How live-streaming helped me live again

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Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on me, not physically but, mentally. After cresting the half-century mark last year, I am blessed to be able to say I had never struggled with anxiety or depression. What I would have first described as a distraction slowly burrowed into my brain and riddled me with emotions and a sadness I had never had to deal with before. Having been an extrovert by day and introvert by night, I became overwhelmed by the isolation that came with being advised to stay at home and only go out in public when necessary.

Looking back on the past few months, I should have known I had been affected more than I care to admit. The things I loved to do in my spare time became a burden and I forgot the pleasure I felt when I cooked a wonderful meal for myself or sat down at my computer and let words cascade down from the heavens to help me write the novel I am working on that has been untouched since March. The passion I once had for my hobbies became non-existent and that made my sadness feel even more powerful.

But life has a way of kicking us in the pants and it chooses interesting ways to send us compelling messages that cannot be ignored. I spent forty minutes watching a live stream on Patreon by someone I greatly admire. During his video, he emphasized how important it is to put ourselves first and to take time each day to do small things that bring us back to ourselves. His message couldn’t have been louder or clearer. I had been so focused on things that had nothing to do with me that I had all but forgotten to focus on myself and the things that are important to ME.

I have not posted on my blog since April 27th. It pains me to say that. This space has always been my sacred space. This space has let me be myself and free the words that want to be freed whenever I feel the desire to let them loose. But those words have been muted by the blanket of stress I have let weigh me down. NO MORE! Today I take back my power. Today I let the words oppress my thoughts and unleash themselves. Today I will create a spectacular meal for myself because I am the number one thing in my life. If I don’t take care of myself, how will I ever have the energy to take care of anyone else? Thank you, Jamie Lambert. Your words did not fall on deaf ears.

 

Yesterday was that day

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Once a week, in the midst of our current global situation, I prepare myself for a full-on ugly cry because I know it always lurks in the shadows. I embrace the reality of what we are all going through and become a victim to its weight, enough so that I let it bring me down and send me into wracking sobs to purge the emotion I feel. It is the release I need to climb out of the darkness and allow myself to see the immense light that keeps us all going. And there is so much light.

Yesterday was that day, for me. It wasn’t planned. I wasn’t counting down the minutes until I could cry, I just cried, and it came at the most unexpected moment. I had just watched such a joyful live-stream on Facebook and I cried tears that were filled with more happiness than sadness because I realized that all of us are struggling and trying to make the best of an unprecedented situation. We are all just doing the best we can to make it through, one day at a time.

Life, online, is our new reality. My recent presence on social media has increased at an alarming rate, but this is our now. Social media is our way of holding tight to the people who bring us joy and keep us grasping at snippets of a life we once knew and, one day, we will know again.

Life after Covid-19 will eventually return. It will be a very slow process and one that we will venture into with distrust, at first, but it will return. I’m sure most of us will be wary of shaking hands or giving hugs, but life will slowly evolve back to where we were and we have to have faith in that truth.

I send so much gratitude for those on the front lines, from medical staff to essential services. I send my undying appreciation for those who are self-isolating to flatten the curve. And I send my plea for those who take this situation lightly to rethink your actions and embrace this pandemic seriously. This virus is unforgiving. It is severe. And I would hate to think, one day, you could look back and think yesterday was that day, the day I could have stayed home and really made a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

When you just have to sing show tunes

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Musical theatre was a big part of my childhood. Once upon a time, our tiny community centre was host to many fantastic productions of popular musicals and, in my teens, my friends and I could be found in the front row, hanging on every word and every note of those shows. We became such a part of the production that we were welcomed into the rooms below the theatre each night after the show had ended to hang out with the performers we came to know and love.

Music has always been a focal point in my life. My dad had a wonderful voice and my mom, although she admittedly could not carry much of a tune, also embraced the sounds that were able to transport her into another world. I easily followed in their footsteps. There is nothing more magical than being able to lose yourself in the arrangements of a musical soundtrack that can send you to a place where simple words have no meaning unless they are delivered in a four-part harmony.

This year did not start well for me. Every creative outlet I had turned its back on me and I struggled to return to a place of happiness after suffering a devastating loss. The light that held out its hand to me, the light that pulled me out of the darkness, was music. I began to listen to familiar songs that held a special place in my heart. Musicals that had long-since buried themselves in my past came rushing back and made me remember the joy I felt when those notes awakened my senses.

After spending many hours on YouTube, replaying songs from musicals I could sing in my sleep, I found Collabro. Five, now four, very talented young British voices that echo my love of musical theatre took me from a place of innate sadness to a place where joy still lives, and that joy has now cultivated a seed that has been given a chance to grow and thrive. Songs I knew so well, and songs I am now discovering, are taking me from the depth of despair to a place where life has been given new breath all because I am, once again, finding myself in a place where I found such great comfort.

Cradle your contentment. Sing show tunes. Embrace those things that may make others look at you sideways but bring you joy. Judgement is subjective. Happiness should be indestructible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Applying my salve

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Like most people, I lose myself sometimes. I get so caught up in the emotion around me I forget the things I should be focused on. Nothing brings me back to myself like cooking. I find great solace in my kitchen. The world around me disappears and my existence is renewed by the smell of a combination of ingredients that transport me to a place I had professedly forgotten.

Life has a funny way of throwing countless distractions in our direction and it is up to us to tune out those interruptions and concentrate on the things we value most. Family and friends are always at the top of my list and cooking has consistently been the thread that weaves together all of the important people in my life.

My fondest childhood memories are richly steeped in the images of our family kitchen and my love of cooking was absorbed through osmosis. Whether it was my mother methodically following a recipe, my father taking every ingredient from our refrigerator to see what he could randomly create or my brother making delicious crepes from scratch, cooking has always been the one thing that holds a piece of each of them close to my heart.

Last night I got home from work and knew the only place I yearned to be was in front of my stove. Nothing else mattered. As much as I wanted to tackle the “to-do” items on my list or write the next five hundred words in my novel, cooking was the only avenue that would afford me the true escape I needed. The onions were chopped, the bacon was rendered and my house began to, once again, smell like my home.

In a collection of minutes, the chili was simmering on the stove and the cheesy beef tortellini was set to cook in my crockpot. All was right in my world and the chaos of the universe outside of my existence had been laid to rest for the evening. Cooking is the salve that heals my wounds. Whether it is a simple salad dressing, a comforting stew, a tasty casserole or a perfectly cooked sous vide piece of beef, cooking will always have enough positive energy to undo anything negative in my life.

 

 

 

 

Sending 840 characters into the Quantum Field

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Writers spend countless hours crafting ideas into words, words into a story and a story into a novel. I have likened my experience writing my first novel to birthing a child. Long months were spent nurturing this concept and, once the book was completed, I had an outpouring of emotion and wanted nothing more than to snuggle the pages of my book and weep for the joy I felt holding this thing I had created.

Asking someone to love your child as much as you do can be challenging, especially if that person is a literary agent. They are well aware of the painstaking process from conception to labor and delivery but asking them to love that child as much as you do is a hurdle some Olympic athletes could not successfully cross without incident. Where you reserve no judgement about the beauty of your child, agents are the first to find the flaws. But you are the parent and they are the teacher. Their job is to identify those flaws and to help your child to be as successful as you know they can be.

The query letter is the introduction of your child to the prestigious school you have always envisioned that child attending and the agent is the head of admissions. You have a small window of opportunity to convince that person your child will do great things if given the chance. The query letter is exhaustively crafted based on the agent’s criteria and you helplessly send your child into the arms, in essence, of a stranger.

Social media introduced a new avenue to aid in the effort to place your child with the perfect school. In 2012, PitMad was introduced on Twitter and writers are now able to send three pitches, each two-hundred and eighty characters, not words, into cyber space to catch the attention of an agent. This challenge happens quarterly and the next phase is rapidly approaching.

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On September 5th, I will be sending my two-hundred and eighty characters, three times, out into cyberspace but there will be a decisive difference to my approach. I am going to find the head of admissions and help them to see the potential in my child, and I will be afforded the chance to brag about the second child I am nurturing and will soon be bringing into the family of my novels.

This is my opus. The quantum field of possibilities has been listening to me brag about my child and this child, and my future children, will do great things.

 

 

Words of encouragement

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I have been picking away at my second book. July and August are generally months when my writing wanes because I am too busy at work during the day and too exhausted at night to formulate sentences. But that has changed.

A friend asked to read what I had written thus far. It was a mere 2,750 words but her reaction to those words was nothing short of amazing. It gripped her in the first few paragraphs and she was slightly sad there were no more words to read. I was elated and that was just the cattle prod I needed to get back at it. I came home after work on Sunday and opened the lines of communication between me and my characters. To say they were chatty would be a gross understatement. They would not shut up.

Sunday afternoon, I wrote. Sunday evening, I wrote more. And this morning the floodgate remained open and words poured out of me and onto my keyboard. By the time I looked up at the screen, I had crafted another 3,500 words and the ideas are still at the forefront of my brain. Thankfully I keep my phone close and utilize the voice memo capability because the ideas just won’t stop.

I am going to continue writing until the impending thunderstorms arrive and I am force to unplug from the world while it passes. One Eleven has had new life breathed into it and its pulse continues to quicken. I may get this thing written much sooner than I thought!

I’m not sure when they started knocking, but they’re back

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The voices in my head, those distant sounds of characters waiting to develop themselves, have returned. They had been quelled by the busy season at work but they have since insinuated themselves back into my daily life and to say I have missed them would be a gross understatement.

Summer is my busiest time and there have not been many days through any period of June through September I have been able to harness that creativity. I got home from work after a busy Saturday changeover and there they were, ready to speak, and I was ready to listen. God, how I have missed this feeling. I have longed for those voices to speak loudly enough that I could not ignore their persistence. And now here they are, summoning me to join them on the journey they want me to document for them as I write my second book.

And, as much as I love them, my fear of them is what makes this journey so invigorating. They are bold, they have depth and sometimes they scare me. But they are speaking for themselves, willing me to open myself enough to understand their passion and apprehension and have me follow them on their pilgrimage.

This is writing. This is giving in to a force bigger than yourself and allowing the voices to tell you what they want to say. It is not creating a story, it is listening to their story and telling it, for them, in the best way you can.

 

 

The road less traveled

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There are two certainties in my life. One – I love driving. And two – I love road trips. Yesterday, one led to another and the afternoon was one of the most enjoyable I have had in a while.

I arrived at a friend’s house and we decided to survey the rising water from the epic floods of 2019. After we passed the gushing falls close to where he lives, we continued our journey down some unknown back roads and absorbed the beauty of the un-mapped communities that are so close to the new town he now calls home. I can say un-mapped because, as we were driving, the GPS froze as we continued along the back roads and we could only navigate by roads that did not have a “dead-end” sign as a means of direction.

The sun was shining, the countryside was stunning and the company was perfect. Thankfully, we both enjoy getting “lost” on country drives and seeing what is within a stone’s throw of what everyone refers to as civilization. Rows of wind-break trees were seen lined between farms and random goats and their kids enjoyed an afternoon snack by the side of the road. It was beautiful.

There is so much to be seen beyond the boundaries of our town limits. A life line beats outside of our main streets. The road less traveled is arguably one that is filled with interesting stories and views that cannot compare to anything else you will see.

After discussing our shared interest, our journey today solidified the desire to drive Route 66. It has been on my bucket list since 1999 and almost died with the passing of my dear friend who inspired the idea. But the dream is alive and well and taking on a new life. It is certainly not the road less traveled, but it will be the road I will eventually travel. The highlight for me will be Arizona. I have not smelled that air, nor have I seen those red rocks, but those things haunt my dreams and they are something I am destined to experience.

The planning begins, and I am excited to plot the course from the here and now to the historic journey across America. And, although several points of Route 66 really are less traveled, I am already starting the journey in my head and my heart. It may take a couple of years to see this thing through, but I am all in.  I am so ready to motor West.

 

 

When you just want comfort food

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I have been obsessed with my Christmas present and have sous-vided (is that even a verb?) many pieces of protein over the last three weeks. I can accurately predict that my kitchen will soon be adorned with a 12-quart Rubbermaid container with a fitted lid so I no longer have to use my soup pots and transfer my precision cooker from pot to pot depending on the size of the meat or fish being cooked.

Sous Vide is a wonderful cooking technology that allows a chef to cook proteins to an exact temperature without overcooking, unless you forget that protein in the water bath for several hours or cook at too high a temperature. Last night, I cooked a pork tenderloin, Chinese BBQ style, without the actual barbecue. The taste of the marinade combined with the tenderness of the pork was delicious. I broiled the pork for a few minutes to give it that nice crust on the outside and it was better than I anticipated.

When I came home from work tonight, I knew the leftover pork would be used in my dinner preparation. While I mulled over the many things I could make, I thought of my dad. My father was the King of leftovers. There was nothing he couldn’t take from previous meals and not make into a delicious meal the whole family would love. Without thinking, I reached for the rice and prepared to make Barbecue Pork Fried Rice.

There were moments during my meal preparation I could hear my father’s voice, especially when I transferred the rice from pot to frying pan. If I were truly following in his footsteps, I would have spread the cooked rice onto a baking sheet and let it dry slightly overnight to give it the perfect texture for fried rice, but I skipped that step. I did fry the onions to a caramel brown, added the bacon, the peas, the pork and the eggs, allowing the eggs to scramble slightly before incorporating the rice into the mix. I could swear I heard my father sigh when the eggs had cooked properly before I added the final ingredients. The result was delicious.

As much as I love cooking, sometimes a simple dinner of comfort food will taste better than anything I could have toiled to make and I’m sure my dad is smiling knowing he was the influence for my meal choice.

 

 

I wouldn’t change a thing

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It’s been a busy season for me. I love my job and I love the people I interact with, but the thing I love the most in my life is curiously absent. From May to October, my writing takes a backseat to my real world. Characters are hushed, story lines are left in the wings and my creativity is quieted to a faint whisper. All the important pieces of my imagination are sent into the recesses of my brain and that skill and those creative endeavors are limited to the moments when my dream sequences become aware of their true potential.

Writing is a funny thing. The artistry behind the words knows how to take advantage of the calmness in our lives. It feeds on the still moments in our brain and it dapples the blank pages in our minds with stunning and eclectic representations of stories we had never even thought possible. When the mind is idle, inspiration transports us to places we never imagined. It creates a spectral portrait of a life we had only, until now, dreamed was possible and it lets our fantasy become a reality on the pages we create.

I needed this day to get back to me. I yearned for those voices to speak to me again in a volume that rose above the din of my daily life. I wanted those characters to tap me on the shoulder and remind me their story was in a holding pattern, waiting for the chance to take off and tell their tale. And, more than anything, I wanted those voices to convince me that I was the only one who could truly convey their angst and their emotion on the pages I constructed.

Writing is a long journey. Most writers takes their queues from the voices who guide them, who wake them in the wee hours and who demand they spend every minute of their free time composing the opus of their lives while they, the writers, give up small pieces of their own existence to tell those stories.  Knowing what I know now about the creative process, and if I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing.