New Glasses

That first day I sat in the big, fake leather chair at the eye doctor’s office, my little spirit shook.

At age 6, I couldn’t see the board at school. Typical. In my heart, though, I knew.

My eyes. Oh, my eyes.

Twice, sometimes three and even four times a year, I sat in that same chair as the world around me blurred in more dramatic ways.

“She could lose her sight,” I heard the doctor once say.

Somewhere around age 10, though, the doctor visits slowed. No one explained why. In my heart, though, I knew.

I wouldn’t lose my sight, but spend my life deeply obligated to my glasses and the health of my eyes.

In the years that followed, dozens of pairs of glasses came and went. I treated each eye doctor visit as self-care and fell in love with the routine of making sure my peepers got top-shelf treatment.

Graduating into progressives three years ago, I knew the annual glasses replacement would have to slow (they are damn expensive).  My last pair took a beating, literally on life support for the last few months.

So, when it came time to level up my prescription, I found that thrill of picking out the new pair and taking care of mes yeux rushing back.

Here are the results.

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The Writer’s Studio – Personal Sovereignty

My brother said something to me the other day, “Robin, you have to really look at your sovereignty and ask yourself why you are letting XX affect you this way.”

I’d been complaining to him a lot, irritated by people who we like to call petty tyrants—those who exert their control by forcing what they know is a habitual reaction from you in order to manipulate.

He, however, was having none of it and told me so. I found it impossible to debate the merits of his assessment. I’d given my personal responsibility away and blamed it on another person.

I’d been procrastinating and whining about not having enough time for the things I love for a month. It definitely had to be because of all of these tyrants.

Over the course of the next few days, as I grew increasingly short-tempered in a wide range of areas related to freeing myself of these damned tyrants, I heard his bellowing voice in my head, “Why are you giving away your authority over the way your life plays out?”

My aggression with others grew and grew. My mind offered no willingness to bend to things I’d, before that point, conceded to for any number of reasons.  I blamed others for my limited work on my novel writing, for frustrations at work, for situations that left me without things I needed, for communication that never quite communicated what I desired.

The funny thing was life didn’t get any better with all of this standing up for myself. It actually devolved. 

Intolerant and thoroughly pissed off at others, I’d reached my  boiling point. Everyone received my venom. I’d become a tyrant in defense against tyrants, lost myself and my productivity in the ugly circle of fury.

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That’s when my husband stepped in.

“Robin, you control how you work and create and move through the world. Set the parameters, walk away from that which does not serve who you really are, and go from there.”

At that moment, my husband’s sage words sparked a deeper realization of what my brother meant—how I’d been taking the hatchet to myself thinking I was standing up to others. How I could make my way back to my creative, productive, communicative, centered self.  He wasn’t telling me to go kick some butt. He spoke of sovereignty in terms of responsibility for how one reacts to others as they move into and out of your life.

It wouldn’t take days or even hours. It took about ten seconds to step into that responsibility and say, “I will choose to serve the health and well-being of me, my sweet family, and what we need to live our best, most purposeful lives. I will react in a way perpetuating such purpose.”

Understanding that my ability to navigate through life is first and most significantly impacted by the mindset going in shifted my perspective and sparked a renewed sense of purpose.

So, as August dips out of sight and the start of Fall descends upon us, I’m going to dig in and live with more purpose through the simple yet incredibly demanding act of personal sovereignty—taking responsibility for how I respond to the ebbs and flows of my life, and determining through my own actions how it all plays out.

In The Writer’s Studio – August, The Dead Month

Just about every writer who submits their work to agents knows that there is one month every year when nothing happens.

Don’t prep a manuscript, write a query letter, reach out on Twitter, or check in with an agent who has your partial. It’s not gonna work out for you because everyone is at least pretending to lounge on a New England beach.

The rest of the year is stupid crazy busy. August means time for a bit of radio silence.

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For me, it has traditionally proven the month to hunker down and log big hours in the writer’s studio, plotting and crafting.

This year, however, my brain took a break along with everyone else. You can read about my angst surrounding this unplanned standstill HERE.

Today, after a long chat with an editor who just returned from vacation herself, I found myself breathing a bit easier. The conversation revealed her own startling loss of an entire month and her shock at how often lately this similar chat has played out. Apparently, August was a wash for at least half the known universe, and we are all scrambling to realign priorities, carve out time, and make tangible progress on writing projects.

For me, this is all about removal of external distractions.

I’ve planned the hell out of my research trip to France and refuse to plan even a minute more.

Classes and curriculum, mapped out.

Coaching training, done.

Schedules, made.

Now, to snuggle in and get the love letters between Francesco and Aesmeh mapped out.

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Then, to make sure my modern-era antagonist is fully formed and well-rounded. I actually quite love him, such a provocative character motivated by what he is convinced is the only possible road to truth.

Finally, before I get on the plane to start the research and writing marathon in France, I’m going to nail the sequence of the story down and finish the plotting. That way I can move through my time there with exceptionally focused purpose instead of scrambling to figure out story foundations.

I’m coming out of the Augustine black hole, people.

Finally.

Prep Notes for France – Three Pre-Travel Revelations

With just about forty days left before I hit the skies for France, the pace of preparation is beginning to pick up.

It’s no mystery that my excitement for this novel research trip overflows. Hiding my enthusiasm is not a thing I even attempt to muster a capacity to achieve.

Last week, friends offered incredible amounts of wisdom and high-fiving when I opened up on social media about the bits and pieces of this trip which worry me: getting mugged on the RER from CDG to Gare du Nord; leaving my luggage at the hotel before check-in; passport security.

The best advice I received: “Everyone is going to know you are not French anyway. Just don’t look foolish.”

 

imagesI totally concur and would give this advice to anyone coming to Vancouver. I cannot tell you how often I see out-of-towners with their backpacks unzipped, luggage unattended, wallets and Iphones hanging out on the Skytrain and while they are waiting for the bus. It’s like saying, “Here, have my $700 cash and three credit cards. I really wanted to visit the consulate here in Vancouver anyway. My old passport photo sucked and I wanted to pay $250 to rush a new one with the money you just stole from me.”

Now, I can’t help but stop said tourists and let them know of their prone condition before something truly shitty happens to them. I tell myself it is my wee investment in maintaining the “Canadians are the nicest people” reputation. Really, though, it’s a selfish act of karma stacking.

It’s official. I must be traveling soon because  I just had the “Forgot my passport and missed my flight” dream last night.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

I have the same dream in the same dream-dimension airport where I end up in some version of a country I can’t identify near the ocean in the desert every time I go someplace.

It’s like the high school exam dream. Plus, with this one, five people I hardly know decided to come to France with me. That was probably the worst part. 😉

Finally, last night, I discovered les bouquinistes de Paris.

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I suspect the reason my lovely friends did not reveal their existence to me is they knew it would deeply impact my Paris itinerary (and budget).

I now fear and delight that all I will see of the City of Lights is the left bank of the Seine from Pont Marie to Quai Voltaire. That is entirely untrue, as I will be tracing the path of The Woman On The Wall’s main character, Elijah Gale.

I also will have to make sure I know the location of the closest location of La Poste. There will be a need for packages of written things to be mailed.

 

The Writing Classroom – Summer Reading Story Quilts

It may still be 15C out in the middle of August here in Vancouver (we’ve had what amounts to five days of truly hot weather this season), but the kids are out of school, the pool is open, and we are in full summer mode for a few more weeks.

That also means that my creative writing classes were PACKED (and I mean packed) with young authors who knew they need to keep reading and writing during the long break but also didn’t really want comma worksheets and book summaries.

My secret plan to keep them going was to bribe them with pizza. They received long reading lists and daily writing tasks at the beginning of the term. The pizza at the end of the Summer Reading Challenge Rainbow proved the key to getting them to read more than 100 novels this summer.

The way we kept track of it all was a bit sentimental, a bit creative, and a bit old-school community building.

We made a Summer Reading Story Quilt.

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Over the course of eight weeks, the kids got to make a quilt square every time the read a new book. Around the edges, they had to come up with symbols that stood for the theme, the characters, or a literary device used in the novel. Then, in the middle, they drew their favourite scene and captioned it.

Admittedly, there was a wide range of engagement, but they had fun using their brains in a different way, setting reading goals, and achieving them.

For me, this was also a demonstration of how much can be accomplished by taking learning one step at a time. When we started, the wall looked pretty sorry and everyone wondered if we could ever fill it.

Within a couple of weeks, the quilt started to take shape.

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Kids would pile in to see what others had read. They named their teams in order to identify which squares belonged to them and counted to make sure they were in the race for the pizza at the end.

Yesterday, the final square made it up onto the wall.

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The kids couldn’t believe how much they accomplished and we all marveled at the 100+ books read over the course of the Summer.

Now, time for the celebration!

Young Author Spotlight – Bonnie Xu on Shadows

Good morning. I haven’t posted much writing from my young authors this summer, as we have been heads-down working on the Summer Reading Challenge and discovering literary elements through the close reading of fiction.

However, this piece by Grade 6 young author Bonnie Xu needed to be shared with the world.

In class this week, I asked her to write a story about being someone’s shadow. Her take on it gave us a startling and moving peek into the shadow world.

English is Bonnie’s second language, yet her ability to transform ideas into provocative stories blossoms with every assignment.

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On Being Distracted

So, I sat down fifteen mornings ago with the intent to pen a tome on the reality that I’m about as focused as a light breeze meandering through the desert these days.

I’m exhausted.

My head is spinning.

I’m almost late for everything (on time is late for me).

My patience for crazy is wafer-thin.

I have lists for lists of the lists I haven’t completed because I forgot to make a list.

My mind drifts and lingers in useless places like the social media dark universe and daydreaming.

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Photo by George Pagan III on Unsplash

I re-opened this draft today and realized the “On Being Distracted” headline proved so valid that I couldn’t even get around to finishing a blog post on the topic.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” I ask myself, beginning the misguided self-talk that leads me deeper and deeper down.

On one side, I am remarkably busy.  My writing coaching business is booming, and I work with students all around the globe almost every day.

I also work with students all around the Lower Mainland almost every day, which means I’m spending a crazy amount of time on public transit. That level of contact with people, in and of itself, is enough to unsettle even the most chill of souls.

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Photo by Hugh Han via Unsplash

There, boom. The coaching part of my life is mapped out and accomplished with only the normal bumps in the dealing-with-other-humans road.

However, in the rest of my writing life, the lack of forward motion proves startling.

I sit down to edit, query or work on the novels – nothing.

I sit down to read (I haven’t read ANYTHING all summer that wasn’t for work) – nothing.

So goes the flow of being, and I recognize it as just that. Sometimes, you can’t squeeze more juice out when one side of your life is at full-speed and requires all of your attention. I will get back to a balance which gives me the time and energy to focus, probably sooner than I think.

Yet, I can’t help but feel like I am failing myself as a novelist.

Where’s the devotion?

Where’s the getting up every day and writing no matter what?

Where’s the “Do whatever it takes” required to make anything of yourself in this world?

I have beaten myself up without end for these times when I am tapped out, and I genuinely believe that I have to figure out how to honour them rather than let them steal pieces of me away.

Meanwhile, I’m still busy berating myself for choosing to finish three seasons of Outlander rather than write, or talk to friends on social media rather than read or research or focus on the craft in personal ways.

I suspect my head is waiting for the novel research trip, which is less than six weeks away. At least I can guarantee a bit of an endpoint for all of this foolish distraction.

 

 

 

Exploring Vancouver – Spanish Banks Bike Routes

I would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which I live and that I write about here is the unceded territory of the Coast Salish Peoples, including the territories of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and Səl̓ílwətaʔ/Selilwitulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations.

For the last month or so, I have started at least a few mornings a week with 10k worth of walk or bike riding.

It is a Summertime ritual for Vancouverites who know that the rain and darkness will settle in all too soon.

This morning, I rode out to the tip of the UBC Endowment Lands.

On the way back, I stopped at the beach to enjoy the gorgeous light.

There, I received a message . . .

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I am lucky enough to live on the West Side of Vancouver in a gorgeous neighbourhood called Kitsilano, which runs along the waterfront. So, accessing this incredible beachfront trail is pretty much just getting on my wee Schwinn and hitting the road.

I love cycling around town, and believe me when I say I am no athlete.

Vancouver is an absolutely magical city for cyclists, with routes literally from end-to-end, protected lanes, and for all sorts of levels.

The city even has a public bike share system that is used by thousands of people every day.

People visiting or wanting to bike the beachfront, but are not familiar with the route, the City of Vancouver has paper or downloadable Cycling Route maps.

However, I wanted to share a short map of this route from Tatlow Park, which is at the edge of Point Grey Road. Despite the controversy around it, the road is for pedestrians and cyclists only other than traffic from residents along the street, and it is a stunning location to start your ride.

The rest of the route is along the water and very accessible for people of all fitness levels.

The trail is quiet before about 9 a.m., with the occasional jogger or walker to pass. Mid-day and on the weekends, it gets quite busy. However, because Vancouver is so cycling friendly, most people are quite courteous as long as you are courteous to them.  There is the random hot dogger who likes to fly down the path with their headphones and no clue about the rest of humanity. So, keep your wits. Otherwise, enjoy this sweet route and even take a quick ride through the forest in Jericho Park to cool down.

Slow Travel

I’ve been circling around this concept of slow travel a lot lately.

It’s not shocking to anyone who has spent literally even one day with me that I am a bit of a doer. Chilling is not my thing.

I’ve got lists and then lists for the lists.

I survive on accomplishment alone.

It’s my insecurity, I get it.

To do is to have a purpose. To chill is to, well . . .

Yet, upon reflection, I’ve begun to understand how my urge to do, do, and then do some more is based almost entirely in the fear that I will somehow be thought of as less, miss out, that I only get one shot at things, and that everyone else is staring at me thinking I’m an idiot unless I am superwoman mounting the to-do list like the queen of everything.

This leads me to France and THIS ARTICLE from Quartzy.com.

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I am taking myself to France in October to, well, chill.

No, do.

No, chill.

No, do.

See, it’s a problem.

I am taking myself to France in October to research The Woman On The Wall. For those of you who don’t know, I’m writing a novel about the true identity of the Mona Lisa that is half epistolary love story and half Indiana Jones-style thriller.

I know, in my head, I am going to Paris and Amboise to chill and get to know the places where the novel is set as well as possible in 14 days. I’m not going to play tourist.

Then, the other part of my head goes bananas. I have like a billion to-dos in Paris in my Google Maps. I can do 12 hours a day in the first two days I get off the plane, right?

This article killed all of my need to do Paris (in a good way), giving me permission to just wander through my quick 72 hours there.

Yes, me and La Gioconda are hooking up.

We’ve already texted.

She’s expecting me.

However, I have now basically just thrown my crazy to the wind and decided that everything else in Paris can just happen.

We’ll see how I fare.