Honouring Our Creative Selves

I found myself at a dinner party last night talking to two very creative men. One who has followed his artistic passion and developed an outstanding career in exterior car design. The other is a physician, whose personal passion lies in music and has submitted several of his songs to Melodifestivalen over the years. The conversation drew me back to my earliest passion and made me question, Where did that little girl go?

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From as early as I can remember, I was drawing floor plans. Not just a handful of floor plans, but reams and reams of floor plans. They were stuffed in draws and under the bed. I sat in front of the television drawing floor plans. I drew floor plans on rainy days at the cottage. Floor plans were part of my every day life at a ripe old age of eight or younger. I simply cannot remember. Paper was always needed and well used. I was building floor plans with books for my Barbies to live in, filling the basement floor, always changing the design. At eleven years old, I submitted my first project at school on architecture and started designing corporate building floor plans. In high school, I took drafting, a year-long project that culminated in my first completed house design, model and all and ready for building.

So what happened? I know that rowing dominated my time through my teens and early twenties and satisfied all of those worldly dreams that crept into my life the more I competed. I was hooked. I loved crossing the finish line first. Rowing was an addiction and I couldn’t get enough of it. Yet a little further past the finish line, beyond the stands and well into the forgotten banks down river, if I squinted just so, I could still see my little creative self cheering me on.

She’s still there, a little weathered perhaps from popping out of the reeds for visits over the years, but she’s there.

Through my career in teaching, I’ve always done my best to tap into my creative side in the hope of bringing out those unique nuances that make each student special. Despite the intrinsic rewards of helping to develop others’ creativity, a part of me yearned for more, to be true to that side of me that was born creative. I wanted no boundaries, or at least as few as possible. I wanted the vision that I’d dreamed of as a little architect in the making. I was a designer then. Looking back over the years, I realize I’ve always been one. I just wanted to be fully creative again. But did it have to be in designing buildings?

Our creative selves might manifest in unexpected ways throughout our careers and personal lives, but they need to be honoured and given a chance. It is creating something from nothing that can give us some of the greatest joy in life. Where would this world be without music and art after all? Whatever steers us in another direction, I believe a part of us will always want to find that forgotten or neglected path again. It will nag us until we do something about it. For those who wait until it is too late, I am certain regret is painful. I believe we need to listen to that little person we were once, tugging at our sleeve.

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At university, I wrote a children’s book on the side and showed one of my professors. Her words have never escaped me. “You should do something with this one day,” she said. It was her earnest expression that triggered something inside me. She was the first person to validate my writing apart from my high school German teacher who was apparently taken aback when I translated and illustrated The Night Before Christmas for fun. But alas, this story was my design, my creation and there was something remarkable in that realization—that I could write.

I had always enjoyed talking. Anyone who knows me knows this well. Then something grew in the sweet storytelling after I tucked my children in bed at night. I reveled in the stories. They would choose the characters and setting and I would create a story, every night for years, a different story for each of our two children. Soon that rolled into writing down stories on my own then reading those stories to them. Stories were coming out of the woodwork and the kids couldn’t get enough of them. I adore those memories. Now they’ve grown up, young adults in the making.

The designer in me is adjusting to those life changes as I write novels now, creating something again from nothing. Only that nothing is far from empty. I am one of the lucky ones to have grown creatively, even though I couldn’t see it fully at the time. It is through all of these life experiences that I have built a foundation on which to generate new stories. A close-knit family, friends, travel and education have all played a role in keeping that little creative me cheering from the riverbank.

I may not design houses for a living, but I’m finally giving my creative me a voice. I am a writer. I am a storyteller. It took me many years to believe that was true, many, many stories to believe in myself as a writer. I’m thrilled to be nearing the final leg of a new novel, at least the first draft. Honouring the commitment I made to writing this novel is precisely the reason I haven’t posted recently on my blog.  At first I felt guilty about that, until I not only saw how much more productive I had become, I felt better about myself and my work.

It’s not the end of the world if we acknowledge our creative selves later in life, having built a career in another field altogether. Once we do, though, once we let it out the gates, free to run as it will, be prepared for a never-ending journey, but one that feels right. If we don’t honour our creative selves, our lives become a series of short breaths. And don’t most of us really want to breathe deeply, and take in life to its fullest?

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Embracing a New Year as a Writer & On Again-off Again Expat

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Typically, a new year brings new resolutions to mind, good intentions but often with little follow-through. The way I approached the New Year, was to reflect on how 2015 unfolded. It was an exciting year of change with a recent move back to Sweden and my debut novel being released in the spring. There is always a honeymoon stage with any change I suspect, and certainly in my case this has proven true. No matter how many moves I make over the years, and there have been a few having lived in six countries, one might think I’d be used to it—the curiosity, the thrill of meeting new people, seeing places you never knew existed or maybe reacquainting yourself with old ties, friends, family. Perhaps the ironic joy in any change is not being used to it whatsoever and maybe that’s why we crave it. Why ironic? Because of the uphill battle to get there.

For the first time, I discovered how moving back to Sweden was very much like the process of releasing my first novel. All the legwork had to be done; applying to schools for my children, selling the house in the U.S., returning to our house in Sweden and finalizing everything with our tenants, banks, taxes, moving company, purchasing new cars, selling the old ones, reconnecting with my school, colleagues, friends and family. All of this while I was in the middle of the publication process with my publisher in the U.S.

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It wasn’t chaotic in any way, mind you, busy, but not chaotic. Each task was handled with care. In the case of my book, several months of editing back and forth with my editor then the production of the book and releasing the ARC (advanced reading/review copy) was thrilling, a tremendous amount of work, but thrilling.

So 2016 arrived. My book was released and we have settled into Swedish life once again. But have we? Or rather have I? Asking myself what worked and what did not, what has been challenging and rewarding and what has not, is important if I am to make 2016 a success, both personally and professionally.

It reminds me of the film, Finding Nemo, when the fish finally escape the dental office in a plastic bag filled with water. After the bag plunges into the sea then bobs on its surface, one fish says, “Now what?”

That’s me in a nutshell. The kids are settled into their schools, the house has been arranged, my husband is busy with work life and back in his familiar, the familiar ring of his own culture and language. Despite the familiarity I have with Sweden, having lived here for many years before our three-year stay in the U.S., it is not really my culture or my language. There is an empty crevice somewhere in all the pandemonium that I sometimes think only people who have lived abroad can understand. No matter how full your life is, it is always there.

My book having been released into the world garners a similar feeling. The hard work, the excitement, the recognition, but now I’m Finding Nemo, “Now what?” It’s been a fantastic learning experience without any doubt, but what worked and what didn’t? That is what I’ve needed to address.

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First and foremost, living in a foreign country that is not English has proven to be tremendously challenging as a debut author. Unless you are well known in the English market, it is very difficult to get exposure in Scandinavia. I had to learn this the hard way by spending countless hours writing emails, making phone calls, meeting bookshop owners and distributors, all in the hope of introducing my English book to a Scandinavian audience. In the process, my writing suffered because I dedicated too much energy and too much time to running up a very slippery slope, one with no end in sight. When I could have spent precious time writing, I spent it marketing. Of course, the latter is important but a book on the horizon is essential. Had I been in an English speaking country, I am as certain as I can be, that I would have garnered different results.

In any case, it was an important lesson learned. I had to ask myself what I wanted most. It was an easy answer. I wanted to write. As a result, I have chosen to arrange my day differently this year. Writing must be my top priority. Emails and social media come only after I’ve written my word quota for the day. As a writer, I need to wake up with my story filling all those wonderful crevices of my imagination. The moment I open an email or check to see how my book might be fairing on Amazon or Goodreads, my story loses a part of me. That’s something I am no longer willing to jeopardize. My story deserves my full attention. So if I have posted fewer blog posts lately, that is precisely the reason.

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Instead, I am spending time wisely, getting to know my new characters and developing a plot that keeps surprising me. I am new to social media and I am still learning how to write—how to write well, how to write creatively, how to write intelligently and with heart. I hope I never stop learning. I am reading more. I’m reading novels by authors who inspire me, like Kate Morton and Susan Meissner. I want to sink into a story and fall in love with the writing, and one day, I hope someone will feel that same way about something I’ve written.

If my reviews are any indication, I know my novel The Particular Appeal of Gillian Pugsley has touched some readers in a way that I will always treasure. I am grateful for that. I am grateful for these changes in my life. Travel with my family remains a priority to me and I will likely jump at the opportunity to move house and home once again, somewhere sunny where my writing can flourish. 2016 is about setting goals, one of which is to complete my current writing project. Having made a plan for that to happen is key. It’s well under way and it feels great.

A new year brings new challenges to everyone. Embrace change in your life, make a plan and follow it through—writers are no exception, expats are no exception. As tough as it might be, it’s all a grand adventure. Is it not?

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Does Life Get Easier for Moms?

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I remember well the days of pandemonium with two small children and a busy career. I remember those older, wiser people around me patting my hand, “Don’t worry,” they’d say, “it will get easier, I promise.”

It’s only now that my children are in their teens that I realize it’s all a crock. Those same people ten years later tell me now not to worry—pat, pat—things will get easier once the children move out and go away to university. I’m quite sure that once they reach that stage of their lives, my older, wiser friends will then pat my hand once again, “wait until they settle down, then you can relax.”

It’s all a way to trick us moms into thinking that life will get easier, that our worries will subside once our children are grown adults. I believed that once, I think. During my early forties when I’d take mini breaks between play dates, planning birthday parties, taking the kids to swimming lessons, ballet, badminton, school functions, writing report cards, lesson planning, preparing dinner, cleaning the house… oh yes, and being a wife… to breathe, I actually believed that I’d become an expert. After all, they were my children (well, ours of course, my husband being an integral part of all this). But this post is about me, about being a mom, about being a wife, a teacher, a caregiver, a psychologist, a social worker, a chef (well, in my case, I tend to burn everything I cook). It was my career. It was my chaos—and I reveled in it. I loved the craziness. school_too_much_information_736405

Now I’m in my early fifties. I nearly choke as I write those words, mostly because I don’t know what that’s supposed to mean. I still haven’t grown up. I’m silly and immature in a truckload of ways, all the important ways I hope. I love to wrestle with my daughter and dance to One Direction. Yes, they’re cute. As my grandmother used to say, “I’m old dear, not blind.”

But my body aches in ways it never used to. Feels like each day brings a new ailment. I look in the mirror and hardly recognize myself. I see lines that never existed before. Those I don’t mind, but the sagging eyelids, please! Do you know what it’s like to put on eyeliner and have to stretch open your eyes, making sure not to blink until it dries, otherwise a streak of liner marks the lid making you look like an upside down gridiron American football player? I actually have to prop them up with my finger at times just to let the light in. Let’s not even mention the jowls developing. For the first time in my life, I can almost understand why someone would consider plastic surgery. Well, on second thought… What really amazes me for the first time in my life, is how I can exercise regularly and eat like a sparrow, yet not lose a single kilo. That’s just mean.
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The idea of teenage hormones multiplying in a household mixed with a fifty-something woman’s changing hormones. Well, let’s just say it’s not pretty. With a body changing and feeling all about me, me, me, feeling one minute like you want to explode, weep, or laugh for no apparent reason, a failing memory where you can’t remember what you said not two minutes ago and repeat yourself making you sound a hundred years older than you are, struggling to stay awake in the late afternoon because of incessant recent insomnia, and your first real life definition of incontinence haunting you when you break into song or laughter or sneezing fit, it’s no wonder a woman feels like she’s going mad.

No, none of it’s pretty. Let me tell you, teenagers have it easy in comparison!

Still we have to keep it all together. We can’t crumble for our children’s sake, for our husband’s sake, for our own sake. Our older friends are still there patting our hands, assuring us that “this too, will pass”. Well, guess what? It doesn’t help to hear that. I want to scream when I hear that. But I don’t. I smile instead or crinkle my brow hoping they’ll notice my bewilderment, How could you forget so easily? It must be like giving birth. You remember the pain but you tuck it away in your past, in a soft cushioned nook somewhere in your memory where it can’t bite you anymore.

That’s life, I’ve come to realize. It’s not that people don’t care. It’s that people are tangled up in their own lives, dealing with these same issues, the best they can at perhaps a different time than you. All it takes is one phone call or email from a close friend telling you that their life is changed forever because tragedy has struck or because their child is lying in a hospital bed over Christmas. Perspective sets in fast.

All your aches and droopy eyelids and muffin tops and needless worrying over changes in your body, the ones that come with growing old gracefully, evaporate as they rightfully should when that phone rings.

We are mothers.

We are wives.

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We are women who never stop thinking about the people we love and nurture even when we are struggling with something ourselves. But if all we have to worry about is the natural, everyday changes in our lives, and we still have a healthy, happy family, then we must let that soak in and appreciate how lucky we truly are.

I’m not convinced that things will ever get easy. We will always worry about our children, no matter how old they are. I am convinced though, that if we listen more, really listen to what our loved ones are experiencing then we’ll all be in a better place. Count our blessings. Take time to enjoy simply being together.

 

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