Life Lessons: Live in a Hell-Hole Once in Your Life

When I was in my third year of university, my two best friends, my boyfriend (who would become my husband) and I decided to move into a small house together. It wasn’t the greatest financial decision (at the time we were all living at home with our parents, rent-free, having our meals cooked for us and our clothes and sheets washed for us), but we were young and headstrong and thought it would be a wonderful thing to be out on our own. We learned a great deal from that experience, both good lessons and bad ones. We learned that dealing with finances is difficult, that living with others can be both awesome and painfully frustrating, and that there are a lot of things (cooking, cleaning, yard work, etc) that you just don’t grasp until you have to do them all the time.

And then there are the other lessons you learn by making this kind of leap…lessons like how sometimes the world is just sitting back and laughing at you.

The house that my friends and I moved into tried it’s best to warn us off, you see.

"So...I found something under here...and, well, I don't think you're going to like it."
“So…I found something under here…and, well, I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

The house in question happened to be owned by one of the aforementioned friends’ aunt. She lived on the other side of the country and a had a friend look after the residence for her. In retrospect, the fact that our prospective landlady lived thousands of miles away probably should have been our first warning sign, but the place was cheap (which, yeah…probably should have been the second warning sign). Even bypassing those first two signs, it’s truly amazing that we agreed to take the place after having taken a walk through in it. The day the assistant-landlord let us in to look around was the first day he himself had set foot in it since the previous tenant had gone…a tenant who, as it turned out, was a drug addict. The story went that her family had shown up and essentially kidnapped her and her nine-year-old daughter, shipping the tenant off to rehab and thus leaving the house empty. Empty, in this case, is a subjective term. The tenant’s stuff, for the most part, was gone, but the house was certainly not empty by any stretch of the imagination. Every room was filled – and I mean filled – with bags of trash. The sink was filled to overflowing with dishes and, since the heat had been off for several weeks, they were literally frozen into a giant hunk of ceramic and water. There were pizza boxes strewn about and stains on the floors. The daughter’s bedroom walls were covered in crayon – every last inch. There wasn’t a curtain in the whole building. The place, to put it lightly, was a wreck.

Somehow we got past our shock, agreed to help assistant-landlord clean the place up, and took it. Young people are ridiculously stupid sometimes.

As if we hadn’t gotten enough subtle hints already, on the day we cleaned up the house to get read to move in we noticed something that we definitely should have noticed a hell of a lot sooner: there was no stove in the kitchen. The place where the stove should have been was simply empty. Confused and confident that the drug-addict’s family wouldn’t have bothered to take a large appliance with them when they left, we began to search the house. It didn’t take long, since it wasn’t a large place. We located the stove, inexplicably, sitting in the basement. Not only did this bewilder us (had the previous tenant simply never cooked? And if so, still…why bother putting the stove in the basement), but we soon found ourselves wondering how it had gotten down there in the first place. You see, the basement stairs were so narrow, that the boys literally couldn’t put their hands around it while trying to drag it back up. They had to lift it entirely from the bottom, taking it one step at a time. As a side note to this part of the story, I must mention that this particular moment became a favorite story of my husband’s to use to torment our male friend. The reason? Hubby, who was on the bottom end of this particular lift, made it about halfway up the stairs before screaming at our male friend to “get the hell out of the way and let Tracey do it!” Sorry, male friend, but we’ll never let you live that one down. ๐Ÿ™‚

So okay. Let’s reiterate: by this point we had been warned off by the absence of the landlady, the state of the place and the story of it’s previous tenant, and the fact that we had to extricate one of the major appliances from unfinished, dirt-floor basement, which logically should have never been down there in the first place. And it was at this point that we actually moved in.

From there on it seemed like an endless slew of tricks that the house was playing on us to try and scare us away. There were “little” things, like how we kept blowing fuses and the fuses in this particular house were of an ancient design so we had to call the assistant landlord to come replace them each time, or how it turned out that there wasn’t even the tiniest bit of insulation in any of the walls of the house, so we went through heating oil like water, and on days when it got warm out it feel like the ninth circle of hell in there. But those were pains gained by an ignorance of reality…someone else may have thought to look at these kinds of things before they moved in. These things we dealt with because we hadn’t known to wonder about them before hand. No, the real “tricks” were the weird, creepy, and disgusting ones.

For instance, I brought two cats into the house with me, and they kept pawing at the heating duct in my friends’ room. Not too strange, because cats do tend to be odd sometimes. It wasn’t until my friends’ had kept their bedroom door closed for some time that we realized what the cats were interested in, when a little white snout started poking through the grate. Yeah, it turned out that the dirt-floor basement that I mentioned earlier had quite a large number of white mice living in it.

Later, we found the only thing worse than live mice in our house, when one of my cats started pawing anxiously at a small bump in one of the carpets. Hoping against hope that it was just a poor carpeting job that had left the lump, we peeled back that section of carpet to find a rather enormous dead mouse. Pleasant. Quite pleasant.

But the particular story that we’ve told time and again is the one that reminded us very firmly just exactly who had been living in this house prior to us. You see, from the day we moved in our toilet didn’t quite seem to flush right. It would flush, it just seemed to be a bit sluggish and would occasionally clog for seemingly no reason. So one day, when he finally got thoroughly fed up with the toilet, male friend decided to plunge the ever-living hell out of it. Several minutes of hard work later out popped…a spoon. And not just any spoon. This spoon was enormous. It was one step away from being considered a ladle. And it had been flushed down our toilet.

There are probably more tales to tell about this particular house, but I think you get the point. What is really sad about this is that when hubby and I eventually went our own way and got a different apartment, it was no better…it may have actually been worse. It was an old basement apartment with ceilings that were only about 5-1/2 feet high, a closet that was so disgusting we literally taped it up with packing tape and never entered again, a kitchen ceiling that would occasionally dip and “rain” if the upstairs tenants ran their bath water too long, and rats…yes, rats. Though we didn’t actually find out about the rats until I moved away for my job, leaving hubby alone in the apartment while he finished college. Seems that the rats knew the second that the cats moved out of the house.

The reason I’m telling you about this is because living in these places served a purpose. I came to form a strong conviction about something because of these experiences, and that is that it is my personal opinion that every young adult should experience living in some level of squalor and near-poverty. I’m not saying that we should throw the college generation out onto the streets or anything, but there are a great number of life lessons that I feel can only be learned by struggling to make ends meet, and seeing that sometimes you have to deal with some pretty awful things in order to get ahead. Living in these types of places gave me a great appreciation for what I wanted in life and what was important. Designer clothes, for instance, don’t seem nearly as important if you’re choosing between having them and living in an apartment that’s not infested with rats.

This is a pretty simple lesson that I don’t believe enough young people learn. Too many of the kids I went to college with came out of the experience with an inflated sense of self-importance and a genuine belief that the world was going to bend to their needs. They expected their parents to keep paying for their crap and doing their chores, even after they were supposed to “officially” be adults. They spent half of their student loan money on toys for themselves (one girl bought a goddamn car) and then baulked at the idea of having to actually pay that money back. They seriously expected that the moment they graduated, work would be waiting for them with a big, shiny sign that said, “Over here! Pick me!” They truly believed that when they moved out of their parents’ house or the dorm that they’d been living in while at school, that they would all get to move into beautiful three-bedroom houses with finished basements and a goddamn pool in the backyard.

What I’m getting at is that kids these days (haha, look at me, talking like I’m so very old) have a terrible world view of what things are going to be like when they’re out on their own. They expect to receive everything they want in life by sheer virtue of wanting it, and when that doesn’t work out they turn around and fall thousands of dollars into debt in their pursuits (or, in some cases, throw their pushover parents into debt on their behalf). The reason that kids turn out this way is multifaceted (don’t get me started on not keeping score in sporting events because it “hurts the feelings of the kids who don’t win”), but one contributing factor, in my opinion, is that most of these kids never experience what it’s like to live in a hell-hole and eat Kraft Dinner ten times a week, and because they’ve had it so good their who lives, the idea of having anything less than that is absolutely abhorrent and unacceptable. It’s an attitude that truly frustrates me in many of the young people I see around me. I think that loads of young people would benefit significantly by being cut off from their parents’ money for a year, having anything resembling a credit card or loan taken away, and being forced to actually live on what they earn and deal with whatever results because of that.

Believe me, ladies and gents: never did I appreciate the little things in life more than when I got far away from the two places described above and started earning enough to buy decent food again. ๐Ÿ˜‰

To Be a Writer

Recently I came upon a contest that Amazon is having. It involves writing a blog post that talks about the moment you knew – really knew – that you were a writer. I decided to give it a go, and before long I had surpassed the word limit that the contest set. I didn’t want to change anything, because what I wrote was truth, plain and simple, so I thought I’d just post it here anyway.

I've already used this, but I feel it still applies. :P
I’ve already used this, but I feel it still applies. ๐Ÿ˜›

I’ve wanted to be a writer since the third grade. That was a revelation in and of itself, but it isn’t the same as actually knowing that you are a writer. Many people talk about that moment when they knew, that singular event that caused them to realize “I AM A WRITER!”, but for me it’s a little more complicated than that. My “I AM A WRITER!” moment was less a moment and more a culmination of the passage of some 15 years of growth.

I knew I wanted to be a writer after a school assignment in the third grade. We were to write a short story, print it out neatly on white paper (this was before we had regular access to computers), draw a cover, and bind it all together with construction paper and string. I can’t recall the exact plot of my story (although I could probably locate it in my parents’ attic if I looked hard enough), but I remember that it was called “The Mystery of the Emerald-Eyed Cat”. My cover featured two glowing green cat eyes below the title, and it was all bound with green construction paper. I also recall that I signed the cover “by Tracey Lynn MARIE Clarke”, not because I had any sense of what a pen name was back then, but because I was a little gone in the head and often changed my name a bit to suit my childish whims. (My teachers just kinda…ignored me, I guess…lol)ย  I was very proud of that story, and my teacher at the time was a truly awesome man by the name of Mr Power who praised it and suggested that maybe I might consider writing as a career choice in the future. Though I was an avid reader, this was thought that had never really occurred to me before; but in that moment I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.

Around the same time that I made my startling future career revelation, I met my best friend Kelly for the first time. As chance would have it, she loved writing too, and over the course of the rest of our grade school career we wrote a series of stories called “The Game Masters”, an adventure tale of a group of kids (ourselves and a few friends) who could travel in and out of video games. What Kelly and I had was an odd kind of a beta-reader relationship. We each wrote our own versions of the story – similar in many ways, but different in quite a few as well – and whenever we had each finished a chapter or two we would swap notebooks and read what the other had written. We praised each other for how clever we were, marveled at the amazing ideas we came up with and how “great” our juvenile writing was. We taught each other very little because we were so in awe of ourselves and how awesome we were, but it was excellent practice none-the-less, and it taught me another one of the joys of writing. I would strive daily to write as much as I could so that Kelly could read it. Even if the writing wasn’t perfect, it was a great thrill for me to have her read it and tell me that she enjoyed it, and so with that rush of fun and reader-acceptance I continued on with the belief that I absolutely wanted to be a writer.

Junior high school marked the turning point when Kelly and I both began to dabble into more mature original fiction. I can’t remember much about those first original stories because I personally tended to jump from storyline to storyline; whenever I would get a new idea I would drop the old one and start anew. Even so, it was excellent practice in creating characters and worlds and coming up with compelling plot lines. This era also marked my first foray into fan fiction, although I hadn’t ever heard the term at this point. Kelly, her cousin Melissa, and I became enormous Star Wars nerds in these days, and part of the way I expressed my nerdiness was by writing my own little Star Wars stories. I read a lot of Star Wars novels, and I got it into my head that I was a big enough fan that I could write one as well. My story involved Luke Skywalker discovering another lost Jedi – a gorgeous young girl, of course – and training her while trying to keep her from going over to the dark side. It was incredibly geeky. In these days I began to discover that I really had quite a lot to learn. My grade 8 English teacher, Mr Reilly, was not shy about telling me exactly what I was doing wrong when I wrote, and I would regularly compare my writing style to Kelly’s, which always seemed much better to me. I learned a bit of humility, but I was still totally wanted to be a writer.

By the time Kelly and I hit high school writing time became significantly more scarce. There was more work to do, and our social lives (such as they were) became more important as well. We started dating boys, we had extracurricular activities and lots of other unrelated hobbies. Regardless, Kelly and I still found ourselves writing little stories, only now they were quickly-plucked-out mini-chapters that we would write on typewriters during our keyboarding class. This time, rather than writing two different versions of the same basic plot line, or writing our own personal original fiction, we would take turns writing chapters of the same story back and forth. The “story” was loosely called “The Day the Earth Blew Up” and featured ourselves and our friends in an ever-more-ridiculous plot of adventurous hyjinx and tomfoolery. For all intents and purposes, the point of the story was to keep trying to make it more and more foolish. At one point there was an invading army of flying mini-pizzas. Yeah, we were a little bit loopy. But this little exercise of ours taught me a few more things about writing, such as the art of collaboration, and how to keep your mind fresh and new, constantly churning out interesting ideas. Though there were now many other things in my life vying for attention, I was still certain that I wanted to be a writer.

High school graduation was a turn in the wrong direction. When it came to the desire to be a writer, I dropped the ball. I’ve mentioned it before, but in these days I made a conscious decision: I was going to put my focus into technology. I still wanted to be a writer – oh lord, how I wanted to be a writer – but I was scared of failure, scared of the financial implications, and so I made the decision to move into a field in which I knew I could still thrive, but in which I was significantly more likely to obtain gainful employment. My inner child, the little grade-3-aged girl who had just written her first story, was positively screaming at me. “You want to be a writer!” she shrieked. “What is wrong with you?!” I hold that the decision I made was a good one in the long run, but it definitely set me back several years on my true desires.

I wrote nothing for a long time. As many young people do I spent my university years cramming for exams at the last minute, ripping out assignments on the bus on the way to class, and drinking away the weekends. The work load was intense, and I had to work part-time jobs to help pay for it all. My long-time boyfriend broke up with me and I started dating the man who would become my husband. We moved out on our own and had to learn to feed and clothe ourselves while somehow paying for rent and taking what felt like hundreds of hours of classes a week. At one point, sometime during my fourth (and final) year of university, I had an extreme loss of confidence in my future. I had done fairly well in all of my courses – aside from Calculus (which we won’t talk about) I made 80s and 90s in most of them – but I had this moment when I looked at myself and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” I had no idea what kind of career I was going to end up with, I had no confidence that it was going to be something I actually enjoyed or was good at, and I’d already spent upwards of $40,000 to come to this conclusion. It was around this time that Kelly reintroduced me to what we now know is fan fiction. She’d been reading a ton of the stuff on FanFiction.net, and encouraged me to do the same. The result was somewhat different; I ended up writing on the website. I didn’t really have the time to be writing, but I became somewhat obsessed and did it anyway. The one story I managed to complete, a Harry Potter fan fic called “Cry of the Wolf”, became surprisingly popular on the website, and with that I remembered something: I still wanted to be a writer. I had put a lot of time and effort into becoming a technologist, and I was going to finish that journey for sure, but all the time, no matter what else I did, I still wanted to be a writer.

It’s been seven years since I completed my university degree. In that time I got a job, moved away from home for it, bought a car, married my husband, bought a house, gave birth to my daughter, lost my job, found a new one that required me to travel back and forth across the country, and recently got laid off from that one because the job is over. And throughout all that I kept writing whenever I could. I wrote more fan fiction, I participated in several NaNoWriMo‘s, I set daily word count goals for myself, and I started this blog. I did all of this because regardless of what else might be going on around me, of the turns my life had taken, I still wanted to be a writer. Notice that I keep using that phrasing, over and over again: wanted to be a writer. That’s the phrasing I always used in my head when I thought about myself. I always used a future tense.

“I want to be a writer.”

“I’m going to be a writer.”

“Someday I’ll be a writer.”

That has been my thought process since that first story back in the third grade.

That is, until about a year ago. I’d written a zombie apocalypse novel for the previous years’ NaNoWriMo, but over the course of the month-long challenge I’d only gotten about 2/3 of the way through the story. I desperately wanted to finish it, as I’d never finished an original piece of fiction (that wasn’t a school project). So I set myself a goal: I would write at least 1000 words a day until the novel was complete. I can’t honestly say that I stuck to it every single day – sometimes life gets in the way, after all – but in what seemed like no time at all, suddenly I had a finished story. Sure, it still has to be revised and edited, preferably beta-read as well, but I had it; I had a whole original story, from beginning to end. That was the moment, though it wasn’t as much a revelation as a slow realization. Looking at the last sentence of my novel, and thinking back to everything I’d done up to that point, that was when I realized “I AM A WRITER!”

I may never succeed in becoming traditionally published, and I may never gain financial compensation for my work, but I’ll always be able to look back on that little third-grade girl and say, “Hey, guess what? Youย are a writer, and you always will be.”

Things I Know About Kids: How to Get Them to Talk to You

For those of you who don’t follow Internet memes (click the link if you have no idea what a “meme” is), there is one that has been going around for a whole now that has been dubbed “Advice Mallard”. I haven’t the foggiest clue where the original idea came from, but the meme is a picture of a particularly photogenic duck, upon which people write pieces of advice. The advice can range from “duh”-level obviousness to thoughts born of personal experience that are actually pretty helpful. One such example that I came across a while back was this one:

20130528-163947.jpg

In case anyone can’t see the image, it says “If you want your kids to feel like they can tell you anything, don’t overreact when they tell you something.” More easily said than done, perhaps, but still something I strongly believe parents should take to heart.

I can’t think of any personal examples because my parents were fairly approachable, but I can think of several examples where friends or classmates landed themselves in a lot of trouble because they didn’t talk to their family for fear of the reaction.

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a young girl, 13 or 14. She’s in the cusp of the joys of puberty and decides to ask her mother about sex. It’s an innocent question…for the sake of our story we’ll say that she asks how you know when you’re ready to have sex. The mother could sit down and have a frank, honest conversation with her daughter, but instead she chooses to pitch a fit: “You aren’t ready for sex!” she shouts. “You’re not old enough to have sex! You’re too you to be even thinking about sex and I don’t want to hear another thing about it until you’re married!

Fast forward a bit. It could be a few years, it could only be a few weeks. The girl has a boyfriend, and in the infinite wisdom of the young, they decide to get intimate. The girl knows she should be on some kind of birth control, but she has no idea how to get it, and after the last reaction she got there is no way she’s going to talk to her mother about it. Ultimately she ends up going without because, lets face it…kids never think anything bad is going to happen to them. She ends up pregnant. She can’t hide it for long and her mother finds out. Amidst a slew of angry shouting and accusations, the mother releases this gem: “Why didn’t you ask me to get you on the pill?!

Given a number of different possible original conversations and end results, I’d be willing to put money down that most kids have had to deal with this kind of thing. Perhaps it didn’t end with such a dramatic result, but think back: how many of you avoided discussing something very important with your parents because you were terrified of the reaction you’d get? And how many of you had to later deal with your parents’ completely clueless reaction to why you would feel you couldn’t go to them with your problem? Betcha most people reading this are raising their hand right now.

Humans have a very basic learning pattern that is based on cause and effect:
Flower pretty; flower good.
Lightning scary; lightning bad.

This translates to young children in the form of the discipline we give them. If they do something and we laugh, they’re going to keep doing it. If they do something and we scream and yell and send them to their room, chances are they’re going to think twice about doing it again.

It’s no different when it comes to making your children feel comfortable bringing things to you. If they bring you an issue and you’re calm, understanding, and helpful, they learn that you’re a good person to come to with their problems. If you have a fit, yelling and dictating your authority, they’re going to avoid bringing anything to you at all costs.

Consider this when your kids come to you. If they tell you they’re being bullied at school, don’t storm down their and start raving like a lunatic, embarrassing the hell out of them; talk to them about it and come up with a game plan together. If they tell you that they think they have a problem with drugs or alcohol, don’t preach and berate them for being an idiot; praise them for coming to you and work with them to get through it. And for the love of all that is good, even if you still think of your kid as being a child, if they come to you asking about birth control, get it for them. Work in a calm, honest conversation about sex, sure, but absolutely get them the birth control because here’s the thing… Whether we like it or not, and no matter what we do to try and stop them from making stupid mistakes, our kids are ultimately going to end up doing whatever they damn well please. Knowing that, does it make more sense to try (and fail) to force them to make the decisions you want them to make, or to openly and supportively give them the help and information they need to make smart decisions on their own?

Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Have you ever felt like you couldn’t go to your parents with something important? What made you feel that way? Did it end up causing problems down the road? Please share! I’d love to hear from you!

12 Posts of Christmas – The Aftermath

Well would you look at that…not only have the holidays passed us by, but I haven’t made a blog post since LAST YEAR (hyuck, hyuck…:P). What happened? The same thing that always happens…life. While I probably could have sneaked a few hours out of the past couple of weeks to complete my 12 Posts of Christmas posts, I instead decided that experiencing the holidays was more important than blogging about them.

That said, let’s just whip through the remaining five days real quick, shall we?

5. Presents are awesome at any age. Write about the best present you ever received for Christmas, whether as a child or an adult.

I had a nice long post all planned out for this one, but as I never got to it and we’re now trying to squeeze five posts into one, I’m going to bite my lip and shorten it considerably.

The best present I ever received was from my husband (then boyfriend). It started out as an enormous box, about six feet long, three feet wide, and about a foot thick. My then-boyfriend and father made a big show of carrying it into the room, but when I finally went at it myself I found it was exceptionally light. Unwrapping it I discovered that inside the box…was another box. Ah…that old game. So I unwrapped the second box, and found another, and another, and another. I don’t recall the exact number of boxes, but eventually I wore down to a single white envelope, and what was inside that envelope initially confused me. It was a sheaf of papers with a picture of a diamond and the words “Warranty Plan”. When I looked up at my then-boyfriend in confusion it was to find him down on one knee, a ring box in his hands. You can probably imagine what happened next…my then-boyfriend became my then-fiance, and about a year and a half later he became my husband. My squeals could be heard from ten miles away, I’m sure. ๐Ÿ™‚

4. As much as we love Christmas, there are aspects of it that can drive us insane. Write about the most frustrating parts of Christmas for you.

Most things about the holidays don’t bother me nearly as much as other people. I see the people around me getting stressed out and losing their minds, but for the most part, I don’t let it bother me. There are two things that drive me mad though…one is last-minute shopping. Hate it. If I’m having a hard time finding something for a particular person and it results in last-minute shopping I become a very stressed-out little monkey.

The other thing that drives me nuts? Putting up and taking down the tree. Decorating is all well and good, but the actual raising and lowering of the tree frustrates me every time, mainly because I end up with a million tiny little scratches all up and down my arms. Rawr, I say. Rawr.

3. We all have our own particular Christmas traditions. Write about some of yours.

Our traditions are growing as we come into our own family. We still travel down home and visit around a few days before Christmas, but other things have changed over the years. Now that we have our own child we spend Christmas day at our own house. My parents generally come up on Christmas Eve and spend the night so they can see the baby open her presents. My mother helps me cook Christmas dinner. We play Christmas specials on the TV all through the holidays and we eat a big breakfast before opening any presents. There are lots of little things that make up our holiday traditions, and new ones pop up every year.

2. Admit itโ€ฆyou tried to sneak a peek at a present or stay up all night and catch Santa when you were a kid. Write about Christmas sneakery you performed as a child.

Okay, I admit it, I’ve searched for Christmas presents. I’ve even found them. But I can honestly say I was not the kind of kid to unwrap presents early. I was always happy just to find them. It was like a treasure hunt. And on Christmas morning, when I would wake at 2 or 3 in the morning, sometimes I would crawl, ever-so-slowly, out to the living room so I could see if Santa had left my presents. He always had, of course, and once I saw them sitting there, I was satisfied. I would crawl, ever-so-slowly, back to bed and lay down for a couple more hours until I thought it was late enough that my parents wouldn’t kill me for waking them. ๐Ÿ™‚

1. Happy Holidays! Write about your hopes and plans for this Christmas!

My hopes for the holidays were simple this year…that my daughter would enjoy herself. We went a little overboard with the presents, but we were excited for the fact that this was going to be the first year she could actually open the presents herself and might understand what was happening. We weren’t disappointed. She opened all her presents herself, with the exception of a few clothes boxes once she realized that those shapes didn’t have toys in them…lol She loved everything and her eyes positively lit up when she saw the kitchen set we got her, so it was absolutely awesome. It only makes us more excited for years to come.

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So there we have it. Not the best posts, but I wanted to finish. ๐Ÿ™‚ New Years posts to follow!

Day jobs ruin everything, am I right?

A reminder: This post courtesy of Julie Jarnaginโ€™s 101 Blog Post Ideas for Writers.

28. Write about the time you almost gave up writing for good

I won’t pretend that it’s an interesting story, but yes, there was a time when I almost gave up writing for good. It came as a result of my first post-graduate, degree-relevant job. You see, up to and including the moment when I graduated from university, I had only ever had part-time jobs. I’d worked summers, or evenings and weekends. I had positions that were Monday to Friday, 9-5 deals, but those would only ever last two or three months. Alternatively, the jobs I held in between those were 2-4 days per week, not even necessarily full 8-hour shifts. What I’m getting at here is that I had a lot of spare time to write. Even when I had the (temporary) full-time positions, they were the kinds of jobs where you could haul out a notebook and scribble away while you waited for something to do. Even at my most busy, when I was going to university during the day and working during the evenings, I’d still find time to write during free classes and slow shifts.

That changed quite dramatically when I started working at the paper mill. For one thing, this wasn’t the kind of job where you had down-time that you could fill however you pleased. Most of the time I was busy as hell, and even when I wasn’t it would be frowned upon if I curled up at my desk with a notebook. It was the kind of job where you were expected to be doing something even if there was no something to do. For another thing, this was a full-time, permanent position. I no longer had random slots of time to myself, multiple days off at any given time, and I got no breaks. I’m not talking about break-time during the work day – of course I got those, it’s illegal not to give them. I’m talking about chunks of time – days, weeks, or even months – during which I was completely off. This was a permanent job. After a few months that reality started to set in. I was going to do this job every day, five days a week, four weeks a month, twelve months a year. That first year I didn’t even get my two weeks of vacation because I couldn’t afford to take it (vacation pay is based on previous year’s earnings and since I got hired in December that would have meant I’d get approximately $80 for my two weeks).

With all that said and done, you also have to add in to the equation the fact that I was all alone in the world. I’d had to move an hour and a half from home for the job, while my boyfriend (now husband) was still back home finishing his own university program. Since I was living alone I had to do 100% of the stuff you have to do when you live alone: the grocery shopping, the cooking, the dishes, the laundry, the errands, etc etc etc. To make a long story short (is it too late for that?) I didn’t have a lot of spare time to myself. The spare time I did have I mostly filled with brainless things like watching tv and playing on my computer because I was just too exhausted to do anything else.

It took a while to work my way out of this rut. Eventually my future-hubby moved up with me and I had help around the house again. He would end up getting a job at the mill as well and as time went on things seemed to even out, become more second-nature, and calm down a bit. I’m still as busy as I ever was, but it doesn’t feel as busy because I’m used to it. So a while back I stumbled across NaNoWriMo for the first time and thought, “Hey, you know what? I miss writing. I should start writing again.” It’s been slow-going, and I still don’t always find the time I need to actually do it, but I’ve committed myself to keeping writing as part of my life. It’s important to me, even if it never takes me any further than my own laptop.

Time flies when…

I’ve been slacking off with the blog lately, not because I’m too lazy or don’t have anything to talk about, but because it seems like the days are getting away on me the past couple of weeks. Today, for example, it seemed like all I did was wake up and do a bit of housework, and all of a sudden it was lunch time. Then before I could sneeze, it was supper, and in about an hour and a half it’ll be the baby’s tub time. From there I pretty much go to bed, as the hubby and I like to pass our nights before bedtime watching movies. So for all intents and purposes, my day is already complete. I’m plucking this post out while the baby watches a cartoon (in other words, while I’ve got two seconds to myself).

I think this is a phenomenon that happens to everyone when there is a looming event on the horizon. The ‘event’ can take many forms, but in my case, this particular time, it’s the date of my flight out West. I recently got my itinerary for my flight out to the oil sands, and ever since it’s seemed like the days are just disappearing behind me.

Much like attempting to finish, edit, and publish a novel, starting a new job in a new province is an adventure, and as such I’m a mixture of nervous, excited, and curious. For one thing, my flight out to the work site will be my first ever time on a plane. Yes, that’s right, I’m 28 years old and have never been on an airplane before. So that’s pretty exciting (and nerve-wracking). In addition to that little tidbit, this will be my first time ever traveling alone. As I’m a full-grown adult that shouldn’t be a big deal, but it’s an interesting concept to me. The only trips I’ve ever taken have been with family or friends by my side. I’ve never traveled more than a couple of hours drive without at least my husband, so flying three quarters of the way across the country all by myself is going to seem odd. All I can say is thank god I’m flying, because without my husband to keep me on track I’d probably drive to Texas or something.

Another thing that I’m anticipating (whether for good or for ill) is the camp I’m going to be living at. As funny as it may sound, I’m actually looking forward to this experience. I’ve been assured that the camp is clean and has good food, and all in all I think it’s going to seem like the college dorm experience that I never had. When I was in college I first lived with my parents, and then in an apartment with friends and my hubby (then boyfriend), followed by just my hubby (boyfriend) and I, and I always felt like I missed out on the dorm experience. It’s not exactly an ideal way to live, I know, but it’s still something I would have liked to try out, and now I’m getting a similar chance, albeit belatedly. I might end up hating it, but at least I’ll have tried it, you know?

Of course, there’s also the job itself. I’ve heard good things so far from colleagues I have out there, but I won’t really know until I get there. I’ve been out of work (that is, career work) since October, so it’s going to be strange to go back. Part of me thinks it’ll be like getting back on a bike, but another part of me can’t help thinking that I’m going to totally forget how to do any of the things I used to do. At the very least, it’s going to feel weird being back on a work site after all this time.

Finally, it’s going to be strange leaving my daughter behind for two weeks straight. Compared to other prospective western jobs and the position my husband recently left so I could take this one, two weeks at a time won’t be bad at all, but it will still be odd. So far, since she was born a year and a half ago, the longest I’ve been away from her at once was something like 36 hours or so. While I know she’ll be fine at home with her father, and I’m sure my two weeks will go by fast as I’ll be working 12-hour days, it’s still a pretty large stretch between 36 hours and 336 hours.

All in all, my life is speeding toward a pretty significant event. So, of course, you’ll excuse me if things like blog posts get temporarily pushed aside. Life will resume eventually, I promise. ๐Ÿ™‚

Ten Years

I was poking around Facebook one day, not doing anything in particular, when I came across a handful of my classmates from high school talking about reunions. They were discussing what was to be done for our 10-year reunion, and whether anyone wanted to take responsibility for it (around here it’s the graduate’s responsibility to organize a reunion if they want one). A few weeks later I got an invite to a Facebook ‘group’ whose purpose is planning the reunion and spreading the word.

I have to admit, I’m still working out just what that means in my head. I’ve been out of high school for ten years. Where did that time go?

If you had asked me ten years ago, upon graduation from high school, where I saw myself in ten years, my answer would have been definite. I would have said I’d be working with computers (don’t you love it when people give that broad spectrum?), and that I’d be married to my high school sweetheart, Frankie. At that point in my life those were the only two things on my mind: what I was going to do for work, and my boyfriend. And really, how much else is usually on the mind of an 18-year-old?

Instead, in the past ten years I:

  • applied for one college program,
  • ended up in a different one after the first one was cancelled,
  • suffered heartbreak at the hands of the aforementioned high school sweetheart,
  • had my heart mended by someone I never would have expected,
  • experienced living away from home, both with friends and alone with my new boyfriend,
  • experienced what it’s like to have to scrape pennies together to buy groceries,
  • dealt with what it feels like to sincerely doubt your career path after wasting a hell-ton of money,
  • somehow graduated from college,
  • suffered at a call center for several long months while I searched for a job that utilized my four years worth of degree,
  • celebrated like a crazy person when I finally got the job at the paper mill,
  • moved 90 minutes away from home, without my boyfriend, who was still finishing his college program,
  • dealt with the ins and outs of the paper mill and realized that even though I had a degree I knew positively jack sh*t,
  • celebrated when my boyfriend was finally able to move back in with me,
  • celebrated even harder when he too got a job at the paper mill,
  • got engaged,
  • bought my first (financed) car,
  • got married in a beautiful outdoor wedding,
  • bought a house after months of looking at the worst places ever and finally finding a jewel in the rough,
  • got pregnant and enjoyed all that that entails,
  • gave birth to my beautiful baby girl and never felt happier,
  • returned to work just in time to be told that the paper mill was shutting down indefinitely,
  • survived through months of nonsense over the purchase of the paper mill,
  • watched my husband get on a plane and fly out west for work to keep supporting us and our daughter

The moral of the story, I guess, is that a lot can happen in ten years, and chances are there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs that you never saw coming. And before you know it you’re looking back, wondering where the time went, and listening to people you haven’t seen in ten years making plans to get together and have drinks and catch up.

Ten years. Have I stressed that enough?