In our household, my partner loves to watch Entertainment Tonight. We only have one TV, so he learns how so many people are heeding their calling (or at the very least who’s divorcing whom). But as soon as the credits start to roll, I flip the channel. Now he must ‘suffer’ through the last half of Murder, She Wrote. Compromise? Maybe. [Read more…] about Will You Heed the Call?
I didn’t always want to be a writer.
Actually, that’s not true. I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a writer. Growing up in a fairly religious household (staunch is, perhaps, the more apt word) and possessing a natural talent for the piano, I was encouraged to use my gift for the ‘Glory of God.’ So, I did … use my ‘gift,’ and spent my childhood and adolescence playing in church. And much to the dismay of the church elders! When I sat down at the piano, I could almost hear their moans and groans of disapproval before my fingers touched the keys. I had a penchant for doing the unthinkable: rearranging classic hymns like ‘How Great Thou Art,’ ‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘There’s Power in the Blood.’ I was doing something that — to my parents’ chagrin — came naturally to me. I was breaking the rules.
Although music dominated my formative years, I was a closeted writer. I wrote stories in notebooks and journals, which I hid under my bed. Returning to Canada after studying for eight months in Nice, France, that was when I realized writing — more than music — was my passion. And I gave myself over to it.
I quickly discovered that writing is a messy affair and that the road to success is paved with many obstacles (and rejection letters) along the way. But I wouldn’t be dissuaded. Despite how daunting the writing life could be, I knew it was my calling. And I had to heed the call.
So, I wasn’t surprised when, in the early part of 2005, I sat down and wrote a story about rules that mirrored my own life. My late teens to early twenties were turbulent years, and I needed rules to govern my daily life and to ground me. Those rules were … unbreakable. And that story, published in September 2005 and entitled, “Malachi and Cole,” later became my first published novel, Freestyle Love.
When Freestyle Love hit the electronic bookstores in 2011, I hoped for a bestseller. That didn’t happen. And that disappointed. I thought I’d written a good book. After all, I’d worked hard on the manuscript — editing, reediting and editing some more. The publisher told me they loved the story and asked for very few changes. The reviews — some good, some (many) not so good — had me doubting my talent as a writer. The book limped to a slow death, and was pulled from online when the rights reverted back to me five years later.
During those five years I kept writing, working to hone my skills. I read books on writing to find anything of value to help me become a better writer. I had also written another novel, and began researching what it would take to self-publish. So, I decided to go the self-publishing route with The Flowers Need Watering, which is available on Amazon.
I learned a hard lesson with Freestyle Love, one that I wouldn’t repeat with The Flowers Need Watering: the importance of a professional editor. In reviewing the manuscript for The Flowers Need Watering, my editor hit on all the big-ticket items — character and plot development, structure, continuity, story arc, theme development, repetition and plot holes. He didn’t only point out what wasn’t working, but also what worked well. Through that process I realized something else. Maybe Freestyle Love, despite what I thought at the time, wasn’t my best effort. Now I knew I could do better. So, I decided to try.
Taking it to the Next Level
Everything He Thought He Knew is a complete rewrite of Freestyle Love that has been through two rounds of vigorous editing by Dave Taylor of thEditors.com. I am eternally grateful for his insights and wisdom.
Throughout my writing journey, I’ve often felt ‘caught’ (Caught was the original title of Freestyle Love before publication) between the life expected of me and the one I imagined. Malachi Bishop and Cole Malcolm may or may not be caught by something more sinister: the idea of true love and its sure path. Malachi, a writer and professor of creative writing, is a rigid — even awful — man paralyzed by a long-held grief knotted around his heart. He is, perhaps, not the most likeable protagonist, but it’s my sincere hope that he is a real one. Cole, a successful management consultant, is older and unafraid of the things that love is all about. Everything He Thought He Knew tells a story of two men caught by love and betrayed by it. It is a journey of self-discovery that forces Malachi and Cole to confront their present and their past, bringing into question the larger fantasies of home and their place in the world.
Everything He Thought He Knew doesn’t guarantee the normative happily ever after ending of the romance genre. My hope is that it transcends it.
Sometimes in life there are things beyond your control. You have to learn to roll with the punches. And that’s not always easy.
I know. I’m in a kind of precarious situation at the moment when it comes to my health. I’ve been in my doctor’s office three times since 6 August — first to discuss the symptoms that presented, then to follow up on each round of testing and decide the next course of action. There’s still no ‘clear’ indication of what’s happening or why. So, I wait. Wait for the next test, scheduled for next week, and then I’ll wait for those results. Waiting is the worst because, when I’m stuck inside my head, I imagine the worst of all scenarios. What if it’s this? What if it’s that? How will I react to whatever it is? Because maybe, after all is said and done, it’ll be nothing.
Still, I want to know what I’m dealing with, no matter what it is. The first diagnosis and course of treatment seemed to ‘solve’ one issue, then unearth another. What I love about technology is how it’s made accessing my healthcare reports easier. Through the Patient Portal, I can see when my results come in and my doctor’s instructions, like File or Contact Patient. I made the mistake on the weekend of checking to see if the latest round of test results were in. They were, but my doctor was on vacation, so I didn’t know if there was an ‘urgency’ — like the last time — for us to discuss them.
Returning from my doctor’s appointment yesterday, I know that it’s all beyond my control. Knowing that doesn’t stop me from brooding over what’s happening. I try to stay focused, but I know my productivity has taken a hit. Despite everything that’s happening, I’m trying to roll with the punches … take it all day by day.
But there’s a lesson in every situation. My takeaway is this: be sure that, wherever we are on our life journey, that we’re doing what we love. Now is the time to do it, because if we keep putting it off, we’ll never achieve the thing we feel we must do. We’ll never — and I love how Oprah Winfrey puts it — “[…] fulfill the highest, truest expression of ourselves as human beings.”1
Now is the Time
Yes, now is the time, if you haven’t already, to strike out. Don’t wait until tomorrow to start training for that half-marathon. Don’t wait until you retire to write the book you’ve always felt was within you. Don’t wait until the beginning of the month to start that diet you’ve been talking about since 2016. Whatever you want to do, whatever you feel you can do … begin it. Now.
Let me give you an example of what can happen if you decide to wait. My father worked hard to provide for his family. It wasn’t until I was an adult, living on my own, that I understood the cost of raising a family, of living in this world (and that money didn’t grow on trees). We weren’t rich, we weren’t poor, but we never wanted for anything. We had the opportunity to travel — not extensively or luxuriously — but enough to not feel sheltered or uncultured. My father loved to travel and play golf. As his retirement neared, he said that travelling and playing golf would fill his days. A year and a half into his retirement (he was fifty-five when he retired), he was diagnosed with stage 3 pancreatic cancer and given about six months to live. He fought, fought hard to live … to travel, play golf, and do what he loved. My father passed away at age fifty-eight, eighteen months after his diagnosis.
Strike Out Now
Yes, strike out now … just because you can, and that can yield fantastic results. Let me give you an example. At the beginning of 2018, I didn’t make any resolutions. I haven’t done that for over a decade. On 1 January, I woke up sick — sore throat, nasal congestion, and upset stomach. The cold lasted for about two weeks. Tired, feeling crappy and unusually irritable, I decided on 17 January that I was done with alcohol. No more drinking (I didn’t drink much, anyway). No more cooking with alcohol. My goal was to quit cold turkey. And I’ve been sober for more than 223 days. Together with running and paying closer attention to what I eat, I’ve lost twenty pounds. My energy level is up. I’m sleeping better. But I didn’t wait for the beginning of the next week or month to go sober. I started that day, a Wednesday, and didn’t look back.
Yes, I can’t stress it enough. Now is the time to begin. Do it. Now!
Slow and steady … that’s how I managed to run 15 kilometres this morning. There were times during the run when it hurt, when I felt like I wanted to give up. But I knew if I kept my pace slow and steady that I could go the distance.
For the past few months, I’ve been thinking about my life — where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m still looking to go. Maybe that’s what you do when the years tick by and, as my 45th birthday looms, the end seems closer than the beginning. But there have been many times throughout my life where I’ve taken time to stop and reflect, to figure out what exactly I’m doing and if I’m on track.
Know What is True
I am a writer. That is true. I know that because every day I write no matter where I find myself in the world — London, Copenhagen or at home in Toronto. Writing is what grounds me, gives me a sense of purpose in what sometimes feels like a chaotic world. And some days are a struggle.
A struggle, yes, because I’m really not sure how to define success when it comes to my writing. It’s hard for me to visualize what that success looks like. Is success about becoming a New York Times bestselling author? Is success hitting a target of, say, selling 80,000 copies of my books? (Can you tell I recently read How I Sold 80,000 Books by Alinka Rutkowska?) Is success about me making enough money from my writing to commit to it full-time?
Maybe it’s all those things and more. Or less.
What is true, then, is that I’m a little lost in the wilderness. And that’s okay. It’s why, now, I’m taking life slow and steady so that I can, as Ray Dalio advises, “Think for yourself to decide 1) what you want, 2) what is true, and 3) what you should do to achieve #1 in light of #2 … and do that with humility and open-mindedness so that you can consider the best thinking available to you.” 1
Getting at the Core of Things
For the past week, I’ve taken time daily to reflect on my journey so far, and to grapple with the idea that a principle-based life will help me figure out what I want and how to go about getting it. Subliminally, certain principles have always governed my life — be true to yourself, focus on what matters, think independently, don’t follow the crowd, etc. But now I want to dig deeper as I’m really thinking about what I want my life to represent.
The first thing I had to do was look at the reality before me and find a way to deal with it.2 The reality before me is this: I feel stuck in a job that I’m not passionate about, but it gives me 13 days off a month. On the surface, that looks pretty good, having so much time off. But the demands of the job leave me exhausted, disrupt my sleep patterns, make me more prone to illness and, consequently, impact my productivity when it comes to writing. That’s also part of the reality.
So, the puzzle I’m currently trying to solve is how to live fully in this reality and create an acceptable balance. Writing each day moves me in the direction of my dreams. Remaining positive about what I can do — and not letting myself be overwhelmed or disappointed by the things that are beyond my control — help to keep it all in perspective. I’m doing what I can, with the time that I have, to do what I want and stay focused on what matters most. And again, taking it slow and steady, I know I’ll reach the final destination.
Push Your Limits
Taking time to think about the principles in my life is uncomfortable because it’s forcing me to see both my weaknesses and my strengths. It’s forcing me to admit where I’ve made mistakes and how to avoid making them again in the future. It’s forcing me to see the world — and my life — not as I believe it “should” be but how it really is.
Like I pushed myself this morning to keep running, I’m pushing myself in life to grow, to be stronger … to be a better version of myself. I know this process won’t be easy, and some days it’s going to make me squirm, but I’ll keep pushing forward. I know it’s the only way for me to be successful and to get out of life all that I want. And whether I succeed or fail, I know the journey will teach me more about who I am and what I really want.
Where are you now on your journey? What’s working for you and what’s holding you back? Let me know in the comments section below.
On 17 January 2018, I changed the script. I stopped drinking. Not because I was being pressured to. Not because I didn’t know my limit. Not because alcohol was ravaging my life. I stopped drinking because I had to get my house in order. I was at a point where I couldn’t keep up with the big life questions being thrown at me. And worst of all … I couldn’t hear the answers.
Yes, it’s been 180 days since I stopped drinking. Actually, I did more than that. I decided not to consume foods that were prepared with alcohol in any way. No more boeuf bourguignon, coq au vin or tomato-vodka sauce. No more Baileys chocolate mousse.
Giving up alcohol wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. And, surprisingly, I didn’t miss it. I didn’t miss the glass of Kumeu River chardonnay with dinner or the mimosa when I went out for Sunday brunch. I didn’t miss meeting up with friends for a beer at Belfast Love. Life is a series of choices, and saying no to alcohol made me think about the choices before me — not only about food and drink, but also about my life.
I’m in my mid-forties now (I turn forty-five in August), and I’ve been building a career as a writer for a long time. Some days, though, I feel like it’s now or never. It’s not like I feel anymore that I need to quit my day job and write full-time, although I’d love to. It’s more about whether I’m doing all that I can to move forward? And that uncertainty and doubt send me into a panic. Do you know what I mean? I still keep writing. Every day. I keep showing up when I feel ‘bored’ or like I should give up. Despite my success — and there have been successes as much as failures throughout this journey — it’s hard at times not to keep asking myself, “What’s the point?”
What’s the point? is a question that can motivate me to keep pushing forward even when I don’t feel like it. Or it can stop me in my tracks. The latter terrifies me the most because it seizes upon my doubts and fears. It has the power to throw me off course. That’s dangerous because I’m trying to stay focused and be the best version of myself. Oprah Winfrey says it best: “All of us are seeking the same thing. We share the desire to fulfill the highest, truest expression of ourselves as human beings.”1
What’s the point? I’m asking myself that less and less. As I’m striving to fulfill that ‘highest, truest expression’ of myself, the question that keeps popping up is this: How can I be of service? That’s a huge change that came with staying sober. It’s about how the Universe, through my words and my life, is trying to use me for a good greater than myself. And I still believe that through my writing, that greater good is about helping others get to the other side of forgiveness. It’s why I show up every day to write. It’s my calling. And I’ve heeded the call.
Sober, there simply is … clarity. I can see beyond the goal of commercial success that I’ve been — involuntarily or not — chasing after. It’s not about me trying to become a New York Times bestselling author. If it were, Lord have mercy, I’m doing it all ‘wrong.’ I’ve understood that being a writer is about falling in love with the process of writing. And I’m head over heels in love.
Going sober was a choice for me and a lot of people have weighed in on my decision. They tell me that, when the time is right, I’ll reintroduce alcohol into my life. But, honestly, I don’t see that happening. Not because of the weight I’ve lost (fifteen pounds through other dietary changes and exercise) or the money I’ve saved. Staying sober has become for me a state of being that helps me feel fulfilled by being of service, contributing to my community and the world. Staying sober brings those big life questions into focus and allows me to hear the answers when life speaks to me. Staying sober gives me the greatest chance at living my best life.
Sober, I’m living life the best way I know how.
Are you staying focused? Do you think you’re living your best life? How are you being of service? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so let me know in the comments section below.