About Megan Sayer

I'm a writer, mother, artist and dreamer. And I'm Tasmanian, which, for the first time in my life, is a cool thing to admit to.

“Nobody knows what you are capable of”

My name is Megan Sayer. I am 40-something (the number doesn’t bother me, and actually it’s about to change anyway, but I’m not going to tell you here because I’ve learned that information like this can lead people to take out expensive iPhone contracts in your name and leave you with a multi-thousand dollar bill and a bad credit rating…but I digress). I’m a wife, mother of three school-aged children, part-time carer to an ageing mother, part-time worker, owner-operator of a fairly average-sized body, a dog, a cat, a car, and an extremely full life, all of which I love dearly. Constant writer. Occasional blogger. Active church member. Bi-weekly runner.

Okay so when I say I’m a runner, you’re going to have to let go of that image of the woman with the blonde ponytail and the little tank-top with endless legs that you see occasionally while you’re out and about. I see her too–she’s not me. I’m the red-faced sweaty one with a hanky in one hand because my nose runs constantly. And, when you see blonde-ponytail she’s probably running at an average speed of maybe 4.5, 5-minutes per kilometre, whereas I average around 6 to 6.5 minutes per kilometre, depending on the conditions. In practical terms, if blonde-ponytail is the Tour de France, I’m the local bike track.

And I don’t actually mind.

As I was getting ready this morning (marveling once again that I actually DO bother to get up at 5.30am twice a week, and thinking how grateful I was for my running buddies, without whom I would not be doing it, and without whose motivation I would have a significantly larger-than-average body) it occurred to me that this is a transition year for me. Partly because I’m 40-something (insert random concern about iPhone contracts here), and for many of us at this age it’s a slow grind. Bill payment-music practice-soccer games-work-oh I need to do what else-didn’t I have a dream once-no you can’t have Nutrigrain and a mandarin for dinner. It’s a season. Definitely a busy one. This year my husband has started studying alongside his work commitments, my mum has been diagnosed with alzheimers, and I’ve rearranged my work hours to accommodate their needs, with a huge shout-out of thanks to my boss for allowing me to be so flexible.

Transition happens. It’s kind of tiring, but I’m getting used to it already, and give me another six months and it’ll all feel quite normal. It might take a few years though before I feel a little less constantly-busy.

Anyway. I ran this morning, with my running buddies. I run with two amazing women, both called Sarah, who never cease to inspire me. One recently battled through all kinds of difficulties to complete a very successful half-marathon, and the other is in training for a half-marathon is a couple of months’ time. This morning they were talking about running a full marathon next year, and maximising their half-marathon training so they’d be in peak-shape for it.

Me? I’m not in training for anything in particular. I just tag along with them because I like running, and (I’m not sure who first came up with this wonderful line, but it’s oh-so true) because I like cake. I love running with the Sarahs because they inspire me, because I can run at their pace, and because they usually challenge me to run that little bit harder, that little bit faster, and without that I’d stagnate.

Maybe one day I’ll train for a half-marathon. Maybe one day, crazily enough, I’ll train for a full 42k marathon. I think about it sometimes, and I like the idea of doing it–maybe the Sarahs are getting into my brain a little too much–but definitely not this year, and possibly not the next. I’m happy pushing myself just that little bit more to keep up with them when they take off at a sprint.

Life feels madly-busy, and crazy-full, and sometimes it feels so very, stupidly small. Sometimes I almost want to give myself a pat on the back because my kids have packed lunches and are wearing clean socks to school (even if they’re not necessarily matching), and, praise the Lord, I can even see my kitchen benches. My goal for this past month was to paint my lounge room, and I’ve managed a whole three-quarters of this lofty goal, and I’m back to work tomorrow so it’s likely to stay that way a few more weeks. Months, even.

Sometimes I think about the dreams I had as a twenty-something wanna-be world-changer, or even just a few years ago when I was spilling my guts on the page and desperate to write words that impact people, as other people’s words had impacted me.

Now my dreams are clean socks, and cake, and not being caught out in identity-scamming and getting lugged with a bill for somebody else’s iPhone. What makes me happy is sunshine and hugs and being able to keep up with Sarah when she turns her music on and takes off at full-speed 5k into an early-morning 7k run.

We were doing our cool-down stretches this morning, the Sarahs and I, and talking about our speed (bike track, not Tour de France, but definitely improving), and blonde-ponytail runners whose cool-down slow-jogs are about the speed of our race-pace. I mused on whether people who become runners do so because they’re naturally fast, or whether they just commit themselves to much more intensive training than I do. One Sarah told us about a guy she knew who’d only been running a few years, but had just recorded some incredible time for his last half-marathon, whereas she herself has been slowly, incrementally, getting stronger, faster, better. Both these Sarahs are challenging themselves each week, and achieving new and greater things each time. I’m proud to tag along twice a week and manage to keep up. And the other Sarah said to me, “Meegs, no matter how fast we run, you always manage to keep up. Nobody knows what you’re capable of!”

I know she was talking about running, and my pushing myself to run with her when she’s running as hard as she can, but her words resonated with me so deeply. In that little cool-down, stretching out my leg-muscles, I actually felt the lid lift off my world again. I can do things! I can!

Life won’t always be constricted, and small. One day everyone will look after their own socks, drive themselves to music practices, pay their own bills. Much as I love the life I’m living, I’m so grateful that it will expand again, that there’ll be time to dream, and to pursue those dreams.

I came home from my early-morning run with Sarah’s words ricocheting round my brain. “Nobody knows what you’re capable of”. In those six words she challenged me, and made me want to find out. I put the dog’s leash on, grabbed my iPhone and put my ear-buds in, and went for another run, this time as fast as I could.

I didn’t break any land-speed or Olympic records. I’d certainly need a lot of training to get up to blonde-ponytail 4-minute kilometre speeds, but I ran fast, then jog-ran, then walk-jogged, with a big smile, and a bagged-up dog-turd in one hand, and a renewed sense of dreaming, of passion, of purpose. Nobody knows what I am capable of yet!

If you are like me, maybe 40-something, maybe with your own basket of help-yourself mismatched socks, cat, dog, car, average life, don’t worry. Life is not over yet, and your dreaming days are not behind you. Let me encourage you today, the way Sarah encouraged me: Don’t give up your dreams.

Nobody knows what you are capable of…

 

“To”

In September last year I started running.

Well, in the interest of complete accuracy here, I should instead say that in September last year I put on a new pair of running shoes, strapped the leash onto the dog and the earbuds onto me, loaded up a new audiobook, opened my newly-downloaded app, C25k (more about that later), and went out the door into the suburbs.

Some of these things were not new. I’m a mad fan of audiobooks. I’d had the dog a while already, and I was pretty familiar with the streets around me because of a) said dog, b) said audiobooks and c) I’ve always really enjoyed getting out and walking. I’d considered myself pretty fit, really, until the day I tried to run to meet the bus. Ouch.

The “C” in C25k stands for “couch”. As in Couch Potato. Not exactly me…not EXACTLY…but, well, you know. There was that time I tried to run for the bus…

The 5k in the app’s title is a little more obvious. Five kilometres. Running five kilometres, that is. This app’s purpose is in that little number, 2. Or “to”. Small word, hey. Big meaning. This app promised to take me from the couch, to running five kilometres. In three months. With my dog. In the suburbs. Before work. While listening to my audiobook. In half-hour sessions three times a week.

Yes, if you’ve ever wanted to get more exercise, motivation to run, anything like that, you should get this app. (No, they’re not paying me to say that. I got it for free from the app store…I think. Or it might have been $2.99 or something. I don’t remember any more.) It basically gets you walking, with little bits of running in between, and very gradually increases the amounts you run, until you’re running the whole way. It’s called “interval training”, apparently, and it works!

Anyway. This is not an advertorial. This is actually about what happened next.

So I ran my first 5k. Sometime around January, I think. I’d taken a whole lot of breaks. Oh BOY was I proud! And sometime around that same period one of my dear friends said “I go out running twice a week with some other friends. You should join us”, and I did.

I was a bit nervous. They ran 6k or 8k twice a week, and I’d only ran a 5k. But, my friend said, “if you can run five then you can run seven”. The first few weeks were hard. Now…not so much (although there are some days…). And my friend also said “if you can run seven, then you can run ten”, and now I’ve completed my first 10k run, too. I’m still smiling about that.

But even THAT’S not the cool bit…

The cool bit is this: and I’m sure it’s because it’s running that I’ve taken up, running in particular, as opposed to, say, billiards, or professional wrestling (then people would just nod their heads politely and say “ohhhh. Good for you.”). But the cool thing that’s happened is that people, about once a month, come up to me now and say “you’ve inspired me so much I’ve started running too”. Seriously.

It’s that little word, “to”.

People saw me as not-a-runner, and now they see me as a runner (a 10k runner!) and the biggest take-away they get from that is “to”. I wasn’t born a runner. I chose to become one. Working mum. Busy life. Couch. TO. 10k. And the number is growing, and suddenly we’re talking about getting a team together for a big run. TO.gether.

Now I have a growing group of running friends, and, slowly but surely, they’ll grow groups of running friends around them also, as people who see them as “not runners” will see their change to becoming runners.

I’d forgotten the power of witnessing a transformation. I’d forgotten how inspirational change can be. And maybe until now I had no real idea that something little that I’d decided to do for me could have such a powerful, positive flow-on effect to those around me.

Things can change.

Habits can change.

What you are is not necessarily what you’re going to be.

Where are YOU going TO?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Good Things of Hard Times

Well hello there, it’s been more than a while since I’ve been here. How are you? I hope you’re doing well. To tell you the truth, I have no intention of blogging regularly again in anywhere like the near future, life is altogether so many shades of busy (in a good way). But last night I shared a story in church about the altogether-so-many shades of busy from last year, which was very much not in a good way. Many of you will know this story, if you’re friends with me on Facebook, although I haven’t told it like this, from my perspective, until now. And there are a few of you who used to have this blog turn up in your inbox regularly, who may occasionally wonder what ever happened to me.

I’d thought from time to time about writing out this story, but it was so long, so big, so…much…that I’d not had the inclination to until now.

It was a tough year, last year, but the thing about tough years is that often you learn a lot. This was definitely the case. Would I want to go through it again? NO. Am I grateful for the lessons it taught me? Yes.

Note: I wrote this for church. It’s pretty God-dy. But I’m sure you can deal with that 🙂

Here goes:

When I was young I was taught that it wasn’t “all about me”. Other people have lives too, and things going on. Get on with it. Do it yourself. Don’t expect other people to solve you problems for you, do it yourself.

Hands up who knows this is true?

And hands up who knows that the lessons we learned as a kid aren’t always exactly the way our parents intended them, and as adults sometimes we need to get bigger, Godly perspectives?

This story starts in June last year, when my workaholic husband was running late for an appointment one morning, parked his car, tripped over a curb in a hurry, and broke his foot. I’ve never dealt with a broken foot before, praise God, all bones in tact still here, and it was a big adjustment to our family to learn how to slow down and deal with a husband and father who’s unable to do the stuff he used to be able to do. Basic things like making a cup of coffee and taking it to table to drink were incredibly difficult, and I had to learn to slow down more and look out for him, and remember what those difficult things were, like showers, coffees, getting a book from the bedroom. We were all pleased when he was able to hobble around without crutches, and looked forward to things being back to normal.

 Looking after someone who’s in pain isn’t an easy thing. We’re not at our best when we’re in pain. It’s just the way things go. And we don’t necessarily get taught how to deal with people in pain, either. We just pray, and hope, and wait for things to get normal again.

Things didn’t get “normal” again though. He got sick. It was July, everybody had the flu, and one day, after a few strange nights of sweating and being really tired, Tony couldn’t get off the couch. He didn’t want to see the doctor, and we tiptoed around and brought him drinks when he was up to it, and ice packs when he was hot, and blankets when he was cold, and looked forward to things being back to normal again.

Who likes “back to normal”, hey?

 AND THEN…(who likes “and then”?) his leg started to cramp. And I mean REALLY cramp. He couldn’t walk from the couch to the toilet. He couldn’t stand. He couldn’t sit up without intense pain. The doctors didn’t think it was a blood clot, and, after a day waiting in the emergency room, sent him home.

 Who knows what it’s like when your little trials escalate into big trials? When you’re thinking that “just around this next corner things will look up” becomes “just around this next corner is a whole new mess of stuff to deal with”.

 You can’t help but waiting, still, for to things getting back to normal.

We were doing okay. I had two part-time jobs, and changed my hours so Tony wouldn’t have to do too much. I became the sole parent, and the care-giver to him as he needed it.

I’d not been a care-giver in that capacity before, not unless you count having babies and toddlers. It’s a strange, new place, having to take care of all your husband’s needs like that, as well as everything else, especially because he was in so much pain, and so tired all the time. I made him countless cups of coffee, washed his sweaty pyjamas, did all I could.

 I felt so torn between needing to be a caregiver to my husband and love him as best I could and the need to take care of myself as well.

I remember going to bed one night very early, pulling the doona over my head and crying from sheer exhaustion. I felt like I’d let Tony down so badly, but I simply couldn’t give any more.

God spoke to me then, and said “even nurses only work 8 hour shifts”. I knew then that if I didn’t look after myself I’d be no good to Tony. What kept me going was the thought that in a few weeks I was going to Melbourne for a writer’s retreat, and by then, surely, everything would be all right.

 Then it was August, and Tony’s birthday, and I bought him new pyjamas because he was still sweating through his old ones every night, and then, a week or so after his birthday, I packed the fridge with food for the week, wrote out the kids’ schedule, booked Tony an appointment with the doctor to get some antibiotics or something to knock these night sweats on the head, and I hopped on a plane to Melbourne.

 I went on the Wednesday, the same day he went to the doctors, who sent him for blood tests. He got the test results back on the Friday. The doctor called him at home and said “I want you to get to hospital first thing Monday morning.” The doctor then called back, and said “actually, I want you to get to hospital NOW.”

I was in Melbourne. The people who’d normally take care of our kids were all away. I sent out an emergency text to some close friends, “please pray”, and “can anyone look after our kids?” I spent an hour on the phone, trying to get back to Hobart as soon as I could.

I can only tell you a little of the fear I felt that night. I was already exhausted, depleted, laid low by six weeks of caregiving and waiting for my husband to be well again, and now he was hospitalized, and not one of the doctors knew what was wrong with him.

All I knew then, was that God knew. All I had was to hold onto the fact that God was there, that He cared, that He knew what was going on.

I also had to accept the truth that if God wanted to take Tony to Himself, that that would have to be okay as well. You just never know what life’s going to do.

I got home the next day. I was exhausted. My prayer life was reduced to “Hello God, please help.” I wrote out a scripture on a post-it note and stuck it to my kitchen cupboard, and that became my bible reading. It was from First Peter, and said, “By His wounds you have been healed”.

 I couldn’t do anything more. I didn’t have the strength. I’d been caring for a sick husband for three months already, and things were just about to get worse. Yet this is where the strength of God took over.

 The Bible says that when we are weak, He is strong. I learned a whole new lesson last year about what it meant to rely on the strength of God, what it means to be supported by Christ.

 I’d been taught as a very young Christian that God was all I needed, that I shouldn’t look to people for help, but to look to God. This fit in nicely with my own beliefs, that if something needed doing then I needed to do it myself.

 Only half of that is true. The people who’d taught me that I’d needed to rely on God and not people, back twenty years ago when I first became a Christian, didn’t know the situation I was in. They didn’t know the depression I was suffering. They didn’t know how much I needed help when they said “God is your help”. And I was just a young Christian, and didn’t know enough to question it.

 But last year, these weeks when Tony was in hospital, Christ indeed became everything I needed.

 The Body of Christ knocked on my front door and handed me an icecream bucket of soup.

The Body of Christ nourished me with bags of groceries, frozen pizzas, Woollies chooks, casseroles, cupcakes, loaves of bread.

The Body of Christ brought round coco pops and Milo cereal and muesli bars for my kids, and muffins for their lunch boxes.

The Body of Christ took care of my kids, and took them out on play-dates and bought them ice creams.

The Body of Christ arranged for my house to be cleaned.

The Body of Christ took my dirty laundry and brought it back washed and ironed.

The Body of Christ sent me cheques in the mail, and dropped grocery vouchers off in my letterbox.

The Body of Christ visited Tony in hospital, week in and week out, and the Body of Christ interceded and prayed on my behalf, when I no longer had the strength.

 You might be saying to yourself now, “what do you mean, the body of Christ did all those things for you?”

And I would say to you, 1 Corinthians 12:27

27 All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.

I’m incredibly pleased to say that, after a massive surgery, removal of a large tumour, two drains to remove the pus from his body, and a whole lot of doctors help, Tony is now fit and well. Sometimes its easy to look back at last year and think “Oh boy, I’m glad that’s over!” but other times I tend to ask why? Why did this happen? Why was Tony sick for five months, God? What was all that about?

And just as quickly as I asked it, God showed me the answer.

Suddenly, I saw those five months from God’s perspective. God did many things in both Tony and I in those months, but one of the most powerful things that happened was we learned what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. When one part of the body hurts, we all hurt. When one part of the body rejoices, we all rejoice.

I really want to encourage you tonight: whatever you’re going through, God WILL use for His glory, and to teach you a deeper, a more beautiful, aspect of Himself.

The book of James says “consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds”, and that’s a tough thing, but it’s true. God loves you so much, and He will always use whatever life throws to make that love real to you.

Thank you. 

(The picture below is a sight I got very, VERY used to. I’d like to finish this post with a single post script: Thank you, so very, incredibly much, to the doctors, nurses, cleaners, people who deliver newspapers and food trolleys, and everyone who calls these corridors “work”. You were all amazing. You all worked so hard to ensure Tony was well looked after, as comfortable as he could be. I had only the smallest glimpse of how hard you all work, and, day after day, I was so grateful to you. You rock. Thank you!!)

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On Hope And Rain and Miracles

I believe in miracles.

(Hi there! Yes, it’s been about a billion years since I’ve written anything here. A big shout out to everyone still hanging in there with me and reading this, thank you! I said last time–I think–I was going a bit quiet because I needed to finish the rewrites on my novel, and I wrote “the end” about an hour ago now, so maybe it’s time. Anyway, hello!)

I’ve not ever had a problem with faith, or with waiting in ridiculous hope for things that seem impossible. I have a gift, and that gift is believing in impossible things.

Mostly.

But even my faith has been tested of late. Not in an I-don’t-know-what-I-think-about-God-any-more kind of way, but in that getting-older sense of life isn’t infinite, not here, and sometimes dreams do have to die, and sometimes people do have to die, and that’s the way of it really, even though we spend our childhoods believing in the miraculous infiniteness of our own selves, our own potential, our own existence.

We grow old. We grow up.

Sometimes we don’t see the things we’ve believed in. Sometimes prayers don’t get answered. And sometimes the answer is “no”. Sometimes it’s “wait”, but the waiting is endless.

Hope is hard.

Don’t get me wrong, the four impossible things I’ve believed before breakfast aren’t life and death matters, no matter how much they break my heart. I am fine, we are fine, we are all fine. So many of my friends aren’t fine though, not right now, and this post is for them, to say only one thing–even if I am going about it in a long and round-about way–to say that I Believe In Miracles.

I said a prayer the other night. Don’t get me wrong, I do do this praying thing fairly regularly, but this one the other night, lying, for some reason, on my older son’s bottom bunk, was different. It wasn’t at all faith-filled or hopeful, it was just plain honest. Dear God. This is my impossible situation. It breaks my heart. I can’t ever see any way of it changing. And my friends with the broken hearts and the broken lives who need miracles too? Remember them? Please help us all. Amen.

That was it.

Funnily, I felt better. Sometimes, apparently, it’s almost as nice to be honest as it is to be hopeful. I didn’t think too much about it any more, but having said it felt good. Having acknowledged that I could not achieve any kind of miracle felt good. Having acknowledged my hope-lessness felt good, too.

And then, the next day, the first little miracle happened.

I won’t tell you about it, and even if I did explain the whole situation and the heartbreak and the hopelessness you probably wouldn’t understand it, not like I do, so I won’t try here. But what happened was a miracle, all the same, and as unexpected and as hope-filled as any miracle can be.

There’s this story in the Bible, in the Old Testament, where there was this phenomenal drought, and it hadn’t rained in just about forever, and this prophet guy (probably Elijah, but it could have been his buddy Elisha) prayed for rain. He prayed and he prayed, and then after some kind of eternity he saw this tiniest, teeniest little cloud on the horizon, and he legs it as fast as he can back to…oh, whoever it was…and he says this, this most important thing ever: “RUN! RUUUUUUN!!!! BECAUSE THE RAIN IS GOING TO OVERTAKE YOU!”

It makes me cry, that bit. Because it did.

I’m praying for a number of friends today, all needing miracles in a rain that overtakes them. I’ve seen the itty-bitty raincloud, and right now I’m filled with hope.

I believe in miracles. I believe in the power of hope, and in impossible things before breakfast. And today, if you need something impossible in the face of doubt, I will believe for a miracle for you, too.

On Breaks And Breaking

Hello my dear friends and sometime loyal readers. It’s been a while since I’ve been on here, and I do apologise. I make no assurance of coming back regularly any time soon. I’m definitely not shutting down for good, although I’ve considered it. I’ve thought about posting a few things over the last couple of months, but the thing is when there’s been an absence, a silence, sometimes you get a little afraid as to which words are powerful enough to break it with. Sometimes I’ve enjoyed the silence, too. My world has been turned upside down, taken apart and put back together again without so many broken places, with less gaps, and sometimes it’s nice to be alone with the thoughts of that, the trying to figure out what it all means, without having to explain it and without having to make small-talk in the process. It’s been good, but “big” is an understatement.

The thing is this: I’ve been busy writing. This is a good thing. And the thing also is this: before that I was busy being lost, and wondering whether I’d write again, or what that would look like, and whether my writing dreams, like so many others before them, simply needed to die.

The odd thing about this is that this started after I’d finished writing my first book, a novel I was proud of, and went to my first writing conference. I don’t think it’s meant to happen that way, somehow, although the more people I talk to about this the more I find that my story isn’t all that unique. And not only in the writing world. How often, how many times, have we been striding somewhere purposefully only to find we’re going in the wrong direction? The closed door. The no door.

It was a hard day the one I realised that the book I was so proud of had a place in no camp, made harder by the fact that there were no real, clear, obvious answers. I was surrounded by loving friends who could hold my hand and sympathise with me, and for them I am eternally grateful, but none who could say “this is the way you should go. Go there”, or at least none who knew for sure.

I did lots of things. Imagine, if you like, me standing in the middle of an open field, with nothing but grass for miles and miles.

I walked. Or, at least, I wrote. I shelved the lost and placeless novel and struck out in some direction or another, without any real sense of which way was up, and a very real sense that I was now lost and needed to move, and I wrote pages and pages and more pages. I wrote character studies and backstory and plotted out development arcs. I was angry at my own lostness, and that anger coloured my work. After a while I tried to write a new plotline for the lost-and-placeless, hoping it would redeem it again, take it back to the place where I was once so proud of it, but the new plotline for the old novel was distracting me from the vision of what it originally was, and I was no longer sure whether I was re-plotting the old novel, or whether I should be in fact using those storylines in the new one that was slowly taking shape. There were no boundaries on either novel, and at times I wondered whether I needed to combine them. I walked in circles again and again, and then again, until in the end I gave up. 

Have you ever been there, to the walk in endless circles, with a map that keeps changing? Have you felt that bitter lostness, the purposeless so bone-deep it makes you want to abandon even the most important journey?

You can’t google something that doesn’t exist yet. You can’t cheat, and look up the character notes on a story not yet written. I know this. I’ve done it.

They were hard months. Sure, it’s easy to say “it’s only a book! Why didn’t you just do something else?”, and there were times I thought exactly that, and times that I tried. But giving up is harder on a dream is harder than being lost, because giving up is forever, and you’re still walking around a grassy plain with no sense of direction.

In the end I stumbled upon a map of sorts, in the form on a 4-week online course, so I sat down, wrote nothing, and waited. It saved me. The course taught me a few things I already knew, and lots of things I didn’t, and it gave me one huge gem: the confidence I needed to trust my instinct.

That was June/July. It wasn’t so long ago.

I’m telling you all this because I’m almost finished rewriting my second chapter of my lost-and-placeless novel, and even though I’m battling with the feeling that I should have been here months ago, that I was the kid in the sports carnival who ran in the wrong direction, I’m proud of this book, and proud of where it’s going. I may not be where I expected to be twelve months ago, but at least I’m heading in the right direction. Having lost hope, having been forced to give up my dreams, I found them again.

It’s no small irony too that this is the theme of my novel. Art imitates life. Again.

Let me encourage you today my friends. Have you given up on your dream? Do you, today, feel like you’re walking in circles with no sense of direction? Do you feel like everybody else has already ran the race and you’ve just finished tying your shoelaces?

It’s okay.

I’d say a million platitudes here, but sometimes they’re more confusing than anything. I do know that hope deferred makes the heart sick, and a longing fulfilled is a tree of life. I do know that journeys suck sometimes, and sometimes it’s hard to find someone to run with who understands, or someone who is able to mourn with us as we mourn. I do know that what seems like it should take about three months can sometimes take three years – or, Heaven help us – three decades. All of that sucks, pretty much. None of it is easy. But if you feel like that today, let me tell you you’re not alone.

I’m not going to tell you what to do, but maybe take a break before you break. It may give you the strength you need to keep on going!

 

When Labelling People Is Good For Them

I came to social awareness (as opposed to, say, growing up, which is quite a different process) at a time when political correctness was just beginning, and–unlike other periods of time that I’ve mostly read about in old novels–labelling people was considered wrong.

Don’t get me wrong, this move away from labelling is generally a good thing, as this Psychology Today article points out. We are more than our skin tone, our body mass index, our age, our job. I have been labelled from time to time, and those labels make my skin crawl, make me–even now–want to jump out of my chair and shout “you don’t know me!” I am not where I live, or where I grew up. I am not my education. I am not my family of origin. I am not my hair colour. I am me.

Sometimes though I think we’ve taken things too far. Sitting on a plane on my way to the USA for the very first time it suddenly occurred to me that I had no idea what to call black people these days, and if I found myself suddenly in a situation, say, where a key was dropped at McDonald’s, and the waitress asked me who was sitting here before me and I said “A tall black guy”…is that offensive? Would I need to say “an above-average height African-American?” What if he wasn’t of African descent, but Carribbean? What if he wasn’t even American? Did any of it matter? Thankfully nobody dropped any keys at McDonald’s while I was in the US, so I never had to deal with the fall-out from this, and consequently I have yet to discover whether I would be frowned upon from describing a person as “black”. Or brown. Or, as my young son used to say when describing a kid in his class at school, “he has a brown face”. Notably, there are only two “white” people in my family – the rest of us are a kind of pinky colour.

I’ve been so aware of anti-labelling, of the risks one takes in using phrases like “black”, or “retarded” (which was in common usage when I was growing up, and wasn’t seen as a slur), or “crazy”, and it occurred to me that there is also a positive place for labels. I’m not a big, noxious word like “crazy”, but I’m a smaller, more precise word, like “introvert”. That label has helped me enormously, has helped me classify myself not just according to “I am me and I am unique”, which can be terribly lonely, but  part of a crowd, a subset of people just like me. I am left-handed – not just the only one in tennis class, but one of millions of people throughout the world.

If I’d only ever seen apples, pears, bananas and oranges, the first time I saw a custard apple, a mango or a paw paw I would think them crazy, different, wrong. (Actually this is precisely what happened when I was young – yes, even to mangoes. I still remember my first one). Labels help us classify. Stone fruit. Tropical fruit. Fruit. Without these labels we’d be less willing to try things, more inclined to throw them out and to not experience the good within.

Pineapple and apples (Wikimedia Commons)

Pineapple and apples (Wikimedia Commons)

I read an article the other day that helped me understand an old friend of mine so much better. He’d worn a million labels, some he’d fought against, some he’d embraced, none of which gave me any context at all to understand him better. I kept him there, metaphorically, my pineapple in a lifetime of apples, having to suspend all understanding when with him and define him,not as crazy, but as “unique”, “odd”, “different”. None of these labels are helpful, either, not in a real sense. They didn’t help me relate.

There were a few articles I read. One was about Asperger’s Syndrome. Another was about personality disorders. Another on different types of mental illness, and psychosis.

I’m not a doctor, but within half an hour of reading I could feel certain labels my friend has worn dislodging in my brain, and other, better ones take their places. He may never read these articles, and I may never discuss my thoughts about them with him, but for me finding those labels allowed my heart to expand, and helped me to love him better. He’s not alone, not unique as such. He’s not a not-apple, but a pineapple. I may have never met anyone else like him, but now I know that there are probably many others.

It may be nice to be unique, but there’s such a joy in finding one is not alone.

I’m all for labeling people, if that’s the result.

 

On Vision, Writing, and the Nobel Prize

I wouldn’t say I’m prone to visions really.

The Vision Of Saint Helena

This is Not Me. (The Vision of Saint Helena by Paolo Veronese. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Can’t say that many times I’ve been struck dumb as the Lord has vouchsafed to me a drop-down movie-theatre in front of my eyes where He unravels some mysterious plan (although it did happen once…and no I wasn’t on drugs…and no, that is not what this is about).

Can’t say that, in recent years at least, I’ve been beset with the other kind of vision much either – motivation and direction for my own life, that sense of knowing exactly where I’m headed, what I’m doing, what I want out of life. Sure, I knew the answer to these things in a vague and general way, hopefully as we all do, but sometimes it’s hard to be driven and motivated when, by necessity, your day-to-day life has very little to do with your career goals. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, and I love what I do and am grateful every day, but I’m not aiming for a career in toilet cleaning, or laundry, or driving kids to music lessons. I don’t want to be a professional Lego builder (oh okay, that one would be fun), and, here’s the rub, the vision for my life I had ten years ago I’d done.

Ten years ago, if you’d asked me, I would have said “I want to travel, and I want to write a book”. Both of those things, for various reasons, seemed wildly out of my grasp at that time. Both, now, I have done.

So. Now what?

Well, go back and travel again is one answer, and publish the book is another, but they’re still vague answers of the not-particularly helpful kind. They’re goals, but they’re not Vision. They’re not propelling me forward, encouraging me to get out of bed in these early hours of a cold morning. They’re true, but they’re not…enough.

I’ve been thinking about this recently. I’ve been planning the rewrites for said book (because it needs them), and trying to pinpoint exactly who I’m telling the story for. It’s one thing to have a goal to write a book. It’s quite another to know exactly who your target audience is and how to reach them, and what specific expectations they have in a novel, especially because I don’t write in a particular genre (thriller/mystery/romance etc).

I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last few weeks, in between toilet cleaning and laundry and driving kids to music lessons and everything else. I’d added a new character, a new storyline to my novel, and I was excited by the things that was bringing up, and the new direction and focus – and all of a sudden I “looked” at the pictures in my mind and I noticed something strange: the new characters and storyline, when I imagined them, appeared in different colours to the rest of my story. Does that sound dumb? (It may help to explain that I have a mild form of synaesthesia, and sometimes I see words in colours). They didn’t fit, they looked as if they’d been cut out of something and pasted there…and I knew the canvas where they did belong too – another novel I’d been struggling to make all the pieces fit.

Have I lost you yet? I don’t have visions but I “saw” my book and the colours were wrong. Yeah. Stick with me a minute, okay?

I realised something else, too: every time I thought about my novel (the one I’m trying to rewrite) the same image turned up in my head, not in a loud, intrusive way, just subtly in the background like the ads on websites that we tend to ignore until we accidentally click on them. It was my grade nine English classroom.

What? I hear you say. You clicked on an ad on the internet for your grade nine English classroom?

NO!! I realised that every time I thought about my book, and who I was writing it for, and why I was writing it, I thought about that class. I thought about reading Lord Of The Flies, and how much it had inspired me at age fourteen, not only in the depth but also the simplicity of the story.

True confession: when I was fourteen I was so impressed with Lord Of The Flies that I decided that when I grew up I wanted to write a book that could win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Don’t laugh.

Oh okay. Go ahead. Laugh.

But that was my vision, and it served me well. It made me write, and research and learn the craft of writing. It made me look for stories to tell, and deeper meanings within those stories. That vision, that lofty goal, made me think, made me learn, made me the thinker I am today.

Here’s an interesting thing. Somewhere along the journey I let go of my vision to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and settled instead for writing a book…maybe that came with realising how hard it was to write a book, let alone a good one. Maybe it came with growing up and realising the silliness of adolescent dreaming. Whatever the reason, the result was that my arrow-sharp focus blunted, widened, in something akin to mock-contentment, and it’s only now I come to realise I lost something in that. It’s like the time my daughter had a go at archery – she didn’t hit the target. She didn’t even hit the hay-bales the target was attached to. Her arrow fell a metre or two short, flat and lifeless on the grass.

If I don’t have a vision – a target – my arrow will land on the grass, and I will think that’s okay. If I don’t have a target I won’t have the determination and drive to go get my arrow again and strengthen my muscles and my pull until my arrow DOES reach the hay-bales, and, eventually, even the target.

I’m glad I’ve found my vision again. It’s helped me hone down the knowledge of exactly what I want from my story, and what I want for my readers. It’s helped me sift through the mass of story to find the questions that gnaw at me, and will hopefully gnaw at my readers, too. And so, proudly, I’ll stand before you today and say (with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek), “Hi, my name is Megan, and my goal is to win the Nobel Prize for Literature!”

Can you see my smile? I won’t be at all disappointed if I never achieve such a crazy goal, but the fact that such a goal exists is already helping me. And, with any luck, if I keep working hard towards my lofty goal, maybe one day my book will land short, on the desks of a student in my old grade nine English class, and maybe they will be inspired to a lofty vision of their own.