A season without doubt

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No one doubts my abilities more than me. No one. Every idea that pops into my head gets over-analyzed and shot full of holes, usually to the point of death, before it even gets to see the light of day.

For the past year, one of those thoughts has been about stepping up my indie game and starting to help other independent artists in my own little way through social media promotion.  My doubts about the size of my social media reach and my ability to actually help anyone get noticed (I mean I can bearly help myself in getting my own books sold and my own poems read so what in the world would I have to offer to someone else!?) constantly got in the way.  But then recently, I was interviewed by an indie with her own little social media reach and it made me realize one really important detail that I had been forgetting:  quality is more important than quantity. 

Having one person – just ONE genuine, interested person, offer support to you and your work IS enoughThousands of followers on social media doesn’t necessarily equate to thousands of supporters of your work, it doesn’t necessarily equate to thousands of sales or reviews of your books.  In a world where everything is a numbers game (get more likes, more followers, more comments!) this idea runs contrary to what most people believe, but believe me, it’s true.

For me, that one interview equated to a higher level of support than all the “likes” I had ever received on Instagram. The invitation to be interviewed (someone was interested in me?  In my work? ) was a much-welcomed and, honestly much needed, ego boost that has supported me in a spiritual and emotional sense so much more than in a physical (book sales) sort of way.

Being an indie writer (or musician, or poet or artist in any shape or form) is really hard!  Self-promotion is really hard!  I’ve been doing it for a year and a half now and have often found myself feeling alone and adrift in an ocean of other indies, unable to swim or navigate the waters of self-promotion as well as others seem to be, and sometimes I’ve bearly been able to even keep my head above the water as the thought of quitting the whole indie scene, of giving up my writing, has occurred to me more than once.

So, with all of that said and all of that realized, and with that much-welcomed injection of support and inspiration still running fresh through my veins, I am finally going ahead and doing what I’ve been thinking about doing for the past year now: I’m starting up my own series of indie interviews and social media promotion.

The Innovators will be a bi-weekly series of interviews with indie authors, poets, musicians, and artists and it will start in September via this blog and my Instagram and Facebook pages!

I hope you will join me!

Progress not perfection

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I often wish that my typing was in step with my thinking.  I wish the words would flow from my fingers to the keys as fast and as often as they come to my mind.

But they don’t.

Most often I just sit, thinking – over-thinking – in front of my keyboard, my fingers at the ready……and nothing happens.  It’s not that I don’t have words, I don’t have ideas. In that regard, I can’t turn the tap off.  Most of the time I have too many ideas, too many thoughts to express – have I mentioned I am currently working on three books??

The problem, I know is me, getting in my own way. ALL. THE. TIME.  I worry too much about how to say things or even should I say things (my first novel Hope Quest dealt with incest and I struggled for months over whether or not I should include that at all).  I also deal with crippling self-doubt that anything I write will want to be read.  What’s the point of writing if no one is reading??

 

I recently got a new shirt to practice my yoga in. Across the chest, it announces: “Progress not perfection.”  After three years, I have come to embrace that idea in my daily yoga practice.  Yoga is not about having a perfect body or having perfect poses.  It’s about challenging yourself (mentally and physically) and also embracing yourself wherever you are on your spiritual/physical journey.  It’s very much a self-centered practice, done by you and for you only, no audience necessary or needed.

 

I’m starting to come to realize that I should embrace my writing in that same way.

I don’t do the most graceful backbends, but I still do them.  I don’t yet have the ability to do handstands in the middle of the floor, so I do them against the wall. I don’t overthink when I am practicing yoga.  I don’t stress, I don’t doubt.  I flow through the motions without worrying whether or not I can or even if I should.  

If I sit down at my desk with that same mindset ( perhaps that same “progress not perfection” shirt, too!) maybe, just maybe, I will find my writing flow, too – and having an audience would just be an added bonus.

 

Persistent whispers

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I really didn’t want to do it.  Homeschooling my dyslexic son was on the very bottom of my things I’d like to do in this life list and although my husband and I had already kicked around the idea and I had expressed that maybe I would homeschool him next year, I was really just dragging my feet hoping for something else or someone else to step in and present themselves as the answer to our problems.  The little voice in the back of my head, that persistent little whisper that had been there since my son was two, when I first started to become aware of his language and learning difficulties, the one that always said what I wasn’t willing to admit, told me there was no rescue coming.  It said, “you are all he has.”

I desperately didn’t want to believe it.

And then, six weeks into my son’s grade four year, at yet another school meeting with the teacher, the principal and a myriad of other admins who had simply passed the buck by passing my son through grade after grade, year after year, knowing full well he couldn’t read and not wanting to deal with his recent dyslexia diagnosis (no one at the meeting could even bring themselves to say the word dyslexia outloud -well, except me, who said it constantly and loudly knowing it HAD to be addressed if my son was to have any chance of success in school), the house of cards that had been my son’s inefficient education finally and completely, collapsed.  Through yelling and tears (and not just mine), it was made abundantly clear that no one at the school was willing to help my son in the way that he needed to be helped.  So, my husband and I gave up the fight, we collected our son from his classroom and went home to wage our own battle.

Sitting at the kitchen table with my boy the next morning, knowing that his education was now completely in my hands and my hands only was as scary and daunting as sitting in my dorm room in college away from home for the first time had been.  It was a spine-tingling sort of realization of “Oh my godI’ve done it.  I’m here.  Now what??”

The two years that followed (much like my two years of college) were some of the most challenging, yet rewarding times I’ve ever had the pleasure of going through and growing through – and most importantly, it had the same impact on my son.

During those long hard years of homeschooling / reading remediation, my son went from reading four years behind grade level (that equated to not knowing the alphabet in grade four) to reading at grade level.  He revelled in finally being able to read his Harry Potter books to himself.  I’d listen at his closed bedroom door with tears in my eyes as he carefully and haltingly read outloud.  It tugged at my mommy heartstrings just like hearing his first words and seeing his first steps had done – but moreso because learning how to read (and for me, learning how to teach him to read) had been a steep, steep mountain for both of us to climb.  But, even on my worst days, that persistent little whisper in the back of my head was my constant cheerleader, believing in me and what I was doing even when I wasn’t too sure of anything at all.  “You’re the only one who can and will help him,” it told me, “so keep going!”  So I did.

Two years have passed since I wrapped up homeschooling and put my son back into the school system. He just finished grade 7.  He still has his struggles (and always will) because of his dyslexia, but his reading has continued to improve and stay consistent with his grade level.  I couldn’t be prouder of him, even as that persistent whisper in the back of my head has continued.

“Keep helping,” it has told me for two years now.  “There’s more like him.”

And it’s true.

While homeschooling, so many of my mom friends shared their own frustrations at their child’s poor reading skills and the inability of the school to provide appropriate or effective resources to help and so many came to the same sad conclusion, “I can’t do anything about it.  I’m not self-employed like you are, so I can’t homeschool.”

That was true, too.  Being self-employed as a photographer for the past decade has allowed me to schedule my work around my kids and their needs and I was able to move from full to part time employment in order to homeschool.  But then, the pandemic happened and in March I closed up my studio, thinking it would be temporary, but instead, it offered the silence needed for those whispers to get louder.

 

This summer, I will finish up my Orton-Gillingham certification and will close my photography business.  This fall, I will start a new venture:  Rock Star Readers, a reading tutor service for kids.

Those persistent whispers in my head finally made their way to my heart and now I trust them to lead me where they may.

 

 

Say the word

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In Buddhism, there is a concept of a restless, unfocused way of thinking called the monkey mind.  It refers to the relentless chatter in our head which needs to be “quieted” or “calmed” if we are to become mindful and focused.

Before the pandemic, I lived a fairly peaceful internal life. Practising yoga, following Buddhism (albeit loosely), having structure, routine and a sense of purpose in my everyday life was key to maintaining that sense of mental peace, but it was somewhat tenuous (the monkeys were caged, but the locks were frail and rusty). The pandemic, it’s subsequent lockdown and abrupt end to all of my routines shook up everything in my life and ultimately, freed those monkeys.

Running amok, tossing bananas here and shit there, my monkey mind would swing wildly from task to task, moment to moment, even book to book in my Kindle, only allowing me to focus on a sample here and a page there, until one day I came across an idea so simple, yet so profound, it stopped all the monkeys in their tracks.

In Design Your Day, Claire Diaz-Ortiz explains how deciding upon a word of the year has become a simple, yet powerful tool in her life.  “Every year, you should choose a word to represent the year you have in front of you.  Think long and hard about one word that will serve as a guidepost for what you want to do and be in the year to come.  And remember that a year needn’t start January 1 – you can start your year at any time!” 

As a lover of words and finding myself mid-way through May, this sounded exactly like what I needed to do. I spent the next day thinking about my word.  The monkeys were a fantastic help in throwing out hundreds of options.

Finally, I decided upon one that felt right. Both positive and representative of what I need to do to (regain focus) and what I want to do (write my memoir), I decided that my word of the year shall be: reflect.

I use it now as a mantra, repeating it to myself whenever the monkeys start swinging around in my head and so far, they seem to like it too, providing me with some much needed calm and quiet so that I can reflect, and ultimately, write again.

 

 

 

 

 

in pursuit of imperfection

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“Can you answer me this?” the dm began.  “Should my poetry have perfect punctuation? Or will the message be missed?”

For the first time ever, I had a young poet reaching out to me for advice.  ME.  It felt weird and somewhat awkward thinking of an appropriate response. Who was I to give advice to anyone?  Most days, especially lately, I barely know the what, never mind the why, of anything I do.

Despite writing poetry on and off for twenty-plus years, having had some pieces published traditionally and putting out two collections independently, I certainly don’t feel as though I have any expertise to lend about what I do.  Mostly, and honestly, I just do it for me.

For nearly my whole life (seriously, since I was five), I’ve written creatively because I’ve felt compelled to do it.  It’s how quiet me communicates best and it makes me feel better to have done it, even if I feel as though my work gets largely overlooked and is mostly misunderstood, I still persist because I’d feel infinitely emptier if I didn’t.

And there is no perfect way of punctuating that.

“Poetry is about expression,” I replied after careful consideration to the young poet.  “And that tends to get emotional and messy at times so forgive yourself if you forget a comma every now and then.”

The message won’t be lost – at least, not on me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

What the silence has to say

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I’m still trying to find my footing in this new place.  Having to shut down my photography studio last month, needing to apply for unemployment benefits for the first time ever, adjusting to online / homeschooling with my kids – two of whom would rather do anything else than sit at a computer to do schoolwork with their mom  (and trust me, most days the feeling is mutual) – it’s all wrecked havoc with my emotions, my focus, my motivation, especially when it comes to my writing.

Entering into my second year as an indie author, I had had some very concrete plans in place and up until early March, I was working on them almost daily.

And then….well, we’re all familiar with what happens when we’re busy making other plans – a pandemic  – no sorry,  life happens, or at least some semblance of life as we used to know it.  For me, this new life hit like a mini cyclone, wiping out my job, my income, my schedule, my routine, my drive, my direction, and sense of purpose in just a matter of days.

Gone.  Finito.  Kaput.

One month in and the dust seems to be settling a bit, although I struggle some days with navigating this new normal and other days I still feel plain lost, I have come to appreciate the quiet that has fallen around us.

My calendar is now blank. My schedule is now free of appointments. The pressure to do, to be, to get it all done has lifted and amongst this new quiet, I’ve had time to sit and listen to the silence that it has brought.  It has a lot to say, but mostly it’s message is to listen and to wait for what’s next.

So I will.

Mistakes brought me here

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At fifteen, I ran away from one bad home situation into an even worse one. Within a year, I was introduced to a lifestyle of rampant drug use and went from a straight-A student to a high school drop-out. Sitting by candlelight one night, the electricity having been cut-off due to non-payment again, I sat filling out application forms for dead-end, minimum wage jobs, when a life-changing thought occurred to me like a lightning bolt:

No one is going to save me from this.

I realized in that moment that I had made a mistake – a big one.  My life was falling apart. I was going nowhere very quickly and I knew that no one was going to sweep in and save me.

I had made a mistake, but in accepting that mistake and learning from it – rather than beating myself up emotionally and staying stuck in that situation -I realized that I could change things and, more importantly, I did.

Within a year, I had painfully extricated myself from that life into a better one.  I went back to school, earned a few university degrees and have been on the road to a much better life ever since and I owe all of my success and my happiness to those mistakes I made along the way.

Although painful, I am strangely grateful to them. Without those mistakes, I wouldn’t have worked as hard to get what I want.  Without them, I might not have known what I wanted and I certainly wouldn’t have learned to appreciate all that I have now.

Since becoming an indie author in the past year, I have recently begun to realize that I have been making a whole lot of mistakes along the way.  I have put out four books and have struggled to get them noticed, read, reviewed.  It’s been frustrating and disheartening, but I’ve begun to realize that it’s not because of me or the books, but because of my lack of marketing and distribution channels.  More importantly, I know that I can change that, I can fix it.  And I will.

Mistakes can lead to failure, but viewed in another light – even by dim candlelight- they can also point the way to success and there’s no shame in learning that at any point in our lives.

 

 

 

Redefining “responsible”

“No matter how far you’ve traveled down the wrong path,

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it’s never too late to turn around.”

Memes don’t usually give me pause for thought, but that particular one did.  A few years back, I began to question the path I was taking in my life.  I was happy with most of it – I had a great marriage, happy, healthy kids, a nice house, a decent job.  But there was this constant little voice nagging in the back of my head – what about Hope? what about your stories? 

What about them??

Shortly after the birth of my first, I gave up on my creative writing dreams.  I had had minor success as a teen and in my twenties with publishing my short stories and my poems, but with all the responsibilities of parenthood and a growing family, etc, I figured that writing – particularly all the time spent imagining, daydreaming – was something best left for the carefree (eg: not new parents) and best left out of responsible “adulting.”

Years went by, two more kids arrived and as the responsibilities piled on, my yearning for writing only increased in response. For so long, it had been my outlet, often my only outlet, for dealing with depression – something that has plagued me since adolescence. The writing wasn’t just a hobby, it was my therapy, my coping mechanism.  It was a large part of who I was and how I had handled my depressive thoughts in the past, and without it, I began to realize that not only was I risking falling into it again but I was also denying myself that important outlet of my own self-expression.  I wasn’t allowing myself to be, well, me.

It was just that important and I realized then that I absolutely needed it back in my life.

So, I stopped.  I stopped my journey down that long, arduous (at times, dry and dusty) road of responsible “adulting” and I turned around.  I bought a writing desk, a laptop.  I carved time in my day (sometimes even just 10 – 15 minutes!) and I gave myself permission to write again.  I changed my definition of “responsible parent/adult” to include imagining and daydreaming (and getting more tattoos and listening to new bands and going to concerts again!).

I’ve honestly become a better version of me – even a better parent – for it.  My kids are inspired by it – I’ll never forget my son’s look of amazement when he saw my book on the library bookshelf for the first time. He saw me in a whole new light then, just as I’ve started to see myself in that newer, brighter light too.

This indie author path is a bumpy and uncertain one, for sure, but two years and four books later, I am more than happy to be on it – even if at times I feel completely irresponsible and, not to mention very lost, along the way.

I’m figuring it out as I go.

 

 

 

 

Between the pages, between the cracks

crackI never feel more alone than I do when I am amongst a crowd.  I’ve always felt that way.  Just out of place with everyone and everything. I don’t stress about it too much.  I figure that’s just what makes me who I am.  And I like who I am.  I enjoy my own company, to be really honest.  But at the same time, there are periods when I want to belong, when I want to be accepted, when I want to be a part of something bigger than just me because sometimes being alone a lot becomes, well….lonely.

I have a very small family and I have very few friends.  Being introverted and, for the most part, very private, it takes a lot for me to let others into my tiny circle.  I don’t care for small talk and anything that is popular in the mainstream usually turns me off.  I’ve always been drawn to the outsiders, the outcasts, everything and anything on the fringe.

Maybe that’s why I was always drawn to writing.  It’s the perfect occupation for an outsider, an outcast and can and often is done on the fringes of society, away from the crowd.  I feel most comfortable when I am alone and writing.  But I sure would love for some of that writing to be read at some point.

Rachel Carson so beautifully wrote about the loneliness of creative work:

“If you write what you yourself sincerely think and feel and are interested in, the chances are very high that you will interest other people as well.”

I like to keep that in mind when I am writing – alone in my head, alone at my keyboard, feeling as though I am sending my thoughts and words out to no one.

If I keep at it, maybe people will eventually read my work.  Maybe my words will resonate somewhere, with someone and maybe, just maybe, I might be accepted and finally find my place amongst that crowd.