Slamming Doors published on Commuterlit.com

My short story Slamming Doors was recently published on http://www.commuterlit.com.

You can check out the story here: http://commuterlit.com/2014/04/wednesday-slamming-doors/

It’s about an abused woman, so be warned if domestic abuse is a trigger for you.

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Broken

In 2013 I entered the CBC’s Creative Nonfiction writing competition. Unfortunately, I didn’t win the contest but I wanted to share my piece, which deals with my sister’s brain injury. My submission is called Broken.

Broken

“I’m not crazy, am I Mom?” Lori asked.

“No. Now be quiet,” Mom replied, looking over my sister’s head to make eye contact with me.

“I’m blind, Mom,” Lori said. “I’m so scared. I’m not crazy, am I Mom?” My sister sipped her coffee, then slammed down the cup on the table, drops spraying across the green plastic tablecloth. “I’m not crazy, am I Mom?” Lori’s voice was tight, her words frantic and hurried. “I’m blind, Mom”.

It was Mother’s Day 2011 and I had come to my hometown to visit. I rarely went to Owen Sound between November and April because there was too much snow so I hadn’t seen my sister since Christmas. Now I could see something was wrong with her. Very wrong.

My brother and I took Lori to the local hospital the next day. The mental health emergency assessment representative, a female social worker, wanted to know if Lori had been mentally challenged all her life. “She’s not mentally challenged,” I insisted. “She’s normal. She used to be married and owned a home. She took care of my three daughters when they were little.”

This seemed to surprise the social worker and she looked at me as if I were the worst mother in the world. We went through a litany of questions and ruled out narcotics, alcohol and unusual interactions with Lori’s prescription medications. Nothing obvious jumped out as the cause of Lori’s mental distress.

“What happened to her sight?” the woman asked. “She keeps saying she’s blind.”

“She had two corneal transplants last year, one in each eye,” I explained. “They take a long time to heal. The specialist told her she would have blurry vision in the meantime but now she has cataracts too and they won’t operate because her eyes are so fragile. She can only see shadows and some bright colours.”

“Any other medical things you can think of?”

“She had a stroke about four years ago. I’ve seen subtle changes in her over the past couple of years, like her smile isn’t quite right anymore. When you see pictures of her, things are just different. Could it be damage from the stroke?”

The woman jotted down notes and shook her head. “Probably not.”

Lori was fretting when we left her at the hospital, taking tiny circling steps, her scrawny arms curled up like the wings of a baby bird that had just hatched, shivering, eyes closed. Unable to see. I went home and cried for my own loss. The sister I knew was gone.

Three weeks on the psychiatric ward and the official diagnosis was Adjustment Disorder. She simply couldn’t cope with the loss of her sight. I was furious when I went online and read that Adjustment Disorder was such a vague and all-encompassing diagnosis as to be virtually meaningless. I pushed the nurses for more information and met with the psychiatrist to convince him to do more testing. The results from the MRI he ordered showed nothing remarkable beyond the hydrocephalus she had had for decades.

Lori had suffered a traumatic head injury at 23 and lost a week’s worth of memory after a savage assault from her boyfriend. He was charged with attempted murder and later hanged himself in jail. He had repeatedly kicked her in the head and tried to strangle her because she had refused to have sex with him.

As a result of the head trauma, Lori developed hydrocephalus and had frequent headaches and dizzy spells. A couple of years before her hospitalization on the psychiatric ward, I had taken her to a neurologist in Toronto but it had been pointless. After a quick review of her MRI pictures and an in-office test, where she literally had to close her eyes and jump on one foot, the doctor declared that inserting a shunt to drain off the excess fluid on her brain wouldn’t relieve her symptoms. Fifteen minutes and we were out the door.

*****

Lori was released to go live in a long term care facility six weeks after Mother’s Day. She was the only resident who wasn’t a senior and she refused to take part in any of the activities. She hated it there and begged me to let her come home but nobody in the family could take care of her. Mom was 81 and not in good health and both my brother and I had our own families to care for.

Every day was filled with agitation. Lori had severe anxiety and all she wanted to do was smoke. She clutched the talking clock pendant that hung around her neck and checked the time obsessively because she was only allowed one cigarette per hour. But she kept asking for more. She had to be supervised outside for her safety and as soon as she got back to her room, she wanted to go smoke again, frantically begging whoever was in the room to take her outside. She didn’t remember the cigarette she had had five minutes before.

Still, there was nothing medically wrong with her. It was Adjustment Disorder but now combined with aggression and swearing. The staff at the long term care facility tried to modify her anti-social behaviour: if she swore she couldn’t have a cigarette.  Not having the cigarette made her even more aggressive and one time she struck a resident with her cane, which meant another trip to the hospital, this time in the back of a police cruiser. She returned to the care facility a few hours later but nothing had changed. She kept asking for cigarettes over and over.

I tried to tell the staff that she couldn’t control her behavior. She wasn’t doing it on purpose and that taking away the only thing she enjoyed wasn’t getting them anywhere. I wished she had an Alzheimer’s diagnosis instead. At least then the medical community would be more patient because aggression is a common side effect of Alzheimer’s. If they would just treat her as if she had dementia, then they would know how to handle her. But without that official diagnosis on her chart they simply treated her as if she were a naughty child.

She was eventually kicked out of the care facility because of her aggression and hospitalized again until space could be found in a local group home. Two weeks after she arrived at the group home, a resident called the police because Lori was screaming and swearing. This meant another trip to the hospital where she stayed for a month until her psychiatrist finally agreed to send her to London for a second opinion.

I was so happy she was going to get the medical testing she needed to find out what was going on in her brain but my happiness was short-lived when I went to see her and discovered she was in a mental health centre, not a regular hospital.

“The people here are crazy,” she said. “One chick set her bed on fire. Another time she put a bag over her head.” We sat in the common area for the floor where she was staying. I wasn’t allowed in her room because of privacy concerns for the other patients. ”They put me in lock up for a day and a half. I couldn’t find the bathroom so I shit on the floor.”

I ignored the shitting on the floor comment. “So why were you in lock up?”

“Because I was yelling.” She ran her fingers through her short, wiry hair, her nails yellowed from too much smoking. “I know I’m not the same anymore! The doctor says I have brain damage. That’s awful.”

“How do you know he said that?” Lori was not a reliable narrator so I didn’t automatically believe what she told me.

“He looked at my last MRI and said I had a lot of brain damage from when I got beat up.” She started to cry. “I’ve got brain damage,” she sobbed.

“At least there’s a reason for why you’ve changed so much,” I said.  “And there’s the hydrocephalus and the stroke too. It’s more than just the assault from Patrick, though. I think everything is connected.”

“Don’t say that asshole’s name,” she hissed. “I’d kill that fucker if I could. He got off easy but look at me! My brain is broken.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Inspirational book: Greasewood Creek

I read a lot– at least 2 novels a week– but usually the books are just for fun and entertainment. I am a big fan of Swedish crime novels, for instance. But I just finished a slim literary novel that blew me away: Greasewood Creek by Pamela Steele.

Steele received her MFA in Poetry from Spalding University and her beautiful way with words shines through in Greasewood Creek. The story jumps back and forth in time to give you a powerful glimpse into Avery’s life, beginning on the terrible day of her younger sister’s death–which she is blamed for.

It is at times both a melancholy story and one filled with hope as Avery struggles with both her past and a current tragedy.

I was especially drawn to Steele’s description of light, as well as her ability to engage all the senses in her writing. Her background in poetry is evident.

This book was helpful for me as a writer because it showed me how to tell a story in tiny vignettes, without going in chronological order. This opened my eyes to the possibilities for my own work, since I envision my writing as scenes and don’t usually know how to connect these scenes into a smooth plot. Now I know how to jump around and tell my story one scene at a time.

Thank you, Pamela Steele for the inspiration!

 

 

 

 

 

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100 Good Things about Me

A few years ago I compiled a list of “100 good things about me” for a self-help group I attended (okay make that 101 good things for attending a self-help group!). I asked my best friends and my daughters for their impressions about me and I added my own points to the list.

Here is my list:

  1. Thoughtful
  2. Kind
  3. Honest
  4. Good communicator
  5. Great listener
  6. Very helpful
  7. Open-minded
  8. Confident
  9. Self secure
  10. Strong
  11. Patient
  12. Positive thinker
  13. Caring, empathetic
  14. Intelligent/smart
  15. Sensible
  16. Goal-oriented
  17. Pretty much raised three non-skanky kids singlehandedly
  18. Concerned for the well-being of others
  19. Work to maintain friendships
  20. Won’t stay in unsatisfactory relationships
  21. Willing to make sacrifices for others (regular blood donor, donated eggs, rescued “Elle” from the perils of the foster care system)
  22. Curious
  23. Supportive of daughter’s creative and artistic endeavours (musical instruments, piercings, hair colour etc)
  24. Could be easily mistaken for Michelle Williams
  25. Pick up on trends and styles quickly
  26. Beautiful, long fingers
  27. Persevere with your passion (writing)
  28. Great teeth and smile
  29. Doesn’t smoke
  30. Humble (not too proud to ask your friends for input on such a personal task as this one)
  31. Pleasant disposition
  32. Honest
  33. Warm
  34. Loving, affectionate
  35. Witty
  36. Well read
  37. Creative
  38. Dependable/Reliable
  39. Frugal
  40. Resourceful problem-solver
  41. Concerned about “well being”
  42. Loyal, committed
  43. Loving, affectionate
  44. Put others ahead of yourself
  45. Survivor/ Keep going even in tough times
  46. Talented writer
  47. Driven, motivated to succeed, unstoppable
  48. Not afraid to try new things
  49. Responsible
  50. Aggressive
  51. Outgoing
  52. Good friend
  53. Good listener
  54. Live by high standards/have good morals
  55. Easy to talk to
  56. Set high goals for yourself
  57. Intelligent
  58. Fun
  59. Take pride in your appearance
  60. Trustworthy
  61. Sensitive to others
  62. Great sense of humour
  63. Confident
  64. Modest
  65. Always willing to lend a hand
  66. Honest
  67. Authentic
  68. Successfully raised three daughters on her own
  69. Positive
  70. Peaceful
  71. Funny
  72. Youthful
  73. Great sense of style
  74. A devoted, loving mother
  75. Cautious and careful
  76. Perfect skin
  77. Cute feet
  78. Makes people smile
  79. Beautiful
  80. Encourages others
  81. Great at giving advice
  82. Introspective
  83. Great conversationalist
  84. Creative
  85. Makes others feel included and important
  86. Builds muscle easily (weight training)
  87. Survived 2 caesareans less than 2 years apart
  88. Passionate (emotional, feels a lot)
  89. Admits mistakes
  90. Always striving to improve
  91. Spiritual
  92. Appreciative, thankful, grateful
  93. Laughs easily
  94. Thick hair
  95. Life-long learner, self-taught
  96. Resilient, adaptable
  97. Happy
  98. Learns from her mistakes
  99. Dreams big
  100. Artist

I love it! Everyone should do this exercise. It’s a great way to see yourself in a new light.

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Fountain of Youth

I’m back with another poem. If you’re a parent of teenaged girls or you’ve ever been a teenaged girl, you may relate to this one.

Fountain of Youth

You are silent
Believing I could never understand your life
I am mother, a cold and ancient stone goddess
You are too young to realize that the passing
Years are nothing to the universe
I am still fifteen and thrilled with my power to make him swell
He is sixteen and tastes of tobacco and risk
This is yesterday, a lifetime passed, the present moment
I am eighteen, and thirty-three and seventy-two all at once
Each age eternal, my memories
Spill and
Overflow, the perfect
Fountain of youth

 

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Storm Warning

Poetry will always be my first love. I love the spareness of it, how each word has to fit just so. For me, a poem starts with a great splash of ideas on the page, then I go back and chop, chop, chop until the core of the idea is revealed.

Over the years, poetry has taken a back seat to my other writing but I found a box of my old stuff this past week when I was cleaning out my storage room and lo and behold there were all my old poems and short stories! I thought I had lost them forever in the midst of my multiple moves over the past few years.

Hmmm….I need to get back into writing poetry. It helps me sort out my feelings. Kind of like a journal but something you can share with others.

Here is one of my favourites.

Storm Warning

Gathering rain clouds remind me of
Hurricane eyes flashing lightning and
Jealous soul thunder
I smell the ozone of your anger
Taste friction in the wind
Tightairpressuresqueezingmoleculescollide
Rain drops acid heartache
I grab my umbrella and run
Avoiding the downpour

 

 

 

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Author Interview with Jonathan Gould

Wow, you never know who you’re going to meet on the Internet! Thanks to the power of Twitter (can you tell I am a rabid fan?), I have connected with today”s author, Jonathan Gould. who hails from Australia. If you’re looking for something along the lines of The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, then Jonathan’s book is a must read!

Hello and welcome to Writing to Save My Soul.

Buy Doodling here

What is your book about?

Doodling is an absurd comic fantasy about a man who falls off the world
(because it’s moving too fast). He finds himself marooned in the middle of an
asteroid field where he meets a number of peculiar people. But just when it
seems he’s found a nice home at last, he gets thrown into a most unexpected
adventure in which the very survival of the asteroid field is at stake.

I like to describe it as Douglas Adams meets Lewis Carroll (with just a dash of
Gulliver’s Travels).

What was your biggest challenge in getting your book written and out for the
world to see? How did you overcome that?

My biggest challenge is always finding the time to get my writing done.
Doodling was written in dribs and drabs over more than ten years. The good
thing about this was it meant I’ve had a lot of time to come back to it and
refine both the storyline and the writing so by the time I got around to
publishing it I think it’s in really tight shape.

As far as getting it out, I’d been shopping it around to publishers (in Australia)
for years without success. They seemed to really like it but none was prepared
to take a punt. I think they were a bit scared away because it’s a story that’s
hard to pin down into one genre, and it also has appeal across a broad range of
reading ages (which I think is a good thing but which publishers don’t seem to
be so keen on it).

I eventually decided to self-publish it as an ebook late last year and I’m
really glad I did. While sales are still slow, I’m starting to get feedback
from readers and it’s wonderfully positive and encouraging

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever come across?

From Douglas Adams (one of my main inspirations) – Writers should not be in the
business of reinforcing stereotypes. I always think of this as I write and
check myself when I feel like I’m resorting to cliché and stereotype.

The quote is from a wonderful book called Last Chance to See – do check it out.

Who, or what, inspires you?

Lots of things. My friends and family. Things I read or watch (on TV or
movies). Current events. I try to always keep an open mind and think about how
I can turn the things I hear/read/watch/experience into stories

Have you ever read a book that made you think ‘wow’? If so, what book was it
and why did it have such an effect on you?

I’m constantly amazed by what other writers are able to achieve. There are two
that come to mind (if I’m allowed to mention more than one):

The Lord of the Rings – I know it’s a bit obvious – but as a kid it expanded my
idea of the scope that was possible within a novel

The Hitch-Hikers Guide to the Galaxy – for showing how effectively you could
use humor mixed with great ideas and characters in a written form.

If you were going to mentor a new writer through the publishing process,
what pitfalls would you warn them against?

Be aware of the realities of how difficult it is to be successful as a writer,
whether legacy or self-published. Make sure your book is in the best possible
state it can be – get feedback, listen to the opinions of others and learn. And
then get networking – because your book isn’t going to sell itself, no matter
how great it is.

What kind of promotion have you tried? What do you find to be the most
effective?

I’m a real novice as far as promotion goes. My basic strategy is to get my book
out to as many readers as I can through giveaways, blog events and just casual
networking. The more people read my story, the more chance I have. My other
main focus at the moment is getting reviews. Word of mouth is the key and readers
are more likely to take a recommendation from someone who isn’t the writer of
the book.

In terms of how effective this is? Ask me in a year – or two – or five…

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

My main character, Neville is based on me, except he’s slightly taller and
better looking.

Sorry – that wasn’t about me, it was about Neville. But he’s way more
interesting than I am.

You can connect with Jonathan here:

Twitter: jonno_go
Blog http://daglit.blogspot.com
Book links:
Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004KSQVCO
Smashwords – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/41101

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