Category Archives: Modern pressures

photo 2 (2)

The Zen of Landing Badly

I recently had a reminder that asphalt ain’t good eatin’.

I can’t play the victim card here. I fucked up. All my fault, 100% dumb-ass coming your way. I knew I was cutting it close between an intersection curb and a truck waiting for the light, and foolishly tried to ride through anyhow. Handlebar whacks mirror, down goes me. Mashed my face, my knee, my thigh, my hands, everything. I was so bruise-spotted, I looked like a human-leopard hybrid.

Oddly, it’s the third time I’ve been injured since late May. First time, I literally fell off a bar stool at the pizza joint, flat onto tile floor. Incredible fluke — Not only did I not hurt my back or head, I didn’t really get hurt at all. A couple days’ stiffness, and I was basically fine.

At the time, I was thick in the mire of a three-month contract that upended my life balance far more than I’d intended, so I wasn’t getting out much. I was counting days, like a schoolkid, until July 1, when the contract would be gone. Summer! Whee! I planned to blow off writing until the fall.

I shit you not, June 30th, 11:50pm, hours to go before my “So, our contract is up” email is to be sent, I’d been watching TV from the floor, went to stand, and heard CLICK as my knee popped out of joint, my tibia grossly cranked to the left. Horrified, I hopped to the kitchen on one leg, got an ice bag, and for no reason, the tibia popped back into place. Boom. Back like bacon, baby.

That boo-boo, unfortunately, did inconvenience me. I couldn’t walk much until the end of July, and most of the month’s summery fun eluded me.

Life removed the distraction of summer because I just couldn’t get out. I channeled that inconvenience into finishing my cookbook. Finally done  (it’s really good! buy it and support me), I once again felt like a kid getting outta school for summer. I was excited to cycle, be leisurely. I’d rode my bike daily that week. Bliss, whizzing through August air, sun beating down.

Five days into “summer break,” I whacked the truck mirror. Now I’ve been home licking my mental wounds for much of the last nine days. Once again: “I could’ve been hurt so much worse.”

It seems fortune has a twisted sense of humour in the dog days of summer.

Look ma, asphalt for eatin'.

Look ma, asphalt for eatin’.

School of Hard Knocks

Shit happens. Ask me my top ten life mottos, that one makes the list. Shit happens, it is what it is, que sera sera. Cliches to live by, my friends.

I’ve ridden the rides in this injury-filled park one time too many and I don’t need to be uninvited from the party anymore. When it’s time to go, I’ll grab my coat and be gone.

This is one of those times. Injured three times in three months? Yeah, okay, universe, you got my attention. What’s the lesson?

That’s rhetorical, people. I already think I know.

Writing well is a gift. It’s a privilege. It’s also a craft. It requires great sacrifice and dedication to accomplish matters of note. It’s not some flip of the switch. Like sailing a long ocean voyage, when finding one’s sea legs can take some time, getting a good writing flow takes a while of testing the waters.

Where the craft part comes in is where the sacrifice plays out too — daily duty, workworkwork.

Opting Out

I know writing is a choice. You see a keyboard, you sit, you pound it out. It’s like the old Hollywood movie trailers — “One man, alone in a foreboding wilderness… where only he can decide–”

The struggle that constantly assaults me is guilt. I feel like a failure if I’m not doing the outdoorsy-n-awesome things the locals here pride themselves on doing. Oh, look, someone else climbed a mountain and parasailed before landing on the moon for a local, organic picnic with cheese they hand-pulled at dawn. Thanks for the shame, Instagram.

I wish I could write in other places, but I’m a creature of habit and I like to be at my desk. I like the noise my keyboard makes, the rattle the keyboard tray emits under my staccato-fire key-whacking, the distance of the screen from my eyes, how I squint when I’m lost in thought and the creamy walls blur before me, while I listen to the white-noise whoosh of cars under my window, always noting the sea breeze blowing in and stiffening my knuckles. It’s my thing. This is where I do it.

So as summer days pass and nights get longer, cooler, and darker, my Catholic upbringing leaves me pounding the keys in shame and guilt at my desk, as others pass my window in their shorts and sunglasses, oozing optimism for a fun day ahead or the fatigue of a great day behind them.

And there I sit staring as they pass me by, me in my passive glory, ever the observer.

Of People and Places

But that’s writing. It’s not a party favour. It’s not a group activity. It’s a dark and dingy thing done alone.

There are different kinds of writers. Ones who write on events and places, happenings and zeitgeists. They need to be in the thick of it to serve it back to the masses. Then there are the those who slip away into otherworldly mental caverns. No safe place for others.

I’m the latter. My introversion can be extreme. A party of one works all too well for me. Three months on an Irish coast with a broken phone, only sheep dotting the horizon, and wine to keep me warm while winter winds howl and the skies cry, that would be a vacation for me. I might commit a serious crime if it meant time in isolation like that.

Paradox of paradoxes, for convenience and more time alone, I find myself living on the edge of the busiest part of my town. The most crowded, superficial, hyped, over-marketed part of my city. Rare does even a moment pass when people aren’t walking past my writing window. Isolation? Beyond my four walls, I think not.

Unlistening to the Machine

Part of me is very much of the “So? This is who you are. Just own it. Who cares?” mentality about self-imposed isolation. But I also think the world is beautiful, nature is powerful, and if I could have more of it with less of the humans in it, that wouldn’t be so bad. Humans aren’t so bad in small doses, either.

But society tells me Summer is fun! Go do summer! There’s only so much summer, so go out and play, kids! Whatchoo sitting inside for?! Don’t you know only losers don’t play outside? Come on, kids! GET HAPPY — it’s right there, outside your house!

It’s something I only want in 90-minute spurts. It’s not a lifestyle I seek. I don’t need to be on the Tilt-a-Whirl of the big-city life. Getting happy isn’t gonna accomplish my dreams. It ain’t gonna write my books. It’s not gonna pay my bills.

People who don’t understand introversion think people like me opting out is “sad” or “lonely,” but we think it’s sad and lonely that they can’t enjoy being alone in the same way we can. As Oscar Wilde wrote, loving oneself is a life-long romance. Even if there’s no one around to see it.

Among my favourite places to go alone: The sea.

Among my favourite places to go alone: The sea.

Do or Do Not, There is No Try

The trouble with writing a book, for any author, is it means sacrificing time you can spend earning other income today on the dream that it will earn income for you well into the future. This is where the stereotype of the broke-ass writer comes in. I have to cut back on my earnings AND my spending to be the writer I want to be. That’s sacrificing on every level.

That’s the risk we take when seeking the elusive dream of passive income and royalties. Passive income, that’s money you don’t have to run ragged on the hamster wheel to bring in. That wheel spins on its own, in theory.

The best way to grow that passive income isn’t to keep talking about the one book, it’s to continue writing others so you’re attracting new audiences.

For me, that time is now. I have to write more, produce more, and promote myself at the same time. All of it must be done at the expense of everything else in my life. Less time for leisure, less time to earn “real” money on the side of my primary job, less time to exercise, to cook — everything.

The longer I wait, the more interruption it causes in flow on all sides, the less then that momentum can carry me.

It’s a matter of discipline now. And my summer, as little or as much may remain, is a distraction from that discipline.

Dinner is Served

Which brings us back to the asphalt.

That day, I’d been meaning to cycle to the Gorge and sit under a big leafy tree as I considered my choices. Do I take more time to enjoy summer, or do I finally concede this summer’s a bust and writing must be my focus while the motivation burns?

For good or ill, I needed no leafy tree for the pondering. Life threw me to the curb and said “Eat this.”

I’ve never felt more strongly that I was getting told what was what. Writing, life said, was what my days had to be about for now. It was safer, for one. No moving parts, except on the chair.

If I barrel through this year as a writing tour de force and accomplish all the goals I’ve got bopping inside my head, I’ll have no regrets for the choices I made this week.

photo 2 (2)

Road Warrior

Sometimes when life knocks sense into you, it can be very literal about it all. It gets literal with this girl.

It took three injuries in a little over three months, but the Zen of landing badly has taught me a thing or two about a thing or two.

Sacrifice, choice-making, focus — all these themes played on a crackling, staticky loop in my head for days. Here’s hoping they echo loudly in the wintery, writerly months to come, ‘cos I know what road’s ahead of me — asphalt, curbs, potholes, and all.

Overbooking Ourselves To Death

Every now and then I hit this mode of sheer panic.

It’s that crushing realization that I have a virgin’s chance in hell of surviving my scheduled week. Not a chance. Well, a slim chance if the wind’s at my back, the cosmos aligns, and the sea parts before me. Then, maybe.

Somehow we always get it all done, and if we don’t, still no one loses an eye. It`s not like we’re some hero in the movies, racing against the clock to save the innocents before slaughter or anything. It’s drycleaning or a doctor’s appointment or something.

Chill, yo.

But, yeah, I freak out. Then I’m all jackrabbit-in-headlights as I figure it out. Maybe if I channel Flash Gordon and develop a need for speed. Make it so!

Another rainy night on Vancouver buses, by me.

This morning I’ve had a delayed moment of genius in which I’ve realized I’m having dinner a block from where I was to get my hair cut today. Okay, now I’m not going out of my way today — instead I’ll get my hair cut Monday, and do dinner, all in the same block.

Sounds logical, right? No NASA engineer was injured in the making of this epiphany. I mean, I’d booked both appointments 2 weeks apart from each other initially, so it wasn’t something that occurred to me.

I bet smarter bears analyze their schedules all the time. Yay, you, you smarties!

Me, I’m just getting the fuck out of the rat race so I can stop the stupid, since having daily appointments that get me out of the house will be what keeps me sane over in the island life. The idea of my being locked up 24/7 captioning my little TV shows or writing makes my head go spinny. Well, after a month of isolation so I can do my Rat Race Detox, that is.

But this is what my life has been reduced to in recent weeks. Small moments of victory when the only real win I’ve had is shaving 30 minutes of time wasting from my week.

I know there are the hours I spend just chilling or recharging, but I won’t apologize for that, and I don’t feel that’s the problem. Why shouldn’t I want more time to enjoy my home or whatever pointlessness I feel like accomplishing? It’s MY fucking life. Screw appointments and work and whatever YOU think add values to life. Mine comes from doing things I want that recharge my brain so I can be the wordy girl I love to be.

As a writer, part of the writing process is long hours of doing what to others is “nothing.” Really, what does one accomplish sitting at a keyboard tapping away? The dishes go undone, dust starts holding conventions on your bookshelves, while appointments loom like some evil curtain to be drawn on a great idea, enforcing an end to writing efforts by actually standing up and walking away from the words all because you have to see some guy about a thing.

As far as time management goes, writing is the worst crime to inflict on anyone.

So, you can imagine my loathing of a world that revolves around deadlines, starting points, and any kind of chronological order at all.

It’s a wonder I even believe in being punctual, and even crazier that I’m a Deadline Slayer. Must be the Recovering Catholic thing.

It seems extreme, picking up and moving from a town just for the sake of time management, but that’s a large part of what I’m doing. I’m forcibly excising my endless aneurysms due to bus commutes, soul-sucking scheduling of rehab with work commutes and micro-planning the things I need to do, all because some 10+% of my life evaporates weekly just for the to/from of my job. Even if I worked from home in Vancouver, I’d still spend my life in long commutes, because it’s the nature of this city.

If moving is what it takes to stop overbooking myself to death and losing countless hours sitting on public transit staring at strangers I don’t give a shit about and will never break bread with, as a world locked behind water-streaked dirty windows passes me by, then so be it.

There are moments when sheer panic hits me and it’s not about the time scheduling. Sometimes it’s about what a 180 my life will be when I hit the brakes and start working from home in a place that’s walking distance from the ocean, 30% the size of my present town, and knowing that I can’t afford to undo the decision if it doesn’t turn out to be the smartest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

Then I breathe again. And I remember: I’m also making this move because I often find myself having to remind myself to stop and breathe, and there’s something wrong with forgetting such integral parts of existence.

Soon, appointments will be a welcome diversion from my quiet life. An exciting reason to get out and see the world, and not this obligation or sense of burden I seem to see them with now.

Yes, 2012 is the year where I won’t have to fear finding myself under a tombstone that reads “Here lies Steff, whose head exploded when she had One Appointment Too Many on a Dark and Stormy Tuesday.”

I just have to survive overbooking myself to near-death for six more weeks, then my life will feel like the soft pneumatic whoomp you experience when an elevator suddenly aborts motion after 30 floors. And that will be something worth writing about.*

*It’s a personal blog, people. Of course I’ll blog about my life in Victoria. Might even start a whole nother blog too.