Last month I promised to get back to my writing. The subject matter is usually memoir. Here’s a piece I wrote a few years ago about my younger years. Based on the conversations I’ve had over the last couple of days I thought this might be the one to share.
We rarely know someone’s story.
I’m Not Dead; Only Sleeping
Camping isn’t fun.
If we hadn’t slipped into Canada I would’ve been warm and comfortable. But just how comfortable can you be living in a car with three other people?
We’re at the Banff National Park. It’s known as a tourist destination and famous for providing guests with a taste of wilderness in the Canadian Rockies. I couldn’t have cared less. We were only passing through, a pit-stop of our life on the lam. Probably on the move to dodge the police or debt collectors. It was my childhood norm. Every step we made back then was based on how close the authorities were and how visible we had become. This time, we’d snuck out of Boise and were winding our way back to Vancouver. Crossing state lines was good, but crossing the US/Canadian border was a better way to disappear. Years ago, passports weren’t required and few questions were asked. I was happy to be heading back to my real home. Everything and nothing was better in Vancouver.
I thought of it as a cold safety net.
Winter months and living in a car is best if you’re in California or maybe Texas. You can sleep outside. I remember the joy of stretching out on the car hood. Florida wasn’t ever a good option. Hot, humid and too many bugs. Miami insects feast on sweat. Homelessness in Florida has no redemptive qualities. Everything smells. Food stored in the trunk rots, and ice doesn’t exist. Even parking next to Disneyworld didn’t make Florida better. Goofy and his friends weren’t going to help us.
Our old Cadillac was parked close to the campfire. Tourist season was over and no one cared that we were there. The plan was for me and my little brother to sleep around the fire so my mom and step-dad could be in the car alone. This scheme had worked well in the past. I remember watching the fire burn down, knowing it was too cold. There were no sleeping bags to zip up around us, and only layers of the few clothes we still owned.
Night noises are scary. You have no idea what was lurking out there in the forest. Every sound was a wolf or bear or beast that would pounce if we fell asleep. We were children with imaginations and fears. Why were we expected to sleep outside and fend for ourselves? Why were our parents special and able to stretch out and be warm? Sure, they needed to be on top of their game tomorrow. This life required nerve and compromise.
And maybe just a good night’s sleep.
I made the decision to knock on the car window. Most of me wanted to stay by the fire. Sleeping inside a car with three other people was chaotic and stifling. The noise was bad, my step-father snored, and all the other breathing sounds drove me crazy. It always became too stuffy. People fart. There was no easy answer.
My brother followed my lead. He was small and had no voice. The car and life on the run was his norm. He wasn’t haunted by abuse, but he did know hunger. This was all he knew. I never minded sleeping next to him, and I know he huddled close to me for warmth. We all craved a good night. But most of me just wanted to be away from these people.
I would’ve given anything to be alone.
I don’t make any noise when I sleep; breathing so shallow that I hardly move. An old boyfriend said he often thought I was dead. My stillness scared him. Back then neither of us knew I learned this trick when I was young. It was a way to be invisible and hide.
I wanted to be alone but knew that’s where the real threat was
Sometimes my step-father’s cons went well and jobs panned out. We didn’t always need to live in a car.
That’s when my step-father would sneak into my room at night. He’d crawl into my bed. I wasn’t able to hide. It didn’t matter that I pretended I was dead. He plotted his perversion so well. I would’ve rather faced any forest creature ready to pounce and maim. Against them I had a chance. Against my step-father I was helpless. Alone in a bedroom I had no defense.
The only thing that saved me was my hate.
How can we make someone decide where safety is? And where the dangers hide? Outside, on the edge of a forest, or inside a family home? The answer to a safe haven should never ever be a car or the street. We should be better than this.
There was no easy answer back then. Eating, sleeping, being cold, and surviving. It was our reality. My norm. We have a way of adapting to the worst circumstances. Everything is relative. Listening to my step-father’s snores in the car was much better than hearing him open my bedroom door.
Sleeping outside in Banff would have been so much better. I remember looking out the car window at the dying fire and thinking a normal family would be having fun singing campfire songs and cooking hotdogs and s’mores. A normal family would be happy.
I didn’t sleep that night but I wasn’t cold.
The next day the sun was shining and we carried on our way. During the light of day I could pretend the next night would be in a hotel and include a warm meal. We even laughed during the day and my brother and I played road trip games. I spy with my little eye. I fantasized about buying a Winnebago where I could seemingly have the best of both worlds; a way to flee the police and never be touched.
A childhood dream. A childhood fantasy. All make-believe.
Now I’m old and have survived. I love Disneyland and even Disneyworld. I love going for long drives. I love the sound and smell of campfires. I hate people that snore. I’m often cold, but know I can put on a warm sweater and turn up the heat.
Today I’m happy to sleep alone, with the door locked, and my demons dead.
I barely breathe at night, and if you lay next to me, you might think I’m dead.
I’m only sleeping.
My boss inspired people. He genuinely thought the people around him could come up with good ideas. He expected us to step up. It was not an option.
I remember the day he told me to think of four ideas that could be made into Kokanee Beer radio commercials. He gave me the weekend to think. On Monday morning I gave him the list and was shocked that by the end of the week one of those little ideas was now a script and soon became a commercial and was heard on the radio.
When a creative genius has faith in you, well, you start to believe in yourself. My boss taught me not to be afraid of those little ideas in my head. I got to spend almost 20 years of him expecting me to be creative.
Last week I watched an old Kokanee television commercial. One of the little known spots from the year we traveled the province filming unusual people that drank Kokanee.
We spent one day in Victoria following a garbage man.
Weeks later, back in the edit suite, we started to pull together shots to make some sense of what the commercial could be. It’s a lengthy process. Luckily I was the producer and was a part of every step of the production. I sat in the edit suite along with the creatives.
For some reason… and most likely because we were driven to “be creative”, I started to sing the old “Spiderman” cartoon song and replacing the word spiderman with garbageman. It was funny. It made us laugh. My boss liked the idea. Kokanee and Labatts liked the idea.
Very quickly the music rights were bought, recording studio booked, musicians and singers hired, and then finally the spot was finished and aired. (A little bit of a producer’s nightmare, but I was used to the process back then. It was my job and I loved it.)
My boss inspired people. He changed my life.
He taught me to never be afraid of that little voice inside your head.
You never know what it might become.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
On my last blog, I explained that I was going back to Scotland to celebrate turning 60 because I did the trip to mark my 50th birthday.
For months I’ve also been remembering what and who I was when I turned 40. Funny how big birthdays can get you reminiscing about the past. In 1998 I was just retired from my full time job at the ad agency and making my way with a new career. I was dealing with people and my surroundings in a different way. I was evolving into an adult.
Part of the shift was becoming a personal trainer that would opt to shave her head to support a client going through chemo. Why not? It was only hair and a perfect way to make a mark about how I wanted to support my clients and how I wanted to live my life.
Years later I wrote a story about the experience.
Today I am a forty year old bald woman.
Yesterday I had long black hair down to my shoulders.
Today I notice my ears are too big for my face.
Yesterday I looked like everyone else.
Today the wind on my bare scalp chills me to the bone.
Yesterday I still had all my hair to hide behind.
Today people stare at me.
Yesterday I walked into my hairdressers and had my head shaved.
The first step was to cut the bulk of my long hair with scissors. I was spellbound sitting there watching my reflection as my cherished locks fell away. The next step came as he used the electric razor for a close crop. You could now see the shape of my head. Thank God I had no strange lumps and bumps. That would have been too much! Then finally the razor blade to finish the job. There were no tears, just the reflection of a forty year old bald woman looking back at me.
Today I visited my bald client with breast cancer. She is bald from the chemo and was excited about my gesture to shave my own head to support her journey. Today she quietly tells me she can’t stand to look at me because it reminds her how sick she is. She doesn’t want to look at the face of another bald woman. I am banished. She tells me to leave and not come back.
Yesterday I was a person embarking on a symbolic gift for a friend.
Today I am a forty year old bald woman.
This piece not only told the story, but helped me find a way to share my life and experiences.
I became a writer. I found my voice.
If I wanted to say something, I would tell you a little tale.
So there was no better way to explain to you the reason why I look like this today.
It really shouldn’t come as a big surprise to the people that know me best.
And face it, there’s something cathartic to reflect about what it means to turn 60. What I’ve learned, what I care about, and what doesn’t matter at all.
Doing this while being blonde just makes me laugh.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Why is change so difficult? Even if it’s something we want it can throw your life into chaos. If it’s something we don’t want, well then there’s a mountain of negative frenzy to plow through.
I don’t like change. Negative or positive. But I also know that deciding not to change may be the worst decision to make. In a way, change is easier when it’s forced on you. Deciding to leap is tough.
With all these ideas floating around my head, I resigned my position as Fundraising Coordinator at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.
Yes, shocking news if you recently read my last blog about SiWC. (read it here)
I’m well known for telling people that it’s all about intent. If you ever have a question about what to do, just remember your original intent and the answer will be clear.
My intent all along has been to get a book written and published. It’s that intent that led me to my first Surrey Writers’ Conference. It’s been a long journey and I feel that time is running out. I need to get this done.
Heading into 2018 was my kick in the butt.
And let’s face it; I’m not the fundraising sort of person. The position was a great way to procrastinate and not write my book.
So I stepped aside.
As much as I hate change it can make me nostalgic. It made me remember all the people I’ve met at SiWC… some of the highest points were not the most public moments.
-That first year, a writer named Ace Baker gave me the courage to sit down with Jack Whyte so he could critique my stories.
-Chats with Anne Perry are always a lesson in living well and getting on with the work.
-Paula, Joe, Helga, Karalee and Silk…. 5 writers on the same journey. We always talk about it in the bar.
-Terry Fallis gave me more inspiration than I thought was possible and it still resonates today.
-One year, Maryam Tajilrou, one of the staff at The Sheraton Guildford, saved my whole conference by stepping up with an act of kindness.
-Sean Cranbury and Jane Porter and DinoPorn
-Thanks to kc dyer for pointing out that I’m a personal trainer and that’s where my story lives.
-Regan Ross showed me what real courage is.
-Jasper Fforde is a very kind man and gave me faith in my words.
-Tyner Gillies has your back during any emergency.
-And most important of all…being friends with Jen Browne is a blessing and privilege.
Yes, there have been lots of other moments… the joy of being around SiWC and attending the conference is that it could change your life.
It changed mine.
Sometimes change is good.
It’s all about the people you’ll meet. That’s the power of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.
I’ve been attending the event since 2011 and this still holds true.
Yes, in the end it will all be on my shoulders. As much as I don’t like this fact, it’s the truth. If I don’t write the book and put it out into the world then nothing will happen.
All the wishing and hoping and yes, even praying, are for naught unless you step up.
You must write it. You must finish it. You must pitch it to get a book published.
SiWC gives you that chance and can make the journey much easier… or at least make it feel possible.
I’ve learned more about my craft and even more about myself at the conference. I’ve begun to appreciate what I know and what I still need to learn. The process can feel relentless.
The weekend can feel magical.
Again this year, I got to have dinner with Anne Perry. We both tend to arrive at the hotel at the same time and sharing a meal and a good chat is a great way to start the weekend. I cherish her words and perspective.
The reason I had a new book to pitch this year is because I volunteered as the conference’s Sponsorship Coordinator. During one of my meetings with SiWC Board Member, kc dyer, she suggested I write something from a fitness professional perspective. That conversation led to an idea that has morphed into a book.
The next step was talking to Donald Maass. Only at a place like SiWC would you have the chance to pitch to someone of his caliber. (Or in my case, the opportunity to request an impromptu meeting.) His encouragement has given me the motivation to keep moving forward with this book. Priceless.
There were so many other moments that cemented my love of SiWC.
One fact still remains the same and the reason I will always return to Surrey each and every year.
Some people I’ve met there have become the best of friends.
And that is almost better than writing a bestseller.
On April 10, 2013 I wrote my first blog. It was all about Intent. I blabbed on about what the word meant to me and the people around me.
I also proclaimed it was my intent to write a blog every Wednesday.
One hundred and eighty-three blogs later I can safely say I did what I set out to do. I made sure at least once a week I wrote something for the public. Some weeks it was easy… some weeks the ideas wouldn’t come and I scrambled late into Wednesday evening trying to put some words together.
I’ve talked about everything!
And you’ve listened.
That alone is the reason I write. You will never know how grateful I am to you and the time you’ve invested here.
Now it is my intent to revise my book (again). On Monday, The Long Game got an insightful review from one of my favourite people at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. The only way forward will be to invest my writing time into the revision.
And since it is my intention to get published I must move in that direction.
Or I could quit. (Which is still an option, but not this week.)
So my new intent will be to post a blog every second Wednesday.
I’m sure that the Wednesdays when I don’t post I’ll be in a corner wondering what to do with the ideas in my head.
This might seem like a holiday to my faithful beta readers that have been with me from the beginning. Gerry and Debbie have been amazing and their critique and cheers have humbled me. And Jim… well he found my grammar errors and would send a polite email to point out the mistake. He was always right.
It’s a hard decision to give this up. And before you say, “Hey, you’re still going to be blogging!” Yes, I know, but this weekly endeavour has kept me sane through some of my toughest days.
I’m not good with change.
So let’s start again.
It’s my intent to write a blog every second Wednesday.
Asking for help is tough. I feel like I’ve spent the entire summer doing just that. It’s been humbling, demoralizing and filled with some valuable lessons learned.
One task I’ve had over the last few months was to garner some sponsors for the Surrey International Writers’ Conference. Once we won the matching grant from artsVest I thought the job would be easy. SiWC is a hugely successful and world renowned conference with so many sponsorship possibilities. I only needed to tell people about them and the money would follow.
No, I was wrong. Money didn’t just fall into our laps.
Luckily the artsVest grant included workshops on how to get sponsors.
One lesson came across loud and clear. Your best chance to raise funds for your organization was to mine all your “warm contacts.” Though it sounds simple I found this to be a tough one. In a nut shell, you have to ask all your friends for help. And if that doesn’t pan out, you have to ask all your friends to ask all their friends for help.
The workshop leader framed this in a much more positive and a not at all needy way, but it’s still asking people to help.
This is tough for me.
But, when you are competing with other arts groups, festivals, and conferences, asking for dollars can come down to who you know.
Isn’t that an all too familiar life lesson?
Last week I attended another artsVest workshop where we discussed a trend that seems to dominate our sponsorship quests.
We each had the chance to share our latest victory. For the majority this was not a group actually getting money, but it was a prospect returning a phone call or replying to an email.
Booking an actual meeting to discuss a sponsorship was considered a hallelujah moment!
The harsh reality of how tough it is to secure dollars was the common theme.
I got to share a couple of my best “warm contact” moments so far.
My financial advisor works at a huge company that only sponsors one major on-going event. When he received my email asking for help he and his colleague both made personal donations to SiWC. No, not a sponsorship per se, but it gave me hope. People were willing to step up.
I also happen to know one of the most connected people in the advertising world. I bit the bullet and wrote him an email, told him all about the conference and asked if he know anyone that might be interested. He was on a holiday in Europe but within 5 hours got back to me. He said he would put on his thinking cap. Again, no sponsorship dollars but I was heartened that he even replied. It gave me hope and reminded me what a great man he is.
This has become the norm. When you are accustomed to silence any type of reply becomes a victory.
As cancer kicked my butt I let many things slide. Post-surgery I pulled myself together to submit an application to a great potential sponsor and discovered I had missed their deadline for submissions. My heart broke. This company seemed like one of our best chances and I screwed up. I swear I sat staring at their website for an hour wondering how I could have been so stupid. Then I opted to fill out the application, go through the process, knock even though the door was closed. I also sent them an email explaining that my lapse was the reason SiWC had missed the deadline. The blame was mine alone. The submission was made because I felt an obligation to at least go through the process. I fell on the cancer sword. I apologized.
The next day they sent me an email to say they would accept our submission. They also wished me the best with my health issues and recovery.
In those few words that huge company became a warm contact.
And all it took was for me to ask for help and a bit of forgiveness.
Now who’s next on my list?
If you believe that getting your book published means a road to fame and stardom then stop reading this blog right now.
If you believe you can get published and compete with the likes of Tragically Hip, well you are insane.
I believe I’m the only Canadian that doesn’t enjoy the Hip. This simple fact means most people think I’m crazy and just plain wrong.
I also believe that Gord Downie loves writers so I guess we aren’t completely at odds.
I noticed all of this on a road trip with my writer friends this past weekend. Linda L Richards, Sam Wiebe, Dietrich Kalteis and Owen Laukkanen were scheduled to do an author event at the Kamloops Public Library. I went along for the ride. And why not? They are extremely entertaining people to hang out with.
(And yes, when you are still bandaged up you get to ride shotgun!)
To live in Vancouver and be surrounded by so many talented writers is a blessing. I love listening to them talk about their craft. It’s a skill I want to master so the opportunity is priceless. Luckily the writers I know are willing to lend advice and cheer on every effort.
Maybe the good people of Kamloops just weren’t aware of the opportunity.
Or maybe the chance to say goodbye to Gord ranked higher on their bucket list.
You see the timing of the two events didn’t actually overlap but the prep time to lug your cooler and folding chair to the Kamloops outdoor screening venue for that last concert didn’t allow for a visit to the library. People set their priorities.
For the small handful of folks that opted for the library and the chance to listen and chat with these writers… well they were treated to powerful stories and insight. They heard ideas about the creative process.
The joys, the rewards, the time, the dedication.
Linda, Sam, Dietrich and Owen spoke about being successful authors.
Not one of them mentioned the reality of driving four hours to speak to a few writing fans just to turn around and make the long trek home.
I believe Mr. Downie would have been very impressed.
I know I was.