Monday, January 31, 2011


I've always seen networking as a frightening thing, too big and savvy and salesman-ish with the striped necktie and the "hey, hey, hey" schmoozing aspect built-in. I understand that networking and platforming are a big part of the business side of my life as an author, but they scare the pants off me, and I've been happy to mostly avoid them up until this point.

I've been using Facebook personally for a couple of years, and realizing how much it has helped me with my blog and other writing goals for the last year. I've been on Twitter for about six weeks, slowly familiarizing myself with how this platform works and understanding how it will help when it comes time to market my writing. I can't ignore the business side of the writing life because simply writing isn't enough to see my dreams become real. I have to sell that writing too.

I've spent a lot of years attempting to untie the many knots I've placed in my own personal rope. I worry about being too confident, and being perceived as egotistical. I worry about the opposite too, which is coming off as insecure and not believing in myself. I think it's universal to struggle with these things. I want to develop my craft while shoring up my confidence, and this process is a long one, with many setbacks and detours, but at a certain point I have to add in some business sense.

I am working on printing my 2010 blog for a number of reasons, but topping the list is that I want hard copies of it for each of my kids when they become adults, because so much of their lives at these precious ages and stages are included in my posts. I have been scouring the internet for reasonable self publishing options, and because I post each day, and it's about 325 pages, reasonable becomes a relative term.

I finally settled on a publisher, uploaded my blog, played around with the settings and tried to create a cover, and then panicked at my lack of photographic know-how, and reached out to a professional who happens to be a friend for a quick word of advice. His calm and clear guidance and support was invaluable when I felt out of my depth, and I realized clearly that networking is all about this.

It's not meant to be frightening or huge or fake. It's meant to build relationships with people who have different strengths and abilities from you, so that when you need something they can provide, you can ask them for help. It suddenly seemed so simple to me, and I felt grateful that I've got a strong social networking base of real friends, not simply people I can use to advance my own goals, for that is a significant danger of our digital age.

I want to continue to build relationships with existing friends and new ones, and not be afraid to ask for help and advice where I need it. I want to walk carefully on the business side of writing, because I am new to it and it changes so rapidly, and I'm often afraid to ask for compensation for what I produce. I have to work through these fears, step by step, and talk to those who have navigated this road ahead of me.

Having said all of that, I'm putting the finishing touches on the blog book that I will print, and I'm spreading the word in case anyone is interested in owning one, for themselves or as a gift for someone who might find some inspiration in the daily musings of a mom with dreams to write. The book will be softcover, 8.5x11", 325 pages, and will contain all of the posts I wrote in 2010. The book will cost $45. I will also be giving one away among the faithful followers of my blog, so if you haven't created a blogger account yet and followed me, but you read every day, you have until March 15th to do so and be eligible for this giveaway.

I am so grateful for each and every one of you who read and take time to comment and tell me when something has moved or inspired you. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for walking this journey with me. It means so much to look to my left and to my right and see friends around me.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Raw & Growing

I feel raw right now, with varnish stripping away layers I've used forever to protect myself, but I don't want to hide who I am anymore for any reason. There is such freedom in being true to yourself, and refusing to change who you are to make it easier for someone else, or to avoid a conflict. I want to be me, and be accepted for me, but I do recognize that it's not always possible for these two things to happen at the same time.

I feel like I have come a certain distance down this road, and then I become stopped in my tracks, with different things ready to trip me up and cause me to question my motives and reasons for what I do, and it seems like the process begins all over again. I know in my mind that I haven't lost any ground, but my spirit requires a bit more convincing.

I know I can't always do the right thing. I'm allowed to make mistakes, particularly when the stakes are this high, with the right to know myself and be myself as my end goal. It gets messy when you bring other people into the equation, and our lives are not our own. We interact with other people on a daily basis: people we love, those we can't stand and everywhere in between on that scale.

Sometimes we stumble across information which causes us to go back through our memories, trying to see where it fits with what we always believed to be true. There is a metamorphosis which takes place when we go from a child to an adult, and it can happen at any age and time, or never at all. Turning eighteen does not automatically turn us into an adult, except in the eyes of the law. Emotionally, we are in charge of this transformation, and it can be as leisurely or as swift as we are able to make it.

It's also a long process, filled with setbacks, pain and triumphs. It's necessary for everyone, no matter how stellar or awful your upbringing was. Our parents are only human, and do the best they can with the skills they possess, and we must make up the shortfall when we reach a place of emotional maturity. This maturity is not found at one point in time, but ongoing, like a rose unfurling, petal by petal, until it is able to inspire with its beauty and fragrance.

I long for the rose of my identity to bloom, and be free to show this core to the rest of the world. I'm tired of setbacks, and fears, and thorns holding me back. It's the nature of this life which we are all living. It is by turns beautiful and also devastating. But it is also all we have, and we must make the most of it while we are privileged to draw another breath, and see another sunrise, and kiss our children for one more bedtime. Growing is better than not growing, even if it hurts.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Like Me

Ava is similar to me in the way she processes emotion, and I am hoping to find a way to help her become more expressive. I have spent most of my life hiding how I was really feeling, particularly when I felt upset, and I see her already crafting a "tough guy" swagger which appears brave and commendable, until you understand that the person is really hurting underneath the facade, and no one has any idea.

William is the opposite, as he wears his every emotion on his sleeve, visible for all to see. This used to make me uncomfortable, but now as I get to know him as he really is, I understand that as a strength. I worry that he will be hurt unnecessarily, over and over again in life, but I appreciate that he is connected to what he is feeling, and is true to himself in that process.

Last week, while Jason was away, William cried every night at bedtime, usually while I was putting toothpaste on his brush, sobbing like his heart would break and repeating plaintively, "Daddy, Daddy," over and over again. I would hug him, and remind him when daddy was coming home, and the storm would pass and he would feel better.

With Ava it was a different process. Jason would call and she wouldn't want to talk to him, and would act like it was no big deal. But on the third day of his trip, she was teary when I picked her up after school and said she had no reason for it, and when we got home she was chattering about school but there was a forced brittleness to her line of chat, and her eyes were wide and bright.

I continually asked her what was wrong, and she said, "Nothing," while keeping busy with a book or a barbie. Finally I brought her into her room, away from William and the endless distraction of the kittens, and asked pointed questions, "Is it school? Your friends? Are you feeling sick?" until I hit on the right one, "Do you miss Dad?"

She shook her head no, but immediately burst into tears, and I hugged her and offered soothing noises until she was finished crying, and then we talked about how it's okay to hurt and feel sad, and even as an adult you don't always know why you are crying, but it's a good idea to think about it, or write in a journal, or talk to someone until you figure it out, because then you tend to feel better.

I hope I helped her to understand this. I don't want her to hide away, pretending that she's fine when she really isn't, because I know for a fact that it doesn't work. You end up resentful of those who are acting out and receiving the attention and the help that you are looking for, but don't want to seek out.

It's a coping mechanism that helped me survive up until this point, but now I want to be authentic and aware of how I'm feeling at any given moment, and have the courage to own up to my emotions. Hopefully I can model this for Ava and reverse her tendency to hide her negative feelings, from herself and from the world.

Friday, January 28, 2011

To Love God

Our pastor posed this question on Sunday at church, "What does it mean to love God?" He asked us to think on it and bring back some answers the next Sunday. I know what I used to think it meant, and that was following a big long list of do's and don't's, and knowing whether or not I was on the mark by how closely I adhered to the do's instead of the don't's.

I now believe that is a bunch of garbage. It's good to open my mind to consider defining my relationship with God in terms of what it means to say I love him. Do I get something from him, and that's what I love about the relationship? Do I expect him to meet my needs and pitch a tantrum like a toddler when I perceive that isn't happening?

If I'm honest, I think that loving God means understanding how to be loved by him, at the same time as I learn to offer my love in return. Unless I see love modeled in front of me in a real and practical way, I don't know what it looks like and can't easily return it. True love should be unconditional, and layered with masses of grace, but so little of this kind of love exists in the world that it becomes hard to define.

So much of the love I offer is tied into performance: if you behave in a way that pleases me, I will love you. It's easy for me to transfer that faulty definition to my relationship with God, and believe that he accepts me when I am pleasing to him, and the rest of the time, he is indifferent or frustrated.

I am learning to see God differently, for if I believe he is not bound to the foibles of humankind, then he must love differently, and possibly be loved differently. But if he knows me as intimately as I would like to think he does, then he either chooses to love me with all of my failings, or he doesn't. I have to decide which one I think it is.

Forgiveness is a huge component of love in human relationships, but if God is perfect, do I have to forgive him for anything, or is it one-sided in that he is the only one forgiving me? Perhaps I have to forgive my own warped view of God from time to time, and in that way, level out the playing field a little bit.

I'm not meaning to ruffle any feathers here, or propose a theological truth. I am simply spitballing in an effort to answer my pastor's question as honestly as I can. I know I often look at God through a lens which is cracked and broken, because my father was not perfect and he was the first picture I had of God as a child. Loving my dad and receiving love from him was a complicated give and take relationship, filled with pain and hurt, and it has hopelessly coloured the way I see God.

I would like to feel accepted by God, no matter how black my heart or how wrong my actions may be, and be able to experience his love in a way that feels real and understandable to me. I believe that I am on a journey to end up at this destination, but I am still a long way from the finish line on this thing. I know in my head that God is not the same as the dad I was given, but there is a fair distance between the head and the heart, and I need to keep walking this road in order to feel truth with any amount of clarity.

Asking the question is good. What does it mean to love God? How do we know he loves us, and that we love him? I have more questions than answers, but I know there should be a flow between us, of giving, receiving and actually feeling love, and sometimes it's there and often it's not. I will eagerly anticipate hearing other people's answers on Sunday, and see if I can move closer to an honest expression of what this love between God and I genuinely looks like.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Conserving Energy

When Jason is away, like he is for three days this week, I need to conserve energy or I'll never make it through. This concept of conservation is challenging for me. I want to go, go, go and get a bunch of stuff accomplished so that I can relax with him when he gets home, but if I don't slow down now, I become quickly grouchy and tired, which isn't helpful for any of us.

It's frustrating to feel that you are learning the same lessons over and over. New habits take a long time to form. I understand this in theory, but in practice I find it really hard to manage. I need to balance my life, with a mix of leisure and effort, and it's not wrong to take time to unwind and recharge. I have to downgrade my expectations, particularly when Jason is away, to make them less ambitious so I don't burn out.

This may be part of the subconscious reason why I hate it so much when he goes on a work trip. It's as if I don't trust myself not to go a little harder, get an extra few pages written, or do a bit more around the house so that I can relax when he returns. I think I'm looking at that the wrong way. I need balance all of the time, not give 110% now so that I can back off to 90% later on. I need to strike a mix of achievement and leisure every single day.

I keep circling around this nub, but I'm really more comfortable dealing with the extremes of all or nothing than a little success and a little failure all in one day. In November I had a mini breakdown and ceased all writing to recover and focus on my strained marriage and family life. That worked well, but I had no pressure on myself to write so I could balance the "nothing" aspect with relative ease.

In January, I was ready to dive back in, and I set what I believed to be reasonable writing goals for each day. I kept up for awhile, and felt like I could take on the world, but in the last few days I've been slipping again, for a variety of reasons, and now that Jason is out of town I'm aware that I must be very careful not to race until I'm overloaded.

How did I go from "nothing" to "everything" and not even see that I was making that transition? Our lives are like that. Our past precedents will trip us up so subtly that we don't see it happening until we are face down in the mud. I want to change this pattern before I stub my toe and begin to fall. The only way to do it is to step out of my comfort zone and relax even if I haven't completed my pages. Sort of a snub to my task-master nature, with its relentless demands and tiny but very effective whip to keep me moving.

My kids are important, and being both mom and dad to them right now means my writing may need to take a backseat while I give them what they need. This is okay, and I must continue to offer myself the permission to do so. There will be time to do everything I need to do. Exercising on our new treadmill is good, but it takes time, and so does chatting to a friend or sitting on the couch to watch a Glee re-run while eating popcorn. Balance. So elusive and yet so necessary, and I can only get there by making a deliberate choice to go against my driving need to perform.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Something Instead of Nothing

Two years ago, I set a humble goal of writing three pages a day in a screenplay, and in three months I had a working first draft. A draft which bears no resemblance to the story now, currently in its seventh rewrite, but something I could hold in my hand and see as a rough piece of writing which I had created from beginning to end. It was a wonderful feeling, and that experience launched me onto the road to my greatest dream slowly unfolding in front of me as a professional writer.

Life meanders and veers off course with surprising regularity, and recently I remembered how valuable that small goal was of three pages a day, and became determined to institute it once again. I've been trying to write three pages per day in both my novel and my memoir, and now that I've finished reading Story by Robert McKee, I've tried to squeeze in three pages of rewriting on my screenplay too.

I don't always hit it, but I know that on the days I do, I go to bed feeling better than on the days I don't. Small goals are much better than no goals. If you have an aimless feeling in your life, which I have struggled with for many years, I recommend a small goal to get you moving in the direction you want to go. It gives you a motivation deep inside which will astound you, and the rewards of meeting your small goal will be forward motion, which eventually adds up to something where before you only had nothing.

Goals tend to frighten people, but I think those are usually the big goals. Losing thirty pounds is a big goal, but exercising 30 minutes a day and not snacking in the evening are small goals. Renovating your kitchen is massive and stressful, but doing one small thing per day toward that goal is manageable and doesn't uproot your whole life. The goal of finishing my eighty thousand word novel is daunting, but if I consistently write three pages per day in it, I can rack up 22,000 words in a month, which is a lot better than zero, what I would hit if I didn't aim to write three pages per day.

Goals used to make me feel like a failure, but now they provide a kind of measuring stick so I know I am actually moving forward instead of staying in the same spot, spinning around in circles each day. I feel deeply satisfied at any forward motion, and if six pages a day becomes too hard to meet, I have the option of lowering it, or giving myself a day or two off each week for errands and all of the other things I must get done in a week. Goals can be flexible, particularly if they aren't working, but I'm going with the idea that something is always better than nothing when you are talking about an accomplishment.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Oscar Party

This morning the Academy Award nominations were announced. Usually I wait for this day before handing out our annual Oscar party invitations, but this year I decided right after Christmas that I wasn't feeling it this year, for the first time ever, and asked Jason if he was open to the idea of not hosting the party this February.

He was surprised, as this has always been my favourite party of the year, but being the good man that he is, he was instantly supportive. We have been married for twelve years, and hosted this party every single year except for the year Ava was born, because she arrived at 12:03 pm on Friday after a forty-four hour labour, and when we got home from the hospital Saturday afternoon, we had a lot of visitors, and by Sunday I was raring to go ahead with the party as scheduled, but cooler minds prevailed and we called it off.

Other than that year, we have always held this event. But this year, for some reason I can't even properly clarify to myself, I don't feel like doing it. I'm wanting to be more aware of my intuition and hope there is a good reason for what I feel, even if I can't explain it so that it makes sense to anyone else.

I'm trying to cut back and spend less, as we plan for a big family holiday to Disneyland for two weeks this summer. I'm also aware that this party tends to cause hurt feelings, since the guest list is limited to the numbers we can fit in our family room and kitchen in order to focus on the television. It's the same party format each year, where every guest fills out a ballot and there are prizes for the most right and the least right, plus we ask trivia questions in the commercial breaks and award guests with trips to a concession stand when they get questions right.

It's always a lot of fun, but since it follows the same format every year, we try to invite new people annually to inject some fresh enthusiasm to the proceedings. This means that the same guests can't always return, much as we would like them to, and it's hard to balance this fact with small-town life. We simply can't include everyone we would like to, and it's become a little trickier in the last few years.

None of these reasons is enough on their own not to host the party this year. I find myself thinking of what my movie-themed invitations could be, and linking menu items to the films that have been nominated, as I do every year, and I know for a fact that I will feel off-kilter and strange on Oscar night when we aren't putting up posters from the video store, shipping the kids off to be looked after for the night, and preparing to welcome friends. But one year doesn't mean forever, as I keep reminding myself.

This year I want to watch the show and absorb it fully in a way I haven't been able to since we began with our party. One of my longest held dreams has been to win an Oscar in the original screenplay category, and with my script inching closer and closer to a finished state, I can sense the heat on this particular dream starting to rise. I think I want to savour that this year, and it feels strange to admit that, even to myself, but that is where it stands.

It's okay to be flexible. I'm learning that now in a way I didn't understand at all before. Just because we've had this party every year doesn't mean we can't take a break, and see where we are at next year. I will always love the Academy Awards, and dream whether I am with my family or my friends, but for this year, I will listen to my instincts and go with what I want to do, and continue to stay open to the possibility of change in my life.

Monday, January 24, 2011


Contentment is a tricky thing. I often feel content with what I have, and where I am in life, and with my many blessings, but then when I least expect it, that sense of peace and joy will flee and I'll be scrambling to recover it. I used to live in a constant state of dissatisfaction with my life and my circumstances. I always wanted more, and could never fill the gaping hole in my heart with possessions.

As a result, I was often off-balance, feeling two steps behind everyone else, and desperate to catch up and get on top. I see now that life is not about this, and when it is about this, you can never get enough. There is always more to have, or to achieve, or to own before you are at the top of the heap. And I have a sneaking suspicion that even when you are at the very top, it's not nearly enough.

They key is to be content with where you are and what you own at any season of your life. When we are starting out, most of us have very little, and that is the way we grow and learn. Married couples tend to fight a lot in these stressful circumstances, or at least we did. And then slowly, like the frog in the proverbial pot of slowly boiling water, you begin to accumulate more and more material possessions, and you can spend a little more on entertainment and food and trips without straining your bank balance quite as much, and unless you have mastered your endless need for more, it just keeps building with no end in sight.

Sometimes I forget to be grateful for how much we have in comparison to others, either around the world living in abject poverty, or possibly right here in my own town. When I try to describe war or starvation to my kids, they simply cannot conceive of it, because they have never known such deprivation. In the deepest place in my heart, I long for equality and justice for all, where no one is hungry, or cold, or unsafe, and wish I could give up some of what I have been blessed with in order to ensure that no one else is in need.

I realize that this is some kind of utopia which doesn't exist, and that God gives and he takes away, and as a human I can't come close to understanding the why of plenty and not enough. I know that I feel better when I'm simplifying what I own, and not being extravagant when I have a choice to spend or save, and trying to opt out of our society's lies about what we need to really be happy.

My family provides my sense of well being and contentment, as do my friends, and my ability to write which is what I most love to do. I can't take any of my possessions with me when I die, and I don't want to live under a yoke of slavery where I feel driven to buy more and own more. I want to be free of that pressure, and experience satisfaction with what I have. I want better priorities than I have sometimes, and the eyes to see where I can make changes so I stop trying to climb some imaginary heap to get to the top.

I want to be content, no matter where I am or what I have, because the secret of contentment is deep within myself, and not out in the world. I have control over how I feel about who I am and what I possess, and I can buck the system if I so choose, and buy less. I am much more than the sum total of what I own, and I want to look around with new eyes today to see the incredible value of what I have inside myself and in my relationships, and that is more than enough.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Downward is the Way Forward

We watched Inception for the second time last night. I was hoping that some of the trickier plot points would be clearer to me with another viewing. I did connect some of the dots a little better, and some things confused me just as much if not more than before, but one line jumped out at me as poignant and true in my own life.

When the team is in level one of the dream toward the end of the movie, they begin to panic when they encounter setbacks that they didn't see coming. One team member wants to quit, and go back to reality, but he is told that it's not that simple, and he cannot simply go back. Leonardo DiCaprio's character tells him, "Downward is the only way forward." They had to keep going, as frightening as it was, deeper into the subconscious in order to eventually get back home.

I have lived this concept out recently, but didn't have such an eloquent name for it. The only way forward in terms of healing what is damaged inside of you, is to keep going down into what hurts. Most of us turn back at a certain point because the pain is too great, the wounds too old, and the process too frightening. The price can be steep for our relationships when we go down deep to get to the root of things which continually come in cycles to trip us up. But I understand now that there are no shortcuts to healing. Downward is the way forward.

We can't deal with everything at one time, but I for one have come to the end of my rope when it concerns the giant rug and the giant broom. Sweeping everything in family relationships or friendships under the carpet will get you by for a number of years, but every so often, the subtext (everything swept under the carpet) leaks out into the text of your conversations, because it's always there, fueling everything that is said and done in the relationship.

The stuff under the carpet doesn't go away until you lift the edge, smell the stink, feel the old pain, and stare it down, incident by incident. You touch it, hold it, remember the hurt, and eventually bring it out into the light so it isn't so secret anymore. Every relationship has these hidden depths, but I believe the healthier the relationship, the smaller the mound is under the carpet.

I've been slowly reaching under my own personal rug for the last year. It has been the hardest thing I've ever done, especially when my fingers grasp the oldest things, from early childhood, but when I bring them slowly into the light, and find the courage and freedom to talk about them openly, I find they disappear from under the carpet and no longer hold power over me or my relationships. It's a long process, and filled with uncertainty and pain, but inch by inch my carpet is getting flatter, and I have grown in my confidence and emotional stability.

Downward is the only way forward, and it has been extremely rewarding for me to revisit these areas, bringing the unconscious forward to the conscious, and working through each moldy item to the best of my ability. I never know what I'm going to find under there, and it has pushed some of my relationships to the breaking point, but when you see them starting to recover, with more and more out in the open, accessible to all, I see that it has been worth every tear I've cried, and I want to keep going.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Inside of my Heart

I wish I could take a scrub brush to the inside of my heart, and make it cleaner than it is. I hate that after all of the hard work I've done on myself, there is still judgement and anger lurking in there, ready to escape when triggered. I don't like falling back into people pleasing habits when I have learned that it only brings disappointment and resentment. I long to be kinder and more forgiving than I actually am.

I am grateful that I have come out into the light, and have way fewer places to hide, from others or from myself. I want to be accountable for my actions, thoughts and prejudices. Where I fail, I can recognize it and apologize. Simply having permission to make mistakes is a powerful thing that I wish I knew before the age of 37, but we can only work with insight as we become aware of it.

Part of not hiding who I really am means owning up to the darker sides of my human heart. When you spend a lifetime judging and feeling responsible for the decisions of others, it's not as easy as flipping a switch inside of you and becoming instantly loving and simultaneously able to maintain boundaries. There is a "one step forward and two steps back" dance which occurs when you are changing aspects of who you are.

It's all part of a process, and I need to improve in the area of extending grace to myself and to others. I hold myself to a high standard, sometimes an impossible one, and unconsciously I extend that bar to the people around me. When they don't hit it, I must manage my own judgements.

I have no idea if there is a limit for offering healthy love and support, or how you know you've reached the limit. It sounds good to say that love should always be unconditional between people, but how do you manage your expectations when they are repeatedly unmet, or when the person's actions are abhorrent to you and your sense of justice? I know for sure that I am no one's judge, especially because I know how black my own heart is. I also know I'm not responsible for other people's decisions, either good or bad, and that I would prefer to love instead of instruct. Beyond those things, it gets murky and I don't feel I'm standing on solid ground.

I honestly don't know how to love and support when I've been let down and when I don't see positive change in people. I'm hoping I will figure this out before I die, because I think it's an important part of living peaceably with my fellow man, but I don't like to be walked on while I'm showing love to someone. I struggle with this double-edged sword; it's easy to love those who are good to you, but significantly harder to offer that love to those who offend us with their words or deeds.

It does help to remember that we are all broken, to one degree or another. It takes time for people to work on themselves, and we can only improve in small ways at any given time, so the process is long and filled with ups and downs. I think that if I see forward motion I always feel better about the relationship. Perfection is not the goal, but growth and awareness of our shortcomings is important to me.

The inside of my heart has come a long way from where I was a few years ago, but I know I still have a lot of scrubbing to do to feel better about its condition. Patience is required, and healthy doses of humour and grace in equal measure. I want to learn how to love, even when it is uncomfortable to do so, and find the line between boundaries and support for people who don't always feel safe to me. The answers are often unclear, but as my confidence in myself grows, I believe I will one day see clearer answers than I do today.

Friday, January 21, 2011


We had a wonderful guest speaker at our mom's group yesterday, and she talked about how we don't allow our kids to be frustrated in our society, and frustration is how they learn problem-solving skills. Such a simple statement, and yet it struck me as life changing in its simplicity and truth. She said, "We hate to see our kids cry, and so we do anything possible to help them so they don't feel upset, and then they don't know how to fix problems on their own."

She told this story, which illustrated her point beautifully: Your child wants to go to a movie on opening night. You know that it will be busy and you foresee how disappointed your child will be when it's sold out and he can't see the film, so you promise him an ice cream if he isn't able to see the movie. You get to the theatre five minutes before the movie is to begin, join the huge line, and get to the counter to discover that there are no more tickets. Your child is not frustrated because he has the ice cream as a consolation prize.

If the same story holds true but you don't promise an ice cream, when you get to the front of the line, your child will cry and stamp his feet in frustration that he cannot see the movie. When you get home and the storm has passed, you have the opportunity to talk about it with him, and encourage him to strategize how he could avoid this disappointment in the future (i.e. leave earlier for the cinema, don't go on opening night, buy tickets ahead of time).

This story was so simple, and yet it illustrated a powerful truth. We learn through frustration. When we don't get what we want, we are forced to find a way around the problem to locate a workable solution so we avoid the frustration in the future. We must allow our children to experience this process for themselves, with cause and effect for their own choices, so they have the life skills they need to solve problems and not be defeated by setbacks.

There is no doubt that it hurts us as parents to see our children suffer, in small ways or big ones. But life is about suffering, and surviving, and eventually thriving. If we block their suffering and take it on ourselves, they are missing out on valuable opportunities to grow and develop a resiliency which will last them a lifetime. I don't want to cheat my kids out of that, so I will be looking for new ways to put this concept of frustration into practice.

We can support them through difficulties, and help them with their problem solving skills, but we shouldn't be taking the problems away from them. It's important to provide love and support, and a shoulder for them to cry on, but in the end, they must feel the frustration in order to creatively find ways around it.

I'm grateful to our speaker for providing this flash of parenting insight to me, but it works in all relationships. We can support and love our friends and family members through difficult situations, but in the end each person is responsible to solve the problems on their own, and those solutions provide life skills which will sustain them over the long haul.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Discipline Decisions

Last night, Ava and I had a blow-out. These kinds of storms are few and far between in our relationship, but when they come, they are devastating and ferocious. Looking back, I see that this collision had been building for more than a week, with Ava testing a lot of discipline limits and pushing the envelope of her behaviour, which is a normal part of life as an almost eight year old, but it ends up doing a slow boil, until the pot spills over and burns everyone in sight.

She was playing on my iPhone and I was returning some e-mails while William was in the bath, and Jason was in there supervising him. I asked her to go into her room and practice her three songs for her voice lessons. She said, "When I'm done this game." That went on for quite a long time, until I finally raised my voice and told her to turn it off and go.

She did, clearly unhappy about it, and on her way past me, she "tapped" me on the shoulder (in her words) but it felt more like a karate chop, and hurt for quite a long time after she did it. This kind of reaction was so unlike her, and I'm afraid to say that I flipped out. I began screaming at her, and told her to go in her room until I had calmed down enough to talk to her. She stood crying in the hallway, and no matter how loud I got, she didn't do as I asked her to do.

I felt like a bull seeing the red flag waved in front of me. Generally speaking, Ava has always been obedient, especially when someone is angry with her. But last night she was standing up to me, and I recognized it as part of her development that needed to find expression somewhere, but I wasn't about to lose this particular fight.

Over dinner, we had decided as a family to play the Scene It Disney DVD game we received for Christmas, and the kids were excited about this plan. I put Ava in her room and told her she would not be playing the game with us as her discipline for hitting me and for refusing to go in her room when she was asked to, and she sobbed like her heart was breaking.

When you are angry as a parent, it's sort of satisfying to hear your child cry and know that you have reached them with your discipline of choice. But as the sobbing continued and turned into the gasping for breath which I remember as a child when I was deeply distressed, my resolve began to waver and I thought about how easy it would be to break down and let her play with us, but the lesson I wanted her to learn couldn't be achieved by giving in to her demands.

When I felt enough time had gone by, I went in to talk with her, and steeled my heart against those red-rimmed eyes and shuddering breaths. She apologized, again and again, and said that she only meant to tap me, and that she didn't mean to be disobedient. She almost broke me when she said, "You told me it was okay to make a mistake, and I just made a mistake."

Ava tends toward perfectionism, like I do, and I've been working to let her know it's okay to mess up. Last night I thought for a moment before responding to her statement, and I eventually said, "It's always okay to make a mistake, but daddy's job and my job as your parents is to help you experience the consequences of your behaviour, and tonight your consequence is not playing the game with us and going to bed early. Tomorrow we'll all start again, with a fresh slate."

She still cried softly in her bedroom while the three of us played the DVD game in the family room, and after I had read with William and put him to bed, I went to do home reading with her, and the storm had passed. I was able to apologize for screaming, and I heard her say sorry without it having that forced "get-out-of-jail-free" feeling to it, and we had moved past the disturbance which came between us.

Discipline is hard. Ava will likely only understand when she is a parent how much easier it would have been to give in to her last night. As her will and personality become stronger over the next ten years, we will have many more of these incidents, and I'm glad for what I learned last night. It's hard at the moment, but bears fruit if we can lovingly hold our ground, and forgive the mistakes while holding firm consequences, so that they will look back and remember that they didn't get away with it.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Victim Mentality

The victim mentality makes me angry because it's so futile. It's useless for the person who suffers from the affliction, because they spin in the same circles again and again, lashing out to blame everyone else for their inability to progress forward in any kind of straight line, and it damages all relationships when the other person is pressured to carry the victim's stress and anxiety for them.

I must clarify that I am not referring to victims of crime or assault when I use the term "victim", for there are true victims who have been injured by someone else and deserve empathy and caring assistance, and then there are people who suffer from a victim mentality, where nothing is ever their responsibility and therefore they feel powerless to effect change in their lives.

The victim mentality creates ruts so deep that people become mired in their own mud, and have no idea how to break free. Taking responsibility for past mistakes and wounds that you've inflicted is the way to get out of your own mess. I have learned that with crystal clarity this year. I used to be afraid to accept my own failures, preferring to pretend that I was as close to perfection as I could get, and forcing blame onto anyone else so I didn't have to take any myself.

That method of blame leads to the victim mentality, which leads to the inability to manage your own life. After walking through this and making significant changes so that I could forgive myself and others for where I had hurt and been hurt, and accepting responsibility for where I had failed, I find that now I have an extremely low tolerance for this "woe-is-me" complex in other people.

I have to remind myself that my goal is to love and not judge, and that eventually each person will probably discover that they aren't moving forward when they are blaming others for what is going wrong in their own lives, and I have to accept that it may take a long time for them to get there. I am not responsible for other people's victim mentalities. They must work through it themselves, and feel their own hurt and pain, and come to the other side so they can move forward. I know this in theory, but in practice when I come up against it again and again, I find my anger rising, and I have to step back and deal with my own tide of emotion.

We all do things because we get something from them. There is no other reason any of us do anything. There is always a payoff, and for the victim mentality, the payoff is avoiding real responsibility, and deflecting it onto others. The key is for the others not to take any of it on, because it doesn't actually belong to them. We are all damaged and broken; the difference is whether or not you can admit it, look at it without flinching, say sorry for what you have done, and move out of your behavioural rut.

Counselling really helps in these situations. I needed a year of weekly sessions with a Master's student (the only therapy I could possibly afford thirteen years ago) to get to the bottom of what I needed to work through at that time, and those insights have carried me through to this day, providing the necessary skills to work through the new issues which crop up on a regular basis.

There is no shame in admitting when you have reached the end of your rope and you need help. We all need help, and none of us are perfect, and anyone who says they are is either outright lying or simply deluded. I've walked this path of blaming others for stuff I needed to own and change, and I know now that it's a dead-end road, overflowing with hurt and frustration for me and for those who love me.

If you want to change, you can. There is always another option to the victim mentality, and it will bring you further in your personal growth than you could ever dream, and when you look back you won't believe how far you've come. I know because I lived that change, and am still living it, and will never stop because it's the only way I've found to genuinely grow and soften your heart enough to love yourself and others. I want to hurt less and love more, and taking my share of the responsibility gave me the power to stop blaming others and start living a life fully under my own control.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Into the Light

Yesterday, when I saw the incredible sunrise, the phrase "into the light" went through my head. I loved the sound of the words, rolling them around in my mind, and realized how true they are for how I feel at this moment. I have walked into the light, with no more hiding in the shadows, and living fully as myself is a freeing experience.

When we try to be someone that we are not in order to please others or avoid conflict, we pay a high personal price. I was willing to pay that price for far too long, cheating myself out of living authentically and knowing who I really am. It takes confidence to live life in all of your individuality, and I didn't possess that confidence for most of my life.

Deciding to go for my dream to be a professional writer has built up that confidence over the last two years, and taken me places I hadn't dreamed I could go. I have burrowed deep inside of myself, looked at many of the places which were dark and frightening, and slowly walked through them. The pain at times was terrible, and overwhelming, but when I got to the other side of each particular issue, I walked out into the light.

Hiding is easier and safer, but every so often you go through a crisis within yourself, and unless you deal with the problem, it comes back again and again. I was tired of living that way, putting out fires that were caused in the first place by my refusal to stand up for who I am and what I believe, and when I faced down my fears and crept out of the shadows, I saw how much easier it is to live in the light.

Now I am the same with every group of people. I don't bend myself to fit the group I'm in the way I used to. Now I am me, with my strengths, failures, fears and dreams in every situation. Others have to choose whether to accept me or reject me, but it won't change who I am. The potential to be hurt is much greater when you live in the light, because the light exposes you to the world, but I was hurting myself much worse by pretending for all of those years.

This process doesn't happen overnight. It takes a lifetime to fully grow into who we are, and we have the option of changing at any given moment. I wish I would have started earlier, but you can begin moving into the light at any time. I started small, by expressing an opinion which I knew would be unpopular with someone, and standing up to the consequences. When I discovered that the world didn't cave in around me, I tried it again, and again, until I eventually understood how I really felt about any given topic, and built the confidence to express that opinion in any group or setting.

For me, that was the key to coming into the light. I did it over and over, and wrote my opinions without fear of reprisal (that's not entirely accurate, as I did fear the outcome, but I did it anyway) and one day, I realized that I wasn't hiding who I am any longer. For me, there will never be another way to live. I've hidden my true self in the shadows, and now I've brought my true self into the light for all to see, and I won't ever go back.

If you have a minute, have a read of this story in the Rocky View Weekly paper today. It's about my writing dream, and the All-Day Write-In scheduled for February 12th. It's all part of naming myself as a writer, and laying claim to my dream in a public way, and bringing that part of who I am fully into the light.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Better To Love Than Be Right

My fabulous pastor spoke about the importance of story yesterday, on the same day that I finished the book Story by Robert McKee, and I like that kind of coincidence, which usually isn't much of a coincidence at all. The book has radically altered my perspective, for my writing but also for how I live my life, offering me a kind of permission to pursue the enduring power of story-telling.

My pastor did the same thing, highlighting two important things that Jesus did: when he was asked a question, most of the time he responded either with a question or a story. He didn't have a ready answer, he didn't argue his point, and it wasn't critical that he walk away having convinced the other person of anything. He wasn't in the convincing business. He modeled the idea that it's better to love than to be right.

I think that this idea of answering questions with questions, or telling more stories in conversation with people might just revolutionize our relationships. I have come to understand that when people ask questions, they are trying to find out answers, but I don't have to give them answers. How can I, when I have so many unanswered questions of my own? We are all on the same journey of life, with similar setbacks and triumphs, and I would prefer to be helped along my way, supported and loved, than to be instructed in your views of right and wrong.

The power of story is that we can access the deeper emotions and meanings which are common to all mankind, and discover them in a way that might be different for each person. A story is not a sermon where we listen and learn; in a story we interact and are changed, often without realizing that is happening. I want to connect with others through emotion in my writing, but also in my relationships and in the "Mondays and Tuesdays" of my life. After hearing my pastor yesterday, I see that it's possible to do exactly that, and my attention has been caught and held by the practical nature of living this out.

I want to love instead of being right. When I've interacted with someone, I want them to walk away and feel cared for and heard, not converted to my point of view. It's so freeing to walk away from all of that. Every person is responsible for themselves - their own beliefs, dreams, pain, joy and actions. If we all looked after ourselves, we would be able to get along on an entirely new level, where we don't demand so much from one another.

Answering questions with thoughtful questions and interacting with people through story is a new concept to me, but in many ways it is as old as time itself. I'm looking forward to searching out ways to make this a reality in my life from this point forward.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

No Text Without Subtext

Earlier in this blog, I complained about being overly attuned to the emotional subtext behind people's words in conversations. I have always had a hypersensitive antenna for the nonverbal cues of body language and actions which often contradict a person's words. In Robert McKee's book Story, I recently read this brilliant sentence, "There is no text without subtext."

He was referring to the fact that in any movie scene, if the action and dialogue is only about what it appears to be about, the scene is dead and won't play. In all human interaction, there is text and then subtext. I recognized this idea instantly, because I've seen it my whole life, but never given voice to it before. I felt a little less alone upon reading that one sentence, and more acutely aware of how this knowledge of subtext can help me as a writer.

It made me want to rip into my screenplay, searching for the subtext between the characters in any given scene. What I always saw as a personal weakness I now understand to be a strength. I know it has helped me to be a better parent, because when my kids are saying that nothing is wrong, but their facial expressions and body language are telling me that something is wrong, I can ignore their words and focus on their subtext, which is telling the truth when the words are unable to.

The meaning of our lives is found under the surface, not externally where everyone can see it. Our purpose resides in the deepest layers of our souls, and it provides the subtext to all of our interactions. Most of the time we simply aren't aware of it, but that doesn't mean that it isn't always functioning on some level. I feel like I have permission now to plumb these depths, within myself but also within my relationships, to find endless permeations of emotion to describe and explore.

It's like opening up a whole new world, one without any maps or precedents, just inner landscapes that have always existed and were waiting to be discovered. The great writers throughout history have uncovered these lands, and described them so that we immediately recognize ourselves. These subtexts provide a bridge from one person to another, because we are all hiding these fears and wonders from each other, but are looking for places to connect through them.

Today I'm grateful for this fresh understanding. I recognize that it takes a lifetime to really grasp all of the intricacies of our own subtexts and to find them in others, and perhaps even longer to be able to describe them so they hold meaning for other people. But for today, just the knowledge is enough, and I have the rest of my life to improve on what I know to be true: there is no text without subtext.

Saturday, January 15, 2011


It's hard to open up our hearts and trust when we have been hurt. Many things keep us from trusting, like fear and rejection and pain we've incurred in the past when we have been vulnerable with others. The depth of our relationships is inversely proportionate to the level of trust that exists. When it's there in spades and it hasn't been broken, the relationship is mutually satisfying and generally safe for both people inside of it.

Because we are all damaged, most of our relationships bend and break at some point, and then trust has to be rebuilt. With God this principle is also true. Our perception is what determines our reality, and when we perceive that God has let us down or hurt us, we are often slow to trust him again. I don't think God is as concerned by this process as we are. He doesn't move away from us, but we move away from him, sometimes when life is hard and also when it's good and we feel we don't need his peace and love and grace.

Trust is an important factor within ourselves. When our confidence is low, we don't believe in ourselves, and don't move forward in our actions. Baby steps are good in this situation, as a way to prove to ourselves that we can do what we are afraid that we can't do. When we master something small, again and again, eventually we build confidence to try for the bigger things, and our trust in ourselves slowly grows and becomes something we can rely on.

So much of life is fragile, and trust is at the top of the list. It can be built up over years and years, and broken in a single moment, and then it takes time to bank it up again. When the trust is damaged between people, each person must do their part to see it grow and blossom. One person can't traverse the entire distance and do all of the work. That's not a healthy model for any relationship, and I know, because I've tried and it doesn't work. You can only own your part, and the other person must do a similar amount of work, or the relationship will be hopelessly lopsided.

Sometimes you can't make it work, no matter how hard you try, and then you have to step back and hope that in time it might be different. There are no guarantees with something as tender and unpredictable as human relationships. Even within ourselves, we can't foresee the kind of opposition we might face, and if we will be strong enough to withstand the forces that can come against us. And we see God through our own damaged eyesight, not as he really is, so our relationship with him is flawed and has the potential to change at any time.

As we become healthier within ourselves, everything becomes different. We change, and our circumstances (or our reaction to them) also change. With every inch of ground we gain in our confidence, our ability to trust in a healthy way also grows, and we can see where we are safe and where we should draw a boundary line and wait to proceed.

There are no hard and fast answers when it comes to trust. Our intuition is important, as are flags from our past wounds and fears which warn us against repeating past hurts. We have to feel our way, and do the best we can to offer our trust where it's being reciprocated, and guard ourselves when we need to be cautious.

Friday, January 14, 2011


I have to keep a close eye on my obsessive tendencies. My dad struggled with obsessive-compulsive disorder for most of his life, and I saw firsthand what unhealthy obsessions can do to your sanity and relationships. Being aware of my all-or-nothing activity swings is the best way to look for early warning signs that something is off balance.

Over the Christmas break, I slowed down in an entirely new way, appreciating leisure at a level I wasn't able to before. By the early part of January, I was rested and ready to go, setting new writing goals for each day and feeling great when I hit them. That went well for a few days, and suddenly I was writing until 10 pm again and not remembering to take a more relaxed approach.

Last night I ended up with a headache, pulsating behind my eyes while I got dinner on the table, and I realized with a start that I had fallen back into my old ways in a very short period of time. It's disappointing to consider how much we can learn to improve ourselves, but when it's time to put it into practice, we can easily slide back to how we used to be, without even realizing it.

If we pay attention to what our physical bodies and emotions are trying to tell us, we can make necessary adjustments. When she breathes in the wrong place or hits a note incorrectly, Ava's voice teacher says, "It takes three times of doing it right to form a new habit." They repeat the correct technique three times in a row, until it feels right to Ava. Perhaps I need to give myself more grace to take the time required to form new habits.

I don't want to do nothing or everything in this period of my life. I want to make choices which allow me to progress in what I'm writing, while spending quality time with my husband, kids and friends, and still provide space for leisure so I'm not grouchy and exhausted by four pm. I thought I was getting better at this balance, and then I hit some interference, but better to hit a speed bump than a brick wall.

Patience is required for personal change. I fully recognize that patience is not my strong suit. I want it right now, dammit. But life doesn't work like that, and changing aspects of who I am which have kept me functioning for 38 years don't change overnight. The word process means a series of actions, changes or functions bringing about a result. A series means one thing after another, building new habits to replace outdated ones, and the words used to define it imply that it takes time.

I think I will always struggle with my obsessions. These things are passed down in the genes the same as eye colour or body shape. If I am aware of this innate overdrive I can manage it a little better, and I'm grateful when my body tells me in the form of a headache or exhaustion that it's time to slow down and relax. Balance is the key, and although there are no easy answers to achieve it, working toward it day by day is a long process with many setbacks, but I want to keep walking this road.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Gap

The gap between expectation and reality is where all story conflict resides. I learned this by reading the excellent screenwriting manual Story by Robert McKee. Perhaps "learned" is not the right word, because I knew it already, but I didn't have such a succinct way to define it.

Most of life follows this rule. We expect something, and when the reality differs from what we hoped would happen, we have a problem to deal with. In his book, McKee talks about the difference between character and characterization when it comes to writing, but I think the definitions are also true of life as well. He says that characterization is all of the external things we see a person doing, but character is revealed when pressure is placed on a person to make a decision.

He states that choosing between right and wrong is no choice at all, because every person will choose good over evil, or at least their version of what is good. The interesting and real choices we face are much more complicated than that. They involve choosing between two things that are good, but we can only have one of them. Or choosing between two things that we don't want, but have to happen to us. Those choices, made under pressure, define who we really are.

Ever since I read that, I've been noticing how true it is in my life. The gap that widens between what I want to happen and what actually happens is where I'm forced to decide how I will proceed. Sometimes I'm happy with the decision I've made, and other times I'm disgusted with myself and have to alter the course I am on. We all face these gaps on a daily basis. Over time, the decisions we make form our character. We can present versions of ourselves to the world, in the form of our characterization, but our true character is revealed under pressure.

I like to think in these terms as it gives a sense of gravity to my choices which adds up over the long term. I would like to teach this to my kids, through my actions and choices, but also to describe the gap to them so they understand that there is often a difference between their expectations and reality. If I had known this in my childhood I think it would have helped me find my way as an adolescent and an adult, because I was continually setting myself up to be disappointed by people.

We cannot choose what happens to us, but we can always choose our response when the gap widens and we reveal what we are made of. When we fail to respond as we would have liked to, grace exists for that purpose. We are not perfect and never will be, but hopefully we are growing, a little each day, week, month and year, until it all adds up over a lifetime.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Unforced Rhythms of Grace

I've been enjoying the newest Brian Doerksen worship CD Level Ground (another Christmas gift - I love getting music for Christmas), and one of his songs is called Enter the Rest of God, and it contains a line which says, "Live the unforced rhythms of grace." My attention was caught and held by this lyric, as I have had the privilege of experiencing firsthand the benefits of grace this past year, and now understand that there is truly no other way I'd rather live.

Obviously Brian Doerksen has had some personal interaction with this concept, or he wouldn't have phrased it so beautifully in this peaceful song. He begins by saying, "Learn the unforced rhythms..." and then, "Live the unforced rhythms of grace." It really does feel this way to me, as though true grace is unforced. You can't summon it at will or make it happen on your own. Fighting against it is also a useless exercise. Simply surrendering to it and trusting it to carry you on its current has been tremendously eye opening for me.

I lived by the letter of the law for so much of my life, thinking that was what the Christian life was all about. I now have a radically different definition. I place mercy and grace much higher than judgement and rule books in my day to day existence now, and it's so much easier to feel peace and joy with this altered mindset. I have been learning about grace, and the freedom to make mistakes, and be loved anyway. I recognize my value in who I am, and not what I do, and that distinction has given me peace on a level that I couldn't begin to understand before.

Living out grace on a day-to-day basis is a new adventure. I love how fresh and enthusiastic I feel about this idea that if I fail, I can be forgiven. It's not about getting it right in this life, but instead a focus on love and kindness; trying and failing is much better than not trying at all. I was only pretending when I thought I had it all together, and when I pushed myself to never make mistakes or show weakness of any kind. Weakness and vulnerability are not the enemies I once perceived them to be. They are actually strengths, when we are brave enough to face our own limitations.

Stress is directly related to how much we expect from ourselves in any given situation. We have to be reasonable with ourselves, and untie our worth from our activities: they are not one and the same. Learning this has been life changing for me, and slowly learning and then living the unforced rhythms of grace has provided more freedom than anything I've discovered to this point.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Personal Safety

I wish I could deal with my fear, once and for all, and be past it. I get tired of coming up against the same anxieties again and again. Why does my faith desert me when I need it most? That should not be a rhetorical question, as I know I am in charge of whether I choose to fear or have faith, but sometimes I am overcome by my worries, and lose my way to get back to safety and stability in my own mind.

I worry about so much of what I can't control. If I'm safe in my house, with my loved ones within arm's reach, I'm more than happy to let the winds blow and the snow swirl. But that approach only works when we don't have anywhere pressing to be. Yesterday Jason had to go to work, and Ava had a voice lesson, and I don't like to be thought of as a wimp when everyone else is emerging from hibernation after a storm.

So he goes, and returns home safely, and I take Ava to a nearby city for her lesson, and fear bubbles up inside of me at the four fresh accidents in the intersection I'm sliding my way through. I can drive slowly, and feel in control of my safety, but I can't do anything about the other drivers who are rushing through yellow lights, and who don't have proper snow tires, and who seem oblivious to the fact that the roads are sheer ice.

Safety is a high priority for me, but the problem is that so many unpredictable things can happen. I recognize that this is true even when we haven't had fresh snow and wind. It's true anytime, but I can't dwell on that idea or I would never go anywhere at all. I'm trying to choose peace and joy, and panicking about being in an accident is not conducive to those calming emotions.

I suppose the answer is to bravely face up to the worst that could happen, and then trust God to take care of me and those I love. I can't tell my kids to manage their fear in this way and not model it myself. Sometimes it's easy, but most times it's not. The higher the stakes, the more challenging it becomes. I have to recognize that I am not in control and never will be. Weather is out of my control, as are the other drivers, and so is the timing that might put me in harm's way when I least expect it.

I have always been kept safe up until this point, and I wish that counted for more in my fearful mind. I would prefer to see the positive instead of the negative, but I seem to be wired to anticipate the worst possible scenario instead of assuming that I will be safe and okay. I need to put more trust in God, to carry me through as he always has before, and less stock in my own meager abilities.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Revised Goals

I am a person motivated by goals. Without them, I drift aimlessly for awhile, until I feel frustrated that I'm not accomplishing what I want to be doing. Goals help with this process, for I know whether I am hitting the mark or missing it.

When I had my revelation in November 2008 that my life was full and happy except that I wasn't writing and I wanted to be, I set a goal of writing three screenplay pages per day, and within a few months I had a completed first draft. After many years of mucking about wishing for something, I had it done in three months after I set a specific goal.

In mid-November of 2010, I took an intentional break from writing when I had a mini breakdown of sorts. Too much conflict with a lot of people in a short period of time, plus stress in our house with Jason's new council responsibilities on top of his insane work travel schedule, and trying spur-of-the-moment to write a novel for an online challenge all combined to add up to an overload, and something had to give.

I decided to offer myself a break from the rigorous schedule I had set up, and over the next six weeks I learned how to simply be, and relax in a way that I had never understood before. It was like heaven on earth to take a vacation from my own unreasonable demands, and relish in the joys of the Christmas holidays.

When the calendar turned to January, and every gift was unwrapped and every decoration stored in the basement for another year, my spirit rolled over and sat up in a metaphorical way, ready for something new. When I took the time to put my finger on what I was looking for, I felt the urge to return to my memoir and my novel. I decided to set a goal of writing four pages per day, for a total of 1000 words, in either or both of these works-in-progress.

For the last three days, I have surpassed this goal, finding the joy again in sitting down with an empty mind and watching words pour out to fill the screen. It's astonishing what is in my head and my heart, ready to escape if I will simply provide the opportunity.

I am currently reading Story, the hailed screenwriting book by Robert McKee, and learning so much which will make my next draft of my script even stronger. When I've finished the book, I'll find a way to add in a few pages per day of my screenplay rewrite, and hopefully be in a good groove with my word counts each day and add something else without toppling the whole house of cards.

It's important to listen to our subconscious. It will whisper to us when we are stressing ourselves out, and eventually scream to get our attention. I don't want to wait for another breakdown. I want to become more attuned to how I feel at any given time. I know that I don't have to do it all today, but I also know that I can do little bits at a time, for the little things add up to the big ones over time.

I think the key is our own awareness. When we are exhausted, we need rest. When we are too busy, we need leisure. When we are restless, we need a challenge. Goals help me with this part of the puzzle, and I understand now how important it is to keep them realistic. A to-do list as long as my arm becomes discouraging when I know I can't do it all in one day. I don't want to set myself up for failure, as my husband and my kids need my time and energy too. So I've set a modest four page goal for each day, and when I meet it, I feel on top of the world.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Control Freak

I have been celebrating how far I have come to let go of many of my control freak tendencies, but when they come back in force and I have to deal with them, it's always a little like a slap in the face. I was worried about Jason's safety when he flew home from Las Vegas on Friday night. A storm was developing which walloped us on Saturday and today with high winds, white-out driving conditions, and lots of snow. I have become a nervous flier after a turbulent flight to Edmonton many years ago, and I couldn't shake a feeling that something bad was going to happen on Friday night.

His flight was delayed, and while he was in the air, heavy fog began to gather outside. If he had landed on time, he would've missed the fog, and I wondered what was going on up in the skies. I felt a rush of relief and gratitude when he texted to say he had landed safely and was heading to his car. The snow didn't come until later, so he made it home without incident.

I felt a little silly after my freak-out, but our emotions are strange things. They trick our minds into worrying when we don't necessarily have cause to fear, but emotions aren't rational and can't be treated as though they are. They come on quickly, and we must walk through them to the other side where we can see clearly again, and understand rationally what is really going on. Fear and worry gets in the way of that.

When we all went to bed on Friday night, I felt so grateful for our safety as a family with a storm approaching. We woke up on Saturday and watched the weather develop into the blizzard that had been predicted, and we stayed warm and cozy together, with nowhere pressing to go. It was a wonderful feeling, and I soaked it up like a sponge.

In the afternoon, Jason ran to our local grocery store to get a few things to make pizza for supper. When he came home, he brought a movie by the Coen brothers, A Serious Man, which received lots of Oscar buzz last year but was a film I had zero desire to see. I wasn't very kind about the movie, having asked him to find a comedy for us to watch.

He made pizza, which was delicious as always, and for dessert he made baked apples. I've had these before and wasn't a fan of the mushy texture, and for some unknown reason, I decided to make my opinions on this subject well known around the dinner table. Of course, the kids rode high on my bad attitude and Jason's dessert was ruined by our negativity. He was not impressed with me, and rightly so. If he had been as critical of my movie choice or cooking, I would have been furious.

I took a few minutes to think about it, and realized that it goes back to my preference to be in control. I like to pick the movies, and I like to have meals tailored to my preference. But I am not the only person in this family, or in the world. Jason likes baked apples, and since he was making them, that should have been enough for me.

I apologized, and we were able to enjoy the rest of our evening together. (We only made it through thirty minutes of the movie, then gave up and watched Conan on the PVR, so we ended up with comedy after all). It is surprising to me how fast our moods and feelings can change. In a matter of hours, I swung from unbelievably grateful for Jason's safety to nitpicking about small things and being downright rude to him. This is how human nature works. Thankfully, we have apologies and forgiveness to sew up these wounds we incur in our relationships.

I used to expect perfection from myself, and I don't anymore. I mess up, the same if not more than everyone else, and when I am unkind I can look at the root cause (in this case, my desire to tailor a situation to my needs instead of someone else's) and say sorry when I am hurtful to someone else. It was a good lesson I learned. Perfection is not required, but humility goes a long way to fix something we have damaged unconsciously with our imperfect actions.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Self Doubt

Self doubt is an insidious creature which rears its ugly head from time to time to tell us lies about ourselves. I'm a big believer in looking honestly at myself and making changes where they are required, but that is an entirely different process from doubting myself and my beliefs.

When people in our circles have strong opinions about something, it's hard to go against them. Many of my spiritual and social ideologies have changed radically in the last few years, and communicating those changes without inciting rage becomes a minefield, where bombs can explode violently in my face at any given time. I have come to accept that this is part of the kind of writing I want to do. Sometimes I am confident in this decision. Other times, I doubt myself.

Good friends are helpful here, as they have helped me find my footing when I felt the ground shift beneath my feet. When I am unsure, often my friends are sure for me, and they shine a flashlight on enough truth to get me out of my dark space and back onto the road I'm traveling. I'm beyond grateful for these friends, who have offered me a hand to pull me from quicksand on more than one occasion.

When we doubt ourselves, it's always helpful to look critically at the issue facing us. If we have enough personal fortitude, we can manage some differences of opinion and not collapse under the strain. There is a tremendous amount of freedom in the revelation that not everyone has to think like I do. I used to surround myself with people who resembled me in thoughts and actions, but breaking away from that to expose myself to other ways of being in the world has broadened my horizons and made me more tolerant of others.

Turning back because I am afraid of what others might think doesn't work for me anymore. Many of my decisions used to be based on this criteria, and in the end it is extremely unsatisfying. I must proceed in what I wish to do with my life, while considering the feelings of others to the best of my ability, but not making fear my driving motivator.

People pleasing only takes you so far, and then you drop, with a painful thud, to the ground. It is hard to make any kind of lasting impact on anyone if you are pleasing other people ahead of yourself when you express your ideas. I believe this concept wholeheartedly, and must forge ahead, even when I feel or perceive resistance from others. If we back down in one area, we'll back down in a lot of areas, and I wasted a lot of years living that way.

It's not wrong to stand up for ourselves. I have worked hard to be able to access and own my identity, and I must stay true to who I am and what I have to say. I do not expect everyone to agree with me, and I respect the opinions of others, provided they respect mine. We are all in this life together, and I would prefer to be encouraged instead of instructed. When self doubt comes to me again, I hope the skills I've learned during this time will help me recognize and defeat my people pleasing tendencies. Old habits die hard, but I'm a new person now.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Love Has Made Me Unafraid

Jason gave me the new Amy Grant album Somewhere Down the Road for Christmas, and I've been enjoying her soulful lyrics and soothing melodies while I drive my kids hither and thon. One of her songs contains a line which says, "Love has made me unafraid." The song is about all of the change in our lives, and how with more love and understanding comes a courage to be who we really are without fear of the consequences.

I have been living this out for awhile now, and discovering that it is both the best and the hardest way to live. It's easier to pretend, and to hide your true self from others, because you can't be hurt in quite the same way. Living authentically as yourself in all circumstances threatens and upsets quite a few people who are important to you, and finding ways to manage that has been challenging.

Some days I feel as brave as a lion, like I could take on anyone and do anything. Those are the good days, and during them I feel certain that I could never go back to the people pleaser I once was. But then the hard times come, and I am confronted by people I love about the way I am now, and the fear overtakes me like a sudden storm, blinding me with doubt and sorrow.

All I know to do is keep on walking (another fabulous Amy Grant lyric). I don't want to hurt anyone with my words, my countenance or my actions. But sometimes I do. There is collateral damage when we value ourselves higher than we used to on the priority scale, and the loved ones in our lives must adjust to our new approach. It becomes rocky, and even though we know the changes in us are good ones, it sometimes takes some convincing for others to see the benefits.

There are no manuals in life. There is only instinct, hopefully cloaked in kindness and mercy, and clear communication helps to grease the wheels of our relationships. I always want to do the right thing, but I'm recognizing that it's not always possible to know what the right thing is, or to be able to carry it out. All we can do is our best in any given situation, and ask for forgiveness when we miss the mark.

There are days where I know for sure that love has made me unafraid. And then there are the other days, where I cower in fear and wonder if I'm on the wrong road. I have to understand that I can't get it right all of the time. If I'm wrong, I can admit to that and try to fix it going forward, but I can't be inspired all of the time about the right thing to do for each person in every situation.

It takes two people to communicate with each other. Guessing and reading into situations has gotten me in trouble before, and when I get on those roads I know now to look for an exit sign. I can only do my part, and must let the other side slip through my fingers. I wish it wasn't so very hard to let go, but it's important to learn how to do it now instead of later, and be gentle with myself when I fall back into the old, comfortable behaviour patterns.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Tough Guy Swagger

Often we pretend a bravado that we don't really feel. It's part of the human condition to behave this way. This sort of inauthenticity is generally praised in our western culture as a kind of tough guy swagger, pushing us past our fears and weaknesses and causing us to appear heroic. I think it's dangerous in the arena of our emotions because it creates a type of split personality.

I struggle with this. I want to be honest at all times, and act the same with every different group I'm in, but sometimes I don't recognize my tough guy swagger until I'm deep into it, and only later do I realize that I wasn't being authentically me in the situation I was in. This creates a disconnected feeling which is all too familiar, and it leads to a sense of sadness and frustration.

Coping mechanisms take a long time to develop, and a longer time to dismantle. There is that moment of epiphany when we recognize what we are doing and decide to change one of our patterns, but then it's a slippery slope of one step forward and one back for the next while. It's important to be patient with ourselves while we are in the process of change, and recognize that we are trying to improve ourselves, and that it requires commitment, perseverance, and grace when we fail.

I don't like to admit weakness. Most of us don't. I'd prefer to be thought of as strong and not weak, but admitting to pain and fear is not necessarily weakness. I have to change my mindset in this area. If I am committed to being real at all times with my friends and family, then I must be able to admit where I am vulnerable and quivery, even if it feels horribly uncomfortable in the beginning. I don't want to pretend anymore, to others or to myself.

Being perfect at all times is not an option open to any of us. When we are growing and changing we are usually hurting, and it's okay to admit that. The first person I need to be honest with is myself. If I can't face up to my vulnerable side, then I can't be authentic and true to who I really am.

I'm grateful for the early warning system of our emotions, which lets us know that something is off when we wouldn't otherwise be aware of any discrepancy. I'm learning to stop and pay attention to these twinges in my spirit. Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) helps me source out the problem so I can bring it to the forefront of my awareness, where I have the option of dealing with it, instead of ignoring the feeling until it burrows deep into my subconscious, lying in wait for another chance to trip me up.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Intimacy in a marriage is fascinating to me. When it's there, and it's working well, each marriage is like a secret club that only two people belong to, with quiet rhythms known only to the husband and wife. When it's absent, you feel the loss as keenly as a death, and you notice everyone else's patterns of intimacy in a new way because you are off kilter with your own spouse.

Long marriages have seasons, both good and bad, and if you can persevere through the hard times, the good ones come again. When we were newly married, I found myself in panic mode when any disagreements would arise between us. I viewed conflict as the ultimate enemy for far too many years, and worried we were splitting up when the easy intimacy between us was disrupted for any reason.

I'm so glad now to have ridden out those early storms to arrive at this place, where we have built a base of security where I can flee when the cold winds blow. Every valley and mountain top in marriage adds another layer to your relationship history. Your stories end up weaving themselves effortlessly into the fabric of your past, and that blanket sustains you as time goes on.

I have hammered marriage choices into my kids from the time they could talk. A good pick for a husband or a wife determines your daily quality of life from the moment you begin living together. Every person has qualities that will eventually drive you around the bend, but I've reminded my kids on a near daily basis that they should pick someone kind, with a good sense of humour, when they are ready to fall in love.

I recognize that you can't choose who you fall head over heels in love with, but you have to involve your head when you are in the process of losing your heart. I am a child of divorce, and therefore I polled my friends and family mercilessly when Jason and I were dating, to be sure I wasn't making a mistake. They all gave him a 100 percent approval rating, but I was overly cautious in the early days of our relationship, and I think that was a good thing.

I have never once regretted my choice to marry Jason, and we have slowly built a relationship which is satisfying to both of us over the course of the fourteen years we have been together. We have had many detours on the road to intimacy, as every couple does, but when we are both moving in the same direction, and placing each other's needs ahead of our own, and laughing at one other's jokes, we are moving forward a little each day. I don't want to forget to be grateful for the intimacy we have at this moment, and be aware of its fragility so I treat it with the respect it deserves.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Faith Instead of Fear

For the past few weeks, Ava's anxiety level has been slowly rising. At the beginning of Grade One, she went through a period of acute fear about being at school all day away from me. We involved the school counselor, who took her on a tour of the school, pointing out the safety features and focusing on how the staff keeps students safe and secure. After that, her fears seemed to abate and she was able to enjoy her days in the classroom.

This time her anxiety seemed centered on the kittens. When we would come home from being out, she searched the house top to bottom to find them, and couldn't relax until she knew they were safe. She began asking questions about them getting stuck places or hurt inside of the house. Last night it reached a fever pitch, and she was crying and worrying when one of the cats was sleeping in a hidden spot and didn't appear when she looked for him.

I was doing the dishes from dinner and Jason was giving William a bath. Because it was the end of the day, and I was tired too, I became frustrated and told her repeatedly to stop freaking out, to calm down, and that the cat would come out when he woke up. I told her she couldn't spend her life in fear, but when I actually stopped washing dishes and looked at her, I recognized that she needed more than this kind of advice.

Our emotions take us hostage sometimes, and when they are as intense as Ava's were last night, they must be confronted. I've learned that this past year. You can't give advice and expect anxiety to disappear. We needed to talk it through. I dried my hands on the dish towel, and asked her to come into the living room with me. We sat down, I breathed in and out a few times to calm down while she was crying, and I waited for some kind of direction.

Within moments, that still, small voice which I have come to rely on for any situation if I will remember to wait for it, came and gave me an idea. Very gently I said to Ava, "I think what is happening is that you are almost 8 years old, and you are realizing that the world is not quite as safe as you thought it was when you were William's age, and you are worried that if you don't control everything, something bad could happen to you or the cats or your family."

If I thought she was crying earlier, when I said this, her dam burst and she sobbed like I've never heard her sob before. Simply naming our worst fears has a healing power inside of it. I could see that she felt better instantly knowing that she wasn't alone. We had a long discussion about how the possibility of loss is intertwined with love, and there is no way to separate the two.

She watched two of her fish die this past year, and grieved both of those losses, and now she loves the kittens with a fierce and protective love, and I could see the fear growing that they might dart out the door and get hurt, or the possibility that they could get hurt in our house and she could lose them. With maturity comes an understanding of some of these concepts that was magically absent before, and spending fifteen minutes talking it through, hearing her fears and responding to each of them in turn, was powerful for both of us.

We can't keep our kids little and innocent forever. Eventually their eyes open to some of the dangers present in the world we live in, and it's our job to give them the best coping skills we can for these fears and worries. I am learning that more information is better than less, and identification is powerful. When Ava heard that I also struggle with specific fears, she felt less alone and understood in a new way.

It felt good to impart some of what I've learned this year; that she is in control of her thoughts and can choose to fear or to have faith that we will all be taken care of and stay safe. I told her what I've been learning at church about peace and joy instead of fear and panic. I showed her my clenched fist and explained that I used to hold on so tight, trying to control everything and everyone, but now I am practicing opening my fist and giving up that control to God, and it's a much more satisfying way to exist in the world.

We'll need many more of these conversations as she grows into an adult, and William will eventually have his turn to ask these questions and receive the best answers that I know how to give. I'll be further along in my journey by the time he asks them, and maybe I'll have better skills to give him, but for last night, I did the best that I could to help my sweet and sensitive young daughter, and for now, that's enough.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Might as Well Stop Pretending

Michael English has a song called Time, and one of the lyrics says, "I'm starting to see the ending, might as well stop pretending..." and he goes on from there to talk about how all of our days are numbered and how much better it is to be true and real for the time we are alive. I've heard this song many times, but yesterday, driving home from my spa birthday treat, alone in my van, the lyrics soothed me in an entirely new way.

I feel so peaceful right now compared to other points in my life. All of the things that used to cause me to worry and panic, just don't register anymore. The time we have is precious, and in reaching the halfway mark of my life, I see that I want to enjoy life to its fullest. To love more and judge less. To stop pretending and be real with those around me.

Starting a new year is always a good time to assess where we are and where we are going. I love how different I am now compared to a year ago, when I began this blogging experiment, and I wonder if I would've had the same type of personal growth if I hadn't been recording it on a daily basis. I know for sure that I will never go back to who I was. I want to keep going in the direction of change and improvement. There is more softening to be done in the hard dirt of my soul. I can be kinder and more forgiving. I can let go of more pretenses and develop the courage to be fully myself.

We can become anything we want to be. We are not limited by what we were once taught, or what we see other people doing. We can change, at any moment in time, to be better versions of who we are. There are no limits except for the ones we put on ourselves. Over this last year, people have asked me how you get over worrying about what other people think of you. For me, the answer was baby steps. Saying things that I believed but that other people didn't, and realizing that the sky didn't cave in because I dared to disagree.

When we know ourselves and speak what we believe, it has an impact. That impact might have negative or positive repercussions, but in the end, we own our ideas and values, and have the right to communicate them. We won't all agree with each other, and being pushed out of our comfort zone is the only way we change and grow. It's never easy but always worth it, and when you look back and see how far you've come, the gratitude you feel for the courage you now have is astonishing.

Getting older helps here. Moving into my late thirties, with my kids a little older and more able to do things on their own, gave me the push I needed to stop pretending and make my life count in ways I wasn't able to before. There is only so much time left, and I want to spend it being genuine and true to who I am, pursuing my dreams with my whole heart and mind, and becoming a little kinder every single day.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Holding the Line

One of the biggest lessons I have recently learned is that I can only work on myself. I can't fix what ails other people. I can help if I am asked or I see a place I can offer assistance, but I cannot do the work for other people. Everyone has their own process; their own path to walk and emotional baggage to sort through and manage.

My personality would prefer to charge in and make things easier for others, but I'm slowly understanding that I can't do that anymore. The personal price for me is far too high, and I am simply delaying the emotional work that the other person needs to do in order to heal from what is hurting them.

We are all responsible only for ourselves. We are here to support each other, and love the best that we can, but we cannot take over and fix anyone else's pain. I wish I would have learned this years ago, but we can only work with what becomes clear to us at any given moment. I didn't know this years ago, but I know it now, and I'm responsible to change my behaviour according to what I now understand to be true.

This hands-off philosophy is extremely liberating. It frees me up to spend my energy and resources on the things that are directly under my control, instead of stressing over someone else's problems. Sometimes it may be easier to attempt to fix another person's issue as a way to avoid looking at my own, but it puts the responsibility in the wrong place.

I'm tired of carrying other people's worries. If each of us accepted responsibility for what is ours, and left all of the rest, the world would be a more peaceful and loving place. I want to teach my children how to find the line between their emotional baggage and someone else's, and defend that line. I don't want them worrying about my pain and anxiety; that is for me to carry and manage. They will have enough to think about if they are honest about their own process. I see it as part of my parenting role to help them with this defining and maintaining, but the best way to teach is to live it myself.

Any change takes a long time to properly implement. There is always a period where it feels strange to be trying the new way, but if we persist, a better habit will eventually be formed, and that will become the new standard for us. I know this hands-off philosophy will eventually feel more comfortable. For now, it still hurts, and causes me stress, but I cannot take on responsibility for someone else's emotional process. Mine is enough, and I must hold my line, even when it doesn't feel comfortable to do so.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A New Year

On January 1st last year, I was still toying with the idea of beginning a blog, but didn't actually begin until the middle of the month. I have changed and grown by leaps and bounds over this year, and it feels good to start off a new year with a firmer grasp on who I am and where I am going with my writing journey.

I played around with my blog design this morning, thinking that it might be a good idea to change my colour scheme for a new year. What do you think of the purple? When I was done, I instantly missed the soothing blue from 2010, but decided that it's a good thing to push me from my comfort zone and try something new. I'm looking into printing options for my blog, as I want to print it for my kids to receive when they are older, and when I have more information on prices I will share it with you. If anyone is interested in buying a book version of the blog, please let me know so I can factor that in to the number of copies I order.

On this New Year's Day, I thoroughly enjoyed sleeping in past 9 am, and soaking up the last moments of leisure before I haul the backpacks from the closet tomorrow afternoon and get back into the school and life routine for Monday. Taking this two week break and experiencing the joys of leisure for the first time in this fully abandoned way has changed me completely. It has unwound something at my core which was wound too tight, and ready to snap at any given moment.

Slowing down has made me a gentler and happier person, and that has made a difference to my husband and my kids. I can't believe I wasted so much time worrying about things that I couldn't control, and fearing that I wasn't doing enough, when all of that time I was missing the joys that were right in front of my face. Now I can see those things much clearer, and the little things really do add up to create the big ones.

A new year is like a big, shiny gift, just waiting to be opened and enjoyed. It is full of possibilities. I've never been one for resolutions, because the fear of failing at them was greater than the possible benefit of establishing them, but this year I'm ready for new things. I won't term them as "resolutions" but I know that I am different, so I will experience what comes at me in a new way, and I will be able to create positive change in my own life. I've seen firsthand the results of positive motion in life, and I want to keep moving in that direction, carving out space for myself and my dreams while prioritizing sanity and peace for my family.

Happy New Year to all of you. May it be full of wonder and beauty and love. You are the change that you want to see in the world. This is the year to make your dreams a reality. Starting small is the only way to get there. Little things add up to big ones. Forward motion is the key. If you don't know what your dream is, take time to get to know who you are and what makes you happy, as that is the key to your dreams. Then it's baby steps toward making the idea a reality. This is the year.