The next step

It’s been just over three weeks since my last post, but I’m back! As usual life keeps getting in the way, but I’ve made the commitment to myself to continue this blog, if for nothing else than to push myself to write something…anything…on a somewhat regular basis.

My last post was step back into my first return to writing after focusing on raising my kids. I was taking part in a two session memoir writing class and had had extremely positive response to a piece I wrote during the first session. Not only was there a positive response to the piece, but I read my work to a group of strangers for the first time ever in my life.

I left the session on an emotional high, and with an assignment. We were to write three pieces in the course of the next six days, and email them to our instructor. Each piece was to be an unedited 30 minute write, just the first thing that popped into our heads. We were to email them to Sue and she would give us hard-copies at the next session, with her critique of our work.

Hmmm…three pieces, thirty minutes of writing for each. Could I fit it into my work and family schedule? Yes, I’d find the time!I craved this creative release and knew I’d make it work somehow.

The thirty minutes flew by as the events of the day I was to recount came alive to me once again. I could feel the emotions of my younger self: excitement, bewilderment, fear. The sights and sounds being reborn as though it were yesterday. I completed the other two pieces and emailed them off with more than a bit of nerves and anxiety building within me.

When we arrived at the session the following Saturday, Sue handed our work back to each of us. She then explained how the type of critique she did worked. Using a green pen, red implies editing and she did not edit any of our work, she would hold the pen at the left side of the page as she started to read and she felt like we “connected” with out reader. Running a line down the page as the connection continued, she would add a second line running parallel to the first when we really grabbed the reader’s attention. I’m pleased to say that all of my pieces had at least one line down the left side of the page, and two lines in a couple of sections of two of them. I was shocked to see the third piece, the one I actually wrote first, with two solid lines from the first word of the piece, to the very last.

Sue wrote a couple of lines of encouragement at the end of one piece, nothing at the end of the second, but at the end of the third…this is what I found, “Wow! You say in the beginning ”I keep coming back to the damn rabbit!” But obviously, from the level of connection in this story, this was a major event. A flawless piece. You hit a nerve & let it rip. Bravo!!”

A few months later the writing group received funding to publish an anthology of original works. I submitted a few pieces, ‘The Rabbit’ being one, and the editor contacted me to say she would be pleased to include this “piece of fiction” in the book. I responded and said I would love for it to be a part of the publication, but I couldn’t allow it to be published under the belief it was a work of fiction. This was a memoir piece and I wanted to ensure it was accepted as that. The immediate response back from the editor was that, now knowing it was memoir, it had to be in the book.

I spent the next month cleaning up and editing the piece before it was ready for final submission. With the final edit, I also changed the name of the piece. ‘Dreams: A Memoir’ was published in the anthology, Signatures in 2002. I hope you enjoy the read.

*Author’s note: Mom, as referenced in this piece is not my birth mother, nor my stepmother, but a woman who was in my life at a young age, and who was my mother figure at that time.

‘Dreams: A Memoir’

That damn rabbit. I keep coming back to that damn rabbit! We won it at the Saturday matinee right before Easter, my sisters, Brenda and Laurie, and me, the youngest. Actually, Brenda won it. It was her stub that was drawn, but she knew it would be a lot of work so she said it was “our” rabbit.

We had been told the draw was that weekend and with a child’s innocence, were sure we would win. Encased behind her shield of glass, the young girl took our quarters and with a smile, handed us our tickets. She knew she had just handed us the winning ticket.

Walking through the heavy glass and metal doors, we approached the last barrier between us and our dreams. Our rabbit and the kingdom of make believe lay just ahead. With some hesitation, we handed the usher our tickets. He stood tall and regal in his bright red jacket, his gold buttons gleaming, black pants pressed to perfection. I don’t think he was much older then Brenda, yet he seemed to self-assured in that uniform. Tearing our tickets in half, he handed us back the key to our happiness.

Having passed this last blockade to this kingdom of make believe, we shuffled forward to collect our first reward. We joined the line snaking up to the counter, clutching our money in sweaty palms mouths watering with the smell of popcorn and butter. Lots of butter! Snacks in hand, we turned to the stairs and the balcony.

Brenda always wanted to sit on the balcony: the big kids section. She must have felt burdened having to drag Laurie and me with her everywhere. I guess five years’ age difference means a lot when you’re 12. What most kids started to enjoy at that age – a feeling of maturity and independence – was not a luxury extended to Brenda. But to her credit, she never complained and Laurie and I didn’t feel like we were a burden. We were just glad to get out of the house for a few hours.

The lights dimmed, voices hushed and the screen lit up. Cartoons, intermission and then the feature. Same as every other week. But this time the manager came on stage during the break. He was pushing a huge mesh drum; our dream was rolling across the stage. The drum held the other halves of our tickets and our prize. And there were three of us! We had to win! We would deal with the consequences later.

Click, click, click. The drum rolled ’round, mixing little slips of paper. Small stubs holding so much hope. But there were three of us! We had to win! Slowly it came to a stop, the door dropped open and he reached inside. We held our breath. Everyone mouthed the numbers on their ticket stubs as he read out the winning ticket. They all thought they had won…we all had the same first few numbers…then the moment of truth. Suddenly, Brenda was jumping up and down!

“I won! I won!” she yelled. Running down the stairs, she disappeared from view for a moment, only to reappear in the middle aisle below heading for the stage. And there it was. She climbed the stairs to the stage, reaching out to grasp ‘our’ prize. A beautiful, soft, white rabbit. An Easter Bunny just for us! I don’t remember how we managed to keep that thing once we got it home.

“More trouble than it’s worth.”

But keep it we did. We took turns caring for our rabbit, keeping it out in the old chicken coop in the back. ‘Til that night.

It’s my turn to feed and water the rabbit. But it’s cold, and I’m only six. Surely it can wait until morning. Climbing into bed, I fall asleep, never giving a second thought to him out in the shed.

Soundly sleeping – suddenly awake. The lights on. Yelling. I’m being pulled from my bed. My hair! My hair! Owww! My God Mom, what’s wrong? I’m sorry! What did I do? I’m pushed through the kitchen, down the back stairs and through the mudroom. Without stopping, I stumble into the snow. A tiny flashlight is thrust in my hands to mark the way. No slippers to keep my feed warm and dry, my thin flannel nightgown blowing in the wind, I struggle through the darkness. Snow melting underfoot – I fight to stay upright.

The rabbit. Have to feed the rabbit. That’s it! That must be what’s wrong! I chip away the ice in the water dish, and scoop out some food pellets. Ok, It’s done. I can go back to bed now. Everything’s fine. I fixed it. I fixed it!

I’m scared! It’s dark out here! Hurrying back into the house I just want to crawl back in my warm bed. But I can’t. She’s waiting for me. She grabs my hair and pulls me up the stairs to the kitchen. Blinking, trying to adjust to the bright light, I’m pushed ’round the corner and into the pantry. The trap door is open., and the black mouth leading to the cellar greets me. I don’t understand. Why do I have to go down there? The rabbit’s been fed! Everything’s fine! It’s fine!

I’m pushed down the stairs. Hard and wooden, they seem to echo with my tiny footsteps. The trap door slammed shut and locked behind me. I want out! Let me out! I’m cold! It’s dark! I’m scared! Let me out! But I don’t get out. I can only listen to her through the door.

“Maybe next time you’ll remember to feed the damn rabbit! See how it feels!” And then she’s gone. Back to her bed and a good night’s sleep.

I sit on the stairs. Crying, I don’t know for how long. Scared, I’m scared. It’s dark down here. Spiders in the corner. Strange sounds from the outer rooms. Please God, make them stay there.

What that? Noises from the drain, wind whistling through the crack in the window.

Slowly and quietly, I slip down the rest of the stairs, guiding myself mainly by touch and memory, and my little flashlight. No blankets down here. I curl up under the stairs on the concrete floor, back to the wall. I’ll be safe here. I hug my light, trying to keep it from shaking. The shadows, I don’t like the shadows. My shaking only causes the beam to create more shaped of unknowns. Are they getting closer? Shapes I would recognize in daylight now become monsters waiting for my light to go out.

I want out! I promise to be good! I won’t forget! I promise! I promise!

I awaken from this nightmare shaking and sweaty and I remember. She’s gone. She can’t hurt me anymore.

I won’t let her.

What brought me to this point

People are always saying that you need to follow your dream; find what you love to do, and make a career of it. Well, I’ve always loved to write, as for the career in writing, life got in the way of that. This being said, the desire remained and I had no doubt that my path would bring me back to this dream at some point.

My dream, was to be a journalist and travel the world following stories. My reality; getting married right out of high school, quitting college after the first year to work and help pay the bills, raising two kids and well, living my life. This is the life I chose to have, not necessarily the one I dreamt of having. Don’t get me wrong, I would not take any of those choices back. They were the ones I was meant to make at the time, and that was the life I was meant to live. I needed to have those experiences in order to become the person I am now, and personally, I kinda like the person I am now.

Deep inside I knew I’d make my way back to writing. I didn’t know the form it would take, or even when it would happen, but I knew that like everything, it would happen when it was meant to. Now, I also believe it was meant to happen several times over the years, I just chose to ignore the signs and kept moving in the direction of the path I was on, never wavering and never giving in to that quiet voice whispering to me.

Over the years I’ve somewhat appeased the sleeping giant by sharing stories verbally with family and friends. I have absolutely no qualms in sharing my faults, nor those of others; and feel that if you can’t laugh at yourself, give me a call, I’ll laugh for you, at you and with you. After several years of sharing family stories and numerous gags with my co-workers, I arrived at work one morning to find a brochure for a workshop, ‘Write For Your Life!’, sitting on my desk. There was, and still is, a handwritten Post-it with the following, “Jan, I thought you could really appreciate this seminar. Kathy”. This was in February 2001. I still have the brochure, the Post-it, and the enduring friendship of my fellow writer, Kathleen.

I immediately signed up for the seminar and appreciate it I did. It was held over two Saturdays in Uxbridge Ontario and was led by an amazing writer, Susan Reynolds. The information in the brochure promised to “distill your memories into writer’s ink”. I could hardly wait. I remember arriving and feeling a bit out of place, not an unusual situation for me as I tend to be more comfortable around those I know. Many of the attendees knew each other from other seminars, as well as a local writing group. I, on the other hand, knew no-one.

A few things about the first day really stand out for me. I remember Susan’s demeanor as very calming and warm and she seemed to have an understanding of metaphysics long before I started my own journey. She brought with her a Tibetan Singing Bowl which she used to signal the start and end of our periods of writing. I have my own Singing Bowl now and have used it during mediation and will also use it during future writing classes. I felt relaxed and knew I was safe in putting pen to paper and expressing myself here.

Our first assignment was to write about a place that brought back a specific memory from our childhood. Susan quickly mentioned a few; a garden, cottage, basement, grandparent’s home. Basement….my heart skipped a beat and I knew that was the one I needed to write about. We were given 30 minutes to write, and then we would go around the room and read what we’d written, but only if we were comfortable in doing so. This is the first time I’ve read, or typed up this hand-written piece since that day and it’s never been edited:

The Basement

It was cold, dark and damp. Light never seemed to get in all of the corners. Coming down the wooden stairs from the pantry above you could see the bare bulb hanging dimly from the ceiling, the old ringer washer standing guard by the concrete sink. Stairs also led up to the backyard but we did use those much, didn’t use the basement at all, if we didn’t have to. I remember two smaller rooms off of the main one, used for storage I guess, but too dark and scary to enter.

Shelves under the stairs held jars of preserves harvested from our garden and the fruit trees in the yard. Sweet jams and jellies, tart pickles and crisp beans saved for the coming months. Under the stairs was also where you hid when you didn’t want to be found. Like I said, no-one went in the basement if they didn’t have to. One small window was set above the old sink. I don’t remember it ever being clean, or fully closed. I can see the tires of Dad’s car out that window, and weeds. Did we cut the grass over there? High cupboards beside the sink, lower ones beneath. I wonder if this use to be a ‘summer kitchen’. The drain hole in the floor always seemed to be making a gurgling noise and I often wondered what sort of creatures lived down there. Could they get out….and could they climb stairs? The old wringer washer, busy with the clothes of three active young girls on the weekend, but silent and lonely the rest of the time.

We wrote for thirty minutes, then Sue rang the gentle chime of the Singing Bowl to bring us back to present day. I’ve never been one to enjoy speaking in front of people I don’t know, and certainly not one to read something I’d written out loud so I sat back and listened as others told their stories and we all encouraged them with our applause. Some people chose not to read, and there was certainly no pressure one way or the other. This was just a time to explore our own comfort in writing down the words. When Sue called on the table I was sitting at, I suddenly found myself standing and starting to read. I focused on what I’d written on the two sides of this line piece of paper and blocked out the sounds around me. I’m sure I stumbled on words as I raced the words written before me and, when I sat back down, I took a deep breath and mentally asked myself what the hell I was thinking. I’d never read anything I’d written out loud before, save for the obligatory speeches in English class at school, and this was so beyond my comfort level that I couldn’t even focus. After the usual polite round of applause, we continued on to the next reader. About fifteen minutes later, a woman stood up at the other side of the room to read the piece she’d written. We’d all turned to give her our attention and she started by saying, “I’ll read my piece, but first I have to say, I’m still back in that basement over there. I could visualized everything as you described it and I wouldn’t go in that basement if I didn’t have to either”.

Wow! Yes, she was pointing at me. Maybe it was time I started following that dream and started believing in myself again.

Part of the workshop was to complete three written pieces before the next session the following Saturday and email them to Susan. She would provide a critique on each piece and give them to us before we started into the last of the workshop. Three pieces in a week. I could do that.

As we finished up for the day and I walked out into the cold February afternoon, I realized, that basement was still calling to me…..

Things happen for a reason

I haven’t posted in a while because, well, life gets in the way sometimes and…..OK, that’s a lame excuse. I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been going through some stuff and needed to focus on that. Then I realized, even though I preach this to others all of the time; you need to focus on yourself and the “stuff” will work out.

So, it’s Fall and basically time when I start to hibernate. I’m not a winter person, I’ve never tried to pretend to be and certainly don’t plan on starting now. When Winter hits, I am a true homebody. Going to work in the dark, and coming back home in the dark…I just don’t want to venture back out again. Fall is the time of year when I prepare for this hibernation and things are falling in line, exactly how and when they are suppose to. I’m a true believer that things happen for a reason, and they happen when they are meant to, not necessarily when we want them to, and that people come into your life for a reason. We don’t always know why, but eventually it’s all figured out. In this vein of thought, I’m preparing to hibernate for the winter and truly focus on writing again, for me.

Some of you may know of the site, Varagesale. It’s a virtual garage sale and a great way to get rid of, or pick up, things you may want or need at very reasonable prices. I’m going through my whole home and getting rid of baggage I’ve moved from place to place and really don’t want or need. My home is not cluttered in the least, but I find myself looking at things and wondering why the hell I have them. The bread machine a friend gave me, because she and her wife ended up with two. The print I was given, that really wasn’t my decorating style, and sat behind my office door for three years…things like that. Sure, I had wonderful thoughts of arriving home to the smell of freshly baked bread, but in reality, I seldom eat bread and it’s been sitting in my basement for four years collecting dust. With things like this in mind, my purging process goes through four steps and questions;

  1. Can I make a few bucks on it? OK, it gets posted on Varagesale.
  2. Can a family member or friend use this item? Really use it and not just let it collect dust at their place. OK, then it gets put in a box to be dropped off.
  3. Can someone else make use of this item? It goes into the donation box in my basement that I drop off weekly so that it doesn’t just sit there.
  4. Is it really just garbage? It’s at the curb Sunday night.

In this process I am also bringing new things into my home. I’ve made a pact with myself that I will not buy anything off of Varagesale, unless I’ve sold items to pay for it, and only if it is truly useful. I bought the edging stones for my new, still in process, meditation garden off of the site. OK, back to the “things happen for a reason, and when they are meant to happen.”

I have an old trap door in my basement that was the top of a workbench when I bought my home four years ago. The wonderful old gentleman who, along with his wife were the original owners of my home (and who passed away at the amazing age of 102), used anything and everything to build a multitude of workbenches and hanging shelves in the basement and garage. I dismantled the majority of them, moving the super solid workbench into my garage but disposing of all of the shelving and a couple of rickety workbenches. I kept the trap door because I simply knew I had to make it into my writing desk. Those who know me know the memoir piece I had published a number of years ago, and a trap door figures prominently into that story. I’ve been watching prices at local home improvement stores, and trying to justify buying new legs for this old door then, I saw a post of Varagesale for two sets of drawers from an antique teacher’s desk for $35. The top of the desk had been damaged, but the drawers were in perfect condition. I messaged the seller and offered a lower bid than they were asking, I really low balled at $20. I had some money from something I’d sold, but it wasn’t enough to cover what she was asking for her item. Turns out, the seller was the gal I bought the garden bricks for. She really wanted to get closer to her asking price, and didn’t want to go below $30, but said she’d keep me in mind and touch base in a week or so if there was no other interest.

Then I received an email from a lady who’d been interested in one of the items I had for sale, the bread machine. She decided she was going to take it and that money, $20, along with what I had already, covered the asking price for the desk drawers. I messaged Melissa and she was thrilled. She even offered to drop them off for me. I told her my story when she arrived, of not wanting to buy something unless I’ve sold things to cover the cost. She chuckled and said she was the same way and; she’d put in a bid for an oil change coupon that was posted for $30. She’d offered $25 and the person turned it down. Then she received my message to buy her desk drawers for $30 and, well, there was the cost of her oil change coupon!

I took her for a walk into my backyard during our discussion, to show her the retainer wall I’d built with the bricks I bought for her in the Spring. I was 1.5 bricks short in filling the space I’d designated for the wall, and filled in the space with a couple of regular bricks and a concrete gargoyle I already had. Turns out, she actually has….1.5 bricks at home! They were being used under planter pots in her front garden and she’s dropping them off later. She also looked at the trap door and, noting it has ridges on it, told me she thinks she may have a couple of pieces of plexiglass in her basement, just the right size to make a smooth writing surface on the centre section of what will soon be, my new writing desk. These she will just pass on because, well, because she like to see things repurposed.

Yes, things happen for a reason, and exactly when they are meant to. People come into your life for a purpose and you just have to be open to accepting that when, how and why aren’t always clearly understandable at the time.