The writing’s on the wall (literally)


 It’s been a crazy few months (well, year): The Brit and I got engaged, ticked off a couple bucket list trips, planned a wedding, got married and moved into a new place.

I made a promise to my Dad on his birthday last year, December 6, that I’d have a proposal done for my book by his next one. Maybe it was a bit foolish, maybe it was a bit too ambitious, but now that we’re settled in our place and my book outline is in my line of sight, I’m back at it. No excuses, no pretending it’s not on my radar – it’s smack in the middle of our living space daring me everyday to open my computer and add to my outline, finish another chapter, have the courage to bleed on the keyboard, as my favourite memoir coach so eloquently put it.
These last few months have taught me that I hardly ever “feel” like writing. Writing isn’t a mood, it’s a choice. And one I need to make every. single. night. Sometimes I nail it on the first draft and other times it takes an army of editors. But I first need to make the choice to do it. So, here’s to diving back in full speed.


Writing outside of my comfort zone

Last Friday, a group of friends invited us to go skating.

A lifelong skater, I jumped (absolutely pun intended) at the opportunity to get back on the ice. For me, the rink is a place that feels like home. I love the crisp air and the feeling of my blades on the ice.

For my fiancé, it was a completely different train of thought. Having not been on skates for years – and admitting not knowing how to stop – he was nervous to say the least. Nonetheless, the day came, he rented a pair of skates and stepped on the ice. The first few strides were wobbly and I can only imagine how intimidating it was to watch everyone else whip by while he was struggling just to stand up straight.

It took him more than a few minutes to get all the way around, he kept his eyes on the ice for fear of falling, and he hung onto the boards the entire time – but he did it. The next time around, he moved a little faster and relied on the boards a little less. By the time the hour was up, he was doing slow but steady laps by himself, his confidence noticeably improved.

He even said he wanted to go back again for regular skating sessions so he could continue to get better – and maybe learn how to stop. His attitude impressed me – he was completely out of his comfort zone but he didn’t back out. In fact, he embraced it. And what bad things came of it? Nothing – in fact, he gained confidence and a potential new hobby. (A gal can always hope!)

It made me think about my own experience with writing. Yes, my Dad’s story has an inspirational component around his organ donation and that’s easy to write about, but there are a lot of dark segments around my relationship with him, his demons and my own that are uncomfortable to share. Without those pieces however, the story just doesn’t make sense.

Staying in my comfort zone would mean dilly dallying for a few more years and shying away from the pieces that truly add pivotal context to the book. But I need to write those pieces for my audience and for the overall story. Most importantly, I need to write them for myself.

So, thanks British, for the unintended perspective. Now when can we go skating again?



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.


Media pager: Who really deserves compassion

As part of my job, I’m on a rotating media pager schedule. Essentially, we’re on call after hours for any media inquiries that come in during the weeks its our turn. It’s a common practice for many communications department both private and public sector. In a world where we crave – and are used to – information anytime, anywhere, being accessible and available is crucial, especially during emergencies.

As important as it is, media pager duty can be a drag – I don’t sleep well for fear of snoozing through a call; I plan my time around “what ifs” and I can’t go far from the city, just in case.

It sucks even more when there’s a major incident like the bus crash tonight and every media outlet in western Canada calls at three-minute intervals for, literally, hours on end.

I was feeling sorry for myself and nursing my adrenaline hangover when I thought about what is really sad about situations like these: families who are on the other end of the phone getting the news their loved one was in an accident or the first responders who put everything they have into saving someone but can’t, or the hospital staff who inevitably work overtime and miss their family events, birthdays and holidays to make sure every patient coming in is taken care of in a way they’d expect.

So, after hours of fielding calls, chasing down outlets to correct misinformation and repeating updates for what felt like the 1,000th time, I sit here feeling pretty grateful.

Thanks to all of the people involved in the rescue, transport and care of the patients tonight and during every incident. It’s an inspiring reminder of why the work we do is so important.

Ok, now someone please pass me a glass of wine.

Revisiting the past: Missing out, missing Dad, missing normal

When my dad died almost five years ago, I was a very naïve 24-year-old. Having been shopping moments before I got the phone call of his accident, I was forced to grow up in a second. Seven days later, I was violently shoved from being a young, carefree young adult into a world where I was suddenly given the power to end my dad’s life. I signed the papers that ultimately did – we removed life support, knowing it’s what he would have wanted.

In the days and months that followed, I wrote letters to my Dad through a blog. Some days I was mad at him, others I was sorry for myself but every day, I missed him terribly.

With more than 50,000 words written through the blog, I’m revisiting the entries and using them as part of my book that I’ve started writing once again. It’s almost like a gift I’ve given to myself. I recorded so many details that were so important at the time but now are distant, if not completely absent, memories.

The entry below brought me right back to that stage. I remember feeling hopeless and devastated – I truly thought my grief would crush me. I wish I could go back and tell my 24-year-old self that it would get better… or at least just give her a hug.

Post title: Missing Dad, missing out, missing normal

Originally posted: October 8, 2010

Whether my days go by fast or slow, whether the weather is nice or awful, whether I feel productive or completely useless, one thing always seems to remain the same: dad is gone.

I almost feel like I’m stuck in a rut, and the more I try to get out of it, the deeper it gets. I’m spinning my tires and trying my best to get out of the hole I’m in, but no matter how hard I try, how much I rock to get moving, I’m stuck in one place. And it’s not a good one.

I keep thinking about how much dad is going to miss out on. After letting my thoughts wander for several hours last night, I thought about how much I was going to miss out on too. I’ll never experience the smile on his face and the big hug I would have gotten from telling him I got engaged. I won’t see him beam with pride as he walks me down the aisle. I won’t get any more teary Joe Cocker messages. I won’t see the delight on his face when I tell him he’s going to be a grandfather. No more Christmases, birthdays, Easters, Thanksgivings, dim sum outings or Mandarin trips. I have no reason to celebrate Father’s Day.

It’s too much.

I miss dad so much words can’t even begin to describe it. I feel like his death and the circumstances surrounding it are a huge weight on my chest. I don’t even what it feels like to take a normal breathe that isn’t constricted by the heaviness of the grief on my chest and devastation in my heart.

I feel old. I feel achy. I don’t want to have to deal with reality, but want more than anything for things to be normal again. I know there will never be such thing. At least not the normal I was accustomed to.

Dad was supposed to live to 80 and die as an old man – not a 49-year-old. He was supposed to spend his last 30 years happy, loving us, loving himself and playing in his band. He should be fishing, going to court, meeting us for food, not floating off in some other land where he’s untouchable and never to be seen or heard from again.

I pictured him sitting in an old rocking chair on a small, square deck sitting by a river’s edge at a trailer somewhere. He would still be wearing his cut off T- shirts, ugly dollar store shoes we kidded with him for buying, and the Value Village shorts he loved to brag about scoring deals on. A small radio would be playing 95.7, and a fishing pole would be close by, if not in his hand. A cold beer would touch his lips every so often and a dog would be sleeping peacefully at his feet. He was supposed to die old, at peace and when he lived his full life.

The reality of his untimely death is disturbing, and unfair. He barely had any wrinkles and was the smallest he had ever been in the 24 years I had known him. He was battling many demons. He was miserable and trying desperately to stay afloat while attempting to shake off two of the biggest weights any human can even begin to imagine. His life wasn’t close to being over. At least not to us.

I don’t know what’s worse – him being here struggling, or us struggling with the aftermath of his passing.


My high school journal: A trip down memory lane I’d like to forget

I recently saw a great tweet on Twitter: Keep a journal. You’ll never regret getting older if you can go back and check how stupid you used to be.

Last weekend, I found out firsthand how true this is.

I came across one of my old writing journals from grade 12 when I was cleaning out a drawer and was captivated – and slightly humiliated – by the content. Was I actually this naïve? Did I actually think some of the things I bitched about were problems?

Some of them were too naïve, too ridiculous, too 18-year-old-poptart not to share. So, here’s a small selection of the things that either were a pet peeve of mine or were things I thought were significant enough to complain about:

  • My stomache growling in a quiet class – it was sooooo embarrassing (Are the five “o’s” really necessary?)
  • My favourite pen running out
  • Being 150 pounds (Uhhh, this is about how much my right leg weighs now.)
  • Paying $10 to go tanning but only tanning on my face
  • When chocolate bars made me eat them
  • That people didn’t consider synchronized skating a sport (in the space of four months I kept this journal, I wrote about this seven times. SEVEN.)
  • People pointing to their wrist when they wanted the time
  • The word “swab” and “scab” (by the way, they’re still gross words.)
  • When girls wore, and this is a direct quote, “lime green, electric blue or violet eye shadow along with savage foundation, skating blush, eye liner and mascara layered so thick their eyelashes resemble spiders and then insist they don’t wear a lot of make up”.
  • Wanting to be held and (insert highschool flavour of the week’s name) is nowhere to be found
  • Finding a prom dress for only $400 (Me now: ONLY? That would feed and intoxicate you for a month.)

Other entry topics included getting pissed with my best friend because she went for coffee with someone she said she “didn’t like very much” (four pages of teenage angst on this one), taking my friends to get piercings and tattoos over our lunch hour and “savage parties”, which seemed to be happening every other weekend. Apparently “savage” was the modern day “like”. Oy vey.

So, essentially, I’ve come to the conclusion that I was a self-centered, partying, pretentious, attention-seeking brat who was obnoxious externally yet completely self-conscious. I’m sure some might argue I haven’t changed all that much.

For the friends who were foolish enough to stay in contact with me through these formidable teenage years and beyond: in the name of all that is holy…. what the heck were you thinking? Your hero medals are in the mail.

Recess: the ultimate time to strategize

This week is the second week of March Break for many kids here in BC. Yes, you read that correctly. March break here is more of an extended holiday than a five-day hiatus from classes.

And to think years ago, I just wanted to be grown up.

Today’s daily trigger from Triggering Memories got me thinking about school and inspired me to revisit a time during the school day where the most important conversations took place: recess.

In the spring and fall, it was spent playing endless games of Red Rover, mastering the impossibly hard double-Dutch skipping game and playing man hunt on the playground. Those who came back to the classroom with gravel embedded in their palms from falling during an intense game of hide and seek were looked upon as playground heroes. 

In the winter, recess meant building snowmen, catching snowflakes on our tongues and going down the slide at turbo speed because the slippery snow added extra horsepower.

If we were feeling brave enough, or perhaps just stupid enough, we’d stick our tongues to the soccer goal post to see if they would stick. On the days it didn’t, I was internally happy although I’d never say so to my friends. Half the fun was trying to figure out a way to get it unstuck without losing a few layers of skin. (We, like most fearless kids, did this more than once.)

Our playground at elementary school was massive and was rotated between several grades, depending on the day of the week. When it wasn’t our turn, we made use of the soccer fields, picnic tables, and baseball diamond, even if we were just playing imaginary ball. Homeruns were scored and grand slams were achieved that would have rivaled any Major League Baseball game – or so we believed.

On the days it was our turn to use the playground, we went down the slide with such speed, we could have flown across the entire school yard. We embraced our inner monkeys and scaled back and forth across the metal bars until our palms bled from the blisters. When we couldn’t make it across anymore, we looped our feet through the bars and hung upside down until all the blood rushed to our cheeks and we were forced to sit up again.

Recesses were also a time to strategize with friends: which boy looked the cutest today? Whose house were we going to sleepover at this weekend? What did we have for lunch?

For most of us, our problems were non-existent outside of what we were going to wear to school that morning and whether Mom and Dad would let us stay out just a little bit later tonight playing with friends. We were naïve and innocent enough to think everyone had it as good as we did all the while not truly understanding just how fortunate we were. 

When I got to grade eight, I couldn’t wait to get to high school – at 14-years-old, recesses seemed juvenile. Something for little kids who still believed in Santa Clause and still had the benefit of youthful ignorance.

Recesses became cliquey and awkward for those whose intellect outgrew the pace of their friends, whose physical appearance made them stand out for one reason or another and whose wardrobes wore loved by someone else before they donned them.

For these kids, the 15-minute breaks started to drag on instead of flying by like they once had.
There were always a group of kids who had an opinion and, with the support of their friends standing behind them, would make comments to try and solidify their place in the playground hierarchy.

Oftentimes, the sub-zero temperatures were a warm comfort to the outliers next to the cold shoulder of their opinionated classmates.

While the school yard dynamics could be as unpredictable as the weather in the suburbs of Ontario, recess holds fond memories for my inner double-Dutching, hop-skotching, monkey bar-scaling playground star.