some interest), sold out of Creepy Capreol, which our other co-chair, Mat del Papa edited, and sold five of the SWG anthology, Sudbury Ink.

Sales weren’t the purpose of our booking the table, however. Reaching out to the writing community in Sudbury was. In that respect, the table was a total success. We had 19 people sign up to find out more about the Guild. We’re going to try to get together in late June for a special meeting for these individuals. If the timing doesn’t work out, we’ll at least send them a copy of our June newsletter to give them an idea of who we are and what we do.

Which leads us to balance

When I got home from Graphic-Con, I was pretty much bushed. Phil had the moms over for BBQ, but afterward, I decided to forgo my usual Saturday post.

Work/home/creative balance is a recurrent issue for me.

As a writer with a day job, I’ve chosen to devote nearly all of my non-work, non-sleep time to writing. Thus, a lot of other things go by the wayside. Physical fitness, family and social events, friends, support of artistic and professional organizations and events. Still. I can’t shut all of that out of my life. So, I try to squeeze it all in. Therein lies the rub.

When I can drag myself out of bed early enough, I do yoga or other exercises in the mornings. When the weather and other commitments permit, I walk home from work. I spend time with Phil and with my mom. I volunteer for the SWG and for the Canadian Authors Association. I try to get out and do something creative and soul-feeding in the community.

I try to get out and garden, or use my summer office. I try to keep the house clean(ish). My standards have fallen significantly in recent years …

I also try to write or revise my novels and short stories daily, keep up with my blog posts, keep up with my commitments to DIY MFA, read, study my craft, improve, attend writing workshops in person or online … and it all takes its toll.

Add to that my persistent issues with depression and anxiety which I must manage carefully, and a myriad of aches and pains that only seem to multiply the older I get, and there are times when I have to step back.

Phil’s supportive. He does the cooking, the groceries, the heavier household chores, and the renovation on his own. He knows my writing time is mine and, except for the odd hug or kiss—we need a fairly steady supply—he leaves me to do my thing. He doesn’t insist on coming along (he hates travelling and would just be miserable) or that I stay home when I have a conference or convention to attend. He listens when I have to blow off some frustration about work or professional obligations. He’s learned, for the most part, not to try to offer solutions. I’m very fortunate.

The heady rush of positive feeling and energy that returns with the sunlight in spring gives way to my first bout of burnout around this time every year. The second battle with burnout usually hits in the fall. This is why I have usually tried to take a self-funded leave from work every 18 months or so, May into June and then October into November.

It’s how I’ve managed my physical and mental health.

It’s been two years now since my last self-funded leave and the continual issues with our pay system at work have meant that I’ve had to defer my plans to take a leave yet again. I won’t be able to manage much longer if I can’t get a leave this fall. I’ve pushed through before, but never longer than two years. I used to work part time when I was in the call centre. That’s probably a better long-term strategy, but this next leave will involve a new pup as well, I don’t have enough leave aside from the self-funded to house train a pup.

I’m hoping that the larger part of our pay issues will be resolved by then and that it will be a possibility. Even if it’s not, I can’t afford not to make the request.

For now, all I can do is take things easy for a few days, give myself a break, and then get back to it.

I’ve been listening to Brené Brown’s The Power of Vulnerability sessions on Audible. Vulnerability is at the core of a satisfying life, of contentment (which is always my goal, not happiness—I’m pretty sure that’s a mythical beast), and of achieving healthy goals. And self-love is at the heart (lol) of vulnerability.

Unfortunately, I’m kind of addicted to shame and I tend to wall myself off from other people so I don’t have to be vulnerable with them, one on one. Everyone else thinks I’m doing great. I’m that high-functioning person living with mental illness. I can simulate vulnerability on this blog because it doesn’t cost me as much as opening up in person can. All the self-hate takes place in private. I operate from a scarcity mindset. There’s never enough time, energy, you name it, and I am certainly never enough.

I know that none of this is true, intellectually. I know time can be managed, found. A healthy lifestyle can provide me with more energy. I can tell my friends and family that they are enough often, but I can rarely turn that compassionate lens on myself.

So I’m going to goof off for a few days, except for the absolutely necessary stuff, like blogging and housework, professional obligations, and, well, the day job. I’m going to try to be present enough to listen and be kind to myself and to others. I’m going to try to enjoy myself.

We’ll see how it goes and I’ll check in with you next weekend after the poetry walk. The post may go up on Sunday again, but that’s just my way of shifting things to give me enough intellectual and emotional space to recover.

In the meantime, be well, be kind, and stay strong.

And I’ll “see” you on Tipsday!

Muse-inks

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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 🙂

100 thousand poets for change in North Bay, September 29, 2012

Please note: this post originally appeared as a guest post on John Rice’s Keeper of the Sword blog on October 3, 2012.

It was a grey autumn day when I set off for North Bay.  Then I picked up Kim Fahner, and the journey became a poetic road trip of epic proportions 🙂  Talked craft, poetry, fiction, blogging, social media, and Doctor Who!

Kim brought me back a gift from her recent trip to Ireland: Leanne O’Sullivan’s Cailleach: The Hag of Beara.  Lovely book.  Saving it for the weekend 🙂

The drive was blessedly uneventful and we arrived early enough to have lunch before the event started.

On the way back to the park for the reading, we were greeted by Father Forrest.  The White Water Gallery’s Youth Arts Initiative created puppets this summer.

Father Forrest was one of them and he stopped by the reading later on in the afternoon.

We walked on to the park where the poets and audience were already gathered.

Though the organizers, Kevin smith and Natalie Wilson had brought a PA system there wasn’t an outlet to power it.

Still, Kevin introduced the event and got underway promptly, explaining a little of the background of 100 Thousand Poets for Change.

100 Thousand Poets for Change was initially conceived by Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion in March, 2011, as a worldwide set of events to take place simultaneously on September 24, 2011. Literary event organizers volunteered to host associated events in their own cities or schools. ~Wikipedia

The first reader of the North Bay event was Laurie Kruk, professor at Nipissing University and author of Theories of the World, Loving the Alien, and the soon to be released, My Mother Never Told Stories.

She read several selections from her new book of poetry.

I was the next poet to read and only chose a couple of poems: “Manitou Sky” and Relatively Speaking.”

I started my set with a post on Jezebel regarding a Sikh woman and her response to what seemed a malicious picture posted as a critique on her appearance.  It was my way of commenting on how social media can be an avenue for positive change.

I finished my reading by offering some advice from Kristen Lamb in this season of political frenzy on how writers really change the world.

Following my set was Tim Robertson, poet and aphorist, that is, writer of aphorisms.

He started the session with a series of witticisms and then read a couple of his longer poems.

After Tim’s reading was a brief intermission where poets mingled and chatted.  I took a few moments to reacquaint myself with Natalie, with whom I’d contributed to NEOVerse, and Laurie, with whom I’d read on several occasions during my more active poet years.

The second half of the afternoon session began with Christine Charette, artist and poet.  Father Forrest visited at this point and remained around for her set.

Christine’s poetry has as its heart the issues of womanhood and motherhood and it did speak to the theme of change.

Denis Stokes read next.  He’s taught English in high school and at Nipissing University, and published poetry in print and online.  Denis’s poetry was definitely the poetry of Northern Ontario, evocative of its sights and sounds in the context of family and change.

Then Doyali Farah Islam took the stage, er, cobblestones 🙂  She published her first book of poetry, Yusuf and the Lotus Flower, in October of 2011.

Doyali is definitely influenced by Rumi, and her poetry brought a bit of the sacred to the assembly.

The last poet of the afternoon session was my friend, Kim Fahner, English teacher, and author of You must imagine the cold here and Braille on water.  Her new book of poetry, The Narcoleptic Madonna is due out this fall.

Kim is a great reader who interacts with her audience with humour and self-conscious grace.  Kim read from her new work.

Afterward, the poets mingled again.  Business cards and books were exchanged.  Though there was an evening session where Ken Stange, Kevin, and Natalie would be reading, Kim and I had to toddle off.  Nonetheless, I understand the evening reading at the Cornerstone Cafe was a great one, and the North Bay edition of the 100 thousand poets for change event a success.

And then, after a fortifying pumpkin spice chai latte at Twiggs, we were on the road again, chatting more about the day, poetry, creativity, and again, the fabulous Dr. who 🙂  David Tennant is one of Kim’s secret husbands, don’t you know.

The day ended with a lovely supper at Verdiccio’s where I had the chance to use the coupon I’d won on Facebook this summer.

All was ‘write’ with the world 🙂

For more information, please see the 100 Thousand Poets for Change North Bay Facebook page, or the Web page, graciously hosted by Ken Stange.