The waiting game

anxious

I am not a patient person; my kids have shown me that. They can be like cold molasses and I have to bite my tongue not to ride them every step of the way.

At work, I’m restless when I’m waiting for patients in clinic. I pace, I fidget, I get annoyed when we run behind.

I’ve always been like this, none of this is new. What is new, however, is the insane level of impatience I’m feeling waiting for feedback on my writing.

Over the past few months, I’ve submitted several pieces of my writing to different publications and competitions. Previous to this, I just posted on my blog and worked on my novel. Suddenly, I’ve found myself waiting for contest results, rejection e-mails, and feedback from editors. I now see that I’m even more terrible at waiting than I realized.

I find myself rereading contest rules, scouring the regulations for the notification details, and checking my inbox obsessively, looking for the new mail that might bring me joy or pain. At this point, I don’t even think I care if I receive rejections; I just crave some acknowledgement of the work that I’ve sent out into the publishing netherworld. I’m like a nervous mother, waiting to hear that their child has arrived safely at their destination.

Things are particularly bad this month because, as I wrote about here, I’m now looking for representation for my novel. Over the past couple of weeks, I have pitched my novel to six agents. (The pitch consists of a query letter and the first couple chapters as a writing sample.) Now, I’m playing the waiting game again, but this time the stakes are huge.

This is MY NOVEL we are talking about, not just a 2000 word article.  This is something that took me YEARS to write!

So, I now find myself feeling uncomfortable almost every waking moment of the day as I wait for feedback that might take months to come back. You see, the line of thinking is that you only pitch to few agents at a time, so that if you don’t get representation you can tweak and improve your pitch to find better success in the next batch of queries. This means, however, that I’m stuck waiting to hear back from these agents before I can take the next steps in the process.

Before you feel too badly for me, I will admit that there has been some news and it’s been positive. Two of the agents have written back that they liked my sample chapters and asked for the full manuscript to review. This is great, of course, but now I’m even more nervous waiting to hear back from them!

The only thing that seems to quell this anxiousness is more writing, and because of that, I have been incredibly productive over the past couple of weeks and have written 25,000 words of a new novel. At least something positive is coming out of all my angst!

Please, keep your fingers crossed that I get some news before I get a bleeding ulcer!

The link you’ve been waiting for…

friends-depression-moonassi

Illustration: Moonassi

Yesterday was a pretty big one in Canadian social media, in terms of mental heath issues, because it was Bell Let’s Talk day. This is the day that Bell Media gives 5 cents to various mental health organizations for every tweet, text or post that tags#BellLetsTalk.

I’m a bit two-faced when it comes to this promotion because, although it is fantastic that these millions of dollars are being raised to support mental health initiatives and I tweeted like a maniac, it burns me that good mental health support is so grievously underfunded that it requires the charity of private funders.

But I digress, the purpose of this post is to tell you what I was tweeting about. My Chatelaine magazine article went online yesterday and now all of my international readers can have a gander. Yay!

Here it is… please take a moment to click the link and have a read. It’s the full story of my struggle with depression and my current fight against stigma.

Thanks to all of you for your constant support!

Please let me know what you think. :)

Batters up!

reading

I’m warming up in the bullpen, getting ready to pitch. No, I’m not playing baseball… I’m starting to look for a literary agent.

I am getting ready to start pitching my book and I’ve decided to go the traditional route of looking for an agent prior to cold-pitching publishers. Why? Well, even though I know a lot of writers manage to get published without an agent, I still think the majority of publishers are more receptive to agents then they are to unsolicited queries. Perhaps this is naïve.

Honestly though, the main factor in my decision to pursue representation is that I have no idea what I’m doing in the publishing world and I don’t have the time to try to become an expert. I’m a working mom with a busy family; I’m lucky I have time to write, let alone find time to navigate the ocean of publishers out there. Does that make me lazy? I prefer to think of it as realistic, and I’m willing to forgo a percentage of my future earnings so that I don’t have to run the publisher gauntlet on my own.

So, while I’m doing the final polishing of the novel, I’m also taking time to craft a series of “query” letters. For those readers not in the know, these are letters that you use to sell yourself and your book. Somehow, in less than one page, you need to make yourself (and your book) sound like the best thing since J.K. Rowling. The goal is to pique your target’s interest enough such that they request a full manuscript. Then you cross your fingers that they fall in love with your book, or at least like it enough to consider it saleable.

I just read a piece of advice telling me not to give up until I’ve pitched to at least 100 agents… Sounds like I’ve got a long road ahead of me!

Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky and land an agent in my first round of queries, or maybe I’ll pitch to those 100 and still be unrepresented. Either way, it’s exciting to be moving into the next phase of the process.

Wish me luck, and please, give me your advice!

The Pit of Despair

A friend shared this tweet with me a few days ago and it perfectly sums up my current state of mind.

As most of you know, I love to write. In addition to my blog, I’ve been very fortunate to have some of my essays in print, yet I remain unpublished as a fiction writer.

A few years back I wrote a children’s book for my son CJ and it won the Atlantic Writing Competition but I have had zero luck getting it published. I’m told that the children’s picture book industry is ruthless and I shouldn’t take it personally. (I still live in hope that it will one day come to life, maybe in time for my grandchildren.)

I’ve also written some poetry and a lot of short fiction, but have never felt confident enough in the pieces to submit them anywhere for publishing. For some reason I’ve just always had more confidence in my non-fiction work. Perhaps it is this blog that has given me the self-assurance one needs to expose their soul to that type of criticism.

Because that’s submitting your work to a publisher feels like… exposing your soul.

I finished my novel many months back and celebrated that achievement by feeling good about it for five minutes. Then the doubt set in. Seriously, that’s what it felt like. I celebrated in my head for a few minutes and then told myself it was a piece of shit.

The editing process sure didn’t help. The first edit wasn’t too bad, I could still see some strength in my writing. However, by the third edit, I was wondering why I was even bothering. Nevertheless, I slogged through the painful process and was left with 80,000 words that needed to be read by someone else. I needed to get a second opinion.

This led me to where I am now. I have just send the book out to a few beta readers and am waiting to hear back. This is the scary part because this is when I hear if they could even get past the first chapter or if the whole thing is a complete waste of paper. (Thanks to Shailla, Denis, Kris and Jenny for being brave enough to take the plunge into my writing. A special thank you to The Sister, who’s going to have to deliver the news to me face-to-face!)

Now, let me clarify, I’m not deluding myself that this is the next great Canadian novel. My book is romantic fiction… or, to put it bluntly, it’s chick lit. But is it good chick lit? At this point I really have no idea.

So, as I wait for feedback, my mind is racing. I am full of negativity and self-doubt, and am only expecting the worst… that way I won’t be disappointed, right?

Arrrgh! Basically, I am torturing myself in a mental Pit of Despair!

torture_pb

Anyone have any calming words of wisdom?

 

The postman cometh…

Dates on magazines are funny things. They are more like “best before” dates than anything else; the date until they are to be replaced on the shelves with a new issue. That is why I now find myself waiting impatiently for the mailman to arrive. Even though it is not yet January, I’m hoping that today is the day he brings my February issue of Chatelaine.

The picture above is a screen shot from the on-line issue. I’d love to give you a link but you have to be a subscriber. Naturally, being a Canadian woman over a certain age, I am a subscriber and have been for years. That is partially what makes this so exciting; I’m thrilled to have an article in such an iconic publication. More so, however, I’m excited to have my message reach the largest audience in Canadian magazine publishing.

“…it’s okay to need help. That’s what I was desperate to hear, but didn’t, when I was at my lowest point.”

Millions of people will also read this:

“I now take three different pills for my depression, and writing has become my therapy.”

I am no longer ashamed that I require medication to treat my depression. Without medication, my body cannot maintain sufficient levels of certain chemicals. How is this any different than a person with diabetes requiring insulin?

As for the therapy, thank you readers for your kind indulgence!

Funny things my kids say #24

SantaJesus

This morning, prompted by the carol mix we had playing, the 8-year-old asked The Husband…

“What was Santa’s career before Jesus was born?”

The Christmas spirit is strong in this one… even when it bumps into his practicality!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Previous: Funny things my kids say #23

Nightmares and Dreamscapes

(Title borrowed from Stephen King’s 1993 short story collection.)

dreaming

I have a lot of very real dreams. So vivid, in fact, that I often awake still gripped in overwhelming emotion that can take hours to dissipate. Often it is anger, and much to his dismay, The Husband is usually on the receiving end of these lingering hostilities in the morning.

Last night, I dreamed about junior high school. It wasn’t a nightmare exactly but it was an uncomfortable dream. I awoke feeling out of sorts and anxious. Feelings that returned to me periodically throughout the day as the dream continued to resurface. I’ll tell you about it, but first I have to give you some background information.

It all started in grade 3 when I was among a handful of students who were selected for a “pull-out” Enrichment Program. What I didn’t know at the time, was that this was happening in elementary schools all across the city. Once a week, the teacher of this program would come to my school and our little group would congregate in an empty classroom and be put through our paces. I wasn’t aware of the greater significance of this, I just knew it meant I missed art every Friday.

I’m not sure what qualities were needed to have made this cut, as we were an odd mix… a little like Professor Xavier’s school for mutants in the X-Men. All of us with unique talents, but still in need of training. My super powers were advanced reading and comprehension, and complex problem solving skills.

We continued like this through to the end of grade 6. At this point the ostracism was still relatively minor as the majority of our week was spent in a regular classroom. We weren’t too different… yet.

In the summer between elementary school and junior high, I was invited to join the full-time Enrichment Program. It would be at my local school and the rest of the “pull-out” kids from around the city would be bused in to form a full class of our own.

I remember sitting with my parents at the picnic table in our old backyard. They were asking me if I wanted to join the program or not. I wanted them to make the decision for me but they wouldn’t… this had to be my choice. I said, “Okay, I guess,” and when grade 7 started, I became a “Pinhead”.

You see, the Enrichment Program was known as the “Pinhead Program” to the rest of the student body. Also unbeknownst to me, this program had been going for a few years already, so there were “Pinhead” classes in grades 7, 8 and 9.

We were all teased, but there were several of us who were able to assimilate pretty well into the general student body. We were outwardly “normal”. I played sports and made the dance team. I also had a sister in grade 9 who was very popular and was afforded some second-hand status.

All said, I had a pretty typical junior high experience. I went to dances and was actually asked to dance. I had my first kiss and a few boyfriends. I was marginally popular and was invited to my share of sleepovers and parties.

Others in my class weren’t as lucky; they were taunted mercilessly and even beaten-up. But this bullying wasn’t what the dream was about.

Last night’s dream was about a real conversation I happened to overhear between the three core Enrichment Program teachers. I’m not sure how I got myself in the position to overhear, perhaps I was in the corridor getting something out of my locker afterschool, all I remember is pausing in the midst of what I was doing when I heard my name. It wasn’t an intentional case of eavesdropping.

The general conversation was about our class and how we were performing as individuals compared to each other. What was so disturbing about it was that they were naming those who weren’t “conforming” to the program; trouble-makers who were expressing dissent. My name seemed to top the Orwellian list.

Earlier in the week we had had a class discussion about the pros and cons of “fitting-in” with the rest of the student body and I had stated my opinion that the program put a target on our backs. I felt that the rest of the school resented us for getting special treatment.  I clearly remember the teacher’s response being along the lines of, “Well, you can leave if you don’t like it.” I was filled with shame and embarrassment and was very nearly brought to tears.

This morning I woke up with those feelings flooding back over me.

Today I thought a lot about my classmates from the Enrichment Program (some of them are still very close friends) and I wonder, did that program do us any good? Are we any better off because of it? Perhaps it created a safe space for us to express ourselves, but was that worth the greater ostracism that it created?

Interestingly, the program no longer exists. Was it disbanded because it was a failed experiment or was it due to financial restraints? Maybe a little of both, I really have no idea.

None of my questions are new but last night’s dream caused them all to resurface and they left me discombobulated.

Anyway, now I’m off to bed… let’s see what tonight brings.

 

 

My childhood dream

doctor kit

My all-time favourite toy!

Since the day I got my Fisher-Price doctor’s kit, I always planned to go to medical school. I took all the honours science courses, volunteered at the hospital, and religiously watched ER and Chicago Hope. I even slept in pilfered scrubs.

However, due to my depression and suicide attempt, my life took a different path. After I finished my science degree, there was no way that I could continue on with more university… I didn’t even apply.

I regretted this for a long time; I felt like I was a failure or that something precious was stolen from me. This is no longer true.

I’m sure I would have been a good doctor, I love my time in clinic and building relationships with patients has always been the best part of my work in research, but I’m also good at what I do now and I like where this bumpy journey has taken me. I feel that my life has taken the path that it was meant to take.

And can you guess where this path is taking me next week? Yup, you got it…

tupper

MEDICAL SCHOOL!

No, I’m not going back to school as a very mature student. I’ll be in front of the class instead.

I have been asked to  give a couple of talks at Dalhousie Medical School. Next week I will be presenting to the first and second years, and then in December, I will be doing a session with the third year students. Both sessions will also be simultaneously video-conferenced to their New Brunswick campus.

These talks are especially exciting for me, not because of my childhood dreams, but because of my new ones.

I am being given the opportunity to influence our next generation of health care providers. The main focus will be on looking after their own mental health, but I also hope to open some eyes to what the true face of mental illness looks like. Maybe listening to me will help them to hear their own patients more clearly. Maybe it will help them understand that everyone’s mental health is as important as their physical health.

Sounds like a challenge, but it’s one that I’m more than willing to accept.

Wish me luck!

Happy Halloween!

The first Halloween we were in our house, all of the neighbourhood kids were still babies or toddlers. When we took the boys out trick-or-treating, we only went to a couple of houses and then we parents all gathered on the sidewalk in front of our house to chat. The next year, someone produced a bottle of wine and a tradition was born.

Eight years later, the kids are old enough to go around the neighbourhood on their own while we parents hang out and party… on the sidewalk… all in full costume.

This year I was Boy George.

This year I was Boy George.

We have a communal table full of candy for the trick-or-treaters.

Our kids!

Our kids!

And treats for the adults too!

My shortbread zombie eyeballs.

My shortbread zombie eyeballs.

Up the street, they go all out with a wicked haunted house.

Truly scary!

Scary inside and out!

The kids have a blast, of course, but so do we. I love our street and our neighbours for so many reasons, but Halloween is one of the big ones!

(Thanks to Lorin for the pictures.)

Did you do anything special for Halloween?

It’s been a good week!

I'm in it for the mugs!

I’m in it for the mugs!

Today I had the privilege of speaking at the Schulich School of Law at Dalhousie as part of their Law Hour speaker series. The reason this is an honour is because of the company I now keep. The series of lunchtime talks has been running since the 1960’s and features “prominent legal, academic, and political minds of the day”. Past speakers include Supreme Court Justices, Senators, and Prime Ministers… and now me!

I gave my usual talk about depression and looking after your mental health. It was a great crowd that stayed engaged throughout the presentation and there were some really good questions afterwards. Smarty-pants future lawyers.

Oh, and one gal said she liked my necklace.

Hand felted by yours truly.

Hand felted by yours truly.

That wraps up my talks for October. Mid-November I’ll begin my high school circuit with a full day mental health conference at Auburn Drive high school in Cole Harbour. I’m really looking forward to that!

I’ve also been very excited recently because it was confirmed that I will be having an article published in Chatelaine early in the new year. For my non-Canadian readers, Chatelaine is a women’s lifestyles publication and is the number one magazine in Canada in paid circulation. Obviously, this is huge for me as a writer but also completely rocks for me as a mental health advocate.

I’ve been working on it over the past couple of weeks and just submitted the first draft to the editor yesterday. Many thanks to The Husband, The Sister and BDN for being my alpha readers.

Now to start on the kids’ Halloween costumes!