Fear of Falling

Nanaimo River Picture by Gerry Thomasen Seth Godin quote

“Boulder Swim” Photo Copyright Gerry Thomasen.

I spent ten days up and down Vancouver Island this summer, visiting family and friends. One moment of the holiday will be etched in my mind (and felt in my gut) forever—for both positive and negative reasons.

Nanaimo River is a gorgeous run of jade green water that cuts through wide crevices of massive rocks, flanked by ancient forests. It has sections of rapids and white water, but for huge stretches, it is peaceful and current free. Here and there, in spots often decorated with giant boulders and featuring convenient layers of flat rocks down to the water’s edge, it widens into pools—which make spectacular swimming holes.

Because it’s in a valley, you have to climb down to it, and sometimes the inclines are steep. There are places where multiple rough ladders have been placed end to end to make certain spots accessible. Even for me, however—and I’m no gazelle—the trails are doable. I just went very slowly and my family was very patient.

Anyone who knows me knows there is nothing in the world I love better activity-wise than swimming in lakes or oceans, and Nanaimo River is a particularly glorious place to take a dip—cool, clear, super clean and green, green, green. We had an amazing afternoon for it too: hot and sunny with the kind of deep blue sky that’s so pure and pretty it’s dreamlike.

On the hike down, my brother pointed out a giant fallen tree lying bridge-like across a deep ravine. We could’ve taken it instead of one of the three ladders, and we all thought it looked like fun, so on our way back up after swimming, take the tree bridge we did. And this is where the gut-roiling moment occurred.

It really was an enormous tree, easily four feet wide, and absolutely solid. Yes, there was a huge drop to the rock strewn, branch-spiked earth below, but there was no question that it was safe. When I was three or four steps out, however, my husband (behind me) said something like, “Don’t fall.”

It was a joke, not meant meanly. Half the group had already skipped across, after all, and a person would pretty much have to try to fall to actually manage to do so—but it didn’t matter. I heard “fall” and looked down. Instantly, my breath was sucked from me. My lungs, chest and stomach cramped so hard and so quickly that I couldn’t inhale. My limbs locked, my heart hammered like it would explode, and I broke out in a prickly sweat but felt ice cold.

Seconds that felt like years later, I managed to speak—not to move. “I don’t think I can do this. I can’t do this.”

Immediately my family and husband were like, “You can. It’s okay. It’s safe. Just go slow.”

“Don’t talk about falling,” I growled to my husband, who felt bad.

Painstakingly, utterly humiliated, I minced across in the tiniest, most halting steps. Everyone cheered when I made it, like it was some big feat, but I just felt stupid. And embarrassed. And weak. And out of shape. And, and, and . . . a whole slew of other negative, self-berating things.

The worst part was that I had been so excited, was so looking forward to crossing the log bridge. It looked almost magical, surrounded by old growth trees and moss that glowed golden in the filtered sunlight. And I am someone who has always imagined herself up for any adventure—or at least not fear-stricken and crippled when confronted with one.

It also really bothered me because I worried that it might speak to how I handle other challenges. We never know when some event or issue at work or in our personal life is going to trigger . . . fear. Fear of falling. Of being damaged beyond repair. Or just of looking stupid or weak. I kind of hate that it was that last part—appearing weak—that bothered me the most. Why did that bother me so much? Who did I think I had fooled? I am weak. In so many ways. We all are. But the bridges need to be crossed! Fear, weakness or perceived failure shouldn’t keep us from going for the things we want.

It’s okay to freeze, to need reassurance, to only be able to muster up enough courage to mince—but mince we must. And hopefully we’ll also have those other times, the ones where we run full out, arms wide at our sides, laughing and adventuring forth in brave delight.

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“Fear of Falling” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 12, 2017 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Don’t Look!

Screen Shot 2015-03-11 at 9.19.41 AMAlternate title: A Tetris Battle lesson

If you read my column “Lessons From Bubble Pop,” I know what you’re thinking: What, she’s writing about another computer game? She has a problem.

While it’s kind of cruel of you to be so judgmental, I can’t argue with you. I really am a game addict and Tetris has topped the list of my weaknesses since approximately 1988.

At various times in my life I’ve been on the wagon, the longest break being the years I no longer frequented Gus’s Arcade. Online Tetris versions were lame compared to the arcade game—or were until I joined Facebook and discovered—Oh, the joy, oh, the agony, oh, the huge time suckage but wonderful stress reliever—Tetris Battle.

(You said there was a lesson in this blather, I hear you mutter—and right you are. Patience, patience. All the little blocks will fall into place soon and you’ll soon see what I’m putting down. Heh heh. A Tetris joke. Get it?)

ANYWAY, I’ve been playing like a mad woman again because after a six-month hiatus, I logged in and discovered I’d lost my rank and had to restart from scratch. (I know. It’s an outrage.)

It’s been a rough month. February weather is hard on my spirits in general (although the respite provided by the crazy, glorious snowstorm was lovely!), plus some things in my personal life have been tough—and professionally I’ve been fraught with indecision and insecurity about the path I’ve chosen and the direction I’m going. . . . Sounds familiar, right? Yes, I think it’s called life, sometimes. . . .

But I’ve been kicking butt in Tetris at least.

The lesson I want to share comes—as so many lessons do—from a mistake I made. For an instant, while battling a User-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I broke with my proven strategy and looked to see how my opponent was doing.

Gah! I recognized my error immediately. He was doing great. Had even dropped more lines than I had. (The horror, the horror!) Flustered, I made a rookie error, landed a Z shape at an awkward angle, leaving a gap exposed—then compounded the problem by dropping a square too close, so I couldn’t snug another piece under the jutting edge.

Even worse, I darted a sideways glance again to see how badly my screw-up had hurt my game. Bleeeep—KO’D. Even as the buzzer sounded, my brain screamed, “What were you doing? Don’t look. Don’t look!”

Wham! Crossover wisdom hit me and fleshed itself out. Don’t look at your neighbor or friend or peer. Keep focused on your plan, your goal, what works for you.

To win in Tetris, you can’t let yourself get distracted by someone else’s progress, concentrate too heavily on the way they play, or compare their results to your own. Doing so will immobilize you, fill you with doubt, and crush your game.

The same is true for other parts of life. I’m usually content with my home, relationships, accomplishments, work——until I fall into the comparison trap. I sometimes need to remind myself: Don’t look! Zeroing in on how someone else is doing doesn’t change my situation, skills, talents, or assets—but it does take my focus off what it should be on: what I do have, what I can do, what I should do.

Flipping that (because there’s always flipping in Tetris), all of life is not like the game. Sometimes contemplating what other people are doing encourages, challenges and spurs you on. . . .

The trick, I guess, is to know which to do and when. Thankfully, the answer’s fairly clear. If looking at others makes you dissatisfied or diminishes your ability to maneuver the pieces of your life with joy and ease, stop looking. If studying someone else fills you with a sense of possibility or lends you a strategy you hadn’t yet considered, gawk away.

And now I’m off to level up. 🙂

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“Don’t Look! A Tetris Battle lesson” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, February 25, 2015 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Cracked Open

Ahhh, Ocean! Photo Copyright Ev Bishop.

Ahhh, Ocean! Photo Copyright Ev Bishop.

I’ve just returned from a very restful, inspiring, sun-drenched, sand-filled, saltwater-soaked vacation in Newport Beach, California.

I loved playing in the white sand that was hot under my feet. I adored wearing flip-flops as I tripped along the boardwalk, knowing friends and co-workers back home were in their winter gear, suffering fresh snow and below freezing temperatures. (Sorry guys!) And it was very special to spend do-nothing-but-have-fun family time with my husband, nieces, sister, stepmom, and daughter. The biggest impact of the trip, however, came from the ocean.

I was amazed by her. Awed.

Obviously, living where I do, I’m already familiar with the Pacific—but let me tell you: her waters are very different up in northern British Columbia than they are in southern California.

I spent a lot of time playing in the surf, being knocked down and getting up again, being dragged back into deeper water as the ocean readied to send another wave, and, most fun of all, swimming out over my head, beyond the crash line, where even the hugest waves were just starting as rolling swells. Above me, the sky was so blue and just . . . huge. And all around me, as far as my eye could see, was water. Since it’s California’s “winter” too, there weren’t a lot of locals in the water. Sometimes, for hours, I was the only one.

And maybe it was the salt pulling things out of me, the same way soaking in Epsom salts releases toxins. Or maybe it was because it was the first time in far, far too long where I didn’t have anywhere to go specifically or anyone I had to see, and my mind was deliciously free and uncluttered. Or perhaps it was the sounds of the ocean working to bring the tide in or out, the sea birds calling and swooping about, blotting out any noise in my head . . . But whatever the reason or combination of reasons, something deep inside me cracked open, and I had one of those strange epiphanies, where you can see so clearly where you’ve come from, where you are, and where you want to go next.

Sometimes it’s easy to lie to ourselves, to make excuses for why we’re standing still instead of moving forward, to justify our reasons for sticking with things that are no longer a good fit.

I found that out there, salt-crusted, saturated and awed by the unmitigated power, depth and magnitude of the ocean, it was impossible to be false with myself. I might as well have tried to keep the surf from crashing, or the sand from pulling away beneath my feet in the after effects of the waves. But it wasn’t a negative or self-condemning sort of feeling. I didn’t beat myself up for work not done or goals not accomplished. And it wasn’t merely a giddy, momentary flash of newfound enthusiasm (though I did feel those lovely bursts too). The feeling was a deep sense of readiness, of quiet resolution and surety. A sense that change is coming, and instead of fighting it or being afraid of it, I was going to welcome it and move with it.

I kept waking up my first couple of nights home because I missed the sound of the surf—and I’d only been away eight days. I’ve carried the decision I arrived at in the waves with me, however, and while my suntan’s receding, my resolve hasn’t waned.

I’ll be making some exciting announcements the next two months or so. In the meantime, if you can somehow sneak away to a beach—ocean, river or lakeside—to do some thinking and dreaming, I highly recommend it.

Balance, balance, balance!

Photo by twbuckner, Flickr

Photo by twbuckner, Flickr

I’m not one of those people who love the word “balance.” In fact, when people say it like a prayer, “It’s about balance, Ev . . . balance,” my gag reflex kicks in. But this is a flaw in me, I suspect, nothing to do with the lovely word or concept behind it at all. I think my response is triggered by a guilty conscience. I am, too frequently, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter, over or under weighted, definitely all-or-nothing in my approach to life. I over indulge my passions . . . and (sometimes, often times) starve the shoulds, musts, smart-tos in my life. Ah, well . . . I think there was a wise line about knowing thyself once upon a time.

Anyway, why this rant about balance? Because I realized recently that my writing life is like a teeter-totter stuck on the ground by a very solid, much bigger than me friend. A dear friend. A beloved friend (originally misspelled as “fiend”—does that mean anything, I wonder?). A FUN (all caps!) friend. A friend I would never want to leave the playground—my writing itself.

At conferences, in blogs, during author talks, etc., more established authors often talk about the importance of creating and maintaining a writing habit. They warn—rightly—of the danger of talking about how-to-get published, daydreaming about being published, overdosing on reading and studying about writing and publishing and not actually doing the work, not writing. Writing is the first and most important thing, they say. The only thing, really, 100% necessary for an eventual writing career. And, again, I completely agree, and have met too many “aspiring” writers who, actually, uh . . . it still confuses me . . . don’t write.

However, there’s a less talked about, but equally stymieing condition afflicting those who profess to want to write as a living (usually so they can write more, not because they care about the money other than as a necessity for stuff like, say, heat and toilet paper). They don’t submit enough. Or at all. They have the writing routine nailed. They craft several short stories, a novel or two, plus non-fiction essays and thoughts, a year . . . They might even work each piece through a couple drafts, so they’re pretty solid bits of work . . . and then, nothing. They happily move into their next story’s world because writing is about the writing, don’t you know?

Well, I do know. And I totally believe that. Celebrate it. Love it.

So imagine my horror when I realized that, yikes, I’ve become one of those people who talks about wanting to write as a career, but doesn’t do the work needed. Only, in fact, does half the work (the most important part though, I still brag). I write. Regularly. Amass quite a few words, even. (Er . . . actually the example two paragraphs ago was taken from my own life.)

But I fall down in the submissions department. Terribly. Yes, I have quite a few short stories out in the world now, along with some non-fiction, and a novella under a penname (hopefully to be joined by a sister story very soon!)—but I’ve been writing for years. I have multiple novels and a myriad of short stories that I’ve sent out a few times, then put away—and they’re stories I still believe in. I’m not talking about my file of those-that-shall-not-be nameds.

And why do I wimp out and epic-fail in the business end of the writing life? Well, there’s probably a lot of complex reasons, but let’s boil it down. I’m insecure. But aren’t we all? And isn’t life short? Yes, and yes!

Usually at this time of year, I’ve just returned home from SiWC, primed to work and wildly inspired anew. And now, despite not attending the conference this year, it’s like my body and brain remember. I weirdly, no doubt because of the company I kept in London, feel a similar November-surge of refreshed motivation and commitment.

I don’t regret the time I spend “merely” writing—it’s the most essential part of storytelling, and I’m still learning how to do it—but it’s time for me to find a balance. (Gag!)

I want the teeter-totter to work as it should, an exhilarating ride of constant motion . . . so, yes, I will keep exploring new thoughts, new ideas, new worlds through new words and stories . . . but I will put more weight behind the business part of my writing, the polishing and shining, the submitting, submitting, submitting.

What about you? Do you relate to my teeter-totter at all? If so, which end do you need to add more weight to?

P.S. Just saying “SiWC” here made me realize I have to attend in 2014! Unless I “must” go overseas again, ahahahahahahahaha! 😉

There is only make

Bid on me at the Terrace Art Gallery, 7:00 p.m. Sept. 27, 2013A while back, I took part in a painting workshop (Running With Brushes with Noreen Spence and Dianne Postman). I loved it, needed it, and benefited from it for a lot of reasons, some of which I went into here. ☺

At one point, Noreen shared one of her favourite quotes from artist Sister Corita Kent: “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.”

The words were a much-needed reminder and encouragement, as I (like most artists and writers, I suspect) battle perfectionism, insecurity, and the conviction that I’m not good enough and never will be . . . Good enough for what? you ask . . . Great question, and one I never have a very satisfying answer for—just never good enough to silence my own inner critic, perhaps . . . but I digress. In the actual process of writing, I forget to be neurotic. In the moment, the story or poem or whatever I’m working on is all I can see, focus on, feel . . . and it’s amazing, joyful, crazy—and transcends all my worries. There is only make!

I did a bit of google-sleuthing, and found, to my delight, a list of rules Corita Kent created and kept posted in her classroom when she taught in the Immaculate Heart College Art Department. The gem above is one of them . . . but the others struck me as equally important, inspiring, and bravery-bolstering. I keep a printed copy of the list stuck on my filing cabinet, a mere arm’s length away, for easy reading and a soft-yet-effective kick in the pants.

Maybe you’ll find Corita’s rules as heartening and revitalizing as I did, or maybe you won’t . . . Either way, happy writing, reading, creating this week!

p.s. I have every intention of writing rambling thoughts about some of the other rules soon. You have been warned. 😉

p.p.s. The picture at the top of this post is a digital image of one of the paintings created by participants in Running With Brushes–and the original painting is being auctioned off tomorrow night (Friday, Sept. 27, 2013) at 7:00 p.m. at the Terrace Art Gallery. It’s 5′ by 4′ and absolutely gorgeous. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

A Note From Mark Twain

In my head . . . er, office!

In my head . . . er, office!

The other day, in a bit of a funk, I turned to my journal, figuring some random ranting might soothe my itchy impatience, unrest, and sluggishness. This annoying, conflicting state hits me every so often: I want something to happen, to be accomplished, to be different—but I feel too lazy to work or do much of anything.    

Do you relate? Have goals and dreams that you don’t always work toward, that you beat yourself up for not accomplishing, even while you fritter time away time on stupid stuff? (Facebook games, perhaps? Argh, the time suckage!)

Anyway, I opened my spiral bound notebook, a tattered, sadly neglected thing this summer, and what had I scrawled as the last entry?

Not a flowing stream-of-consciousness ramble. Not a to-do list (one of my favourite past-times—creating, not necessarily fulfilling, to-do lists!). Not an idea for a story or an informal essay about something I was thinking on . . .

A quote. And what a quote! So weirdly timely, as if back on June 20th, I knew the glorious sun would leave in mid-August, fall would descend early and heavy with rain . . . and I would be in need of something inspiring, encouraging, motivating.

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones that you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain  

I rewrote the words to myself (Ev, twenty years from now . . . ), signed the letter (From, Mark Twain), then stuck it on my wall above my monitor. I smelled salt water, felt the breeze—and thought, Ah, he nailed the cause of my malaise—exactly.

I’m a bit of a psycho about things I’m passionate about, as you may or may not have deduced over the years, but passions go awry if you don’t put your time and heart into them. They don’t leave you altogether; they just nag at your subconscious, causing angst, making you restless until you get back to them.

Busy the past year (with things that, to be fair to myself, legitimately demanded time, burned physical and mental energy, and took an emotional toll), I let myself fall into the trap of putting off things that I know I need to do, desperately want to do, and derive a huge sense of satisfaction and well-being from.   

And for a while that’s fine. Is understandable. Is life. But after a time . . . Well, the conviction I should be working on something but instead I’m playing Bubble Pop Battle ‘til my hand cramp up kind of drives me around the bend.  

So what am I doing about Twain’s friendly warning? I’m remembering that twenty years will fly by—and that at sixty (and at seventy and at eighty—and today!) I want to be able to say that I gave my goals my best shot, that maybe my progress occurred in fits and spurts, but I was steady. I took risks. I tried.   

Years ago, when my children were small, Thomas Moore’s famous line, “The best of all ways to lengthen our days is to steal a few hours from the night,” was my mantra. Later, when I was teaching, I wrote early mornings. And after that, for a few luxurious years, I wrote during regular workday hours.   

And now? In light of my letter from Mark?  I’m back to early mornings. It’s not natural for me. At all. But I’m finding the quiet hours very lovely. And very productive. As with late nights, the world is different when everyone else is asleep. Dreams are closer to consciousness. More seems possible.   

Perhaps pretending Mark Twain penned you a personal note isn’t something you’d find especially motivating, but his message is pertinent for us all.

Time moves quickly. What is it you should be doing now? What trips are you planning? What tasks need tackling, or classes should you register for? Or do you need to steer into something entirely new? So go on, do it. Sail away from safe harbour  . . . Explore. Dream. Discover. 

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“A Note From Mark Twain” by me, Ev Bishop, was originally published in the Terrace Standard, August 28, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”

Return to sender . . .

"Returned Manuscript" Photo by Ev Bishop

“Returned Manuscript” Photo by Ev Bishop

My recent weeks have been full of emptying—first one house, then another. As I sorted through closets and cupboards, some of which, honestly, that hadn’t been gone through in 20 odd years, quite a few items gave me pause. Why on earth had he (my dad) kept that? Or, conversely, at my old house, why on earth did I hold onto that?

One such item, tucked away in the back of a cupboard above my bedroom closet, was a sealed box. A manuscript box. Marked “Requested Material.” Besmirched with a black X through the intended recipient’s address and a sticker instructing you to turn the box over.

Doing as bidden, another sticker greets you, one with five options: Insufficient address, Attempted not known (whatever that means!), No such number/street, Not deliverable as addressed – unable to forward, and Other. “Other” is selected with another X and a red, slightly smeary stamped imprint shouts “Unclaimed.”

More injuriously, another stamped mark says 1st Notice, 2nd Notice, Return—and there are handwritten month and day notes beside category.

I remembered, only upon seeing the box again, the initial request for the full manuscript—how excited I’d been.

I also remembered how disappointed, and irritated, I’d been when it came back. I carefully follow all submission guidelines. In this instance, I’d spoken with the agent in person, received the request to submit in person, been given the address to send to in her handwriting.

I didn’t send the parcel priority post, or in some other manner that requires a signature or a special trip into a postal outlet for pick up. It should’ve been delivered right to their office . . . so maybe they don’t have a big enough mailbox for manuscript boxes? (If that’s the case, how bizarre!) Or maybe she’d never really wanted to consider my novel in the first place? (Ouch, but please, I’d rather she’d just said so!)

I suspect the reality is nothing like any of my above suppositions. It’s just something that occasionally happens with mail. And when you’re busy, and the object you’re receiving notices about is off your radar, you don’t get around to picking it up. Nothing personal. No big deal.

But what is a big deal: Why didn’t I follow up, or resend it, or . . . do something? Why did I tuck it away, out of sight, out of mind . . . Imagine if I didn’t move for another 20 years or more, what a find it would be then!

I haven’t decided what to do with the unopened box. But I am taking it to heart, as it strikes me as a powerful (if painful!) message about my writing in general.

This novel, packaged up with such care, only to be stuck away, hidden from all, is symbolic of what I do with a lot of my writing.

I love to write (as I think any of you who read my blog know!); I don’t love the submission process. I would like to share my stories, perhaps connect with someone out there, make them laugh, or cry or just . . . relate—but that desire is always a bit peripheral to the actual act of writing.

The result of this . . . laziness, fear, slight disinterest, whatever . . . is that I have many stories and quite a few novels that have yet to see the light of day.

I don’t want to become one of those writers for whom publishing is the primary goal and content is secondary—but I also know that if I don’t start to put out a body of work fairly soon, my years to be able to do so will diminish, my chance to share my stories will shrink, and my hope to someday support myself with my words will become a more and more unlikely daydream.

And so, for now at least, the box sits on the floor by my desk, in a terribly inconvenient spot, where I keep tripping over it—a constant reminder that I need to be bolder, to more actively seek to share my words (and worlds!) with others. Wish me luck!

And tell me, what would you do with the unopened manuscript box?