Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Life is Short

Ah, if only we could all get a book advance to escape our mundane lives for a year!
Hello again,

Yes, I'm still alive. You may have wondered.

Ever since my kickboxing fight, life has been crazy busy. At first I just enjoyed the unfamiliar downtime and being able to come straight home after work and relax. Not dragging a sixty-pound bag of gear on and off the bus has been heaven!

But then life got busy in a different way. It's that time of year--time to go insane buying gifts, wrapping gifts, going to holiday parties, and catching up with all the people I neglected during training. Work has been very hectic as well, both my day job and my freelance gig. I have twelve stories I need to have finished by the end of the weekend, and I'm wondering how I'm going to get everything done. I've been working nights to cram it all in.

It's also been a time of doctor's appointments and dental appointments. For those of you that don't know, I injured my left knee last fall, and I had promised myself that I'd get it checked out after the fight. I finally got in to see a sports medicine physician last week, and he gave me some positive news--I can still kick box! My knee just needs some strengthening exercises from a physiotherapist. It'll take some time, but in the end, it will be as good as new. Now I just need to find the time to go to the physiotherapist...and to get back to the gym. Easier said than done these days.

It does trouble me when I start to feel like a hamster on a wheel. Reminders that life is too short are all around me. Yesterday was the third-year anniversary of a friend's suicide. Today, I found out that another friend's daughter (who I still think of as a little girl) is pregnant with twins. My friend is going to be a grandmother, and she's not even forty. Where does the time go?

Ever since my best friend died suddenly, I've been a firm believer in making the very most of my life and ensuring each day counts. But how do you do this when you're not independently wealthy? It's not like we can all afford to leave our jobs to travel around the world, write the great novel, chase our various dreams, and spend hours on the beach with our thoughts. (Those of you who have the guts to do this anyway without the means, I salute you.)

We may not all have the guts, opportunity, or means to change our lives overnight. I certainly don't. But I've decided that what I can do is control how much the negative aspects of my current situation affect me. It's easier said than done sometimes--life can be unfair in a million different ways. Other people may not appreciate you or respect you in the way you deserve. It can be hard not to let one bad encounter, or one miserable day, alter how you feel about your life in general.

I hope I will be given enough time on this planet to realize my dreams of living somewhere beautiful and writing novels for a living, but there are never any guarantees. All I can do is make the most of each day in the small ways I'm able to right now, always hoping that soon things will get better.

How do you make the most of your life? How do you stop a bad situation from making you miserable?

Monday, November 14, 2011


There's a new acronym in town. Along with the much maligned OMG and LOL, we now have FML. I have to admit I had no idea what 'FML' meant until recently. Guess I'm not one of the cool kids anymore. (If you still don't know what it means, this website makes it clear pretty fast.)

Like most acronyms of the texting era, FML is in danger of being overused. It is the chosen sign-off for everything from simple mishaps to truly bad days and tragedies. The website I linked to has thousands of people sharing their FML moments--enough to garner a major book deal. So I thought it might be fun to share one of mine here.

When I was younger, I had a thriving full-time freelance journalism business, and things had gotten so good that I'd stopped wanting a permanent job at a newspaper. One editor changed this.

She convinced me that the Feature Writer position would be perfect for me, and after awhile, I had to admit she was right. I already wrote a large number of feature stories for her paper, all of which were my own ideas. And covering everything from eating disorders to online dating to opposite sex friendships wasn't a bad gig. It was a lot of fun, so why not get paid (even more) for it? As much as I loved freelancing, it would be nice not to worry about where my next assignment was coming from. And freelancing still wasn't seen as a legitimate career choice. In spite of the fact that I made more money on my own than I would as an employee of our local paper, I was still regularly asked when I was going to get a "real job."

This was also a good time for positive change. My personal life was in turmoil, as I'd recently discovered that my boyfriend of three years had been cheating on me, first online and then up close-and-personal, with a reporter from Toronto. In hindsight, he did me a favor, as he clearly wasn't the right man for me, and his infidelity gave me irrefutable evidence of this. But at the time, I was heartbroken and angry. It didn't help that the other woman had moved to my city to be with my ex, so I now had to face them at social events. As our mutual friends chose sides, my pain only deepened.

All I had to do, the editor assured me, was wait for the current Feature Writer to leave the paper, and the job was mine. Thankfully, this happenstance was imminent, as this writer was also from Toronto and desperately wanted to return to her home city.

The writer left the paper within a few months, but just as I began to get excited about my "new job", things took a turn for the worst. A significant number of news reporters applied for the feature writing job, something my editor hadn't anticipated. She was concerned about the ramifications of choosing a freelancer over a unionized employee. To keep from being labeled The Bad Guy, she turned the decision over to the managing editor, which made me very nervous. I hadn't been building a relationship with the managing editor, but I finagled a meeting with him that lasted 90 minutes and seemed very promising. I was assured by my editor that I was the clear choice, and that the ME would realize that too. She had no doubts.

For a while, I heard nothing. And then an email came from my editor, saying that the managing editor was meeting with a writer from Toronto, but not to worry--it was just a formality. Just a formality? I panicked. The managing editor was from Toronto as well, and he was known for continuously hiring reporters from there. Apparently, Winnipeggers weren't "cosmopolitan" enough. I frantically sent emails to both editors, highlighting how well-traveled I was. I wrote for plenty of Toronto publications--wasn't that good enough?

Apparently not. The next contact I received was an email from my editor, asking me to meet for coffee. I instantly knew the news wasn't good.

When we met, she was contrite and disappointed for me. I'd known this was coming, but what I hadn't anticipated was who had landed "my" job. Can you guess?

Yep, the woman who slept with my boyfriend. How's that for a FML?

It ended up turning out for the best, but at the time, I wasn't sure I'd ever get over it.

Anyone else brave enough to share an FML moment on here? It hurts less when you can laugh about it. :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dream Realized

When you step in the ring, you really are on your own.

As I prepared to enter the ring for my very first muay thai fight on Saturday, November 5th, I was not afraid. I was not worried. I wasn't the slightest bit jumpy, or even anxious.

I should have known something was wrong.

I did have a moment of--call it trepidation, call it detached panic--when they taped on my boxing gloves.

"I guess I can't get out of this now, can I?" I joked. Yes, I was still joking. The entire day (we showed up at 3:30 in the afternoon for our medicals, and didn't fight until after 7 p.m.) was a surreal blur of waiting, laughing, and chatting. It felt more like a social event than impending doom. The weigh-ins had felt more nerve-wracking than this.

I'd come prepared with pages of inspirational writing and advice from fighter friends and angry music on my iPod, but I didn't have the chance to use either. Everyone was hanging out in the multipurpose room, talking. It was just like any other day.

This feeling of unreality persisted after my name was called and I walked into the darkened gym to the beat of Survivor's Eye of the Tiger (when in doubt, go with a classic). I thought I'd look angry and be completely focused on beating the crap out of my opponent at this point. Instead, one of the first things I saw was two hand-drawn posters with my name on them, held aloft by dear friends. The entire gymnasium was crowded with friendly faces, and the cheering was deafening. How can anyone be angry in such a show of love and support? I'm sure I walked to the ring with a big goofy grin on my face. I believe I even fist-bumped my boyfriend on the way in.

Once in the ring, things got a little more confusing. I thought there would be clear direction over what to do, but I had to ask permission to seal the ring (a traditional act of respect in muay thai), because there was no other indicator or instruction. When the ref explained the rules, that was my first opportunity to finally get clarity on what was or was not allowed in a K-1 match. Thankfully, he was patient with my questions. And then suddenly, it was time to fight. There was no touching of gloves, no nod to the opponent--just this woman rushing at me looking ready to kill.

"Oh, I guess we're fighting," I thought.

I was in a daze. My body would not obey my mind, and even my mind didn't seem to be working properly. I could hear my coaches screaming at me to kick, but I couldn't process what they were saying. More than anything, I could hear her coach, who until recently had been one of my coaches, another complicating factor. I couldn't seem to shut out his voice, and he never stopped yelling instructions.

Now, throughout this fight camp and beyond, I've had very tough sparring partners. And I've proven, without a doubt, that I can take a lot of punishment. So, when she lunged in and started hitting and kicking, I prepared to experience some pain. But to my surprise, I didn't feel a thing. The first two rounds sped by while I tried to punch and kick through the fog that encompassed my brain. I'm nervous to watch my fight, because I can't imagine that I did anything right in the initial four minutes. It was like being intoxicated, but worse. Where was I? What the heck was going on? Who was this person coming at me? I never heard a single end-of-round bell--now I know why there's a referee to stop the fighting.

During the break, Olivia put a stool under me, gave me water, and hammered me with instructions. I could see her lips moving, and I struggled to listen to what she was saying, but I couldn't make sense of it. My mind was whirling.

I looked up at Kru Kelly, who stayed mostly silent during the breaks. (Olivia was talking for both of them.)

"Am I doing okay, Kelly?"

"Yes, you are. You're doing great."

"There's something wrong. It doesn't hurt. Nothing she throws at me hurts."

I think they could have dropped a piano on my head at that point, and I would have thought a mosquito bit me. It was crazy.

I finally started coming out of the haze in the third round, but by then, I was too far behind on points. (I found out later that I was in shock for the first two rounds.) Still, I didn't back down, I didn't turtle, and I didn't run from her. Even in my stupor, I had that elusive quality I had always hoped for--heart. You can teach a fighter skill and aggression, but you can't teach him heart. You either have it or you don't.

When the last bell rang, I knew my opponent had won the match. And the truth was, I didn't care.

I used to think that losing this fight was the worst thing that could possibly happen, but I was wrong. When my opponent's name was announced as the winner, I smiled. As I climbed out of the ring to overwhelming cheers and applause, I was just...happy. So many people told me they were proud of me. So many people took the time to come out and show their support. There was no way I could feel like a loser.

And I have plenty of time to win a fight. This time around, getting in the ring and going the distance was enough.

Winning isn't about hitting hard. It's about how many hits you can take and still get up and keep going. - Rocky

My coach sent out an email to all the fighters afterwards, and this is an excerpt from what he said to me:

Under the most extreme pressure you still worried about other people's feelings, that says a lot about who you are.

I'm not sure what he's referring to, but I'm thinking that fighting teaches you a lot about yourself. In the heat of the moment, under that kind of pressure, you get to find out exactly who you are.

And if I've found out I'm a happy-go-lucky person who cracks jokes in a tense situation, cares about others, and doesn't back down, that's more than good enough for me.

Thanks to Kelly Westerlund and Olivia Gerula for training me, to all the members of fight camp for the support and advice and the shared experience, and to every single one of my wonderful friends who wrote, called, came to the fight, or cheered me on in any number of ways. I love you for being there. Thank you for joining me on this journey. And last but definitely not least, to Chris for going through this with me, every step of the way. I couldn't have done it without you.