A Shadow of Magic

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I’ve done it. I have actually sent my novel out into the world. It is utterly terrifying. I am well aware that I will probably only receive many kindly-worded rejection letters. But the idea that I have taken this thing from conception to completion is so satisfying. I can do it. I can work hard enough to produce something (I think) worth reading.

Now I am turning to the next project. This one returns us to the real world. Well, the Victorian world. I decided I have entirely too much random Victoriana in my brain to not set a story there.

I am embarking on this project with confidence. I know there will be days of tears and frustration, but there will be days like today when it all comes together. These are the days that keep me going. When my fingers fly over the keys and page after page spool out.

I can’t wait until I can tell people ‘I’m a writer’ without being embarrassed. When I can point to something on the shelf and say: ‘I wrote that’.

Trapped

What do you do when your trapped in your own life? When there is no glimmer on the horizon? How do you keep living the same few days over and over knowing there is no mystical future out there to save you?

Between anxiety and psychosis I can only leave the house occasionally. With the CBD lately I have been able to do things not previously imagined, but I pay the price the next day with fatigue and re-bound anxiety.

I have no career aspirations. I am not working toward a degree or certificate. We are seemingly unable to have children. Our house is in a place that I am satisfied with it.

So what am I doing? The same shit Every. Damn. Day.

I try to write (which often fails), I cook meals, I clean, I walk the dog (if I can), I read, I knit. That’s it. Oh, some days I throw a workout in there.

On big days I will go get bloodwork done, or have a doctors appointment, or pick up my grocery order. Yes, all these things involve hours of psyching myself up and panicking.

I could handle this if I knew it was going to end. If I was just working toward some sort of chronic illness graduation and then I could go out and take on life.

But that is not the case.

There is no end date. Just an interminable string of similar days with no progress.

I am trapped by my own mind, locked in my own head. I am doing everything and anything to break free. But its starting to get to me, starting to wear me down. I am losing hope.

Winter- Part 1

And so begins the Winter darkness. As the sun slips away earlier and earlier, and the clouds move in releasing lashings of rain or snow the days are filled with artificial light and warmth. Their dull glow does nothing to replace the power of the sun’s rays.

I seek solace in books and mounds of blankets. I watch the rain run down the window in its own pattern. I give into the darkness, I allow it to give me permission to do less. I like these slow days. There is no mowing or weeding, even the dog shies away from venturing out for a walk. I simmer soups all day, even try making bread- I have the time.

I know in a few months this darkness switches to clear blue skies and sparkling untouched snow. The days get longer, my skiing and skating legs get stronger. Everything turns and there is a new magic, one of being outside while your eyelashes freeze but the crisp air invigorates your mind.

But before I can feel the sun again I must pass through the darkness. Thank goodness Halloween and Christmas provide welcome distraction. People laugh at my ‘all out’ approach to the holidays, but this energy and decoration are a little shield I can throw up against the dark. It is hard to be sad while baking cookies to old Christmas jingles- at least for me.

So here I am, having just completed my Halloween costume, ready to journey through the dark months ahead.

Draft 1

So I finally found a good friend to read the draft of my novel. Asked her to just look at the continuity and character development. And, you know, if it’s even worth putting more time into it.

She gave me a resounding yes! I got a bit of feedback and now I can button it up a bit more.

The problem is while I was waiting I started work on my new book, ‘Lydia’. I am obsessed with her. She makes me want to come to the computer everyday.

So my work ethic says go back to the first (and still un-named) book and finish the damn thing. But my heart says ‘take me on an adventure Lydia!’

So while this battle plays out here is another excerpt from ‘Draft 1’ as it is fondly known. Here we have Mary (a main character) and her brother-in-law Markus (a minor character) having a night out before the meat of the story begins.

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‘With excuses to her mother of official, royal business, and a hurried gathering of coins from her rooms, Mary and Markus bundled into the carriage minutes later. They swayed up the street talking and joking in the way they had developed over her short courtship with his brother. The carriage was open, and the night was gathering chill and clear. As the horizon darkened the taverns they drove by began to fill and become louder. On the third or fourth pass up the high street they settled on one that seemed particularly lively, agreeing that even if there was no music there was sure to be a good brawl at least.

              They entered with heads down and headed for the back corner of the room. Mary’s heart was beating fast, thrilling in the sense of adventure. Markus pulled her down into a small, inconspicuous table near the back. She turned her face to the room for the first time and took in the smoky, crowded tavern. She could see groups of men sweaty and dirty from hard labour shoveling bowls of stew into their mouths, pausing only to throw back some ale. A few tables were full of travelling families, looking warily around them and huddling children into the backs of booths against the wall. The children looked eager to be a part of this grown-up world and watched in awe as several men began a heated argument over dice. The dice argument in question was quickly settled when a much larger man strode over and grabbed both men by the collars, he shook them and yelled something fierce, spittle flying. Upon release both men cowered back into their booth and whispered together heads bowed, shooting glances at the man now returning to his group. The large man seemed to also be part of a group of travelers who looked like players fallen on hard times. The women of that group looked bored and hungry, watching the other men in the tavern eat, possibly assessing their chances of joining them.

              Mary was startled by someone coming to briskly clear some empty mugs and bowls from the table. The man gave the table a quick wipe with a filthy rag and asked if they would be eating. Markus ordered them two bowls and two mugs of ale. The man nodded and held out his hand while shouting over his shoulder for some young boys playing under foot to clear out. Markus counted out the coin to the man, adding a liberal tip with a wink to Mary. On feeling the weight in his hand, the man returned his attention with a smile and a bow to Markus. He hurried off with new purpose as Markus chuckled.

              “I think with coin like that the man would find us some musicians if we asked” he said conspiratorially.

              “I couldn’t possibly dance until I’ve eaten anyway” Mary said quietly, not wanting to attract any attention.

              Markus was craning his neck looking about the room, searching for something. Mary assumed a pretty girl to fill the evening with and chuckled. She breathed in the heavy sent of smoke and ale, sweat and meat, the place was dense with people and stimulus. She could feel her mind unwinding for the first time in weeks, lost in a sea of sensation there was no room for worry. This was ruined when behind her she could hear a group in deep discussion about the harvest now coming in.

              “A sad amount. Those fields a’ bin sowed same as the rest but nothin’ came up.” A man’s voice said sadly.

              A woman chimed in “We ain’t got enough for a winter, oh-no. Is surely a-comin, you ken feel it. Whats poor folks like us supposed to do?”

              “Sames all over Edna. Every village we pass through the same” a different man said.

              “Them poor young mothers. Me ‘eart aches for the babes tha’ will be lost if there’s a winter.” Edna tisked.

              “A crime. A true crime. Is the Northerners tha’ is making the Wizard angry. Us allowin’ them and their heathen ways.”

              “Tha’s the truth.” The first man grunts. Mary can hear him slam his tankard down. “Good prince William will take care of em’”

              “Psh. Good prince William a’been at em’ for years and was come of it eh?” Edna scoffs.

              To Mary’s disquiet there was a rumble of agreeing murmurs all around. She felt her stomach turn at the next line, “Mayhap we should seek the Wizard direct-like.” Mary’s face frozen in fear, straining to hear but the group has begun to whisper closely. They are right to be secret, doubting the King’s decisions was treason.

              Her eyes make contact with Markus and she knows he has also heard. “Don’t worry Mary. The thoughts of peasants mean nothing.”

              But Mary understood the thoughts of peasants could upset an empire. Deep in worry their food and drink arrived. The man had combed back his hair and found a clean towel somewhere to tuck into his belt.

              “Will there be anything else good sir, and madam?” he says with an elaborate bow and cat like grin. Markus leans toward him, whispers in his ear and slides another coin into his waiting palm. The man smiles even more broadly as he fingers the edge of the coin and then hurries away.

              Mary gingerly sips her small beer, stomach in knots, watching Markus dig in with gusto. A prostitute who had been watching the exchange was sidling closer, eyeing Mary to determine the relationship. Mary cocked her finger at the girl and then pointedly looked away, within moments the girl was at Markus’ side cooing into his ear. Mary watched the room as the girl plied her trade. She wondered how many of these simple faces hid similar thoughts to those she had overheard. How many were frustrated with her husband, how many were whispering of the dark wizard behind closed doors. Suddenly the room seemed hostile, the adventure turned fearful. She felt all eyes upon her, expecting her to perform some miracle.

Her stomach boiled, the room closed in. Markus’ face began to pull away and become cloudy. Mary began to stumble toward the door, the contents of her stomach threatening to erupt. Her heart pounded in her ears, her breathing ragged. She could hear Markus shouting, but he seemed miles away. She reached the cool air and dragged it deep into her lungs.

              “Mary! Mary! What is it?” Markus was calling to her, helping her to sit against the wall. People bustled by, unbothered by the sight of a fainting woman. “Mary, sweet girl, what is wrong?” Markus called while shaking her shoulders.

              “Nothing dear brother. It is nothing.” She managed.

              Inside she could hear musicians tuning up to the cheers of the crowd.

              “Please don’t let me ruin your evening Markus. I will return home.”

              “Ah dear Mary! How could I call myself a gentleman?” he gently chastised.

              She chuckled. “Dear brother, I shall guard your secret”

              He laughed, helping her to her feet. He steered her toward her carriage as Mary felt her heart begin to return to its steady rhythm.

              “If you are sure sis?” he began, but she stopped him with a wave as she stepped into the carriage.

              “Good night dear brother, make sure that coin was not spent in vain.”

              Mary waved as the carriage pulled away, the movement of air soothing her fevered face. She slumped back and let her eyes fall closed. The dark wizard, the demon of every children’s story. As a grown woman the fear of being stolen away was gone, but the knowledge that all the legends were true was like a weight. The power to grant any wish, to fulfill any desire, but always at a terrible price. Tales of cities fallen to his whim filled the history books, of women taken and never seen again, of boys bound to several lifetimes of servitude. His tower rose in the west, a mecca for some, and a place of deep evil for others. She had never glimpsed its black walls, but the stories said it perched on the edge of the raging sea. His moods could calm any breeze or sink any fleet.

              She feared for her husband. If the peasants turned, his fate would not be promising. Hand fluttering over her belly she breathed slowly and deeply as the healer had shown her. In and out, releasing the things she could not control. Her mind began to slowly calm, the workings re-engaging, planning. She must send word to William.’

The North

When I arrived in the North for the first time 13 years ago I was startled by some subtle differences. For example, the residential streets are probably twice as wide as at home. Naively, I was excited to have so much bicycling space! I also noticed the street signs were all way too high. They are hard to see sometimes, but you get used to it.

Why these things? SNOW. So much snow.

That first winter I could not believe the amount that fell. They were running out of places to pile it. They had little machines for plowing the sidewalks- because there was so much goddamn snow!

The first few falls my friends and I gleefully played in it. The campus green was littered with snow men (although some had dramatic boobs) and snow forts. But about a month into season it was too deep to play in. Each step sunk several feet, immobilizing everyone.

We started to see the snow as a burden, an irritating thing slowing us down. My friend’s car was so low to the ground he couldn’t even drive it, so we all had to bus.

After ONE snowfall. Some of our neighbours were more industrious then we were.

As the temperature plummeted to the -20’s the snow miraculously stopped and the University finally had time to start clearing out the biggest piles.

I think now how something that seems so fun and exciting quickly turns dark, relates directly to my illness. Mania is thrilling but it soon becomes too much, immobilizing and scary. Then you are slammed with a come-down of cold weather and you have to do all the work of cleaning up your mess.

But the North is prepared for winter. It’s seen it all before. They have all these little ways of keeping people safe and functioning even when things are rough. Experience has taught the North if you don’t plug your car in you aren’t going anywhere in the morning. If you don’t plug yourself in and sleep you’re also likely going nowhere fast.  You must widen the roads with healthy habits so when the snow flies you still have room to move. Put your signs higher with therapy so I can still see the way when the shit is six feet deep.

I have had a terrible few weeks. I have been mostly not here. There are glorious days where I write and write and get my piled-up stack of chores and errands done. But mostly I stare into space, I bang my head in frustration with all the noises and voices, I’m terrified to leave the house or answer my phone in case someone is listening who will hurt me. I forget to get even the basics done, like eating and showering.

But I am strong like the North. I was ready for this snow-storm and had a plan in place. I’m confident moving forward. I am ready for both the literal and figurative snow fall that will inevitably come soon. Are you?

The Art of Healing

So in an effort to do more in a day I made a little art project- there was no yarn involved.

I created this little collage from a very old copy of Grey’s Anatomy, possibly my mothers, maybe my aunt Kathy’s. Either way I just fell in love with the faded edges and the simple drawings. No labels like in my version. This one you had to read miles of text to get the description.

I flipped through the book to find the ‘best’ diagrams- the most detailed at least. As I read I was transported to a time in my life when I knew all this. When my anatomy book came with me everywhere. The pictures were hauntingly familiar. I could still name all the cranial nerves and where they exit the skull. The names of the bones were like old friends.

A simple project took ages as I cried. I properly mourned the loss of my career path. I could still see the beauty hidden within each body. I was moved by how complicated and how logical every muscle connection was.

When it was done I could hardly look at it. I had ripped off the bandaid and cold air was hitting the wound for the first time. I hid it away downstairs, never planning to hang it. But of course, my husband saw it and loved it. We just hung it today. It hurts less. Every time I pass it my heart breaks a little less.

Maybe one day I will be a celebrated for something at a level that I was praised for going to med school. Maybe one day I will give back to this world which has given so much to me. Maybe one day I will feel whole again.

The Speech

I recently came into possession of my old pageant crowns. In the box were a few other mementos including this- the speech I wrote and delivered at the Miss Summerland Pageant when I was 16. I won best public speaker and Miss Summerland. When I read it now I chuckle at the high-school level grasp of physics I had back then. Physics and writing were always my passions and this speech is sort of a hybrid. When I started University I was declared a Physics major. But as the math got harder I slipped away and focused on Psychology and Biochemistry instead. I think finding this so many years later is important. My younger self understood something I have forgotten. Never get jaded by illness or adversity, keep asking questions, keep looking for a greater understanding of the universe. Because if you don’t- what’s the point?

So here it is, completely un-edited:

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen, honourable judges, visiting and reining royalty.

One of my parents fondest memories of my childhood is our family vacation when I was eleven months old. I had just learned to run and took full advantage of my new found talent. With my little red raincoat all buttoned up and my white running shoes I cruised in style. I would run about wildly the abruptly stop and demand “What’s that?” as I pointed my little finger at a tree, car or moose. I would stand still for a few precious moments while my parents said “Well Sarah, that’s a moose and it lives in the forest with other mooses…” Actually, according to my mother “What’s that” were the firs words I ever strung together. Sixteen years later I’m still asking questions, but lately they have been getting bigger, harder to answer.

Many of us have these questions, these ‘un-answerables’ floating around in our brains. What is the meaning of life? Is there and end to the universe? Are we alone in it? What should I make for supper?

We all think, we all ask questions. But have we ever thought about thinking and asking question?

Why do we do it? Why do we have this inherent need to discover the truth, to understand our world?

Well hey, look at that, we’ve got five minutes right now, let’s do what we do best and thing.

We won’t just think about nothing, as many of us are prone to doing, I’m going to ask you a question that has been bothering me for quite sometime now.

This is no light-weight do caterpillars have feelings question. This is an up al night wondering question.

If matter is both everything and nothing, why does it matter if it doesn’t matter?

You probably thing I’m crazy at this point, but lets break it down.

First we’ll start with ‘matter is both everything and nothing’ or even more simply I’ll ask what is matter?

We have all been taught that matter makes up everything we see and therefore everything that exists. And most of us know (who paid attention during science class) that matter is made of atoms. And atoms are made of protons, neutrons and electrons, weak force and strong force. Or to put it simply, atoms are made of energy. Now, lets consider a thought A thought is created when an electrically charge briefly connects two receptors in you brain. And electrical charges are energy. But wait you cry! I thought matter was energy. If matter and thought are the same thing what would stop me from thinking myself rich? Can I manipulate my word by thinking about it? After all my hand can turn on the tap and it is basically energy. So what’s to stop my energetic thoughts from turning on the tap?

Which brings me to my next point, “why does it matter if is doesn’t matter?’ or to put it simply, if all this truly does mean nothing in the grand scheme of things why would we care? Why do we feel the need to have a purpose? What gave me, this clump of particles the ability to think and feel? What separates me from this stage? We are both energy, both matter, but I feel love and hate, happiness and fear. Why am I so special?

I don’t know.

I’m not sure if anyone can know. To unlock the meaning of life would unravel the mysteries of the universe. And we would be left with nothing but atoms dancing about, flowing through the cycle of time. Where is the magic in that?

Let me see if I can explain.

Do you remember your first Christmas? The excitement that built for weeks, the shopping and  baking and cheek pinching that all lead up to that one morning. When you would go out to the tree and find our presents all wrapped and bursting with potential- a bike, a game, a pony. Then when you’ve finished and their all open and you’ve received socks and a 1000 piece puzzle and suddenly the wonder is gone.

 The ultimate answer is much the same, the knowledge and excitement building up, gathering understanding until we can all see that gift wrapped box under the tree. Do we really want to open it?

What will happen if we do?

What if all we get is socks?

Now, lets conquer the next part of my question. Matter is both everything and nothing.

But wait you cry again. I am matter. I am me, with a beating heart in my chest, how can I be nothing?

Let me see if I can explain

To me I am everything, to a fish-vendor is south-east china I am nothing. For him, I do not exist. To my adorable little dog, I am everything- his eyes shine when I enter the room. To the stars in Orion’s belt I am nothing. We are made of the same matter that flickers in and out of existence, but to them I do not exist. But clearly I do exist, I am standing on the stage in front of all you fine people. So I must be both everything and nothing. A product of reality. In Kau-Pang the fish vender’s reality he has never heard of me, never seen me. He has no reason to fabricate a Canadian girl into his consciousness. Until a few moments ago Kau-Pang didn’t exist for any of you. He was not a part of your own personal reality. But he is now, and he is inextricably linked to you

So why does it matter if I don’t matter to Kau-Pang or Orion’s belt? Because humans need to feel loved and wanted. That is what separates me from this stage. We are both matter, both everything and nothing, but I am infinitely more. I am that gift wrapped box brimming with potential. I am a living thing that is constantly changing and growing. If it doesn’t matter, if we are not a purposeful occurrence, we would find ourselves back on Christmas morning. Sitting there with our socks wondering why the heck we bothered opening that box. It was so much better before, the mystery and excitement were keeping us going.

If matter is both everything and nothing, why does it matter if it doesn’t matter? A question that is so simply gargantuan it can not be answered in words, let alone in seven minutes. No matter which direction you take you answer it will run headlong into more questions. But that’s the magic of life isn’t it? What separates the human spirit from the mass of atoms we call a body, the ability to ponder the unponderable, to consider the infinite. I know that striving for answers and asking questions is what makes me unique. Maybe asking ‘what’s that’ is not such a childish thing. Maybe I had it right 16 years ago. I knew that knowledge separated me from the moose in the forest with other mooses. I was different, I was special, I had a purpose in infinity.

So I’ll leave you with that. I dearly hope it will not keep you up all night as it has for me on several occasions. And I honestly hope that you will continue to question the everyday and the extraordinary because after all thought is the only thing that separates you from the chair your sitting on.”

Winter’s Bone

I just inhaled Winter’s Bone by Daniel Woodrell. It’s a short book so it was easy.

People, the writing was so beautiful I HAD to keep reading. I NEEDED to know what he was going to say next. I hung on every word, every vivid and unique description.

I was sad when it ended- I could have read his writing for days. It also made me re-evaluate my own writing. I must start describing things more creatively!

The story, of course, was also interesting. It’s set in the Ozarks and features many poverty-hardened characters who are using violence and drugs to get by and live with ‘honor’.

Do yourself a favour and read this book.

Apparently, a movie has been made starring Jennifer Lawrence. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I will reserve judgement until I’ve seen it.

A Victorian Woman

I read a lot of period fiction. Most of which is centered around the beautiful (or talented) young woman on the search for a husband. While this seems silly in our modern world, back then it was essential. The laws did not even acknowledge a woman as a person in most cases. Social customs severely restricted where a woman could go, and with who. She was confined to the house unless some sort of sanctioned occasion gave her leave. Even then she would have to find some sort of escort to protect her chastity.

Once married she must still walk around with a friend or relation, but people generally respected her as a virtuous married woman. She was now legally her husband’s property and he could treat her as well or ill as he pleased. While we would see this as terrible, back then even a bad husband got you out of your father’s house. Fathers generally weren’t keen to have old daughters on hand. They only cost money, so were often shipped off to play nurse maid to an elderly or infirm relative. Not the ideal lifestyle.

Sometimes I really identify with these fainting beauties. While they are constrained by social norms, I am hampered by anxiety. Going out is a huge affair that must be gotten ready for well ahead. Its like a few years ago I lived in my father’s house. The house of insane mood swings and psychosis. Then I decided to get married to medication so I could escape all that. I’ve traded in for pervasive anxiety, which at the time seemed like a wonderful swap, and I paraded happily down the aisle. Now I’m not so sure. But divorce is very hard in Victorian England.

To further the analogy (or beat a dead horse), though my husband by no means demands it, I still have taken on all of the household management. I spend huge chunks of my day cleaning, cooking, laundering and, in the summer, gardening. I enjoy these tasks- which I suppose makes me quite old fashioned.

I think the biggest difference is I am not popping out 5-10 children. Therefore, there are big stretches of time in which I am alone. My husband is at work. My lovely friends are raising their families or off at work (or both). I guess that is why I have turned to that miraculous invention: the female-written novel. Like Jane Austen I feel a little out of place, but that does not prevent me from developing complex worlds to live in and write about.

When I am well, I LIKE living in my head. I create amazing places and scenes. Some get jotted down as only that- a little sketch. Others morph into huge plots with many characters and settings. I have four novels outlined right now but for some reason my writing bone is broken. So, I am reading about Victorian heroines and comparing our experiences- sometimes while wearing my corset.

Return from the Depths

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My brain absolutely astounds me. I can be so down one day I can’t leave the couch, and then the next perfectly functional. It is bizarre. If I could figure out how to manually flip this switch I would probably win the Nobel Prize or something.

Since resurfacing into the land of the living I have been making up for lost time. Running the errands that had been put off, doing the chores that needed to get done. Things are going well.

I’m also pretty stoked to have finally crested the 70,000 word mark on my novel. That’s a lot of words people. Many, many hours have gone into this and I’m starting to get a little bit terrified its been a colossal waste of time. Will anyone actually read this thing? Will they like it??

I just keep telling myself I’m writing it because it’s a story I need to tell. If I only tell myself so be it.