This fall, the stars aligned and my partner and I were able to go to Ireland. It was as perfect as it was possible for a trip to be; we saw ruins, our bus got stuck in a sheep traffic jam, we stood in Trinity Library, we had Guinness, we traipsed around a forest that we randomly stumbled across, we drove on terrifyingly windy, narrow back roads, and I got to ride a horse. In preparation for this trip of a lifetime, I started going on long walks. I wanted to be able to do all the ruin-viewing and forest-traipsing with as little painful aftermath as possible. (The horse riding I could not adequately prepare for, and let me tell you, I didn’t walk properly for over a week afterwards).

The trip was in November, and it’s now January, but I’ve maintained my habit of going for a long walk on Sunday afternoons. It’s been a really wonderful part of my week that I look forward to. I live in a great neighbourhood that has multitudinous walking trails (I could also cross country ski, if I wasn’t terrified of another week of screaming legs). I put a podcast in my ears and layer up, and walk for an hour, or twenty minutes if that’s all I’m up for, and I keep my eyes out for deer, hawks, rabbits, and children learning to skate. I often pass people I know. I pass the houses of friends, and think of them fondly. It’s a bit of a mental reset, especially when I can go for an hour and my brain is set loose from the to-do list.

Walking is such a lovely thing to do on my weekends. It has a low energy requirement for me, and I’m usually able to rely on my partner to allow me the time. Spending time using my body in the fresh air is the number one way to get ideas, work through writer’s block, and plan out my stories, and it also invariably improves my mood and overall mental health. I know, this isn’t exactly earth-shattering: walking is good for you! But I think it’s worth saying again: a big part of my writing process is my Sunday afternoons spent rambling. Highly recommend.

I finished another draft of my novel today.

Finished is a funny word, because it’s not anywhere close to finished-for-real, but it’s completed another phase of the process of trying to get it into a real live book that someday a stranger will buy in a bookstore and read. And as much as I love writing for the sake of writing itself, I really really REALLY want to write something that becomes a published book that someone looks at or hears about and says “cool, I want to read that!”

The writing process is pretty frustrating sometimes. My goal was to finish this draft for Canadian Thanksgiving. I was inches away … and then still inches away a week later … and then I finally got it sent to my beta readers at the end of October, and they sent me their feedback … and then I had to rewrite the last quarter all over again. Now I’ll wait for feedback on that last section, and then send it to my copyeditor friend. After that stage, I’ll have to do those revisions. Then I can start sending out my fragile, delicate word baby to people who will send back a two-line email that says “Thanks for thinking of me but I’m not interested.” They are just doing their job and that is okay, except for the part where I will be weeping in my closet because no one loves me and I’m a terrible writer and I’ve wasted so much time.

It’s not very hard to find out this side of the traditional-published-writer process; people write about it all the time. I’m not special or unique; I’m not going to be a superstar bestseller, or win a bunch of awards or anything. I’m just trying to write stories that mean something to me, and I’m one of many. It’s hard not to find that discouraging because I want to be a special snowflake. But in lieu of being a snowflake, which melts, maybe I can finish the book I started, go through all the stages, create an entire book that temporarily scratches the itch I have to tell stories and make things, and then maybe someone will like it enough to start the next phase.

Fingers crossed.

At last, at last, I have writing time again. The kids are back in school and I have long, glorious mornings of time to use as I see fit, and I plan to use it to plow through the final edits of this novel. With luck, I’ll be finished by Christmas. 

This summer had a lot of highlights and the kids got to do a lot of fun stuff, but it was a tough one for me. I didn’t have any time off, other than a couple of hours on weekends, and I absolutely need a regularly scheduled routine in order to write efficiently and well. And I am not as patient or kind as a mother when I don’t get the chance to recharge. I have to fight the impulse to call that selfish, but it absolutely isn’t – parenting should never be a single person’s task. It’s too intense. So next year I will do things differently, and make sure I have regular breaks. It’s only been a few days of the school year, and already I feel better, and the kids are more responsive, and the whole system is smoother. 

I feel a bit like I’m on a timeline. This year my youngest is in kindergarten in the mornings, so I have my glorious time, but when she starts full-day grade one next year, I have a looming sense that I need to get myself straightened out work-wise. I love writing, but it doesn’t pay me anything right now. My job is extremely part time to fit our current life and I love it, but it also doesn’t have great long-term prospects. So next year, when there’s more flexibility, I feel like I need to get my career sorted out. I’d love that career to be writing. That requires putting in a lot of work this year, to prove that it’s worth it. It’s an interesting impulse, the desire to prove that writing is worth my time and energy. It’s worth it insofar as it makes me feel more whole, but if it isn’t earning us any money, it seems hard to justify. On one hand, that’s gross. On the other, I would really like to earn money from my writing for the status of “paid author.” So for better or for worse, that’s my goal. And I have one year to sort it out.

It’s September first. The days are still warm but the nights are chilly; people are adding nutmeg to everything they can think of; the yarn stores are entering their busy season. School has started for some people, and for us it starts on Wednesday. I, like many, love the back to school feelings – unblemished school supplies and joyful reunions, the bittersweet knowledge that the end of hot days means that snow and cold are coming.

I have written only a handful of words over the summer. I booked a trip to Ireland. I went swimming with my kids. It was a summer of hard things and lovely things, days spent in the sun with people I cherish and days where everyone cried. I got a narwhal tattoo, went to work, and went to counselling. Summer camp, swimming lessons, a drive to BC. Many of my far-flung friends came to visit me, and I treasure those times.

Time is a spiral, in some ways. Moving forward, always changing, and always circling back to echoes of the way things were before. Never the same, only similar. This fall, all three kids are in the same school. I’ll have my mornings to write again. It will be the same, but different. I am heading towards the final revisions of my novel-in-progress, and hope to query it in 2019. I have plans for sewing and knitting. I’ve taken up sourdough bread, and it’s a glorious thing for fall.

I read like a fiend this summer – all the Sam Vimes books by Terry Pratchett, which I still cherish; Whichwood, the sequel to Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi; Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah on the Offbeat, by Becky Albertalli; Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, read out loud to my daughter; and The Broken Earth trilogy by N.K. Jemisin. All of them were fantastic.

September first. Another kind of new year’s day. Here I go again.

Hello, it’s been a while!

I’ve decided that this year I am choosing a word of the year, and setting related goals. I’m not going to pretend that this isn’t New Year’s resolutions, a thing that I do every year even when I say I’m not going to. Every year I think *this* will be the year I get my shit together and become a perfect, transcendent being; every year I fail. And it’s not popular to set resolutions anymore, because they’re fake constructs. But so is the new year happening on January 1st! So whatever, I love fresh starts and, after a great deal of introspection, I’m not afraid to fall off a horse and try again, probably because I literally did that as a kid and it’s one of my best memories. (Side note: I rode two horses, a small, sweet, fat Arabian who caused problems for me because I was too tall for her, and a giant Appaloosa asshole who stopped dead while I was attempting a flying lead change. I had the presence of mind to jump out of the stirrups and LEAP OVER HIS HEAD AND LAND ON MY FEET, and if you don’t think that’s badass, you can leave this blog right now.)

So! My word of the year is BRAVE. I am already brave. I’m brave enough to write a book, edit it, ask for help from beta readers and editors, and query it to widespread rejection. I’m brave enough to tell people I did that. I’m brave enough to shelve that book and start another one, knowing how painful it’s going to be when it gets rejected too. I’m brave enough to have three kids. I’m brave enough to keep going back to therapy even though it’s really, really hard to keep staring down into the pit of blackness inside me. I’m brave enough to write this all down on my blog where anyone could read it. I’m brave enough to jump off a horse, for crying out loud.

But I want to practice being braver. In spite of all those brave things, I am still really afraid of what people think of me. I’m afraid of setting boundaries. I’m afraid of anger, both my own and other people’s. So while I don’t plan to actively piss people off this year, I’m going to try to practice being okay with disappointing people, stepping on their toes, and setting boundaries to keep myself healthy, even if it makes someone angry. And I’m going to practice dipping into my own anger and letting other people see it.

I’m also getting a narwhal tattoo.

It’s difficult to be in the midst of a tough time in our culture. We put a great deal of value on before and afters, on skipping through the tough work with a montage set to a soundtrack, and therefore making it difficult to live in the moments that don’t show a dramatic transformation. There are two types of failure in this model – the failure of being stuck in “before,” and doing the difficult work of trying to transform.
The types of transformations matter, too – weight loss, home renos, completing a school program, any sort of emotional journey with a clear arc. We love stories, and transformations make great stories when they start with “things were bad. I was overweight/the house was ugly/I had a dream of becoming an architect/I was an alcoholic.” Then “I worked hard. It was hard.” Bonus points for setbacks and dramatic struggles. Then, finally, the triumphant conclusion! The skinny person/beautiful kitchen/career fueled by passion/sobriety! It’s so inspiring, isn’t it?

No. It is not. It isn’t inspiring, not after the first time someone reads this story and tries to apply it to themselves and realizes that they don’t have “what it takes.” What it takes is usually money, or the appearance of money. People need money or credit or other people supporting them in order to transform themselves, and when those things are not available, the transformation is doomed before it begins.

In my case, the transformation isn’t ever something with a dramatic before and after. I won’t be losing weight, or renovating, or transforming my career, or kicking an addiction. I mean, maybe eventually some of those things will happen (I’d really like to go back to school one day), but for me, the transformation is from someone who thought she’d figured out who she was to someone who has had the rug pulled out from under her and doesn’t know how to rebuild without her whole life falling apart around her.

I wish there was more of a cultural narrative around the process. Sometimes there is, but I’ve found the terms to be couched in a specific context. Process is often associated with a work scenario, journey is an overused word in spheres dominated by women trying desperately to get a place in Feminine Lifestyle Empowerment (terminology credit Kelly Diels, who is amazing*), and so on.

I live here now. I live in between before and after, because I think after is only going to be achieved once I die. I’ll be forever unpicking the tangle of who and what I am. I want to be okay with this, but it’s really hard when there’s a neverending cultural drive to wrap up the story. The craving for an ending makes sense, but that doesn’t make it helpful or accurate. And my story will continue – I have already discovered that this story, this tangle, this road is coming from my mother and grandmother and back into my ancestry, and it is already being handed over to my children to carry on. There’s no ending there.

My responsibility, as being the primary carrier at this point in time, is to work at unpicking the tangle, keep walking forward and choosing the path that seems best, tell more of the story in the way that makes the most sense, knowing that I’m maybe adding new knots and changing the plot and altering the path for my children to have to pick it up and deal with my choices.

And look, I’m wrapping up this blog post so that it has a conclusion and I can post it, because the drive to conclude is key to our humanity. But equally key is not actually finishing the story. The messy, knotty, complicated work of humanity doesn’t exist in a one-dimensional plane. It exists in time and space. It is always in progress.

*Note from the future: I originally linked to Kelly Diels in this post, but I no longer support anything she does since I learned that her work is built on the backs of a lot of black women whose work she’s stolen. Fuck that.

I resist change. It’s totally normal; our brains are geared for homeostasis, or keeping things the same, because change is scary and unknown and a threat to survival. Homeostasis keeps us safe, but can also keep us trapped. And I’m feeling trapped.

I’ve been at home with my kids for almost eight years. I don’t regret my decision, but I am feeling that it is a chapter that needs to be wrapped up. But every time I start to think of my options, my brain starts freaking out, and my anxiety is sent into a tailspin and I back off.

Part of my hesitation is fear of the unknown, of course. My brain knows how the current system works. (Even if it’s not working very well anymore.) But I’m also afraid of limiting my options. I’m a 7 on the enneagram, and 7s are characterized by keeping their options open and not wanting to be limited. 7s love to be involved in a million things so that they are able to drop boring shit like a hot potato. 7s are fun seekers, or even thrill seekers.

That doesn’t seem to fit with the desire for homeostasis, except that as a SAHM I have a lot of freedom to do what I want (within the restrictions of having no additional income and three children to work around). For example, right now I am alone in my house while all the kids are at school and preschool, so I can blog, or work out, or eat junk food, or watch Netflix, or whatever. (OR WRITE.) (ARGH.)

That last parenthetical statement? About writing? That is the biggest hurdle for me. I want the freedom to write. Except mostly I go to physiotherapy and counselling appointments and check Facebook and mope, so I’m not actually writing.

One of the best and worst things about writing is that the parameters are so wide. People can publish their first book in their teens, or in their seventies. People can write anywhere. If there is a story I need to tell, I am pretty confident that I will find a way to tell it. But it’s stalled out right now, so maybe the best choice is to go get some new life experiences and broaden my perspective a bit, and then bring that to my writing.

This blog post is basically a public pep talk to myself. If it serves as a pep talk for someone else to try something new also, then that’s a bonus. And here’s hoping that all my philosophizing translates into an actual change.

I thrive in a routine-driven environment. I love to know what is going to happen. I live and die by my planner, and my mental health is directly linked to how on top of my habits I am.

When it comes to my writing, I am my most productive when I have a schedule that I follow. I wrote my first novel in three and a half months because I had an hour to write after lunch almost every day. I was able to crank out one thousand words in that amount of time once I had my habit established, and I’m proud of that. (I’m currently flailing around while I try to find a new routine because I don’t have that guaranteed time anymore, but that’s beside the point.)

I’ve noticed an interesting flip side to routines though. Routines are ace for productivity, but they aren’t always the ideal setup for inspiration. In my case, I need to have an established routine in order to exercise my writing muscles, but I need a jolt to my system to come up with new ideas. My best ideas come while I’m travelling – it takes me out of normal time and into a strange liminal space where the hours of the clock no longer represent tasks, or in the case of crossing time zones, accuracy. It isn’t necessary to travel far, either; a day trip to the beach an hour away is sufficient, or a weekend at my in-laws’ place in the country.

It’s good for me to be reminded that both are important. Routine keeps me grounded, sane, and productive; being out of routine gives my mind the opportunity to try new ideas. Without routine, I’m ungrounded and stressed, and without occasional shake-ups I’m bored and uninspired. Both matter, and both make me a better writer.

I don’t like that I don’t like change. Our culture respects people who transform themselves like phoenixes, lightning their lives on fire and rising from the ashes. Before and after journeys, turning lemons in to Lemonade, underdogs rising to victory. Going through trauma and tragedy and proclaiming that one is better for it. I have always wanted to be at the “after” point, the part where the movie gets made, the book gets written, the inspirational montage brings tears to the eyes of the masses.

But at least for me, that reality has never come to pass. Whenever it feels like things are on fire in my life, generally it burns a lot and I have to work hard to put that fire out and salvage what I can from the wreckage. There’s no phoenix moment, only a lot of hard work that doesn’t translate to an engaging story. My fires aren’t the victory over massive obstacles: they’re slowly coming to realize that parenting is hard work, adulting is hard work, trying to be a writer is hard work, and surviving as a sensitive person in this world is next to impossible. They’re just smouldering coals that burn when you touch them, or mid-July sun rays that scorch. So I just live with the minor burns and carry on.

By minor burns, I mean anxiety. I have it. It’s getting worse. It used to be a sort of minor annoyance, some heart palpitations and the occasional sleepless night. Then it was a few panic attacks. Now it’s a resistance band tied tightly around my chest all the time, needles inside my eyes, rocks on my shoulder blades. It’s lying awake for hours, despairing what I’m going to feel like in the morning, then waking up exhausted. The exhaustion never goes away, but on top of it is a layer of hyperstimulation, where I can’t filter anything away. I do a lot of ignoring and pushing down my feelings because I have little kids at home and I can’t be losing my grip on things when they rely on me for stability and sanity. Then I’ll catch myself daydreaming about off buttons for my brain, or running away from my family, or going into some sort of medically-induced coma to just get me out of here for a while. That path is danger, danger, danger.

I called this post Page One, but it’s the middle of the story. Of course it is. I’m 34 years old. I’ve tried a lot of things with greater and lesser success. To date, medication has been mostly an exercise in enduring side effects with little to no benefit. Sometimes I have daily panic attacks, sometimes I throw up, sometimes I go 36 hours without sleep for no reason. Sometimes I feel possessed. I haven’t tried anything new for nine months, but I’m going in again because the way things are is unsustainable.

So this is my record. I’m starting here, with this post and this round of meds, in the middle of my life. There isn’t going to be a montage and I’m not going to burn everything down. I’m going to try a new fire extinguisher, because there are good things to be found here and I want to be able to find them.