Personal Essay #49

Are you coming into middle age? Welcome to gray hairs that have minds of their own and skin that seems to hang a little looser than it used to. Welcome to noisy joints and slower moving muscles. Welcome to a mind full of experiences, knowledge, and perceptions, yet still able to learn new information, making middle age the most fertile ground since infancy—only now mixed with the largest number of possibilities. It’s also a time for re-evaluation and making life-altering directional changes. So, settle into the middle part of your life’s story and see what more you want to write.

When we hear the phrase ‘coming of age’ we usually think of the ages between 13-21 depending on various factors. But I never hear anyone talk about the ‘second’ coming-of-age, (the stage that happens between ages 40-60) other than the overused negative phrase ‘mid-life crisis’. I believe instead that this is a mystical and magical time in ones’ life, this middle life, this second chance that not everyone makes it to. For me, I personally feel like I am coming into middle life like a toddler who is learning to run, but I simply keep propelling myself forward as fast as I can, in order to keep from falling flat on my own face.

So, what does this next section of life feel like (other than the aches and pains)? Well, hopefully by middle age, most of us have enough life experience built up and are brimming full of knowledge and wisdom. Yet at this point, most of us are still young enough to use that wisdom as a tool while still being young enough to try new things and to push ourselves to new limits. Many of us also now have grown or almost grown children giving us a huge portion of our time back and with this new found freedom a second childhood or second attempt at creating the life we truly want.

This can also be a time for stepping out of comfort zones, trying things that have sat on the back-burner while we raised families or even the secret longings forgot since our own childhood. Perhaps this step is fueled by the sands of time sliding past the narrow neck of the hourglass, by the knowledge, that time is absolutely running out. There’s so much life still left to live, we are at the halfway point, looking at our future with the fuzzy vision of declining eyesight. Unfortunately, it’s also common for potentially fatal health issues crop or pop up, disrupting any and all of our plans. As my granny used to say, “When you have your health, you have everything.” Life has no quality to it when you no longer have good health.

In this next stage of the adventure, we continue on with everything we have left. It’s the time to make a difference in the world–if we can. The perfect opportunity to figure out what else we can bring to the table of life. The focus is often on overall improvement and trying to make good on things we might have gotten wrong earlier in life. It’s a time for enjoying the years left ahead of us to the fullest as well as accomplishing things that have merely been dreams. Some say it’s all downhill from here and perhaps that is true but it’s more enjoyable than that. I feel middle life comes with a unique freedom that other stages of life are lacking. What will you do with this precious stage of your life? What dreams do you have left unfulfilled? If you are lucky, you still have plenty of time to find out.

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Personal Essay #48

For the last several years, while I was piddling around the writing community, I heard about and wanted to try Nanowrimo, but much like the rest of my writing life at that time I was mostly talking and rarely wrote. This year I finally did it and finished, all while finishing a novel that I started writing earlier in the year. I immediately experienced the benefits of this challenge. I can easily see how it has made me a better writer in a wicked short period of time. It’s one of those situations in life where you can only learn by doing and learn best by not having any real expectations of the process, just full immersion.

The moment I finished I felt stunned, I didn’t know what to do with myself as I had never reached my goal before. I assumed that I would immediately want a nap, but I didn’t. The only way I could have felt more awkward would have been if I found myself happy or excited about something at a funeral. So, I started to clean my writing desk. I put everything relating to my manuscript into a tray. This included the draft, the notes, the ideas, every little scrap of paper all put away nicely to sit and marinate and simmer. I have promised myself I will not look at any of it until after the new year. I will have plenty of time to get back into it once the holiday humdrum is over.

“Now what?” I asked myself. Well, I don’t want to lose all these great writing habits I have instilled into my life over the past month. So, I set up my writing desk with fresh books to read, a fresh notepad and pens, a stick-it note of things to write about and I restructured my writing schedule to reflect my new goals. I’m dropping my word count down slightly. With all my writing combined for the month of November, I wrote over 79k. The previous month it was a little over 40k. I’m thinking 60k would be reasonable and allow me to maintain some sense of normalcy in my life.

My goal this month is to shift into shorter successes. I will be working on learning to correctly craft personal essays (through some brief reading I have discovered that I am writing these technically wrong, but it’s okay) and to learn to finally write short stories (perhaps I should have started there…). Another goal that I have is to create a bank of story ideas so that I always have something to work on. All of these goals will lead me to another goal that I always talk about and never do, submitting my work. Whether it is a contest or paid publications, this is what I will be focusing on during the upcoming year while I polish and rewrite my next succession of novel drafts.

Other than my blog and a brief stint as an editorial columnist for WSU Vancouver, I’ve never gone public with my work. It’s always been either for me personally or as correspondence. Once upon a time, I submitted some poetry with zero success (secret, I am so NOT a poet). My current goal then is to write my heart out and work hard to create a veritable chest of publishable essays and short stories before finding a home for them. So, my goal is actually multi-layered as I continue to hone my craft, producing better work each time I write so that I am growing my portfolio as I sharpen my first novel. These tasks are time-consuming and necessary if I want to pursue my career as an author. I don’t write with monetary value in mind, but I want my work to be worthy of payment.

I would feel blessed and honored to finally reach my writing goals after all these years. It’s the reason that I now plant my butt in this chair every morning at 6 am. Being a published successful author is the goal and the plan but it is not the reason I write. I write mainly for me and secondly for my audience (which I believe is out there) in the hopes that they too find comfort and connection with the words I write. If they do, then I have done my job as a writer. That is how I see it all coming together and I am grateful to be on this journey. The experience of doing Nanowrimo changed my writing forever. The best part is that I did it. I wrote an entire first draft, which means, if I did it once, I can do it again. Writing life might just be the most challenging of all the arts, but I didn’t choose it, it chooses me, over and over again.

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Personal Essay #47

While I have considered myself a writer for most of my life, it’s only been in this last year that I have really made lifestyle changes to not only reflect that but to ensure it. It’s like anything else in life, if you see it every day, you don’t notice the gradual changes. It’s only when you step back and look at the timeline of things that you actually notice a change. The difference in my grandchildren as they move from infants to toddlers is a perfect example. I don’t think about it much until I see a photo from a year ago when the changes are plainly visible.

A year ago, my writing photograph would have looked like this: I only wrote when inspired. I tried to write stories based on scenes I envisioned in my mind and sometimes they didn’t even go together. My writing was often jumbled and nonsensical. I had never written a genuine story with a beginning, middle, and an end (not once, yet I thought I could write a book somehow—laughing). I did not write every day but I did read nearly every day, which was about the only thing I was doing right. I wanted to be a real writer, a published author. My dream was only that, a dream that had never magically happened for me like I thought it should and like I thought it did for everyone else.

I’m not sure what book or article I read that truly inspired me to make a solid commitment or what changed within me that made the difference. But something did during the month of December 2016. First, I chose to meet a challenge called #52essays2017. That got me not only writing something regularly but got me to publish it publicly every week, getting my feet wet. The second change I made was joining 750words.com. I get up every morning and write my 750 words before I start my day and since I started doing this at the end of January, there have only been two days so far that I haven’t written at all this entire year. The third thing I did was to try to learn as much as I could about how to write a novel while at the same time I worked on improving my writing in general.

The next thing I changed was the process. I have always edited as I write, which I have been told is a writing fatality but I never heeded the warning. I decided this time I must. So, although I really struggled with it at first, I managed to keep my novel moving along, just writing, no editing. I started off with yellow legal pads and pencil. I still wasn’t really getting anywhere. My story lagged and I could not keep the momentum going for any length of time. I was beginning to lose hope, I kept extending my personal deadline. I never realized how hard actual writing could be. I also started getting up at 6 am to write, which anyone who knows me is next to impossible.

Midway through October when I realized I didn’t have a shot in hell of finishing on time, I threw up my hands and decided to try something that truly scared me. The National Novel Writing Month aka Nanowrimo. I almost chickened out of the pre-writing meetings with the regional chapter, but I swallowed my fear and stood up and did it all anyway. It was good that I did. I met some cool people, I learned a few new tricks, I gained some much-needed confidence and I plunged right in, not knowing how to swim. I had more information though than when I started and I hoped that would be enough. I also upgraded to using a pen, much faster.

At about the halfway or midpoint I faltered. I froze. My story froze. Fear caught me and wouldn’t let go. I hacked it out and after a couple of days was back on track. I am currently one week away from the finish line. I am a little above target but more on track in my soul than I ever have been in my whole life. Not sure what changed again, or how or even why. I just know that now I am “getting it” in a way I never have before. I feel like a floodgate opened but instead of it bowling me over its washing over me like beautiful music.

My story keeps moving as if on it’s own. Yet I put forth that effort every single damn day. It doesn’t feel difficult anymore though. It seems as natural as breathing. Yesterday I crossed off my 40k mark. I am still in awe. The best and the worst part of this whole thing is that I truly don’t know how my story will end. Since the general plan is a series, I feel that is okay because I have a general idea of how it needs to end. But so much of what I have written has surprised me that I am not sure how it will end exactly. So, for now, the best part is that I can’t wait to find out. What a difference a year can make when you add dedication, discipline, and determination into the mix. Finishing strong.

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Personal Essay #46

I’m still here.

I’m still alive and still trying. The past few days have threatened to stop me and squash me in my tracks with anxiety. I don’t have time for anxiety or setbacks right now. I am in the middle of doing Nanowrimo and have a 50k word count to fulfill. (In case you don’t know, Nanowrimo is a writing contest done during the month of November. 50k words would be roughly equivalent to a 200-page paperback novel.) I am using the motivation of this contest to finish a book I have been trying to write for a decade. I’m both proud and embarrassed to say that I’ve never written this much in such a short period of time in all the years I’ve called myself a writer.

None of this comes easy for me. I struggle hard with fear of failure but eventually overcome it in due time. However, I am committed to finishing this latest version of my novel that I have been writing since June. In a matter of weeks, I’ve already tripled what I wrote in that 5 month period of time. I am not allowing myself any time to or giving myself the chance to edit it or make any major revisions. The only luxury I sometimes allow myself comes only after I write and only by making brief editing notes in the margin.

I have 12 days left to write and now that I have scaled some of the tallest structural parts of my novel and passed beyond the midpoint, I feel that these last 20k are completely attainable. I even have a backup plan for if I happen to get to the absolute end of the story before reaching my word count. I have plenty of areas where the story still needs further development. When I look at my previous days writing, certain parts of it tend to stick out at me and seem absolutely horrible, begging me to cut or edit them. That’s when I have to I remind myself, I can’t rework material that isn’t there and when I get stuck that I can’t edit words that don’t exist. I can only keep trying till I get it right.

This challenge has taught me a great many things. One of which is, no matter how much preparation you’ve done, there comes a time when prepared or not, you just have to dive in or you’ll never finish. I have learned that writing a book is way harder than I ever expected (and I am only on the first draft! No panicking.) but I love it. I love everything about it and I hope that love shows with each word on the page. This process has taught me that sometimes you have to give up other things to get stuff done (my reading time is suffering.). I have learned that you can’t wait for inspiration and you don’t have to. You truly can create your own. I have learned that I can always do more than I think I can, even when it feels impossible.

So, even if I don’t hit my mark every day, I have to be okay with that. I have to accept when I don’t succeed. I know it’s okay to keep trying harder till I get there. It might take me a bit longer but I will always get there as long as I keep trying and never give up. I’m still here. I’m still alive. I’m still trying, no matter how tough it feels, there is always hope to carry me even when my will doesn’t want to.

The only reason I look back is for the motivation of seeing how far I’ve already come because if I’m not trying I will never get anywhere.

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Personal Essay #45

The time I fell in love with a narcissist.

I didn’t know he was a narcissist when I met him. It took me about a decade to figure it out. It was by far the strangest love affair of my life and it nearly destroyed me. I never understood which was worse the fact that I let it all happen or that he willfully hurt me time and time again. I learned many things about myself during that time and in the reflection of his mirror, he showed me what areas I needed to work on. Just like all things, there was some good with the bad.

During that time I suffered from a lowered self-esteem. Now whether this was just who I was then or whether or not something he did made it worse, who can say? I try not to talk about it. He had me so crazy in my own head for far too long. My friends still cringe when his name comes up. This one particular heartache is one that I don’t think will ever fully heal.

This all came to the surface again recently after I read an article on “Why empaths are attracted to narcissists.” Suddenly that entire relationship made sense to me. Every misstep, every low blow, every complaint, every odd quirk, every dishonest or telling moment… now it all made perfect terrifying sense.

Now, let me be clear. This was not physical abuse. I know he would never have laid a hand on me. He’s not that guy. But I do think he emotionally hurt me and did so with intent in order to keep me attached to and dependent on him. It took years of no contact in order for me to be able to look back and see things clearly.

After these years, I can now see the clear path of destruction and the grieving and the eventual rebirth of my path. It was a growing experience that taught me things I couldn’t learn any other way. It gave me a new perspective on life and love and intentions. It also planted a permanent seed of distrust which has taught me to be cautious in general.

I finally did the update to my email that Yahoo has been reminding me to do for months. There now appeared a place with pictures from old emails. When I opened it there popped up pictures from an outing we went on but no pictures of us together. There never were. We were never like that. It didn’t hurt like I thought it would, it just made me remember. Now it seems that all happened another lifetime ago.

I am still grateful for the lessons even though the cuts were deep and took forever to heal. The scars keep me protected. They’ve thickened over time with maturity and learning. The lessons I learned gave me the strength to walk away from any situation that is no good for me. I learned that I keep the key to my own happiness. Because the old adage is true…

If someone else holds the key to your happiness, they will drop it, they will drop it every time.

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Personal Essay #44

I’m going to tell you a story that is quite possibly one of the worst things I’ve ever done. Like most of the “worst” things I have done, this was completely unintentional. Not that it made the situation any better; it never does. My crime was breaking trust and in the process, I lost a cherished friend. This is one of the bigger issues for me as I am not one to make friends casually or lightly or even easily for that matter.

This incident still haunts me. It was one of those situations I wish I could have gone back and done differently. But the truth is that I didn’t handle it well and there was nothing I could do to fix it once the damage was done. Once the words escaped me there was no getting them back. The scene was one of friendship heartbreak. All the sorry’s in the world wouldn’t fix it. Instead, a pile of pain laid where once a friendship stood. The remnants broken, trashed, and useless.

I learned so much from such a small slip. She even sat me down and confronted me giving me a chance to at least explain myself—to own my shit and admit to my wrongness. She was calm and open about it.

It was a chance no one had given me before and it instilled in me a greater sense of responsibility. I, in turn, gave her the ability and opportunity to express her feelings and disappointment. I even allowed her to dump all those feelings onto me like trash upon the pile. I can still to this day feel the pain and the guilt, but I learned.

I lost her then. Well shortly thereafter, she uprooted herself and I have never seen her again. Not another word was spoken or passed between us. She fell off the face of my planet. I miss her. I still have some pictures of us together in Vegas. They are in a box somewhere around here. I don’t know why I still think about her but I do.

I’ve been wary and careful in the making and keeping of friends ever since. It’s a hard thing to trust another person (especially women sometimes). It’s also hard to be trusted and you never know the level of expectation the other person has for you in their own life. Therefore, I have very few close friends anymore.

My closest friends are now mostly independent women. I like that and need that independence as well. It’s not essential to see each other all the time to keep our friendship going and growing. I have changed in many ways over the last few years (thank the gods). I now keep secrets without fail. I am careful with feelings when I can be. But I believe sometimes we do need to hear the hard stuff. I believe sometimes we have to be confrontational and express what we are feeling and allow others to do the same in order to better things. I’m still not good at all the intricate bits and confrontational stuff is, and will probably always, be hard for me.

Examining my list of the worst things I have done, I’d have to say this one rode in on a high learning curve. Which in my perspective, turns a mistake, into a lesson.

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Personal Essay #43

Why is the feeling to quit such a strong one? I don’t know about everyone else out there but this is a serious internal issue for me. A task, a job, a relationship, a project; it doesn’t matter what it is, I get to a point where I hit a wall, my mind tells me it’s too hard, I can’t do it, just quit. In those situations, quitting seems like the easiest option, even though I know it’s not.

When I quit smoking it was hard. Quitting any habit is difficult. It doesn’t matter whether it is something like chewing one’s nails or not eating sweets, it takes active effort to quit. The research says it takes 3 weeks to break a habit. Basically, 3 weeks to really quit anything. Yet it takes me one second to say to myself “this is too hard, I can’t do it, I quit” and walk away.

The weight of this feeling slows me way down. Everything suddenly feels unbearably heavy. Everything seems ultimately impossible. It’s that devastating “all is lost” feeling and it tries to devour me. This feeling usually comes along hand in hand with moments of lashing out at those around me because things did not go my way. This frustrated reaction only serves to make matters worse, when what I need to do is to make things work.

Luckily, I’ve been through this series of events and feelings enough times now to know there is another way out. I stop. I pause. I take a deep breath and I either try again or I ask for assistance. Once I have refocused and put that feeling aside, everything usually falls into place or I fall into a place of acceptance. I always feel better for not having quit and enjoy instead the feeling of success.

With all this said, I still don’t understand the feeling and why it persists. What keeps it alive? Cognitively I understand that this is a learned behavior and that every time I choose to change the outcome, I am slowly overcoming that behavior. Yet, it is still there. Like the temptation of a cigarette or Halloween candy sitting unattended in a bowl. Perhaps it is just part of the human condition and entwined in the bare bones of our primitive human brains. There are a million reasons and a million excuses, much like the ones that come up in my mind when I want to quit. I am grateful that, for me, the will to live and desire to improve overcomes the hunger to quit.

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