Donnell (A Wordsmith’s Brainworks) stumbled upon my blog a few days before I shaved my head for St. Baldrick’s pediatric cancer charity in March. Her comment on one of my posts led me to her blog, where I learned that she’s a writer, a poet and one heckuva woman and mother. Although her posts about her son’s battle with cancer are sometimes hard to read, they also fill me with hope that comes from seeing life not in terms of its inevitable end result but in the goodness of the loving actions we take before then.
Recommended post: Heroes
A Monday born October son,
I felt your unspoiled, neonate skin.
We were three and all complete,
and for it I was thankful.
I, protective as a lioness
sheltering her cherished cub,
watched you grow and thrive;
you flourished well.
And for that I was thankful.
Autumn came, and like the sun
descending at the end of day,
your hardiness and strength
dipped below that distant threshold.
We were assured it would ascend,
and for it I was thankful.
You were well with the new year,
if only for a brief interval that
seduced us with its false promise
of health, and we were all too thankful.
The Moirai spun their fated threads,
we merely did what mortals can,
and suffered their predestination.
A prognosis grim but the culprit found
and that we knew was encouraging
and a thing for which to be thankful.
The path is long and obstructed by
entanglements and uncertainty.
We are wearied but do not go alone,
the masses follow us into the night,
and for that I am thankful.
Progress is slow but obvious;
you’re more well now than weeks ago.
The scales do not hang in our favor, but
still you smile and press your lips.
Your will can match a hundred men,
and for this I am thankful.
Dawn (Enlightenment Ain’t for Sissies) is most familiar to me for the thought-provoking, inspiring posters she creates for her Facebook page. Her rarer blog writings reflect equal care, and an honesty so unflinching it feels both nerve-wracking and empowering. I am grateful for the openness of her writing, which creates the perfect setting for my open reflection and assessment of my own life, as it exists now . . . and as I might strive for it to be in the years to come.
Recommended post: When does life begin?
Set it free
There is an old adage that if you love something set it free and if it loves you, it will return, but if it doesn’t, it was never yours to begin with. As I write this, I am that which is being set free. You see, two months ago, I asked my husband for a divorce.
My husband is a good man. He is kind. He is generous. He is a wonderful father. He is good husband. I am the stay-at-home mom of a bright, independent kindergartner. I want for nothing. We don’t fight. We communicate. So why do I want a divorce? I ask myself that every day and only come up with one answer.
I want a divorce because I don’t love my husband the way that he loves me and our sexual chemistry has disappeared. That simply isn’t fair to either of us. He loves me so big and so much it hurts me that I am unable to give that back to him. He deserves to find someone who will love him as much as he loves me. The final kick to him here is that he has helped me realize that I deserve to love someone that way too. I want to feel the electric joy of someone’s touch when we are way too old to care. That may seem selfish, but it is honest.
We’ve tried counseling. For those who may be thinking that this is all my fault – the counselor agreed with you. We’ve tried every permutation we can think of to get us back on track, and this is where we’ve ended up. This was not a rash decision, it was years in the making, and it is still not made.
I am on a precipice of my life. I could continue as it is, tepid and safe, living with my best friend. No sex life, risk cheating and most likely end up resenting the fact that I kept myself from my dream of a life with possibility. Or, I leave. Terrified. Alone. A single mom. Away from my best friend and the father of my child,finally having to be a grown up, doing everything on my own, realizing dreams I didn’t even know I had. Learning for the first time in my life how to be me. Succeeding or failing, but knowing that those successes and failures are mine.
I don’t have the answers yet, and for this I am thankful. I am thankful for my husband who is giving me the time and the room to make this very difficult decision. The man who is risking it all to give me my wings. The man who will move heaven and Earth to give me room to fly. The man who will support me no matter which choice I make. The man who could be making this ugly and full of hate but instead is making it about love and respect. I am thankful for him.
© Dawn Biggs 16 April 2012
Ben (lifefromthesmallestroom) began his blog to bring a face to Crohn’s disease, with which he was diagnosed in 2009. He’s incredibly forthright about how life sometimes feels like it’s lived from “the smallest room” now, but his forthrightness isn’t limited to Crohn’s. His thoughts on facing cancer are equally difficult to read and empowering.
Recommended post: Learning Family Values
The Waiting Room
Someone once said, ‘Life is a roller coaster and you’ve just got to ride it.’
I don’t think of it as a roller coaster, but I agree you’ve got to hang on and ride it till the wheels come off, you’re blue in the face and you’re ready to throw up all over yourself.
Life isn’t a roller coaster. Life is a battle.
If there is one thing I know how to do, it is fight.
People call me stubborn, but there is a fine line between being stubborn and being determined, and I see myself as determined.
Cancer has shaped my life. In a way, it’s determined my life course so far. I wouldn’t be the person I am now were it not for cancer.
The first time I met Cancer, I was too young to really understand what it meant. I remember a needle in my arm, feeling sick and having my hair falling out. Apart from feeling like I wanted to throw up, I thought it was funny that my hair was falling out. (I still have that dodgy sense of humour!)
It was only when cancer took my grandmother that I really started to know what Cancer was and how it affected people. I was nine when I was told my grandmother had lung cancer and watched her slowly turn from a happy, semi-active older lady to one that ended up bedridden and uncommunicative in the space of two years.
Over my high school years, I saw two aunts fight cervical cancer and breast cancer and live.
Then it came closer to home again.
In the space of two years, I watched my mum’s hair fall out due to chemotherapy for breast cancer. I laughed when it grew back a totally different colour as she beat it.
I dropped out of university to help care for my stepfather as he was dying from pancreatic cancer, which ended up spreading to his liver, stomach and kidneys, and then sat myself in the oncology waiting room to be told I had testicular cancer. I was 20.
I told no one, not even my closest friends. I shaved my head and told people I was going traveling, when in fact I was going into the hospital for surgery and treatment.
Why? Because I didn’t want to be treated how I saw people with cancer treated—how people walk around on eggshells so they don’t upset you and they whisper in corners thinking you can’t hear them.
To the day my mum and brother died they didn’t know, and many people still don’t.
Over the intervening years I’ve had the pleasure and pain of raising money for cancer charities in the UK. I’ve ran marathons for Cancer Research UK. I’ve abseiled down some of the UK’s tallest buildings and walked across hot coals to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support, which helps with palliative care, because in my stepfather’s final days they gave me the support I needed to help care for him.
Over the years, I figure I’ve raised around £40,000/EUR49,000/US$65,935, but that still doesn’t relieve that guilt that I’ve survived while those I’ve been closest to died from it. I don’t expect it ever will . . . .
Having cancer has made me determined and more than likely a little stubborn. I know that sometimes this makes people angry, but I live each day as if it’s my last given that one never knows when it could come back.
Three years ago, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Colitis, an auto-immune gastrointestinal condition for which there is no known pharmaceutical or surgical cure. In a strange sort of way, dealing with cancer has enabled me to deal with this condition. It’s showed me to live for the good days, and at the moment I’m having good days . . . even though I’m again spending time in the oncologist’s waiting room.
Katy (k8did)’s a teacher and nurse,
Full up of compassion.
She also writes verse
I’ve got no hope of matchin’.
Her blog’s oft good for a giggle,
A dream, and a sigh;
Others, you’ll sniffle,
And think, “What a guy.”
The poem’s k8’s realm,
And I h8 to defile it!
So I’ll hand her the helm,
At least for a bit.
Recommended post: Give up the peanut butter cup and nobody gets hurt
A Poem, if You Please – I am Thankful for These
A hug before sleep
Awaken to a kiss
Without a doubt
I am thankful for this.
Trust in my marriage
Strength from each other
I’m so thankful that
We have one another.
Sons raised and launched
With kids of their own
My hardest work – done!!
Such joy I have known.
The body I complain about
It’s fluffy – not fat!!!
Is sturdy and strong
And I’m thankful for that.
My home, solid and cozy
Filled with laughter and love
I’m so grateful to be
A proud owner of.
Five healthy grandkids
Whose hugs I adore
Their pure child-love
I am so thankful for.
Work that I love
Where I stretch and I grow
I’m more grateful for
Than you’ll ever know.
Good friends I have made
Both virtual and real
I’m so thankful that
They understand what I feel.
Sisters who love me and
Always have my back
My heart fills with love
No gratitude I lack.
A dog true and faithful
Whose love knows no bounds
I am thankful for Shelby,
The most loving of hounds.
Writers and readers
Hours of pure blogging bliss
Enriching my life
And I’m thankful for this.
My life’s filled with blessings
Of that there is no doubt
My heart’s full of gratitude
My thanks I do shout.
May I always know what I have
And carefully tend to my gifts
In pure gratitude and joy
My thankful voice lifts.
last: The Strongest Woman I Know | The Waiting Room (4/27/12) : next
Lisa (Insignificant at Best) is much more significant to many than her blog’s title suggests. A mom, a tireless worker, and an aspiring writer, she wears many proverbial hats but has ample energy left over for her blog’s readers–and for giveaways, of which she is quite the maestra! All of this aside, she’ll ever hold a special place in my heart for being the first person to interview me as an author.
Recommended post: A letter to someone who has hurt you recently
The Strongest Woman I Know
My grandmother, whom I’ve always called Gran, is one of my heroes. All of five feet and maybe 90 pounds soaking wet, she is the matriarch of our family and the strongest woman I know. When my grandmother says something, you don’t argue, you do it; the whole family knows that.
When my parents divorced, my mom and I moved in with my grandparents and Gran became a second mom to me. When my mom was at work or on the rare occasion she went on a date (she normally left that for when I was with my dad), my Gran was there to watch over me. Sadly, I didn’t appreciate it at the time because we are both stubborn and would often fight. However, I look back now and cherish the memories I made while living with her and my grandfather.
I can still clearly remember the day I found out this woman I love and cherish so much had lung cancer. I was about four months pregnant and standing in front of the dryer in the laundry room when my mom broke the news. She told me not to panic, but try and tell a hormonal woman that. I remember hunching over the dryer silently crying after I hung up the phone. All I could think of was that my Papa (what I called my late grandfather) was already gone and wouldn’t get to know my unborn child and now possibly my Gran, too. It seemed so unfair that my baby wouldn’t be able to get to know two of the most important people in my life. I cried for a while after that phone call, but once I was done I pulled myself together and tried to be strong for Gran.
About a month or so later, she was admitted into the hospital so they could try removing the tumor. I will never, ever forget sitting there with my mom, my aunts and my uncles and hearing the doctor tell us that he didn’t think the surgery would be a success. (I still get teary eyed when I think about it.) He told us that from the looks of the scans, the tumor was in a spot that would be very hard to reach. He said that he might be able to remove some of the tumor, but doubted he’d be able to get all of it. The sadness in his voice was apparent and it broke my heart.
We were told we could go and see her once last time before she went into surgery.
I don’t know how I managed it, but I walked into pre-op and told my Gran good luck and that I loved her. I held it together, but just barely. I wasn’t even able to stick around until everyone wished her luck. I waddled as fast as I could out of post-op, through the waiting room and outside door. The moment I knew I was alone I broke; it literally felt as if my heart was going to break into a million pieces.
Finally I managed to collect myself and went to the one place I knew I’d find comfort; the hospital chapel. I sat there, eventually joined by my great uncle (Gran’s brother), for about two hours. I stayed until the baby would let me no longer; it (I didn’t know the sex at that point) was hungry and I needed to eat.
My aunt and I went and grabbed something in the cafeteria and the returned to the waiting room to see if there was any news. It wasn’t long before the nurse at the waiting room desk called out for my grandmother’s family; you could hear the panic in our voices as we told her that was us. She quickly explained there was no need to worry, but that one of the nurses in my grandmother’s operating room had called down at her doctor’s request. He had wanted to let us know that despite is worries he was able to get the entire tumor.
The surgery was a success.
The doctor was just putting her tube in and closing her up and he’d be down to talk to us. He just hadn’t wanted us to wait any longer to hear the good news. Can I just say, best doctor ever? I’ve never heard of a surgeon having someone call down to the waiting room like that and when we finally got to talk to him in person we couldn’t thank him enough for it.
It turns out that while the surgery was a huge success, my grandmother did have to have a third of her right lung removed. He told us this meant she would probably have to be on oxygen for the rest of her life and that she would have to go through chemo to make sure that she was completely cancer free. To us, though this news was nothing; she was likely going to make it and that’s all that mattered.
Little did we know that some of the worst was yet to come.
That afternoon we saw Gran and she looked great and even said she felt pretty good. I left the hospital with a promise to see her as soon as she was released (she made me promise not to come back because she didn’t want me pregnant and around all the hospital germs…gotta love her). I was emotionally exhausted, but elated; all in all the day went perfectly.
She got out of the hospital a few days later and that’s when things took a turn for the worse. My mom had offered to stay with her for the first week or so, after recovery, because nobody wanted Gran to be alone. When I wasn’t visiting I was calling to check up on Gran and each report started to worry me more and more.
My grandmother doesn’t like water, she’s always been a diet pop or crystal light drinker. Unfortunately, part of her recovery was to drink so much water a day and this was not going well. My mom could hardly get her to drink one glass, let alone the two quarts she was supposed to be drinking. It’s not like she was drinking other things, either. She just wouldn’t drink.
Then came food. She was periodically throwing up and said everything tasted funny so she’s barely eat all day. Gran started to rapidly lose weight right before our eyes. Not to mention she was maybe getting 1 to 3 hours of sleep a day. In fact it got so bad, about 4 or 5 days after returning home she was back in the hospital; where they kept her for a day or two and then sent her back home.
This is when things got their worst.
My grandmother was now home and back to her non-water drinking and eating ways. Not to mention she had started to say things that were very much unlike the woman we know and love. My mom was a wreck and so were the rest of us. In fact it got so bad that my grandmother said some very hurtful things to my mom and kicked her out, for no reason. Devastated, my mom packed up and went back home.
Nobody was comfortable with her being alone, but we had no choice. I still remember the day we had called to check up on her and got no response. I called my mom to see how Gran was doing since she didn’t answer my two phone calls and she informed me that Gran hadn’t answered her calls either. Since it was about three in the afternoon and we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her all day we started to panic. Since I lived closest my mom asked me to go over there and check up on her and I agreed. I called a few more times as I was heading over there and still no response. I don’t even want to tell you the thoughts that were running through my head.
When I arrived, I called out to her and got no response. I climbed the stairs (her condo has a first floor foyer and the rest of it is on the second floor) and made my way through each room until I found her in her bedroom. I crept up to the bed quietly and made sure she was breathing; to my relief, she was. I started to walk out and her head popped up. She questioned what I was doing and I just explained that we hadn’t been able to get a hold of her and we were worried. She told me she had been sleeping and that was it. I honestly thought she was going to yell at me for being there, but thankfully she didn’t. I apologized for interrupting her and let myself out.
I remember sitting in my car wondering when something was going to give. Did we over react by my coming here? Maybe. However, Gran was acting weirder and weirder by the day and she still wasn’t eating or drinking. Her weight had dropped into the 70’s; she was wasting away to nothing. Christmas was drawing very close at this point and I remember thinking all I wanted was for her to get better.
About a week later, give or take a day, I got a phone call from my mom telling me that Gran was back in the hospital. We were all concerned and hoping the doctors could figure out a way to help her; but as it turns out she helped herself. I got a call from my mom a day or two after Gran had been then admitted, telling me they figured out what the problem was. As it turned out “they” meant Gran. Turns out my grandmother started paying attention to when she was throwing up (this never stopped from the first time she came home from the hospital). Because of some other medication they had given her the previous night they had refrained from giving her another that she had been taking since the surgery. That evening she had no problems and even ate something. The next morning they gave her that medication and within a few hours she was getting sick. She explained her theory to the nurse and then her doctor, but neither wanted to believe it at first; likely because they were too stupid to figure it out on their own (to clarify this doctor was not the same awesome surgeon from earlier in the story). Being the spitfire she is, my grandmother fought to make them listen and got her medicine changed.
Once the problem was identified, my aunt, who is a nurse, looked up the troublesome medication Gran had been on. It turns out throwing up was just one of a few symptoms she was having. She was always complaining of a metallic taste in her mouth, which was caused by the pill. Not to mention this medication was known for causing strange/aggressive/uncharacteristic behavior in some people. With the change of her pill, all of this quickly went away. To this day we don’t even know if my grandmother remembers what she said or how she treated us (why upset her over something that wasn’t in her control?).
A day after her medication was changed my grandmother came home … for good. It was a slow and steady road to recovery after that. Her disposition went back to normal, she started drinking more, and eating more too. Sadly, she wasn’t up for spending Christmas with the family that year, but that was a sacrifice all of us were more than willing to make. We were just so glad she was going to be okay!
It’s been five years now since Gran’s surgery and about four since she was officially declared “cancer free”. Despite the fact that they told us she would likely have to use oxygen, she hasn’t needed it for even one day. She has never been able to gain all of her weight back, but hovers around the high 80’s (way better than low 70’s) and tends to get sick easier than she used to (to be expected when you’re older and missing part of your lung). However, she is still as feisty and vibrant as ever!
My daughter will be five this March and Gran has become a big part of her life. Every Thursday my mom picks up the kid (she works a 4 day work week and this is her day off) and heads over to Gran’s, where they spend the day. Not to mention the kid has spent many a weekday with Gran when my mother-in-law can’t watch her and there are times she has spent the night with her too. I can’t even begin to tell you how much it means to me that Gran is a part of my child’s life. I cherish the fact I am blessed enough to watch my daughter and Gran form a bond. To say that Gran adores her great-grand child is an understatement. I thought my cousins and I were doted on and spoiled when we were kids…we’ve got nothing on my daughter. She’s got her Great-Gran wrapped around her tiny finger and her Great-Gran loves every minute of it! It truly is a joy to see.
My grandmother once told me that before she went into surgery she had made peace with dying. I asked her why and she told me that she honestly thought she was going to make it through. She said she was surprised to wake up and find out that she was going to be okay. Well, she might have been surprised, but I’m not. My Gran is one probably the strongest and bravest woman I know. There was no way she was going down without a knock down drag out fight and a knock down drag out fight she had.
Gran 1. Lung Cancer 0.
This post was written in honor of my Gran, whom I love like a second mother. She is my hero and a true inspiration to me and my family. I love you, Gran.
Special thanks to the wonderful Deb for letting me tell her story. It felt good to finally get it all down on paper.
Also, thanks to all of you who stuck with this super long post and read the entire thing! I appreciate it!
Christine (The Dash Between) is a daily inspiration to me over at her Facebook page, but our paths first crossed in the blogosphere. Our conversations now flow between Facebook, our blogs and email, covering everything under the sun, but it was our first conversation about family that really helped me see Christine’s brilliance.
Her words expressed heartache, but even more deeply, a fierce, loving determination not to let her future be defined by the past or “The Family.” Every day I know her, I’m more inspired by her, and I’m delighted that you’ll soon see for yourself exactly why that is.
Recommended post: A letter to my Daughter: I know what it’s like
Thanks for the Pain
When Deb asked me if I would write a FTIAT entry, I was honored and thrilled! I have so much to be thankful for, I figured it would be a piece of cake to write. Was I ever wrong about that. The doubts started coming, and hard. I wasn’t good enough to be included with the many amazing writers The Monster In Your Closet has featured. I don’t write well enough. What I had to say was boring by comparison to other stories. Then I realized that I don’t have to be a fantastic writer. That comparing myself to others was ridiculous, given that we all have our own history. So, I have sucked in a deep breath and started to write.
A little over two and a half years ago, my life started to drastically change. I had been told by my then-husband that a relationship with me was too much work, and too hard for him to try. I realized that I had been a “mother” type figure in a one-sided relationship for far too long. I was home-schooling, and the kids and I were in a small town and stuck in the house 24/7. I was severely depressed, and often thought of driving into the nearest highway overpass support. Or downing an entire bottle (or two) of alcohol.
My parents had come for a visit, and I remember pouring out my heart to my mother about my marriage. I confided many humiliating things, and let her know that there was a very good chance my marriage would be ending soon. As she was getting ready to leave for home, I asked her if she was mad at me and if she still loved me. I’ll never forget the feel of her cool hands stroking the sides of my face, while she told me that she was not mad, and that of course she loved me. I felt such relief. And I felt that my foundation was rock solid.
When my husband and I finally separated, there was an uproar within The Family. These things do NOT happen in this family. The pressure was incredibly intense. I also told The Family I was no longer going to go to their type of church. The Family and Church are so tightly interwoven, that this decision was completely unacceptable to them. And the pressure increased exponentially. I couldn’t breath, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep. I remembered trying to reach out, to have someone HEAR me… But no one seemed capable of that.
My mother seemed to have forgotten our discussion. My sister was constantly on me to do “the right thing.” Every discussion was such a struggle. I discovered my sister had been having private discussions with my husband on how to get me to stop “this behavior.” I was asked if I had started taking medication. I was told that I wasn’t explaining myself well enough for The Family to approve of my actions.
I decided to spend a weekend away, planning on locking myself in a hotel room with several bottles of booze and never to leaving the room again. I’ve never had such an internal fight as I did that weekend. I felt the simplest solution for everyone would be for me to no longer exist. This struggle to live my life, just wasn’t worth it anymore. If I couldn’t live it their way, I shouldn’t live it at all. As I wandered that weekend, lost, feeling hopeless, yet trying to search my soul for another solution, I happened to walk into a gift store and see a plaque that changed my world.
“Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly…”
When I saw that, I felt all the despair lift away. I realized this was MY life. My family wouldn’t approve of my decisions, and that was okay. I was 34 years old, I didn’t need permission from them to do what I knew was right for me. I left that store filled with hope, and determination.
During that same weekend, my husband had gone to my mother and reiterated all of the things that had happened in our marriage. The things I had told her when she had come to visit. I received an email from her shortly thereafter in an attempt for us to start honest communication. The one thing that I remember most from that email was her telling me that she just hadn’t believed me when she and I had our discussion, but she realized what I said was true when my husband confirmed it. While that hurt me more deeply than I can say, I decided to overlook it since I wanted to focus on the fact that we were having communication during this very difficult time.
I moved to another state and started life over. I started to fall in love with someone who had been a very good friend to me. However, the tension in my family was high. I knew they weren’t happy with my decision to move. Strike that. They weren’t happy with the way I was living my life, period. That was made clear when I visited them for a weekend nearly a month after my move. I remember my Mom hardly looking at me. Whenever people would ask about the area I lived, or job interviews, she just scowled. The day I was to return home was on a Sunday. The depth of her anger at me became apparent to me that morning. Mom was harrumphing her way around the house, hardly looking at me, hardly saying a word before leaving for church. When it was time for her to go, I got up from the couch to say my goodbyes. She walked right past me. I grabbed her, gave her a hug, and told her I loved her. I got a quick hug as she mumbled “I love you” back. That was the last time I saw my mother before our estrangement began.
Two days later I told my parents that I was starting a new relationship. That phone call reminds me of the saying, “Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” My entire body was shaking. During this call my mother told me that she would not approve of my relationship. For the first time in my life I stood up for myself, and told her that I was not asking for her approval. I was simply informing her of what was happening in my life. She went to hang up, and I remembered rushing to tell her that I loved her before she ended the call. I got a terse “love you” in return, and those were our last spoken words.
I have been estranged from my family for two years and three months. My mother did not like my decisions, and encouraged my ex to take custody of the kids, since I had been “taken over by satan.” Finding her emails to him, and being served papers by him to take the kids away were so stunning that I literally couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t move, I hurt all over… inside and out. The pain was unlike any I had ever felt before, and that’s when I realized that my foundation I had been so assured of months before had vanished. I felt utterly alone, completely rejected, and betrayed by the one person I should have been able to trust.
I wrote a blog not long ago to my daughter about some of my darkest times. This was
one of those times I referred to. I got myself up, and put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew that I just had to breathe to get to the next minute, the next hour, the next day, the next week. And I did. I truly started life over that day, and I survived.
I started blogging to focus on living life. I blogged to remind myself to appreciate
everything, and everyone, in my life. I needed to focus on being grateful and thankful. But, I refused to write about this stuff. I didn’t want to go back through it, and remember the hurts, or feel the pain again. However, once Deb asked me to write about being thankful, I think I knew deep down that I was going to have to delve into this painful time in my life. I needed to remember that these are the things that have made me who I am today. And I like that person.
So, what am I thankful for? I am thankful for being hurt, rejected, and betrayed. I am
thankful for pain that cut me so deeply I thought I’d never recover. These things have
changed who I am. They have shown me that I am capable, I am strong, I am brave, and I can survive. And I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
last: My Blog Saved Our Family | The Strongest Woman I Know (3/30/12) : next
AUTHOR: Deborah Bryan
PUBLICATION DATE: January 24, 2011
PUBLISHER: Amazon Digital Services LINKS: Visit Deborah Bryan's Website or her Facebook Page Purchase: Amazon.com
I couldn't put it down. Deborah has an amazing writing style that I absolutely fell in love with after just a few sentences. Her descriptions are well thought out and extremely vivid which in turn leads the reader into her world with ease.
Thanks to Martine (nascentnovelist), I spend at least 10-15 minutes per week writing with a posture that wouldn’t make a chiropractor breathe fire on, at, or around me.
It’s not that Martine devotes herself to preaching the merits of good posture. It’s just that my introduction to her was via her entry on maintaining good posture through long writing sessions. The contrast between that entry and the one recommended below kept me coming back for a kind of “more” that’s much more comfortably achieved than the kind she reflects on here.
Recommended post: Challenge yourself!
Give it that extra push!
When Deb asked me to write a post about something I was grateful for, the answer popped into my head immediately: my back injury. It sounds weird, I know, but I am. My back injury has been a constant companion for over two decades, and like a nagging aunt that refuses to leave you alone until you button up your shirt before going out in November, it’s been giving me good advice. I just needed to learn how to listen.
When I was six years old, I fell from a ladder and landed straight on my back. I couldn’t sit or stand for a week. My parents were terrified that I’d never be able to walk again, but I healed. Up to a point. I could move like a person, but not without pain, and I was stiff as a board. Touching my toes? Forget about it.
I spent my adolescence and early adulthood in agony. Every day, part of my brain would analyze dull aches and sharp stings for signs of serious trouble, all the while spending an uncomfortable amount of hours and dollars consulting specialists. All those years I was convinced that I’d like nothing more than to be like everybody else: pain free.
At twenty-two, I finally despaired. My back had been better for a few weeks, good enough that I hadn’t really noticed it. But when I carried two bags of groceries home, it went cachunk, and suddenly, it hurt so bad I didn’t know how to get back inside my apartment. And the thought hit me: what if it never gets better? What if I have to live with this pain for the rest of my life?
That was the moment when things began to change. My doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists had been telling me to be careful all my life. If I were to work out, I had to do it gently, slowly, repetitively. At the first sign of pain, I needed to stop. I should probably stay away from barbells all together, but if I braved that part of the gym, it would be to do many slow reps with very low weights. Swimming, water aerobics and long walks were the workouts of choice for me. You know, the same advice they give geriatrics patients. It was clear to me that this was as good as I was going to get, as long as I did things their way. But what was my way? That’s what I needed to find out.
I struck lucky. Met a certified personal trainer who didn’t mind making a training program for me without charge (we’re still together). I didn’t tell him about my back injury, so he made me a strength building program with a hint of cardio and let me loose on the other side of the gym: where the olympic bars live. It was terrifying and exhilarating. Then I started working for a chiropractor who didn’t believe in the safe-is-better-approach and who pushed me on an unsuspecting group of martial arts people.
Getting good advice from certified professionals helped, but the change came from inside me. I decided to test my limits. To push myself. To learn the difference between bad pain, and necessary pain. And what do you know: by accepting a little pain at the start, I got better. My muscles grew stronger and soon, they were able to support my back. My posture improved. And little by little, without me even noticing it, the pain disappeared. I still can’t touch my toes, but I can deadlift 225 lbs.
So did I get my wish? Am I pain free? Most of the time. But my injury is still there, pushing me back into training every time I slack off. It’s a reminder of what happens if I let myself be held back by the advice of others instead of listening to my own body. It’s a push to continue to improve. It’s not a handicap: it’s a tool to make sure I’m doing everything right, and an alarm that warns me if I’m doing it wrong.
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Byron MacLymont (The Byronic Man) has a gift for making people laugh. I base this not only on an official survey of millions–specifically, myself and my S.O., Ba.D.–but also other peoples’ comments on his blog.
As if inspiring laughter weren’t enough, Byron i’s also a brain surgeon, a former Olympic kick-boxer and bench-presser-of-adult-bulls. He modestly claims in his bio that he can bench-press only one, but I see right through this artifice, mostly because he bestowed upon his subscribers the gift of seeing through artifice.
Sadly, his other superpowers are non-transerable.
Byron’s greatest power of all is his ability to take time out from his busy schedule of crime-fighting and penning Cyrano de Bergerac to share beautiful, heartfelt truths in ways that fill a reader’s eyes with tears and heart with wonder. Like most awesome superpowers, this is one best used sparingly to emphasize just how powerful it is, and Byron uses it accordingly.
I am honored he has chosen, this time, to use it at TMiYC.
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A Moment of Clarity
Yesterday, October 27th, was my 10-year wedding anniversary. It’s a little difficult to even comprehend that that is true. In part because it doesn’t seem possible that it’s been 10 whole years, in part because it doesn’t seem possible that there was a time before her, and in part because nothing – I mean nothing – in my previous track record suggests that this would be a possibility.
The longest relationship I had before this one was six months. I had several that lasted six months, but they all ended at that point, like clockwork. I won’t go so far to say that I am totally responsible for the end of all of them, but I wouldn’t scoff or get immediately indignant at the suggestion, either. I didn’t know much, but I knew I liked being the white knight; being adored. I also, like many young men, loved the chase. I also think that I was so unsure of who I was that I kind of panicked when someone was getting to know the actual me, instead of the version of me I tried to put forward. The guy underneath the glistening armor, if you’ll pardon the hackneyed metaphor. Whatever the impetus, it involved either bad choices, or choices handled badly.
When I met her I was in a time of transition, so maybe I was open to different things, but the fact is that she was really unlike anyone I’d dated before. Unlike the people I’d pursued. Yet I was immediately and totally drawn to her, like a magnet. Something inside was ferociously saying HER. THIS ONE. I remember talking to my parents and saying that it seemed as if I was walking along and had come upon a large pile of gems and jewels, and I had to hurry and find a way to scoop them up, because surely someone was going to beat me to it.
I had always been very clear that I would never marry someone unless we’d dated for a year. That I’d be very rational about something like that. Within a week I knew this was it. Within 3 months we were engaged. Almost exactly a year after meeting we got married… so I guess, technically, we dated for a year before getting married. But I don’t kid myself that it was rational and stoically planned.
She continues to be unlike anyone I’ve known. She pushes me, challenges me, complements my weaknesses.
Marriage is everything they say it is, and nothing they say it is. Marriage is about hardships I couldn’t have imagined, couldn’t believe we’d have the strength to face. Sometimes I’ll joke with her about “the things they don’t tell you in the marital vows,” and you’ve sure never been mad until you’ve been mad at someone you love, but the fact remains that I am a more complete, stronger person than I ever was before I met her, or could have become without her. I’ve also had more fun since meeting her than I ever had before that. Gone on more adventures. Taken more risks.
It would be easy to say that I am thankful for her, and I am, but when Deborah asked me to write up a “for this I am thankful” what came to mind was whatever it was in the air, in my brain, whatever, that made me see she was the one to pursue. Nothing, and I mean nothing, in my history suggested that I would make a smart relationship choice when the time came, but somehow I did. I don’t know why, I don’t what in me clicked, but for that moment, that instant, I am thankful and mystified.
It would also be simple to say I’m thankful for that moment when we’re curled up watching a movie, or when she comes up with some impossible adventure to go on and makes it happen. Because it’s easy to be thankful during the good parts. But marriage isn’t just about the good parts – it’s about all of it. All of yourself, all of your partner.
And so while I am thankful during these easy times, I’m also thankful when she insists we do the grocery shopping even though I’m exhausted.
When I’ve just screwed something up, and she can’t wait even a couple hours to tell me what I could have done differently, I’m thankful then.
When I say I’m sorry and she replies, “No, you’re not. If you were sorry, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place,” somewhere deep down, I’m thankful.
When she looks at the back of my head and says, “Hey, your hair is thinning” for no other reason than because she knows it’ll make me crazy with paranoia, I’m still thankful.
When I’m mad and fed up and think, Oh, screw this, life was easier when I was on my own, I’m thankful.
When she insists that she needs, needs, another dog, or cat, or a pig, or God knows what else, I’m thankful.
When I just can’t believe how complicated everything has to be all the time, I’m thankful.
When I ask if she’s ready to go, and she says yes despite the fact that she is very definitely not ready, and I’m going to be late for work, again… I’m thankful.
I’m thankful when she wants to pester me and draw on my arms when I just really, really want to go to sleep.
I’m thankful, even now, knowing she’ll read this and use it as ammunition to pester me even when I’m telling her to knock it off.
When I’m so mad I can’t even speak, there is that part of me that is thankful.
Basic ideas of cause & effect suggest that that moment, that transformation, should not have happened. It was an anomaly, an unpredictable occurrence. Yet, it did happen. And 10 years later here we are, and we still love each other, still have fun together, still face challenges together. And for the spark that made me see in her what could be, and what I could be with her, I am truly, deeply, thankful.
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When I wrote The Monster’s daughter (and its sequels) many moons ago in Japan, my entire “outline” was as follows:
Girl has vampire dad.
Plot? Nope. Character sketches? Nope. Character names? You guessed it: Nope.
In contrast, I had a plan for the YA urban fantasy novel I’m writing now. I wrote it down, tweaked it, thought on it, tweaked it some more and started writing.
The first thousand or so words totally cooperated with my outline. Everything was I envisioned it. After that, however, things started breaking down. My characters almost immediately began clawing and gnawing their way out of the boxes I’d neatly fit them into, so that by 5,000 words, I found myself frustrated by their orneriness. Newsflash, characters: I’m writing the story. Not you!
One of the things especially frustrating to me was how quickly the perspective I’d envisioned fell away. The way things were shaping up at 5,000 words left me feeling like I was being unfair to one of the key players in the story. So I asked my buddy Mack, am I being unfair? And, furthermore, how the heck do I fix this?
She replied with a complex, brilliant assessment, which included two core points:
(1) Roughly, “Keep writing, silly, because you’ll never get this sorted out if you sit around agonizing over it!”
(2) Exactly, “I think it’s because you said merpeople that I’m thinking in these particular terms, but the best example I can think of is the film of HELLBOY, which I’m sure you’ve seen. The story’s about Hellboy, we see the world through the lens of his experience, and it doesn’t diminish the fish-dude any (okay, it’s maybe diminishing that I don’t remember his name) that he doesn’t get equal screen time. Because if he did, it would be boring. It would be like, ‘And Hellboy could’ve DIED, srsly! And then that fish-guy sat around and read a book. And then Hellboy jumped off a building and had emo lovelorn angst! And the fish-guy said something funny. For an equal amount of time.’”
Mack, Mack, Mack, where would I ever be without you?
In addition to answering the specific question in a way that made me laugh and move on, her response enabled me to see the question wasn’t just about perspective. It’s about control. It’s about me deciding I want things to go one way and forcing them to go that way, even if–with very good reason–they don’t want to.
Getting around this mental hurdle took likening it to my work life. In the IT world, a project manager addresses a specific problem by identifying its components and finding, then implementing, a solution that corrects that problem. Even with copious planning at the front end, that project manager is going to find new facts along the way that will change how she has to implement her solution to a problem. (Often this will come from one of the project’s resources going, “Wait, what? No, what we needed is x.03, not x.031! It’s right here in this email . . . oh, um, I meant to include in the email, anyway!” Pretty please see here for a giggle-inspiring, totally accurate visual about project management.) She still has a mostly viable sketch of her solution’s implementation. The solution itself remains mostly unchanged though the path to reach it now includes a few hurdles and at least one pit of rattlesnakes that must be safely passed over to reach the project’s successful conclusion.
It’s unrealistic to assume that any project–whether IT, writing-related or personal–won’t change at all while it’s underway. Life is full of moving parts. If the project manager is doing things right, she’ll see what’s changing and respond to them sooner than later rather than trying to sledgehammer her initial solution into fitting new facts. If a project manager’s stuck in an old paradigm, she’ll throw her hands up in the air, ditch the project and go start a new one, after having a bunch of beers.
Writing, it turns out, is like project management, which is like life. If you start out with a plan you’re willing to constantly revisit and tweak based on new facts, you might find a different end result than you first anticipated . . . but you’ll get where you’re going, eventually. And maybe, just maybe, like in the movie Threesome, the detours and asides you took to get there will be the best parts of all.