Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Whatever You Think, You Are


Happy Hump Day, Dear Readers.

When I began this process of working towards my first fight, my kru told me that it would make me a stronger person in every aspect of my life.

I realize what he means, now more so than ever. So much of a fighter's success is in his head. And I don't believe that's restricted to fighters. To put it simply, whatever you think--you are.

Whenever I had a sparring session, I would tell people that I was about to get my butt kicked. I was joking, but I eventually realized that saying something like that, even in jest, sets me up to fail. Instead of concentrating on what I wanted to do, and the areas I wanted to improve in, I was planning to get my butt kicked--before the round had even begun. That had to change.

When it comes to fight camp--which will be, without a doubt, one of the toughest things I've ever done, both physically and mentally, I have a choice. I can let fear rule me, or I can go in confident, knowing there's nothing that will be thrown at me that I can't survive. There have been some intimidation tactics used--I've been told that the other women in the camp are more experienced than I am, and that I'm going to get my butt kicked. I could believe that, and go in expecting to be dominated. Or, I can think about all the times I faced someone stronger, better, faster...and came out just fine. After working with Olivia, Wayne, and even the 6'4", 220 pound guy who used to spar with me in boxing, how bad can this be?

If you're not in a martial art, you may think this lesson has no value for you, but it really does. The next time you're feeling intimidated, ask yourself why. Chances are, it's all in your head. And if it's in your head, you can change it, and come at the same situation from a position of strength.

Have you ever noticed how negative thoughts can effect you in a big way? How did you change them?

In the meantime, I'm sparring again tonight. I did six rounds with our best fighter last night, and I'm sore and tired. Of course, I fully expect to kick ass. :)

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fight or Flight


The woman stares at me with terrified eyes. Even through her fear, I can tell she still loves him...and this stupidity is going to make her give away our location. She's going to get us killed.

The place is a mess of tools and other junk, so it isn't hard to find a weapon. When the woman calls out-like I knew she would-I give the guy a solid whack on the head with a heavy iron tool. For good measure, I cut his arm with a long silver blade that was also on the ground. It slices through to the bone. Both the man and woman scream, and I run.

I run through darkness where packs of growling dogs lunge at me. When necessary, I wound them, too. I crawl through other people's barns and yards, dirty, disheveled, and bleeding, desperately trying to save my own life.

Needless to say, I haven't been getting much sleep lately.

The above is a partial description of the nightmare I had last night. It was so real that I was afraid to go downstairs when I woke up, and I even checked the address of the safe place I was trying to get to in my dream.

I've been having these night terrors ever since I received the email on Sunday night that I made it into the fight camp. Somehow, I'm thinking the two are related.

Whenever I have a nightmare, it's a fight-or-flight scenario similar to the one above. Someone is always after me, or someone I love, with the intent to kill. Thankfully, I always seem to get away, but I'm usually still running when I wake up.

Nightmares were easier to handle when I was a kid. I would stumble through the dark hallway into my parents' room, make myself a little bed on the floor near my mother's side, and fall asleep. I never had a single nightmare as long as I could hear my mother breathing. As an adult, they're not so easy to shake.

Anyone who says, "it's just a nightmare," has never had one. Apparently, the resulting stress and sleep deprivation can lead to heart attacks and other nasty stuff. I haven't slept well in two days now.

Do you ever suffer from nightmares? What's your cure of choice?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Near Death Experiences


Happy Friday, Dear Readers,

This week I had the opportunity to interview two people who have been up close and personal with death. One was a man who suffered a severe heart attack--three of his arteries were at least partially blocked, and one was 90% blocked. To use proper medical terminology, his situation was NOT GOOD. He had only a 50-50 chance of surviving the ride to the hospital, and this is a man who ran every day, had a personal trainer, and didn't smoke, drink, or eat junk food. In other words, he was doing everything right.

The second person I spoke to was an executive director for an organization that raises money for cancer research and treatment. Every day, she is in close contact with people fighting cancer. Even with all of today's advances, a lot of people still lose that fight. It's a job that can be very hard on the heart.

Interesting enough, though their circumstances are very different, both people I interviewed had come to the same conclusion: life is precious, and we shouldn't waste a single moment of it. We never know how much time we have left.

How often have we heard that? Live each day to the fullest. Live each day like it's your last. Today is the first day of the rest of your life. Easy to say, not so easy to do. What if you spend most of your time in a job you despise (or just plain tolerate), but you can't afford to quit? What if you don't find household chores that fulfilling, but they still have to get done? If you don't have the means to move to a sunny island and do whatever the heck you want with your days, how do you live each day to the fullest?

The heart attack survivor realized that, while his lifestyle was near-perfect, his stress level was not. So he left his job at an inner-city school and now works at a school that doesn't make him tear out his hair with worry. He travels a lot, and he's gone back to the running that he loves. He's also added more stress-reducing exercises, like yoga and meditation, to his life.

The executive director spends every moment she can with her family and friends. She seizes opportunities to get outdoors and read a good book, and when her life gets really stressful, she listens to her favorite music to unwind.

I'll be honest...I don't want my life to always be the way it is now. I'd love to spend my time walking along the ocean, and then retreating to my covered porch to work on my latest novel. Sun, surf, sand, words, and loved ones to share it all with...that is my idea of the perfect life. But until then, I have to make the most of the good things I have going on right now. I just enjoyed a picnic lunch prepared by a dear friend, who showed me around her new place of work and told me how wonderful her new job is going. It's wonderful to finally see her be so appreciated by the people she works for. It's a beautiful day, sunny and warm and bright, even though wasps did force us to move the picnic inside. Before that, though, an adorable grey and white cat came by to say hello and share my chicken. I have a one-on-one training session with the world champion today, and these sessions are always a lot of fun. Olivia is such a positive person that I always feel better after I've seen her. When I get home, I'll have a rare moment to myself, as The Boy is out with a friend tonight. Maybe I'll write a little. Or read, while enjoying a good soak. Either way, it'll be a pleasant evening.

Tomorrow, The Boy and I will be going to the zoo to see all the new baby animals. It'll be a gorgeous day for it, and who knows how much summer we have left? Best to get out and enjoy it while we can. And on Sunday, a girlfriend and I are taking a drive to a picturesque town, where we'll eat lunch at an old-school diner and walk along the river.

Maybe life isn't perfect. It rarely is. But if we look hard enough, we can always find the moments that make us glad to be who we are and lucky to live the life that we have. Sometimes, we don't even have to look that hard.

If you'd like to share how you make the most of your life--or something you're looking forward to, please do. But in any case, have a great weekend.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Breakthrough!


Hello again, Dear Readers (assuming someone is still reading this thing...),

Yesterday I had a breakthrough in the Level 2 muay thai class. I sparred...and I wasn't scared. If you've been following my journey, you know what a big thing that is for me.

Our instructor, Joscelyn, set up the sparring in a fun way, almost like a game. There were four female and four male students last night, so each gender had its own half of the gym. One person from each group stayed in the "ring" and sparred one round with the other three. Then we switched who was in the middle until everyone had a turn.

At the very beginning, as I clamped on my awkward headgear and shoved in my gag-inducing mouth guard (hate that thing!), I felt a few flutters of apprehension. But then I reminded myself that I spar with a world champion and our club's best fighter on a regular basis--so there was nothing to be afraid of. And this time, my positive thinking did the trick. I wasn't nervous. I didn't forget everything I knew. I gave as good as I got. I initiated some attacks, and I countered when I was attacked. And I didn't get hurt, although I can't say the same for everyone. Yes, a little blood was drawn on the women's side, but all for a good cause.

It was so awesome to finally have a great sparring experience again, one where I wasn't so painfully outclassed that all my efforts were futile. I still have a ways to go, but I'm proud of what I've learned and happy that all the hard work is starting to pay off. And just in time, as fight camp starts in less than two weeks.

If you've never sparred before, here are some tips for beginners:

  • Take deep breaths to calm your nerves. And yes, you will be nervous. It's only normal!
  • Yes, there are some jerks out there, but in general, people will hit you as hard as you're hitting them. If you're really getting pummeled, chances are you're hitting with more power than you think. Try toning it down and see what happens.
  • If you're with someone who's much better than you, work on your defense. Watch for openings. Don't flail madly at them--you'll just get hurt. And don't just take their attacks...move around, block.
  • Try as many hits per combination as you can. Joscelyn recommends seven or eight. You probably won't land them all, if your partner is the least bit competent, but your chances are better to land something the more you throw.
  • Try to vary your attacks. If you always do the same thing, your opponent will quickly figure it out.
  • Don't let on that you're tired or hurt (unless you're really, REALLY hurt). Don't drop your hands, and don't say "ouch!" when someone kicks you. This is part of building heart. Never let them see you sweat, as they say.
  • Don't give up. What's the worst that can happen in two or three minutes? Actually, never mind that. Just keep moving.
  • Keep your guard up. Rest your gloves against your cheekbones if you have to.
  • Remember to protect your body. Everyone's always worried about their head and face, but a good body shot can bring you to your knees.
  • Have fun! And learn as much as you can every time. You will get better. Everyone has to start somewhere.
Thanks to all of my awesome sparring partners.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Something's Missing


Hello Dear Readers,

I'm really missing my writing lately. While I'm resigned to the fact that 2011 is going to go down as an incredibly unproductive year for my writing, I can't help thinking that I can still sneak it in...somewhere.

Fight camp begins on September 5th, and after that point, my life won't be my own. It'll mean training, training, and more training, until my fight in early November. Any "spare" (ha ha) time I have in those two months should probably be spent relaxing, or at the massage therapist's.

I was struck by inspiration last weekend, and before I could talk myself out of it, I sat down and wrote the beginning of a new book. Yes, a new book, when I have two rewrites waiting--for shame! But I didn't want to forget the idea, so I wrote the opening paragraph, and that's it for now. I've always wanted to create a new twist on the haunted house story. I love haunted house stories, but too often, they're disappointing. Like every over-confident writer before me, I'm sure I can do it better. So when Dragonfly Summer and Lost are ready to be sent into the world, I'll probably go back to the new idea. Unfortunately, it's inspired by the house I'm currently living in, but that's another post...perhaps best saved for Halloween.

There is some other good news on the writing front, too. We just added a new member to our writing group. The other members haven't met him yet, but I know he's going to be a fantastic addition. Hopefully he'll get us all re-inspired about our own work, or lack thereof. Not too much pressure!

How is your summer going, Dear Readers? How are you doing with your goals?

Monday, August 22, 2011

Adversity

This chick did NOT back down from a challenge.

Hello Dear Readers,

I'm truly sorry about my lack of blogging lately. Last week was very rough for me, and when I'm feeling negative, I tend to want to keep my feelings to myself. However, I know exactly how much tolerance I have for being unhappy. Whenever adversity comes into my life, there's a great chance that within a few days, I'll have accepted whatever happened and be feeling positive again.

There's danger in getting your heart set on something, especially something that is not completely within your control. For instance, you can really want to get a publishing deal. You can do everything in your power--write every day, produce finished novels, get expert help from editors, go to writer's conferences, even get an agent. And you know what? There are still no guarantees. I've heard horror stories from writers who have grasped the brass ring and landed a publishing deal, only to have the publishing house go bankrupt. Back to square one.

The same goes for fighting. You can train and train and train. You can work your heart out, and seek the best coaching you can find. You can eat right, make weight, and have the best sparring partners. And still, anything can happen. An injury might derail you. Your opponent may not show up, or if he does, he may fail his physical. Or maybe your coach can't find you a good match. The chances for disappointment are endless.

The question is, how do you handle adversity? Do you try to turn it to your advantage, or do you give into it and let it make you feel like a loser? It's okay if it takes you some time to get a handle on it...if it's a really big disappointment, it often takes me a few days.

As for me, I'll most likely still be fighting in early November, but the process will not be what I hoped. At first, I was crushed. Very disappointed. And then I got angry, angrier than I have been in a long time. There were definitely a couple of dark days last week.

But then, my sense of optimism kicked in. I have a world champion in my corner, literally and figuratively. I have my years of previous experience, and all the people I trained with back in the day who are still willing to help whenever and however they can. I have my determination, and my fighting spirit. I have connections I can reach out to in order to get what I need, be it extra sparring, more one-on-one training, or just some simple encouragement and support.

There is even a chance that this disappointment will work in my favor. I will get to implement a training schedule designed to meet my needs. I don't have to concern myself with what anyone else needs to work on. This could be a blessing in disguise.

It's a popular misconception that the Chinese words for "crisis" and "opportunity" are one and the same. While this isn't exactly true, it represents a good way to look at life. It certainly beats the alternative--when did wailing and gnashing one's teeth ever accomplish anything?

Please share a time when you were deeply disappointed by something in your life. How did you turn it around to your advantage?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Are Books Dying?


Hello Dear Readers,

Today is a sad day for readers in my little city. Aqua Books, an innovative used book store, restaurant, and creative space for writers, just announced that it is closing its doors.

Aqua Books was a risky venture from the beginning--converting a huge old Chinese restaurant into a vibrant space for book lovers was no easy feat. I applaud its owners, Kelly and Candace Hughes, for locating their dream business in the city's downtown...a place that is usually deserted by 7 p.m. (unless the Fringe Festival is on), and where many people are still too afraid to park or walk down the street.

In spite of the risks, Aqua Books seemed to be thriving. There were tons of well-attended literary events each month, and whenever I dropped by--either to buy too many books, have lunch at Eat! Bistro, or see a show, the place was packed. Kelly even supported local artists by having writers and photographers in residence. It was a bustling, exciting place to be...so what happened?

Sadly, Kelly blames Aqua's downfall on a decreasing number of readers. The following quote is from the goodbye email he sent to his customers last night:

"The real problem with bookselling is something I have alluded to in the last couple of months. It's a cultural shift away from reading. Smart phones, Facebook, and The Internet are all part of what has replaced reading time. I won't beat it to death, but it's an irreversible change in people's habits. You may still read and love books as much as you always have, but you are now in the minority. Book sales here have dropped 30% in the last year. (That's why McNally seems like it's all saltshakers and aprons these days.) "

Obviously, if this is true, it's very sad news for writers, and for people who know the value of losing themselves in a book. I can't imagine life without books, and even though e-books are more environmentally friendly, I'm still addicted to the printed page. I love used book stores. They're like treasure hunting: you always come away with something fantastic and unexpected. Plus, used books have history. I've bought books with personal inscriptions, and found photographs, letters, and postcards tucked inside others. Together, they tell the story of other people who have loved that particular book, and perhaps had their lives shaped or changed by it in some way.

I'm also an Amazon customer. I'm not going to lie about that. Sometimes I like to spend hours hunting through a charming bookstore, and other times I'm in a hurry and just want everything delivered to my door, shiny-new, with free shipping. My boss once tried to buy a book at McNally, another local bookstore, only to be told that they didn't have it in stock and would have to order it from Amazon for him. (With a mark-up included, I'm sure.) With service like that, it's no wonder that Amazon is smoking the competition.

But I do think places like Aqua Books are important, and I'm always very sad to see one of them go. I hope I don't live long enough to see a world without bookstores.

What do you think, Dear Readers? Why are bookstores having such a hard time? Do you find yourself reading less? If so, why?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The First Cut


Hello Dear Readers,

I've made the first cut of the fight camp. This is what I've wanted for so long, and trained so hard for. Basically, this spot in the camp is now mine to lose. How I train this month will determine whether or not I make the final cut.

How does it feel? Well, of course I was elated to hear the news--my dojo's fight camps are very difficult to get into, unless you have a lot of experience, and many people apply for each one that comes up. It's a fierce competition on its own. But I'm also scared. There was a moment when I thought, "Do I really want to do this?" I was relieved to hear that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Strength in numbers, after all.

In preparation for the camp, I worked on aggressive sparring with our club's best fighter yesterday. We're going to be doing this every week. It's frustrating how much of my training goes out the window when I'm fighting this guy: I don't block, half the time I forget to counter, I don't move, and my arms feel like limp noodles. Meanwhile, whenever he throws a kick, it feels like getting hit by a tree trunk--he throws his entire body in each one. I got a pretty good charley horse in my left thigh from a kick last night, and I can still feel it. However, if I'd blocked that kick--which I know how to do--it wouldn't have hurt nearly as much, if at all, and I could have sparred for much longer.

Intellectually, I know that I'm getting better all the time--even when it doesn't feel like it. But it's difficult not to be hard on myself about these stupid mistakes. All I can do is resolve to be better next week, to keep trying to think of each sparring match as an actual fight.

There are two types of people in the world: those who prefer to remain in their comfort zone, and those who are always pushing beyond it. I'm always forcing myself to do things that scare me, and I have a feeling there's going to be some scary weeks ahead. Sometimes I wonder why I do this to myself, when I could be going for nice, leisurely walks and then spending a quiet evening at home with The Boy. But then I see an amazing fighter, and I know that's what I want to be.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Time Warp

Oh God, WHY? Wasn't once enough?

Hello Dear Readers,

As most of you know, it's been a long time since I've been shopping. During my holidays, I went on a long-awaited trip to the stores with a great friend, and we had a blast.

But...I was shocked by how much fashion has changed. It wasn't that the styles are radically new--quite the opposite. I felt like I'd stumbled into an H.G. Wells story and found myself twenty years in the past.

With all the snickering about how horrible '80s fashion was, why oh why do designers insist on bringing it back? And it seems to be only the worst of the worst that interests them. I don't remember any of us wearing gold lamé, but now it's everywhere. Do you really want to see your boss, your friends, or your kids in gold lamé hot pants? I didn't think so. And the scrunchies! Didn't we just get rid of those? I'm expecting to see gold lamé banana clips any day now. Just. Say. No.

All this retro fashion got me thinking about time periods and how they're used in fiction. If a movie or book is set in the '80s, it's usually a comedy. There's so much comedic fodder in the clothes, the hairstyles, the music...the '80s are an easy mark. Who could resist? (Think The Wedding Singer.) However, if the work of fiction is set in the '60s, it's often a social commentary or drama that draws on all the political turmoil, free love, and bra-burning of the time. It's not as much about the bell bottoms and hippie hair as it is about the external and internal strife. The '50s are all about antiquated family values and an air of innocence, where the most scandalous thing happening was the emergence of rock n' roll music.

What time period do you set your stories in? Why does that period inspire you? Do you find that the years you write about dictate the subject matter of your book to some extent? And just for fun...if you could travel back in time, which era would you want to experience? Why?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

What's Your Genre?


Hello Dear Readers,

A couple of weeks ago, my online friend Laura Best wrote a blog post that got me thinking. Do we choose our genre, or does it choose us?

I read somewhere that authors write the kind of books they like to read, but that's certainly not always the case. I was once at a conference where someone asked best-selling horror author John Saul what books in the genre he liked to read. Saul laughed and said, "I can't read that stuff! It would scare me to death."

As for me, I write psychological suspense, but I rarely read it. While I'm attracted to movies of that genre, most of the books I've read have been pretty disappointing. I write the type of psychological suspense that I wish existed, I guess.

When I was younger, I was attracted to horror stories and mysteries...the darker, the better. I've always been keenly interested in the dark side of human nature. My mother reads a lot of true crime, and as a young adult, I quickly worked my way through her selection of books. We even shared library books a lot of the time. There was something about the evil committed by seemingly ordinary people that intrigued me. What made a man turn out like Ted Bundy? What drove a woman to torture and kill her own child? Why would one ethnic group wipe out another? The lack of answers haunted me.

A high school writing instructor, who was influential at that point in my life, despised happy endings. He referred to them as "Disney", and the easiest way to avoid a Disney ending (and thus make him happy) was to write horror. In a horror story, the hero doesn't have to save the day. Evil sometimes wins, just as it does in real life. I liked the freedom this gave me.

As much as I loved a good scary tale, there wasn't much in the horror genre that could hold my interest. The Stephen Kings of the world are, sadly, very few and far between. And I decided, based on my growing experience with true crime, that the real evil that lurked in people was much more frightening than a haunted car. I fell into writing psychological suspense before I even knew what it was called.

How about you, Dear Readers? What genre do you write? Did you choose it, or did it choose you? Do you read books of that genre? Why or why not? Do you ever wish you could change genres? What other genre would you write in, if you could?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Ah, Vacation....

This was a couple years ago at Pine Point, but my love affair with the rapids is far from over.

Hello again, Dear Readers.

I'm back from my vacation. As usual, it went by waaay too fast (and having some weird stomach flu for the first three days certainly didn't help), but it was still a wonderful break.

Originally, I'd planned to work on my book and run every morning, but my sickness derailed that, and in a way, I'm glad it did. I recently read an article in Cooking Light Magazine (couldn't find the link, sorry) that advised that the best way to make the most of your vacation--especially a stay-cation--is to do away with the to-do list.

Part of the trouble with having lofty goals is that I always have a big, long list of stuff to do. Which means I'm inevitably neglecting at least one thing on the list (this year, unfortunately, it's been my writing). While some time away from the day job might have been a chance to catch up on all those neglected things, using my vacation as "catch up" time would have meant returning to work just as exhausted and worn out as before. And that's not good.

So, instead, I enjoyed my first shopping trip in years with an old friend. (And yes, I stuck to my budget.) I had lunch with two paleontologists as we planned our fossil-hunting trip in the fall. I sparred with a world-champion. (Said sparring sucked, but it was still fun!) I spent leisurely hours at a farmer's market with my beloved, and came away with indigo-colored beans, sour cherries, dried black currants (so yummy!), fresh saskatoons, homemade dill pickles, and other treasures. (Overheard at the farmer's market: "It's the food your grandma made, at high-end prices." So true!) Spent another day at the scenic Pine Point rapids, wading into cool, clean water and soaking in the sun. Ahh. All in all, nearly a perfect vacation.

Are you taking some time off this summer? What are your plans?

And if you're one of those people who never takes time off, for shame! Everyone needs a break. Consider taking one...you won't regret it.