Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Let's Hear It For The Boy

Hello dear readers,

I'm not one of those people who thinks that you have to be in a relationship to be happy or successful. Whenever I've been single, I've enjoyed not being accountable to anyone but myself. However, while I don't think you need a relationship to move you forward, I do think the wrong one can hold you back.

I've been dating Chris for a year and six months. In that time, I started writing again, and finished the first new novel I've written in five years. I set a date for my red prajioud test and began training for it. And I've finally gotten serious about getting out of debt--something I'd put off for far too long. There's a light at the end of the tunnel now, and it's not too far away. It feels fantastic.

Is it a coincidence that I've been able to achieve all those things since The Boy has been in my life? I don't think so.

Chris doesn't like to take credit for my success. He tends to say that the timing just happened to be right for me to accomplish those things. But I think there's a lot to be said for having a constant source of support and encouragement, not to mention sound advice. It's a lot easier to tackle something when your significant other understands the importance of it. Much easier than when your partner is whining about all the expensive vacations he wants you to take.

Adversity makes us stronger. But when you're not fighting against someone else every step of the way, you have more energy for the things you want to accomplish. Instead of crying, you can write a novel. Instead of screaming, you can get into shape and tackle a challenging martial arts test. There's no emotional distress to send you to those online shopping sites for a jolt of euphoria. Because that good feeling wears off fast--take my word for it.

The Boy is not the one sitting at that computer writing the book, or busting his butt in the dojo. I still have to do those things on my own. But he is the one who goes out late at night--while it's still snowing, mind you--to shovel a path for me. He is the one who meets me with a cab after my first Level 2 class, so I don't have to slog my heavy equipment bag on two buses to get home. He cooks me dinner when he knows I'm going to be too tired to move. He rubs my sore and tired feet. He asks to read whatever I've written, and wants to help make it the best he can. I honestly couldn't list the countless things he does to make my life easier, because I'd run out of room. But I thought it was high time for a very public thank you.

Since I believe in giving credit where credit is due, let's hear it for The Boy!

How about you, dear readers? Who is the wind beneath your wings?

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Greatest Lesson

Would this man have talked to YOU?

Welcome back, dear readers,

I hope everyone had a fantastic weekend!

Today I thought I'd share one of the greatest lessons I've ever learned. When I was in college, I was lucky enough to have an incredible mentor. This man was my journalism instructor, but he also taught me so much about life.

There were many useful things I learned from him, but one of the best came during a first-year journalism class. Donald was discussing the Iran-Iraq conflict that happened in the 1980s--when Saddam's troops invaded Kuwait. For a journalist at the time, the hottest interview imaginable was with the Ayatollah Khomeini, but--incredibly--almost no one tried to get an interview with the Iranian leader! Why?

"Everyone presumed the Ayatollah would refuse to talk to a Western reporter," Donald said
Along came a rookie. This guy was wet behind the ears, so he had no idea that you couldn't try for anything you wanted. He had no clue that his overtures would be refused. So this new reporter, with almost no experience, actually attempted to get an interview with the Ayatollah. And you know what? He did.

The moral of the story, as Donald so eloquently put it, is:

Never assume the Ayatollah won't talk to you.
This one sentence has become a guiding force in my life. Whenever I'm faced with a daunting task, or a goal that seems insurmountable, I can actually hear Donald's voice in my head: Never assume the Ayatollah won't talk to you. So I don't assume, and it turns out that nothing has ever been impossible. And if I do miss out on the interview of the century, or don't win the contest, or don't land a great agent, at least I'll always know that I tried my best.

I will never fail simply because I was afraid to try.

That was the greatest lesson learned during my years in college and beyond. I thank the great Donald Benham for teaching it to me.

Have you ever used the Ayatollah principle in your own life? How did it go?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Fun Friday XIII: Holiday Traditions

Hi everyone,

Thank you for doing such an awesome job on the last Fun Friday writing exercise! You shared some fantastic winter memories and survival tips. Well done.

It's getting close to December now, and for a lot of people, that means the beginning of the holiday season. To get us into the spirit of things, let's talk about holiday traditions.

What's your favorite holiday tradition? Who started it? If it came from your parents, do you carry it on for your own family?

It doesn't have to be a Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanzaa tradition--if you have wonderful ways of celebrating Easter, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July, feel free to write about them.

For me, this question is easy. My favorite holiday tradition is the Christmas stocking. My parents always filled a stocking full of little gifts for me at Christmas, and around the time I was twelve, they decided to each do one for each other, too. However, it was quickly apparent that some people are better shoppers than others, as Dad filled my Mom's stocking almost entirely with golf balls that first year (pink golf balls, neon golf balls, golf balls in a plastic candy cane, etc.) After that, I was "hired" to do the shopping for both parents, and to this day, they each give me money and I act as the personal Christmas stocking shopper. No matter how busy I get, I always enjoy this task...it never fails to get me into the holiday spirit.

Part of our tradition is that every single stocking stuffer has to be individually wrapped. We save scraps of the previous year's wrapping paper for this. Then, on Christmas morning, we take turns opening the little gifts one by one. It usually takes us two hours to finish with the stockings, but it's so much fun. It is absolutely my favorite part of Christmas, and one I still look forward to like a little kid.

I can hardly wait to hear about your traditions. Happy Friday!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Every One Makes You Stronger

This is how I feel today!

Welcome, dear readers.

Today is a great day! I'm still riding a wave of euphoria...I did a double class last night, including the dreaded Level 2, and...I survived!

I not only survived; I had a fantastic time. I'm not saying the class was easy, because it wasn't--far from it. But going through a tough experience like that with a small group really bonds people. The support and camaraderie in that team is incredible.

Everyone was so welcoming and encouraging, including Joscelyn, the instructor. I was lucky from the start, because I got paired with a fantastic partner. Vanessa was super sweet and complimentary, and she managed to push me to do my best without ever being condescending or making me feel like a loser. (Sometimes a person demanding that you "give them some power" just isn't what you want to hear, especially when your muscles are exhausted and you already feel like you're giving it your all. Well, she never said that.)

We started with some intense skipping drills (Joscelyn took my puny rope away and gave me one considerably heavier) and some footwork exercises, and then moved on to two-minute drills. Your partner stands at one end of the gym, holding thai pads, while you stay on the other end with your gloves on. When the bell rings, you sprint to your partner, throw a jab and cross, followed by a roundhouse kick, and then run backwards across the gym, where you do five push-ups. Then you repeat the process, as many times as you can in those two minutes, as fast as you can. You do not jog. And if you're cheating on the push-ups, Joscelyn will notice and call you on it. We each did five rounds of these two minute drills, and Vanessa went first, which gave me time to catch my breath from the Level 1 class I'd just taken. (Told you she is a sweetie!)

I immediately noticed that this class is at an entirely new level, because as much as I've been with some strong kickers in Level 1, Vanessa almost knocked me over with that first combination. I was not expecting so much power, and I still have roundhouse envy. Wow. That girl could kick through a brick wall! And she never lost that power, even though those two minute drills are exhausting.

After the two minute drills, we went into super sets of: superman punches, push-kicks, roundhouses, switch kicks, and jab-cross-roundhouse combinations. I'm still learning the superman punches, which we never did at Sik Tai, and Vanessa was very gracious and patient with me.

I'm noticing how much of a difference other people's energy makes to my performance in a class. During the Level 1 class yesterday, I was lackluster and low-energy. I felt like I had nothing left to give, so I was really nervous about getting through Level 2. But as Level 2 went on, I kept feeling better and better. I think I kicked harder than I ever have in my life! There's something about being part of a group of people who are doing their best and really pushing themselves that makes you automatically rise to that level. If this is Level 2, I'll definitely be back.

One more thing that is astounding me--sometimes I'm a little stiff or a bit tired, but overall, I feel fantastic! I usually get chronic headaches/migraines, where I'll have one every day for a week or more, but I haven't had a single bad headache since I started training for the red armband. I've been pushing myself to the limit at every class, but I'm not that sore, and if anything, I actually have more energy. This is not what I expected at all.

I'd like to thank a few special people from KWest who have really helped and encouraged me on this path:  first of all, to Wayne, who has been such a good friend and incredibly supportive. He's shown me that my fears and doubts are needless, while still acknowledging the way I feel and pushing me to get past it. He's a great fighter, but also the kindest person you could ever hope to meet. To Vanessa, who's a fan of this blog and who was such an awesome, welcoming partner yesterday. To Joscelyn, who kicked our butts but actually did the entire class himself as well (he has my undying respect for that). At the end of class, he told me that "anyone who pushes themselves like that is always welcome"--I was flying! To Kathy, who wasn't there last night, but who has also been super encouraging and welcoming. To Derrick and Joe, who helped me not take it all so seriously, and to my Level 1 training buddy Nicole, who probably thinks I'm insane for training so hard, but has never said so. And most of all, thank you to Kelly, who made all of this possible for me in the first place.

Most people don't consider kickboxing a team sport, but they'd be wrong. Behind every great fighter is a group of people who have sweat, cried, and laughed with her. You're only as good as your training partners. I seriously believe that.

I'll end this post with something Vanessa told me whenever the class got really tough. "Every one makes you stronger." So true.

Happy Thanksgiving to my American friends! I hope you have a wonderful holiday filled with laughter and love. Thanks for being here.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

There's A Reason Why It Wasn't Published: The Wednesday Rant

Sorry, Dean--there's a reason why it wasn't published.

Happy Wednesday, dear readers.

I recently finished reading a book by one of my favorite authors. This author's books are tagged with the unfortunate characterization of "chick lit", even though they are smart, funny women's fiction. The characters in her books have more to worry about than buying another pair of shoes, or whether or not that cute guy will call. This writer reliably churns out a great read--so much so that I trust her enough to buy her books in hardcover as soon as they're released.

Imagine my disappointment, then, when her latest release fell flat. The story was told from the point of view of three women, and I didn't care about a single one. All of the characters were unlikeable in their own way, and the story itself was predictable, uninspiring, and trite. (When the ditsy sister dumps the adorable guy who's inexplicably madly in love with her, do you think he'll show up and offer her a happy-ever-after at the end of Act III? Duh.)

It was paint-by-numbers writing that completely failed to engage. I was shocked that this writer had produced a book of such low caliber, and my initial thought was that her publisher had "encouraged" her to write a novel before she was ready. Then I read the Author's Notes. Uh-oh. That explains it.

This lovely novel was something most writers have in their closets or under their beds. The Novel I Couldn't Get Published. Here's an unfortunate scenario that happens more often than it should. You write a book. It sucks, but there's a glimmer of promise there. So you read, you learn, you write another. (And maybe another and another.) You get published. Your book does well. So does your second. You build a readership, and eventually (maybe you're bored or feeling uninspired that year) your mind wanders to all those unpublished books hiding at the back of your closet. "Looky here!" you tell your overjoyed publisher, who is convinced he could successfully sell your grocery list at this point. "Guess I will have a new book coming out this year after all!"

Yes, sometimes publishers are afraid to take a chance on a brilliant novel, just because it's too edgy or too unique or too whatever. Sometimes they'll turn their nose up at a wonderful book because they already have a writer whose subject matter is sparkly vampires. But in most cases, there's a reason why that book wasn't published. Like most first efforts, it simply wasn't good enough.

As much as I blush to admit it, I used to be an avid reader of Dean Koontz's work. (Stephen King just didn't write fast enough to satisfy my needs.) But Koontz fell victim to the Harvesting Crap That Wasn't Published syndrome. Since he'd already produced dozens of novels by the time I discovered his work, I found it impossible to distinguish between his legitimately published novels and those books-from-the-back-of-the-closet...until it was too late. Then I paid for my error. Oh, did I pay! Ultimately, I stopped buying any of his books.

Writers improve with practice. It may take several books before they find their voice and learn their style. Their readership loves their work as they have come to know it, and while they may appreciate a glimpse of the writer's early amateur stylings, just out of sheer curiosity, they will not appreciate paying over $30 for it. Especially if they had the impression that they were paying for a great new novel. Because it won't be great. Trust me--there's a reason why it wasn't published. Please leave those books in the closet. Or bind them for your mom for Christmas. Or use them as door stops.

Whatever you do, please don't punish your poor fans with those early efforts!

Has this ever happened to you, dear readers? Have you stumbled upon a case of Harvesting Crap That Wasn't Published syndrome?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's All In Your Head

Hello dear readers,

Have you ever built something up in your mind to the point that--once you actually did it--you wondered what the big deal was?

I suspect the dreaded Level 2 muay thai class has become this way for me, reaching mythical proportions in my own brain. I will participate in my first Level 2 class in over a year this Wednesday. And I'm nervous, especially since I'll have survived an hour of intense training before the class even begins. (Yes, this is the first week of three double classes in a row...four if you count personal training with my coach.)

For those of you not familiar with the class structure at KWest Kickboxing, Level 1 is an intensive cardio workout. It's primarily for those who want to get in shape. You do learn muay thai skills, but not at an in-depth level. Level 2 is for people who are more serious about learning muay thai technique, including those who are interested in fighting. When I first started training at KWest, Level 2 was all technique, so you needed to do a double class of Level 1 followed by Level 2 if you wanted to get a workout as well. But things have changed dramatically during the past year. Level 2 is rumored to be a brutal workout, much more intense and challenging than the Level 1 classes I've grown accustomed to. When I recently asked a Level 2 student about attending a Level 1 class prior to the Level 2, he visibly shuddered and said, "I don't recommend it." And this guy is in the best shape of anyone I know! No wonder I'm nervous. But I have no choice if I intend to follow my coach's training plan for my red prajioud test. (And I do, of course!)

It's not like I'm a novice when it comes to tough workouts. At my other dojos, I always had one-on-one training with various coaches, and there's no hiding behind other students when the focus is on you alone. A typical class at Sik Tai, my first dojo, would have posed a challenge for professional athletes, and Pan Am Boxing--host of the self-proclaimed "hardest workout in the city" was certainly no picnic. So what am I so afraid of? What's the worst that can happen? I'll probably be sore and stiff and weakened from my previous class. My energy levels may suck. I may not be able to get through all the exercises that first day, or I could embarrass myself by managing only weak kicks with a partner who will be working out for the first time that day. Is it really such a big deal, though? I've certainly been through worse.

This is why I suspect it's all in my head. In my absence, Level 2 has achieved mythic proportions, and there's only one way to bring it back to earth...I have to go to the class and get it over with.

How about you, dear readers? When was the last time you built something up to be much worse than it actually was? How did it go?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let it Snow: Fun Friday XII

Me as an Ice Pirate - my first spongee team

TGIF, dear readers,

After last Friday's response was so disappointing (thanks to Lisa for her kick-ass entry!), I was tempted not to do another one of these. But let's give it one last shot.

It's winter in my part of the world. My least favorite season. When people hear that I hate the cold, they always tease me about why I chose to move here in the first place. Good question. This city is renowned for its cold winters. However, it also has a pretty awesome, unique communications course, which is all I was thinking about when I packed my bags.

I grew up in a northern wasteland. I moved from one freezing climate to another, and I've had about enough of winter. So for this Fun Friday, please share your favorite winter memory OR a winter survival tip.

The only trick I've found to make winter bearable is falling in love with a winter sport. My poison of choice is sponge hockey, a unique-to-Winnipeg sport. It's like ice hockey, except we wear spongee shoes instead of skates and use a sponge puck (which isn't anywhere near as soft as it sounds). I suspect the rules are a little different, too. For instance, there's supposed to be no contact in spongee, but as one of my team's bruisers, I can tell you that isn't the case. And women get away with a lot more than the guys do.

I first started playing spongee with my boyfriend at the time. I'd never tried it before, and wasn't sure I would like it. And I was nervous about running on the ice in those funny shoes. I soon found the sport to be addictive. It was fun, it was fast-paced, it was fantastic exercise, and it gave me something to look forward to in the wintertime. I've played spongee when the windchill registered -53C and never even noticed the cold.

After my relationship ended, I joined a women's team. It was a revelation. For once, female players weren't relegated to the sidelines, or there just because they "had" to be (in spongee rules, a co-ed team requires two women on the ice at any time. Unfortunately, no rules force the guys to actually pass to you or even acknowledge your presence). Every one of my new teammates could have wiped the ice with the best men on my former team. They were fast, they were tough, and they were skilled. I was in awe. And I was very flattered that they accepted me as one of them.

Unfortunately, due to all the other demands on my time, I had to pass on playing spongee this year. But I will miss it. And winter will seem twice as long, I'm sure.

Your turn! What's your winter story/survival tip? And if you don't get winter, I'd love to hear about that, too! Let me live vicariously through you.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Conversation With a Credit Card Company

Hello dear readers,

I had a conversation with a credit card company yesterday, and it went like this:

Me: "I'd like to cancel my credit card, please."

Annoying Representative (henceforth known as AR): I can certainly help you with that, but may I ask why you're cancelling your card?

Me: "Because I'm being fiscally responsible and no longer using credit cards."

AR: "But you realize that you will still need a credit card for some purchases. For instance, you will need a credit card--"

Me (interrupting diatribe of reasons I need credit cards): "I have another credit card. I just don't need this one. I'd like to cancel it, please."

AR: "But you have a long history with this bank...it's highly advisable to keep a credit card with us."

Me: "Actually, I'm planning to move my business to another bank." (Unsaid: because when I needed one small change made to my line of credit, after DECADES of being a PERFECT client, you did absolutely NOTHING to help!)

AR: "I understand that you want to move your business to another bank, but it's a good idea to keep a credit card with a different bank....(yak, yak, yak)

Me: (interrupting diatribe about why I still would need this particular card) "I'm not using this card, and I don't need it. I don't see any point to keep it lying around." (A new one was sent to me in May, and I haven't even authorized it yet.)

AR: "You do know that you can lower your credit limit, right? You have a significant amount of credit on there...."

Me: "Yes, but I'd like to just cancel the card, please. I'm not using it."

AR: "But you might need it someday, and it's not costing you anything to have it."

Me: "Actually, I read that after a year, I will be charged for having an inactive account."

AR: "Oh, that's only if you have a balance. But you don't have a balance."

Me: (Unsaid--that's not what I read, and in any case, if a customer ran a balance and made no payments for a year, I'm sure you'd do more than charge him a $25 fee.) In any case, I'd like to cancel this card, please.

AR: All right, I'll put that through for you.


In this age of recession, defaults on debt and mortgages, etc...does anyone else see a problem with this? No wonder "How to Cancel Your Credit Card" was nowhere to be found on the website or FAQs.

How have you chosen to jump off the consumerism wagon?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Wrench in the Works....

Hello dear readers,

Talk about how the best laid plans are doomed to fail! Even with all the echinacea, B vitamins, multi-vitamins, Greens +, calcium, oregano oil, etc...I'm sick. Again! This is driving me crazy. It's the same stupid cold I had in the Catskills, and this must be the fourth time I've got it this year. Grr....

It's infuriating. I exercise, I've been getting more sleep, I eat well. Why do I keep getting sick? Talk about bad timing--I have just under five weeks to go before the red prajioud test, so I can't afford to miss out on a lot of training. Not to mention that Lost needs to be in the mail at the end of this month. Argh! I guess things could be worse...I could be sick the week of the test, or the week before, but I am still not impressed.

I used to be able to work from home, but that's not accepted anymore, so I dragged myself in, coughing and hacking. I hope I don't get anyone else sick...I have no idea who I got this from. But I don't know what to do about kickboxing...I'm supposed to have a double class today. If I don't go today, I have to do double classes on Wednesday and Thursday, plus a one-on-one training session followed by a class on Friday. Leaving it until Wednesday would mean tackling a Level 2 class for the first time in years after taking a Level 1 class...presumably in a weakened state. I'm not sure what is worse. I could assume that I'll feel a lot better tomorrow, but who knows?

What would you do, dear readers? I could use some advice!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Fun Friday XI: The Interview

TGIF, dear readers!

Here's the scenario for this week's Fun Friday:

You're a successful journalist, well known for getting to the truth behind the issues. You have the opportunity to interview a public figure, and the assurance that they will be completely honest with you. Who would you interview, and what five questions would you ask him/her?

The rules: the person you interview must be alive today, and they have to be a public figure. No spouses, mothers or grandparents, please!

I would interview Oprah Winfrey. The sheer amount of success this woman has achieved is amazing, especially in light of where she started out. She had everything against her: sexually abused and neglected as a child; a poor black woman in a rich white man's domain. And yet, today's she's one of the wealthiest people in the world. Love her or hate her, her story is inspiring.

I would ask the Queen of Talk the following questions:

1) You've gone through some really tough times in your career (the cattle trial, etc.). During those bad days when you don't want to get out of bed and are tired of working so hard, how do you push past it? What motivates you when nothing else will?

2) You've achieved a status never dreamed possible when you were starting out in your career. Answering truthfully, what set you apart from everyone else? Deep down, why do you believe you're successful?

3) How do you respond to those who say that your sincerity and compassion is an act? That you really only care about yourself and your inner circle?

4) What do you really think of Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise?

5) What did people hold against you more when you started out: your gender or your race? How did you overcome their prejudice?

Bonus question: why the hell did you pick Franzen's book again after he openly dissed you for choosing The Corrections?

Your turn! Who would you interrogate?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest We Forget....

Hello dear readers,

In the US and Canada, today is a day of remembrance. It's a day when we take time to remember the sacrifices of our veterans, and to be grateful for their sacrifice.

Most of us wish for a world without war, but unless our basic nature changes, we will always see conflict. As much as I long for peace, I respect those who are brave enough to fight for our country. Imagine what the world would be like if no one was courageous enough to stop the Nazis....

Man's inhumanity to man has always fascinated me. I wanted to be a profiler, but failing that--as a writer and as a journalist, I've tried desperately to understand. And there's no greater symbol of man's capability for cruelty to his fellow beings than the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Auschwitz-Birkenau is a memorial and a museum now. You can take a two-hour tour of the camps, and see some chilling reminders of the evil that took place, including a large display of surgical tools, and a hall with hairs from the victims. Just thinking of it makes me shudder, but it also makes me sad.

Why keep such a ghoulish place? Why not tear it down and burn it until only cinders remain? Actually, it was a brilliant decision to keep the camps intact. What happened to the prisoners of this concentration camp in World War Two was so horrendous that it's difficult to believe. We can't wrap our minds around it. Maybe that's why, even now,

there are people and organizations who deny that hundreds of thousands of people were murdered in this camp, that gas chambers operated there, or that the crematoria could burn several thousand corpses per day. In other words, they deny that Auschwitz was the scene of genocide. (- the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum website)
Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. After the Holocaust, many said "never again". But since that time, we have seen horrible atrocities in Bosnia, Rwanda, Afghanistan, Darfur....the tragedies continue. What do we have to do to live peacefully with one another? How must we change in order to bring a permanent end to war?

It's worth thinking about.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"I'm Soooo Busy": The Wednesday Rant

Hello dear readers,

A writer friend and I met for dinner the other night. We both have insane schedules, so it takes some long-term planning for us to get together. During our conversation, the subject of a mutual colleague came up. This person was a casual acquaintance of mine, but a close friend of my friend's.

"I don't even bother calling or asking about her anymore," my friend said. "What's the point? She always cancels plans, and I know I'm way busier than she is."
Welcome to the typical Winnipeg brush-off. Is your hometown like this as well? People who claim they're your friends, but who are either "too busy" to make plans, or even worse--always cancel them.

I know all about busy schedules. I have several hours of kickboxing training every week, a novel I'm rewriting, a full-time day job that has its hectic moments, a blog, and a part-time job as a freelance writer. Not to mention maintaining a home, taking care of pets, and making sure I call my mother and spend time with my boyfriend and friends.

Yes, I said friends. No matter how busy one gets, there has to be time for them, too. I may not have time to make new friends right now, but I'm not going to neglect the established ones. (At least, I'm trying really hard not to.)

Has "I'm too busy" become a euphemism for "You're not a priority" or "I'm not interested in spending time with you"? It certainly seems that way. When I first moved to this city, it was extremely difficult to make plans with people. Everyone was friendly, but there are few newcomers to the province, so most residents have lived here forever. They had families, college friends, high school friends--even elementary school friends. I grew accustomed to being the one who always had to make the effort, with the downside being that I wondered if any of my friends actually liked me. Were they hanging out with me because they wanted to, or just because I asked them? If they enjoyed my company, why didn't they ever phone me or suggest a get-together?

Thankfully, as time passed and I settled into my new home, I found friends who were willing to make the effort. I'm still a planner, but if someone doesn't meet me halfway, I'll give up sooner rather than later. I don't have time for the habitual cancellers or the "I'm sooo busy" folks.

I'm just too busy.

I once had a friend who made a habit of overbooking herself. Even though she had her own business, which should have meant flexibility, she filled every spare moment with team sports, Pilate's, networking engagements, committees, etc. Every year she promised that she'd make more time for her friends, but it never happened. To see this person more than once a year constituted a major miracle, and when you did see her, her cell phone was glued to her ear. She often talked about how her remaining friends were so "understanding" about her crazy schedule, and that she couldn't have friends who weren't. I had no problem being understanding. I'm busy, too. But when I realized she was suddenly very accessible whenever she needed something, I decided to take myself off her "to-do" list.

How about you, dear readers? Do you ever use busyness as an excuse to blow someone off? Are you frustrated with how difficult it is to make time for friends, or get your friends to make time for you? Have you ended a friendship because of it? Rant away!

(And before everyone jumps on me, I'm not talking about those who cancel plans for legitimate reasons. Everyone gets sick sometimes or suddenly has to go out of town--it happens.)

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Lost: Progress Report

Welcome back dear readers,

It may seem like I have muay thai on the brain these days, and I am thinking about it a lot as I prepare for my upcoming test. My workout schedule will get crazier as the test draws near--by the last weeks, I'll be spending every weeknight in a kickboxing class. (I'm grateful the gym isn't open on Sundays.)

However, I am still working a lot on my writing. I'm currently polishing the manuscript of Lost, which has to be on its way to a contest judge by November 30th. It's been at least a year, maybe more, since I last looked at this book, and I'm pleasantly surprised. It's more embellished than the way I currently write, but so far I'm loving it. There's some cleaning up to do, but I haven't suffered from an "oh God, this SUCKS!" moment yet.

To make my deadline, I have to weed through sixteen pages per day. I was able to squeeze in a little extra yesterday, so I'm ahead of schedule, which is a good place to be. Anything can happen between now and the end of November.

Freelancing assignments also continue to roll in, much to the delight of my bank accounts--I have six stories due by the end of the month. Goodbye, spare time! I'm so grateful that my job is typically 9 to 5 and that I rarely have to take home work from the museum.

Please bear with me if the blog entries become briefer or more sporadic this month. I'm determined not to be a fly-by-night blogger, but I have more on my plate than ever before.

What about you, dear readers? What's keeping you busy these days?

Monday, November 8, 2010

20 Seconds

That's how much time I have to shave off my run in the red prajioud test.

I went to the dojo early last Friday for my first one-on-one coaching session in years. My kru started off by asking me to write down the three aspects of the test I'm the most confident about. That was easy:
  • punches
  • power kicks/knees
  • pad holding
Then he asked me to write down the aspects of the test I'm the least confident about. That was easy as well:
  • running (for the test, you have to run a mile in eight minutes, thirty seconds)
  • flexibility
  • double kicks
What I didn't expect was for him to suddenly test me on the aspects I'm concerned about. Without much training or any preparation, he asked me to run the twenty-nine laps around the gym. I was nervous as hell--I haven't been running that much yet, and twenty-nine laps seems like a lot to me. But what choice did I have? So, with Eye of the Tiger playing on my iPod (my secret weapon), I started off at a good pace.

Initially Kelly planned to give me updates on my time, but since I was wearing an iPod, he just showed me when I had five laps left to go. It was difficult not knowing how much time was left, and I'm confident that if I'd known I was getting to the end, I could have pushed it, completing the run at 8:30. As it was--without much training and not knowing the time, I was only twenty seconds over. Twenty seconds over! I have to admit, I'm really proud of myself, since the run is what I've been dreading most. Kelly was surprised at my time as well--I think he expected me to be a lot slower. My cardio wasn't too bad--I wasn't even breathing that heavy. My legs were tired, but that was about it.

To test flexibility, you must kick above your shoulder level three times consecutively. This turned out to be easy for me. Again, Kelly was surprised, and I have to admit that I was as well.

The next challenge was the double kicks. Twenty double kicks in one minute. I'm a power kicker. My hand speed is fast, but I find double kicks extremely difficult. I managed to get the correct amount finished in time, but my technique was sloppy. Still need to work on that.

After this test, it was time to take the Fun Friday muay thai class. I had a great partner who pushed me, and I think I did quite well, considering.

As a result of the one-on-one session, I'm a lot more confident about my ability to pass the test. I suspect that was Kelly's rationale all along. What a confidence builder!

I'm going to need all the confidence I can get, since I have two consecutive days of double classes this week, and one is (gulp!) Level 2.

Any training advice for me?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Fun Friday X: Fairy Tales

TGIF, dear readers!

It seems appropriate to talk about books today, as reading is one of my favorite weekend leisure activities. (And I'm going to need plenty of leisure after surviving two days of double muay thai classes--brutal!)

Can you remember what your favorite book was when you were a child? Tell me about it--why was it your favorite? Did someone special read it to you? Do you still like it today? If you have children, did you pass it on to them? Is there any resemblance between the types of stories you liked as a child, and the kind you like today?

The first book I can remember loving is A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson. It's a very old book, originally published in 1885, and my edition of it was a huge volume with a white cover and many whimsical illustrations of children and nature between its pages.

If possible, my mother loved this book even more than I did, so she read it to me frequently before I could read it myself. When my old copy fell apart, she bought her own edition.

Most of the 65 poems are simple and short, but they effectively capture the imagination of a child. An example:

Travel by Robert Louis Stevenson

I should like to rise and go

Where the golden apples grow;--

Where below another sky

Parrot islands anchored lie,

And, watched by cockatoos and goats,

Lonely Crusoes building boats;--

Where in sunshine reaching out

Eastern cities, miles about,

Are with mosque and minaret

Among sandy gardens set,

And the rich goods from near and far

Hang for sale in the bazaar;--

Where the Great Wall round China goes,

And on one side the desert blows,

And with the voice and bell and drum,

Cities on the other hum;--

Where are forests hot as fire,

Wide as England, tall as a spire,

Full of apes and cocoa-nuts

And the negro hunters' huts;--

Where the knotty crocodile

Lies and blinks in the Nile,

And the red flamingo flies

Hunting fish before his eyes;--

Where in jungles near and far,

Man-devouring tigers are,

Lying close and giving ear

Lest the hunt be drawing near,

Or a comer-by be seen

Swinging in the palanquin;--

Where among the desert sands

Some deserted city stands,

All its children, sweep and prince,

Grown to manhood ages since,

Not a foot in street or house,

Not a stir of child or mouse,

And when kindly falls the night,

In all the town no spark of light.

There I'll come when I'm a man

With a camel caravan;

Light a fire in the gloom

Of some dusty dining-room;

See the pictures on the walls,

Heroes fights and festivals;

And in a corner find the toys

Of the old Egyptian boys.
Your turn, dear readers! What was your favorite childhood book and why?
Have a fantastic weekend.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Training with Tigers: The Thursday Thrill

My kru Kelly with a tiger in Thailand

Welcome dear readers,

This probably won't come as a great surprise to most of you, but one of my greatest dreams is to train in Thailand. Muay Thai--the science of eight limbs--originated in Thailand, and real purists of the martial art make a priority of training there. The gratification and thrill of this is akin to performing at the Stratford Theatre for an actor--or participating in the Tour de France for my cyclist friends.

Muay Thai training in Thailand is a whole 'nother ball game from doing it here in Canada. From what I've heard, it makes the toughest class here look like a walk in the park. (Aren't you just loving these cliched sports analogies?)

Here's what my friend Dangerous Dave Zuniga had to say about his experience:

In my personal opinion, you know very little about muay thai until you've been to Thailand. Being a fighter out there is a full time job. Out there, we'd run 10K every morning, followed by bag work, then bag work drills, then body conditioning. That takes about three hours. In the afternoons, we'd run around three or four kilometers, then skip rope for about 15 min. After that, I'd do five or so rounds on the bags, then five rounds of pad work. We'd do boxing sparring on occasion. They clinch around 30 min. after that. Then body conditioning. The afternoon session is also around three hours.
Sounds difficult, right? Remember that this is Thailand--a humid, hot country. Those aren't air-conditioned gyms people are training in! Then, when you've reached a certain level, they throw a few tigers into the ring. Just kidding!

My kru Kelly Westerlund received his instructor (kru) certification there. I could be wrong, but I haven't heard of any other local instructor taking that step.

That's my kru, riding an elephant.
How cool is that?
 Training in Thailand was a pipe dream for me until I joined KWest. Kelly follows the traditional "armband" levels, so students can earn their red prajioud, which is the test I'm taking on December 17th, and work their way up to black, which requires training in Thailand! The club will even partially pay for your training if you make it to that level.

The problem is that--to accomplish that goal means making muay thai the major focus of your life for a long time, which is always tricky. But I can dream, can't I?

Ever been to Thailand, dear readers? If so, what is a must-see? Also, if you've ever achieved the best training in the world for something, what was your experience like?

As a special note, I'd like to thank Kelly for being the first coach in the history of my training (and I've had many coaches, believe me) to put together a training schedule and set deadlines for me. His support and encouragement mean the world to me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

One of the Boys: The Wednesday Rant

People who've seen my shoe collection might laugh at this, but I used to be a tomboy. My idea of fun was making mud and rose hip pies, scrounging around with my dog, and getting dirty with the neighbourhood boys (I mean this very differently than young girls get dirty today--I'm talking actual dirt). My mother was always despairing over the state of my nails. Anyone who bought me a doll would be horrified to know what happened to it, and anyone who threatened my cousin better run for their lives.

Even today, I usually relate better to men. The women who become my closest friends were tomboys themselves--there's not a girly-girl among them. They can kick ass, take names, and still look great in a pair of heels. But it took a lot of effort, time, and aggravation to find them.

I gave up on girls altogether in the fourth grade. Before that, I had a nice mix of male and female friends, but suddenly most of the girls I knew went through this strange metamorphosis. Everything was about the BFF, and God forbid if you had the same best friend from one day to the next. I couldn't keep up with someone liking me one day and deciding not to speak to me the next. It was exhausting. So I went over to see what the boys were doing, and it was a hell of a lot more fun than that "want to be my bestest friend?" crap. Also, they were strangely loyal. If they liked me on Monday, I could count on the fact they'd also like me on Tuesday. And if we had a disagreement, they might have blown up, yelled, or stomped off, but once they cooled down, we were still friends. An argument didn't turn into the end of the world.

By coincidence or design, I've lived my life competing in a boy's (or man's) world. Journalism was an old boy's club, and when I worked at an insurance company, all of the power players were men. Kickboxing was dominated by men when I started training--there were very few women at my first club, and I sparred with men more often than not.

As much as I love being one of the boys, I do acknowledge that men and women are different, and I think that's a good thing. What I can't stand is when it's assumed that I can't do something--or do it as well--because I'm female. Tell me a guy is automatically stronger just because he has a Y chromosome, and I want to kick your ass. When I was in Africa, a scientific report was released that confirmed what I've known (and experienced) all along--physical strength has nothing to do with gender, but with size, build, and fitness level--and sometimes with weight. Unfortunately, I brought this up at the breakfast table and two of the men staying at the camp with us were unbelievably sexist. You would have thought I'd suggested world-wide castration with the way they reacted. My best friend, a kickboxer herself, watched in amusement as I argued for our gender. This is a fight I've never been able to back down from.

When it comes to my red prajioud test, there's only one aspect in which men and women have different requirements. Men are expected to do 36 push-ups (three sets of 12), while women are expected to do 24 (three sets of eight). Guess how many I'll be doing? Is being female really going to make me incapable of an extra 12 push-ups? I. Don't. Think. So! Actually, I already know I can do them--did them yesterday. :)

How about my female readers? Ever feel like you have to prove yourself in a man's world? Was it hard to be accepted? And if some brave men want to weigh in on how awesome women are, that's cool, too. :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

My Baby Leaves The Nest

It's done.

My baby, otherwise known as Dragonfly Summer, has left the nest. It's now in the hands of my editor, otherwise known as my alpha reader.

Lots of people have read my work over the years, and they've all been helpful in their own way. For instance, The Boy has a Masters in English, and no one is better at finding typos, misused punctuation, and word repetition. Which is fantastic, because everyone else who offers to read my work usually prefaces the offer with "but I'm not great with punctuation and grammar". This includes my alpha reader.

My alpha reader has no formal training, unless you count a communications diploma, which didn't teach us much about full-length fiction. He fully admits that he's not an editor per se. But none of that matters, because he has a remarkable grasp on story. He also knows what I'm capable of, and is not shy about telling me when I've fallen short. He has no qualms about being brutally honest, which is what one needs in an alpha reader.

We've been working together for fifteen years, off and on. Dragonfly Summer will be the fourth book he's edited for me. Our collaboration started in college, when he expressed an interest in reading my suspense novel about a rash of kidnappings in the United States. His first comment perfectly illustrates why I need him:

"Where's the FBI?" he asked.

Where, indeed. Clearly that book was destined for the landfill, but no worries--I followed it up with a better one.

My alpha reader (AR) has spent countless hours improving my novels. He's never asked for a thing in return, and his unwavering faith in my ability has carried me through ugly moments of self-doubt, hopelessness, and  rejection. There's only one problem....

At one point--six years after we began our working relationship--he was also my fiance. Understandably, this has caused some issues with the men I've dated since. It's only natural to want to be everything to your significant other, so the fact that my ex is often the first to provide critical feedback on my work never fails to cause some discord. Even the idea that his opinion is important to me is enough to cause an argument or two.

But I don't send my work to AR because I used to be in love with him. I send it to him because I know that he can make my book better. Yes, so can other people. I see no reason to reject this invaluable help because I have other help available. To me, that doesn't make sense.

Besides, being in a romantic relationship actually hurt our working one. When you've written a novel, you want the brutal truth. You need honest--even harsh--criticism. But when you're in a relationship, the last thing you want is a partner who's always telling you how to improve. Unconditional love is what we strive for, and that means accepting (and rejoicing in) the partner as-is. I'd be hurt if The Boy didn't want to read my work. It would be devastating if he didn't like it, or if he didn't support my dream of being a full-time novelist. But he does, and that's what I need. I don't want him to be my number one critic.

My six year relationship with my AR ended amicably, but I feel damn fortunate that he's still willing to work with me. I'm glad that the fact we weren't lucky in love doesn't mean we also had to lose a very successful creative partnership.

How about you, dear readers? Have you ever balanced love with criticism? How did it work for you? Or, alternatively, is your ex still connected with your work/hobby/passion? If so, how do you handle it? Has it ever caused problems in your other relationships?

Monday, November 1, 2010

No Turning Back

By the time I take the test, my stomach will look like this.

Welcome back dear readers,

Thank you for all your insightful comments on the writing excerpts I posted over the weekend. I found the feedback very helpful, and apparently I'm not the only one! A Grade Five teacher has requested to use the entire post, comments and all, to educate her students about the value of constructive criticism and the rewriting process. So good on ya! You're now helping to educate younger generations, if you weren't already.

My agonizing over Dragonfly Summer is done for the year. It's in the hands of my editor today, which I'll talk about more in tomorrow's post. This month is about two things: training for the upcoming red prajioud test, and getting Lost ready for the St. Martin's Press contest.

I'm not that worried about Lost. I wrote it years ago, and it has survived plenty of rewrites. It just needs some cleaning up, as my technique as a writer has improved since I first created it. But the kickboxing test? That's something else.

My kru sent me a training schedule last week:

Week 1

3 classes x 1 hour

clean up diet, no alcohol, saturated fats, sugars, carbonated drinks. lots of green vegetables and protein, and start reducing carb intake.

stretching 20 minutes 2 times a week - outside of class

3 - 5 litres of water a day

Week 2

2 classes x 1 hour

1 class x 2 hours

stretching 20 minutes 2 times a week - outside of class

3 - 5 litres of water a day

Personal training on Friday - 4:25 - 5:25

Week 3

1 classes x 1 hour

2 classes x 2 hours

1 - 5 Km run

stretching 20 minutes 2 times a week - outside of class

3 - 5 litres of water a day

Week 4

3 classes x 2 hours

2 - 5 Km runs

stretching  20 minutes 2 times a week - outside of class

3 - 5 litres of water a day

Personal training on Friday - 4:25 - 5:25

Week 5

3 classes x 2 hours

1 class x 1 hour

3 - 5 Km runs

stretching  20 minutes 2 times a week - outside of class

3 - 5 litres of water a day

Personal training on Friday - 4:25 - 5:25

Week 6

3 classes x 2 hours

2 class x 1 hour

3 - 5 Km runs

stretching  20 minutes 2 times a week - outside of class

3 - 5 litres of water a day

Week 7

3 classes x 2 hours

2 classes x 1 hour

3 - 5 Km runs

stretching  20 minutes 2 times a week - outside of class

3 - 5 litres of water a day

Week 8 - Test on Friday

2 classes x 1 hour

3 - 5 Km runs

stretching  20 minutes 2 times a week - outside of class

3 - 5 litres of water a day

I'm currently on Week 2 of the schedule. So far, I'm on track, although the intense stretching is killing me. I was hurting so badly that I missed one class last week, but I made up for it by doing pad work and a run on Sunday.

This week will be the first time I've taken a double class in years. My kru has encouraged me to begin Level 2 classes, but since they're brutal, I'll be easing into that. This week I'll keep my double classes to Level 1, and increase in bravery as my conditioning improves.

This week also marks the first one-on-one coaching session I've had in years. (That's what Kelly means by personal training on the schedule.) When I was a boxer, nearly all my training was one-on-one, and I've really missed the challenge. But I know from experience that it is much harder than working out in a class. My body is going to be pushed past its comfort zone in a big way, but as much as I'm nervous, I'm also looking forward to it. I've wanted to take this test for so long, and have kept putting it off. The time is now!

Thanks for pushing me forward! I can't imagine doing this without your support and encouragement.

Any words of advice for me?