A gift to Dad on his birthday

Today is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 55 years young.

I say “is” because December 6 will always be my Dad’s birthday; I say “would have been” because he’s not been here to celebrate his birthday with us in five years.

The first birthday he was gone was five months after his car accident. I feared the day almost as badly as I feared the dreaded one-year anniversary.

I took the day off work, I went out with friends to do mindless Christmas shopping, and we took my Dad’s dad out for dinner at the Mandarin, my Dad’s favourite place to binge on Chinese food. We purposely left an empty chair at our table as a painful reminder of his absence.

I remember crying so hard on the way home from the restaurant that I became hysterical and had to pull over. As I was choking and gasping for air through my full-body sobs, I couldn’t stop thinking that it just wasn’t fair.

I felt so sorry for my grandfather, who was out marking his son’s birthday yet his boy wasn’t there to share it with him. I’ll never forget the sadness in his eyes or the hopeless tone of his voice. His only son was gone and he was never coming back – to him, it was a fate worse than death.

Fast forward four years and here I sit at 7 a.m. eating leftover Chinese food and thinking about my Dad. Not much has changed – he’s still gone, but the tears are under control and the cuisine is still inspired by him (although perhaps a poor choice for breakfast).

While each passing year has become more “normal”, I still miss calling him, meeting him for all-you-can-binge Chinese food and having him act surprised and grateful when my three siblings and I would pay for his dinner.

Three years ago, I started writing a book about my Dad’s passing and my subsequent journey. Yesterday, I found the query letter I sent to an agent about it – he asked for an exclusive when the manuscript was finished. I was thrilled someone was interested and started writing every day. I was convinced I would have a draft in 12 weeks.

Today, the manuscript sits at a mere 25,000 words; Dad’s death and my subsequent journey remain largely untold.

I have the support to get it done; Patti Hall is a memoir coach who has been mentoring me and subtly kicking my ass every now and then by way of “why aren’t you writing?” and “use me, I’m here!” messages.

I don’t have an answer as to why it’s not done, other than the fact that it seems daunting to do. A whole book? What if no one cares about my story? What if it never gets published?

Meeting with Patti again this week while she was in town has made me realize the biggest and scariest “what if” is “what if I just didn’t write it at all?”.

No one would know, really, except myself and a handful of others who knew I was writing. But I would know. And I know I would be so disappointed in myself if I didn’t give it a valiant effort.

So, today, on my Dad’s 55th birthday, I’m giving him the promise of a book proposal this year. I will write his story and his choices and our relationship and my journey in the hopes people will be inspired to make the same decisions and different decisions. I will submit it to agents. I will not be disappointed if it doesn’t get picked up.

OK, scratch that last bit – I’ll be disappointed, but even if it doesn’t, I did all that I could. In the meantime, I’m going to finish my chow mien and deep fried shrimp (which, by the way, are not-so-great the next morning) and put together a plan to make this happen.

Happy birthday, Daddy. You’re desperately loved and missed every year.

 

Can we stop lying, please?

Lately, I’ve been trying to eat better and exercise a bit more. Some days I’ve required more motivation than others and found myself on pages on Facebook that are meant to inspire you to be healthy and fit.

For the most part, they’ve been helpful. But a particular quote has been posted more than once and it’s starting to annoy me. All kinds of pictures with buff women and men or a photo of someone exercising have this message attached to it, apparently coined by Kate Moss:

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. 

Um, BS. And easy for you to say, Kate. Not all of us have the metabolism of a 16-year-old.

Anyway, while I can imagine the feeling of being skinny may be great for some people, there are at least six things I can think of off the top of my head that taste better than feeling skinny ever will:

– Home-made guacamole
Cupcake VIneyards’ Pinot Grigio
– Peanut buster parfait from Dairy Queen
– The first cup of coffee in the morning
– Cilantro on anything
– Chocolate – white, dark, milk, I don’t discriminate

Those are without even thinking. I haven’t even touched cantonese chow mien, spicy mango salad, mushroom omelettes or champagne. I’m sure you can come up with your own list.

So, let’s stop saying nothing tastes as good as skinny feels, ok? We all know it’s a load of crap.

What does courage mean, anyway?

Courage is a word that we often hear associated with people who save lives or are taking risks to change the world. It’s not a word you normally use to describe people who voluntarily turn their lives upside-down. A year and a half ago, my girlfriend used it in this different context.

We were sitting on her couch catching up after I moved into my sister’s place. My marriage had ended, my ex and I had sold our house and divided all our property. It was the loneliest and saddest and lost I had ever felt – and it was entirely my doing.

She carefully asked how I was coping. We sipped wine as I told her I was scared and had no idea what I was doing but deep down, something told me it might be the right thing. I said I felt felt horribly guilty for hurting someone I cared about.

“It took a lot of courage to do what you did.”

Pardon? 

There’s nothing courageous about breaking someone’s heart or choosing to walk away from a life that by all accounts, was relatively comfortable and happy by most people’s standards.

The definition of courage is the ability to do something you know is difficult or dangerous.

I’ve started to realize that perhaps she didn’t mean it took courage to break someone’s heart, or sell my house or eventually move out west later that summer – what really took courage was being true to myself. It just manifested itself in those actions.

There is courage in having the gonads to chase what you truly want. I was scared beyond belief when my marriage ended, when I sold my house and when I moved out west. I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing or where I’d end up. I just knew I needed to try. 

I also had to accept that happy by most people’s standards doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness for me. We each are responsible for defining and living our own happiness – whether what means a nomadic life of travelling around the world solo, settling down with kids mid-20s, climbing the corporate ladder at any expense or having a family later on.

A wise friend recently said he’d rather regret doing something than wake up one morning and
realized he hadn’t done anything at all. It’s a great way to look at things.

Too many people do what other people think is the right thing to do or don’t follow what they truly want for fear of rejection or perhaps hurting other people. I know this firsthand. The only thing more painful than hurting someone you care about it is lying to yourself.

A nurse studied and wrote about the top regrets of the dying a few years ago and the main sense of remorse was not having the courage to live a true life and not pursuing what made them happy. So, it appears I’m in good company, although thankfully I’m not dying – just yet anyway.

The difference between those folks on their death bed and me is that I’m chasing what I want to do now while I still have the time. I’ll learn from their mistakes and make the life happen that I want to live, instead of living the life everyone else thinks I should. 

If that makes me courageous, then so be it. Let’s be honest, I’ve been called way worse.

Was there a time you felt scared to make a big change? What inspired you to do it?

A (motivational) kick in the derrière

Sometimes we just need a swift kick in the butt to get motivated again.
For me, that proverbial kick came from a meeting with my memoir/writing coach Patti Hall.
She’s here on the west coast for a trip and we had the chance to meet up for a drink and brunch while I was visiting Whistler for the night. (By the way, if you haven’t stayed at the Chateau Fairmont, I highly recommend it.)
Let’s back track: about three years ago, I decided I want to become an author. Yes, just like that. After receiving a positive response to a query from a publisher, I started writing. I was connected to Patti through a colleague and we began working together. I’d write, she’d provide feedback and help me make my writing more meaningful for the reader.
I had a lofty goal of finishing my manuscript in six months. In reality, I had a better chance of becoming a brain surgeon than I did finishing nearly 80,000 words in 180 days, but I tried nonetheless.
Somewhere along the way, I got distracted. School picked up, my marriage ended, I moved across the country and worst of all, I started doubting my story.
My memoir is about my Dad’s death and how I coped…. Or, well, didn’t. When I first found out he was in a car accident, I was optimistic we’d be taking him home. My Dad was a survivor – surely a single-vehicle car accident wasn’t going to be it for him.
Sadly, it was.
Taking him home’ took on another meaning – a year and eight months to the day after he died, my sister and I stood on the river bank in beautiful Loch Lomond Scotland and scattered his ashes where his parents’ remains were also laid to rest. Born in that beautiful country, he always said it was his true home and that one day, he wanted to return there for good.

My Dad’s final resting place
In that year-and-a-half from his accident to when we went to Scotland, my life was in constant chaos. I was 24 when he died and thrust into the position of making decisions about whether he was going to live or die when all I wanted to do was go shopping with my friends. I wanted the innocence and ignorance that came with being a young adult but in a split second, it was taken away from me with a single phone call. I grew up in an instant and also took on the role of protecting my younger siblings in the absence of my father.
I ended up taking care of them and completely ignoring myself, which resulted in my catapulting into depression and trying to find solace at the bottom of many bottles. I spent months drinking, crying, going through his things and torturing myself with AC/DC – one of his favourite bands. I’d bawl the entire way to work each day and end up pulling over on the side of the road more than once on the drive home because I was crying so hard I couldn’t see. At one point, I just wanted to die – I couldn’t imagine it ever getting any better.
During this same time, I got engaged and was trying to plan a wedding, my grandfather’s health was declining most certainly because his heart was broken after burying his only son and I was in the process of changing jobs.
Then five months to the day he passed, I received something thatchanged everything –  letters from my Dad’s double lung recipient and family members. They spoke of the incredible impact my Dad’s gift of organ donation had on their lives. While they reiterated how my Dad saved their family member’s life, they had no way of knowing their letters had also saved mine.
Over the next 18 months, I got my demons under control, became an advocate for organ and tissue donation, sharing my Dad’s story – a way of free therapy, I suppose – in hopes of encouraging others to make the same choice he did. His story was shared in three countries, entered into a film festival in the states and appeared in several major papers. During the same time, I got engaged, I got married, I enrolled in university to finish my degree and I was finally able to take my Dad home…. in a nutshell.
Fast forward two years to Sunday when Patti sat across from me on a patio in Whistler and listened to me talk about how I didn’t think my experience was good enough or would mean anything. My Dad’s been gone four-and-a-half years now, although it feels like yesterday most days, and so much has happened – my ex separated and sold our house, I moved in with my sister, I moved across the country, I got my first place, I met someone new…. All things I would have never imagined happening a mere two years ago.
I shared with her that I was terrified I’d spend all this time writing something that no one would give a shit about, especially since so much time had passed.
“Alyshia, your story deserves to be shared.”
I’m not sure what about those seven words motivated me, but I suddenly feel like I can tackle it again. Maybe it’s my impending visit to Scotland to “visit” my Dad this summer, maybe I’ve just gotten to a place where I feel relatively stable for the first time in a long time, maybe it’s just because I want to – need to – write.  
So, with Patti’s support, I’m going to try this again. It may not be the greatest story ever told and it may never make it to the desk of a publisher, but it’s my story and damn it, I owe it to myself to write it… one page at a time.

60 days to a new body – or higher wine tolerance

Ever have one of those moments where you catch your reflection in a store window or mirror in a store and you do a double-take, but not  in a good way?
That was me on Thursday. I caught a glimpse of myself in a suit I used to love to wear that made me feel like I could take on the world. But instead of taking on the world, I felt like my ass was taking it over.
I know we are our own worst critics – I think my ass is the size of Texas most days, although my boyfriend insists it’s never exceeded a small town. (Thanks, love.)
Since I’ve moved out, I’ve slowly let go of my work out routine. I have more responsibility. I live further from the gym now. The summer came and it was too nice to spend time inside working out. I could make every excuse in the book but the reality is, I just didn’t make exercising a priority. Going out with friends, sleeping in, wine nights and House of Cards happened instead of boot camp, regular seawall runs and lunchtime salads.
So, after crying for 20 minutes in my car in The Bay parkade, I pulled myself together and did what any normal person would do when they need to change something: I consoled myself in wine, crummy food, and over-priced vodka all weekend. Hey, it was my birthday.
I made myself a promise that I’d start something, although I wasn’t sure what.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not suggesting I need to lose 100 pounds or become some body building babe, I just want to feel and look healthy.
Gone are the days when I can run a 5K on a Wednesday and Thursday, still eat pop tarts for breakfast and manage to lose a few pounds for a Friday night party. Now, if I even so much as look at a slice of cheesecake, I feel my pants getting tight.
 So, when times get tough and age wreaks havoc on your metabolism, it’s time to find a workout that’s tougher. I’m calling on Shaun T and Insanity to kick my butt into shape. He did it once two years ago and I know he’ll do it again.
The program is 60 days and to say its crazy intense is as much of an understatement as Vancouver is kind of a nice place to live. It’s seriously hard. You sweat buckets. Your muscles ache day after day. 
But it’s worth it. 
Right now, my behind has more dimples than a golf ball and I couldn’t do more than four push ups if my life depended on it. No, really – I’m that weak. But everyone has to start somewhere.
My goal is in 60 days, my booty will rival a smooth bowling ball and I will lift my own body weight without moaning like an amateur female tennis player. Or, at the very least, I will just feel stronger.

I can see this going one of two ways: either I’ll become a workout demon and stick to the plan, or I’ll start to see results, let workouts slide and become more committed to drinking wine than doing squats.

I suppose either way I’ll have built up a tolerance – either for strength or wine. I’m inclined to argue they’re both equally important.