Getting my characters out of self-isolation

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The voices in my head, the ones I admit I listen to on a regular basis, have been annoyingly silent over the past few months. Those tentative whispers that regularly woke me from sleep at three in the morning have taken self-isolation to a whole new level and have remained reticent since the Covid pandemic took the world by storm. I am not ashamed to admit I miss the sleepless nights. I long for the wee hours when I can wake up with new ideas for my book and the characters trip over each other to take a prominent position to tell their stories.

I have never been one to write an outline for any story I am creating. I am merely the vehicle for my characters to drive in any direction they choose. My responsibility is to follow the rules of the writing road to keep them from careening over a cliff or crashing into a cement barrier. It sounds much easier than it is if I am being honest.

I have always been a big fan of fiction that is character driven. Sure, it’s nice to read stories that are wonderfully descriptive but, if I cannot find endearing qualities in the characters, I tend to lose interest if I am unable to find a connection to the personalities who are telling their stories. I had developed a wonderful rapport with my new characters and am thrilled they felt comfortable enough to share their narrative with me.

But the time has come to coax them out of hiding. I am going to bait the trap. I am going to lure them out of their cushy recesses and put them back to work. They have a story to tell and my fingers are hovering over the keyboard, ready to make some sense of what they are telling me. I went back to my job after a government regulated hiatus. It is time for them to do the same.

Even my characters are self-isolating

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As a writer, I initially looked at this isolation as a great opportunity to add tens of thousands of words to the novel I am currently writing. I could not have been more misguided.

At the beginning of my time at home, my brain was overwhelmed by all of the information being shared on social media about Covid-19. I couldn’t open Twitter or Facebook and not become immersed in the deluge of articles and interviews. The fantasy world in my head retreated and took shelter behind all of the reality I forced myself to watch and my characters have since taken their self-isolation to an impressive level. They are proving the theory that complete seclusion is perfectly attainable.

As many times as I have tried to convince them we could meet at an acceptable social distance, they have vehemently refused to leave their self-captivity and have extinguished all of the light bulbs they historically have used to send me ideas. My invitations for Zoom meetings have gone unanswered and their exhaustive silence has become deafening.  I am stymied.

But the absence of their voices has not made me doubt my ability to finish this book, it has only made me put my reality ahead of my imagination, for now.  I know those characters have been sending text messages to each other, formulating their plans to come out of confinement because they want their stories to be told. The strength of their voices at the beginning of this book makes me believe they want their lives to be forever etched onto the pages they are helping me to write.

So, I will wait. I will sit at my laptop and be ready for the moment the first voice timidly comes out of their self-imposed incarceration and begins to speak again. Until then, I will formulate more plot lines and hope all of the characters agree with the direction the story may follow. And if the trajectory of their adventure is incorrect, I’m sure they will, once again, wake me in the wee hours to tell me how wrong I was and to set the directive of the scenario back onto the course it was meant to follow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I can’t cope, I cry and then I cook

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A lot has happened in my little world over the last three months. I won’t bore you with the details as most of those have been documented in previous posts if you want to go back and read through them. Imposed quarantine and my immense fear of the Coronavirus aside, the calendar year of 2020 has felt like a battering ram and I am the feeble wooden gate, splintering with every blow.

I have always been the person who was very quick to hatch a Plan-B. I don’t dwell on the details of what just happened. My brains kicks into overdrive and I immediately search for a plan of action to move forward. But something in the way my neurons have always fired in the past has recently changed. For the first time in my life, I feel completely overwhelmed and uncertain about where I go from here and that, for me, is the true sign of how affected I am by what is happening in the world right now.

I try my best to process all of the information presented online but when those reports become too staggering to deal with, I purge my accumulated emotion and I cry. I make no excuse and I don’t fault myself for my behaviour, I just cry. Once I have released the intensity of those feelings, my focus shifts and I want nothing more than to be in my kitchen. I have recently renamed my kitchen my “solace room” because it is the only place where I can feel a true sense of peace.

Today is no exception to that rule. My dueling crockpots and my Dutch oven will be filled with a myriad number of items that will produce the combined aromas of onion, garlic, bacon and a collection of other ingredients that will eventually become an assortment of soups and stews I will share with others. One person, in particular, will have his freezer filled with these items as a dear friend has just been diagnosed with advanced brain cancer and is awaiting the plan for his course of treatment.

So, this morning, I am shutting out the socials, and the rest of the planet, to bring my focus into a world I can control, into a world where I can be helpful even if it is on a very small scale. And as the onions caramelize and the bacon is rendered, I know I will cry more tears today because it is what I need to do. I can only hope when this pandemic is over and we are able to live our lives again, I can say I was able to recognize the best parts of myself and know that I gave everything I could to make things a bit better for the people I love when they needed it the most.

 

 

It’s okay

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I know myself. I know I will feel this global crisis at a molecular level because that’s how I feel everything. I’ve been called an empath but, regardless of labels, I can only say I suffer from the human condition very deeply. I am a minuscule fragment of the blanket that covers us all and that blanket seems to be unraveling when it should be binding itself tighter than ever.

Over the last week, I have done my best to follow the guidelines of social distancing and self-isolation. Sadly, the one thing I did not do was to ignore social media. Although there are so many positive posts and people sending uplifting messages of hope, there are countless people who Just. Don’t. Get it. This is MY forum and, for those who DO get it, I want to tell you it’s okay.

It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. The world is closing down around us and the sudden onset of panic is inevitable. Those who embrace the steps we need to take to flatten the curve will welcome the closure of all non-essential services. Those who don’t grasp the significance of those steps will continue to spew nonsense and put the rest of us in jeopardy.

It’s okay to feel emotional. I went for a forty-minute walk today, with musical theatre tunes blaring in my ears (thank you, Collabro), and I cried for the duration of my walk. I cried for those who have already succumbed to Covid-19. I cried for those who will still fall victim to this new pandemic. And I cried for the people who think those of us who are taking this so seriously are misinformed.

It’s okay to be scared. I’m petrified. I’m not so scared about the disease itself, but I’m truly frightened for the result that will come because of the ones who choose to believe that their actions will not have a harmful effect on others. They will. Your inability to see the larger picture is utterly disheartening and inevitably harmful.

It’s okay to be mad at people who just don’t get it. Not everyone thinks the same way but, as my mother used to say, we need to take the higher road. For all of you who choose to think this is nothing, think again. Communities, cities and provinces are shutting down to thwart the spread of this disease. Put yourself aside and think of the bigger picture. You could prevent dozens of people getting sick by staying home. By simply not going out in public and potentially spreading this virus, you can prevent the influx of people gathering in our hospital waiting rooms and reducing the number of fatalities by lessening the amount of human contact. Sure, you think you may not be infected but what if you are asymptomatic and spreading the virus without even knowing.

It’s okay to be silly. I’ve put my Christmas lights back on. It may be a ridiculous gesture but, to me, it’s a symbol of happiness. This small, albeit frivolous act gives me a ray of hope that everything, one day, will really be okay.

A Journey To The Past

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If loving musical theatre has taught me anything, it is to pay attention to the lines of iconic songs that truly bury themselves deep into our hearts without really knowing they have woven their way into our reality.

Yesterday was the day I refer to as my bridge day. March 8th is the day between the anniversary of losing my mom six years ago on March 7th and losing my dad fourteen years ago on March 9th. It is the day I inhale deep breaths after setting aside hours to remember all of the wonderful things about my mom before I do the same thing for my dad the next day. They are never far from my heart but these days, in particular, I set aside time to go through old photos and really bring them back to my “now”.

We were a very close family and the memories of being kids at the cottage are always the first flashbacks to fight their way to the surface above my tears. That place on the lake was the focal point of our childhood. It was the place we spent hours dreaming of who we would be, the place we learned to swim, to fish and to sail. And it was the place we spent many days having cookouts at the point of land between our family cottages. It was that point of land we chose to spread some of our parents ashes yesterday.

As a young girl, I spent many contemplative moments on that rock, never realizing what a special place that point would become to me as an adult. Standing on the frozen lake and looking back at the property that cradles so many wonderful recollections of family occasions sent me on a journey to my past and I could not imagine a better place to leave behind a small bit of two of the most important people who made those memories possible.

Life really is a journey. Much of it we spend looking forward to the things we want to achieve for ourselves and our future. But every so often, we need to take the moments to enjoy that journey to our past, to the people and to the places that have shaped our lives and brought us to where we are now.

 

 

 

 

 

The Cat Came Back

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I remember this song (the title of this post) from my childhood but it never had as much meaning as it does now.

Those of you who read my blog know I had to put my dog down on January 3rd. It was a terrible start to a new year and a new decade. My emotions have been raw, to say the least, and it took every ounce of my strength to really process that loss and keep putting one foot in front of the other. My dog was my world.

Fast forward to last week. My boss and his wife were going away and the person who usually tends to their cat during their absence was also going to be away so I naturally agreed to look after Lulu. In the temperate weather, she is an indoor/outdoor cat. She loves to roam the property and in the winter months she is content to limit her time outside to a couple of hours. I let her out last Tuesday morning and she was there to greet me at noon when I arrived to let her back in the house. Last Wednesday was even milder and she was anxious to get out and enjoy the early spring weather but when I arrived at noon to let her back in, she was nowhere to be seen. When I went back at four o’clock, she was not waiting for me on the porch.

For the two days that followed, we checked the porch many times, searched the area and continually shook her container of treats hoping she would return, but all our efforts seemed to be in vain. I was devastated and finally had to make the call on Friday morning to let them know Lulu had been missing for two days.

The gentle temperatures plummeted at night. Spring was a thing of the past and the icy talons of winter had their grip on us once again. We hoped for the best, but we feared the worst. My boss’ son was home over the weekend with friends and there was still no sign of Lulu. I was gutted. Not only was I still dealing with my loss but was now dealing with the fact that I felt responsible for the loss of another family pet.

My boss and his wife arrived home late on Monday and were greeted by an empty house. They spent yesterday shedding many tears for Lulu and trying to process the fact their family pet was gone. But the cat came back! After six days, Lulu appeared at the sliding glass door yesterday. She has shed a few pounds, but she is home. I cried when I got the text and am still fighting back tears. Lulu is home.

 

 

I knew the day would come

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One of my worst memories after the death of each of my parents was gathering the strength to go through their belongings and decide what to keep and what to donate to charity. It is hard to discard anything that once belonged to someone we loved so much. It felt like a betrayal, throwing out the things, even the ugly 80’s sweaters, that were so much a part of our every day life.

For the first time since saying goodbye to Callaway, I vacuumed my house on Saturday. It may sound like a strange thing to struggle with but I couldn’t bear to not see her hair on my floor. It didn’t matter what the season, my dog could shed like an Olympic champion if shedding were a category, and I had moments where my grief was so raw that I thought I might leave that hair on my floor forever.

But grief is a fickle thing. It can be debilitating and then one day it becomes different, not easier just different. I still greet her when I come home and say goodbye to her and tell her I love her when I leave. I’m sure that, too, will change over time but I find comfort in knowing wherever she is on the other side of that rainbow bridge, she can still hear me.

Before I vacuumed, I rolled up the three runner carpets I had put down in my kitchen when she began to have difficulty on hardwood and linoleum floors. Her golf-themed dog dish that had always claimed its place on that same kitchen floor has been carefully stored away but her dog bed will stay in its fixed spot in my living room. The pieces of carpet that were picked loose when she stretched in the morning will remain tattered strings to remind me of the best and funniest parts of her.

The window in my bedroom will be the last chore. It was the place she loved to spend her time while I was gone and those nose prints are going to be a hard thing to wash away. Every day I take more steps without her and every day I try to change my habits so my day-to-day life isn’t saturated with her absence. It will eventually get easier, but embracing the overwhelming sense of loss only reminds me of how special she was.

The signs we shouldn’t ignore

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When the souls we hold dear move on to the next realm, I believe with my whole heart they send us signs. As strange as it sounds, when my friend Sandra passed away in 2003 I found my ear drums pummeled by the strains of the song The Girl From Ipanema. It was not a song I would ever have on my play list, and she knew how much that song made me cringe, but its chords would sound in random places and that same song magically appeared on the list of music I have on my iPhone. I have gone through my iTunes history and I have never downloaded nor have I ever paid for that song, but it IS there and I don’t have the will to delete it.

When my dad passed, it was owls. I would hear the Barred Owls at night having what seemed to be a profound conversation and one of those miraculous creatures would frequently visit and perch itself on the largest branch of the tree closest to my deck. When I am having a bad day, those owls seem to make themselves known with their signature call and the calming effect takes me back to when I was a child and would curl into my dad’s protective embrace.

Years later, when we lost my mom, it was butterflies. Although Monarch butterflies are relatively common where I live, these stunning winged creatures would appear in such a way that we knew my mom was letting us know she was close. There was a playfulness to their flight, like she was reminding us of how strong her spirit was on Earth and how that spirit continues to be a part of our lives even though she has been gone for almost six years.

Today, still fresh from the raw emotion of having to recently let my dog go, it was birds. Callaway and I used to sit on the deck together and I would marvel at the unique species that would visit my feeders. There have been many different birds who have frequented my deck, but Chickadees have always been my favorite. With the tears still sneaking up on me, I sat in my living room today and watched at least five dozen Goldfinches jockey for a position on the feeder through the window to my right. The slight movement to my left made me look out the other window and a single Chickadee was sitting on the window sill, looking directly at me from outside the glass. It stayed for longer than a confused bird would and its gaze was trained on nothing other than me.

These are the signs that make me feel like our lives are not limited to where we are now. Every one of the signs I have acknowledged over my lifetime gives me a sense of peace. They provide me a continued connection to those important souls in my life and let me know that they have not actually left, but they are now able to communicate in a way that is special to me.

 

And just like that, I felt a sense of peace

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Many of you who have read my recent blog posts know I had to say goodbye to this beautiful soul on January third. We had twelve and a half years of a wonderful relationship together. She was so much more than just my dog and every facet of my life changed drastically when I had to make the decision to let my baby girl go.

There has not been a day during the last two weeks that I haven’t cried. The moments of grief have ranged from glistening tears slowly rolling down my cheeks to sobs that mimicked the sound of a mewling animal being viciously slaughtered. I have been physically and emotionally eviscerated.

Morning is the worst time for me. We had a routine that I loved. Even if I was ready to get up, I would rub her ears, give her the butt scratch she was waiting for and tell her “ten more minutes”. She would dutifully acknowledge my request and lie back down in her bed, anxiously waiting for that ten minutes to go by before we went for our morning walk. Her level of intelligence and understanding was remarkable.

With the passing of each calendar day, I knew the phone call would soon come telling me her ashes had been returned to the veterinary office. That call came at 1:22 pm yesterday while I was at work and I was crying before I even ended the call. I put forth my best effort to do my job as effectively as I could but I wanted nothing more than to bring my baby home. I left work early, took care of some deliveries to the food bank and slowly made the turn into the familiar parking lot.

After the welcome distraction of giving some love to the vet assistant’s beautiful dog, I took the package that looked like a giant Tiffany’s box and made my way home. When I got home, I couldn’t open that blue box. I poured some wine, paced around my house and finally gathered the courage to remove the urn that held Callaway’s remains. I placed that urn in its rightful place and I came unglued. I cried so hard I made sounds that are not of this world. But as suddenly as those tears came, they stopped. I don’t think my words will ever do justice to the sense of peace that washed over me just knowing she was home where she belongs.

There will still be many more tears shed as I remember the life we had together and how special she was but I know the happy memories of her will slowly replace the overwhelming sense of loss I currently feel. I miss you, baby girl.

 

May I please fill your half-empty glass?

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Facebook has, yet again, provided me with fodder for another blog post. As a writer, I am endlessly fascinated by the many ways people process information. My mother did tell me it takes all kinds to make the world go around and she was so right.

A friend re-posted a story about the actions of a specific location of a well-known pizza chain. (I like to believe it is a true story) Management and staff had noticed several homeless people who had been picking through their dumpster after hours to find their next meal. This pizza chain posted a sign at their front door offering these same homeless people the opportunity to come in to the restaurant for two slices of pizza and water, no questions asked. Naturally, this warmed my heart. What a wonderful gesture towards people who have obviously fallen on hard times, for whatever reason.

And then I read the comments that followed the story. The first posted reaction was much like my own. This act of human compassion restored a little of their faith in humanity. The second reaction took me completely by surprise. The words written were, “I just see them publicly shaming a homeless person”.

I’ll be honest, I do not have a clue what it is like to be homeless. I have had the good fortune of continually being employed, having a roof over my head and being able to feed myself on a daily basis. Having said that, I cannot imagine if I were homeless and starving I would think I was being publicly shamed by being offered a meal I did not have to dig out of an over-sized trash bin. I would see it as a blessing, a message that someone wanted to help me in any way they could, regardless of my situation.

How horrible it must be seeing the world through such a myopic lens. The things we don’t understand, things we could never fathom in our daily lives, make us uncomfortable and say or write things without really thinking. If you can only see the negative in the story of this restaurant offering a meal to the homeless, I would like fill your half-empty glass so you can gain a new perspective and remind you of the other saying my mother was fond of was, “you should walk a mile in their shoes.”