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The Side Effects of a Good Read

I’ve spent the last week dragging around with a brutal cold. I’m very seldom ill, and almost never ill enough to take to bed. But this time, without full brain function, it seemed the expedient thing to do — lousy timing or not. While I groused and grumbled between sniffles and sneezes, aches and pains, I also made a discovery. I did have enough brainpower to lose myself in a good read. Since I wasn’t sleeping well for the first couple of nights, I took full advantage, binge rereading Naomi Novik’s wonderful Temeraireseries, while snuffling and coughing and feeling sorry for myself. Who doesn’t feel better after quality time spent with a dragon?

 

I’m on the mend now. Though I’m still dragging, still dealing with the after effects. But here’s the thing. Being forced to take some down time and fully indulge in the pleasure of a good read was worth every sniffle and ache. It’s not that I don’t do my best to make sure there’s reading time in my schedule. It’s just that it’s often the first thing to go when that schedule gets tight. It’s sad that it takes a nasty bug to remind me that reading is far more than just my duty as a writer. It’s far more than just a frivolous pleasure; it’s a priming of the pump, a feeding of the creativity, a grounding for the storyteller in me.

 

Creativity cultivates creativity, and being inspired by the works of other people’s imaginations is one of the best ways I know of to be more productive and more creative myself. Sadly that fact is one of the easiest things for a busy writer to forget. I’m willing to bet it’s one of the easiest things for most of us to forget, whether we write or not.

 

I used to read every novel with the idea of learning how to be a better writer – whether the novel was a good one or not. Now I’m way less likely to even finish a poorly written novel. Time is too valuable. More often now I hold out for the really good novels, and I read them for the sheer pleasure of being drawn outside myself into another world, into another person, into an experience far different from my own. Coming off a good read, I’m reminded just exactly why the ancient storytellers in some cultures sat with kings and queens as their equals.

 

It’s far too easy to pick up all of our information in bits and pieces off social media

and the Internet. We’re connected in ways we could have never imagined even twenty years ago. But while all the information we could ever want and, in some cases WAY too much, is available at our fingertips, the magic, the real magic, only happens when we slow down, back away and let the storytellers enthrall us.

 

What Does it Take to Get You There?

Today is a red letter day for me. Three years ago I reached my goal of losing 35 pounds. Three years on, I’ve maintained my new weight and am still enjoying the healthy lifestyle and enjoying the benefits.

 

Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve  come to love working out, and that for me it’s always been a creative process. That’s why I joined a pole dance class twenty months ago, and I’m still loving it. Next weekend will be my second pole shoot. I shared the  journey of getting to that first pole shoot with all of you lovelies last year.

 

For me, the fitness journey began as a way to combat depression. I hadn’t expected it to be such a life-changing experience. One of the reasons I do enjoy it is because I consider a workout a creative process. I know how to put together a routine for myself with any equipment or with none at all. And now that I have my own pole at home, I am beginning to make up my own workouts for pole as well. What does it take to get you there? I suppose that’s the big question I asked myself every day along the journey, whether it’s fitness, maintaining my weight, or writing, and I still do. It’s also the big question of my novella In Training. What do you want? How badly do you want it? And what does it take to get you there?  What inspires you enough to make you pull out all the stops and totally go for … well for anything that really matters?

 

My own journey being what it has been, it’s not surprising that my heroine, PR guru Lauren Michaels, has to find her own reason for pushing herself. A gym is the last place she wants to be, but her boss has just made her the ‘get fit’ star in a reality fitness TV show with bad boy personal trainer, Wolf Jennings, who will get her there even if he has to drag her kicking and screaming. At least that’s his plan. But it’s only when she finds her reason to push that Lauren decides she really wants to “get there,” and she wants to do it with Wolf Jennings. Here’s a little excerpt.

 

In Training Blurb:

Getting fit on reality TV is PR guru, Lauren Michael’s, brainchild for gym equipment and fitness company Physicality, Inc. The brilliant PR stunt involves one brave volunteer who wants to be fit badly enough to submit to the not so tender training techniques of personal trainer, Wolf Jennings, whose successful, but non-conventional, methods would make a drill sergeant look like a fluff ball. But when CEO and owner of Physicality, Inc, Claire Amos, decides her PR ace in the hole needs to walk the talk , Lauren finds herself between a kettle bell and a hard place … er a hard trainer. That’s nightmare enough, but for six weeks, 24/7 the explosive chemistry between the two will be sweated out live on camera for the whole world to see. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Wanna Bet? In Training Excerpt:

“On your knees, Michaels! Do it on your knees. You can’t do a full press-up until we strengthen those spaghetti arms. Do it like this.” He demonstrated the modified press-up. “Now I want you to do as many as you can in thirty seconds.” While thirty seconds lasted forever, as many press-ups as Lauren could do didn’t take long at all before she fell to the mat with her arms trembling. “Damn it Michaels, you gotta be willing to push yourself. I can’t do it for you.” He reset his timer. “Do it again.”

 

“Well this isn’t an auspicious beginning, Misty,” Del Allan said as they observed the training session going on in the gym below. “As much as I admire Claire Amos for believing her people should walk the talk, it’s clear to me that Lauren Michaels’ heart just isn’t in it. One has to wonder why the waste of time, energy and money for someone who doesn’t want to be here when there are so many who really do. I’ve said it before, I hope Physicality has a back-up plan because I’m betting Lauren Michaels won’t make it to the end of the week.”

“The real question, Del, is not whether Wolf Jennings can ‘get someone there,’ but whether he can motivate someone to wanthim to. Certainly this is a world away from what Lauren is used to, and apparently she didn’t know she’d be participating until twenty-four hours before.”

 

It was near the end of the fourth day when Lauren finally broke. “I can’t do any more,” she gasped after what seemed like miles of lunge walking back and forth across the gym with a dumb bell in each hand — dumb bells that got heavier with each step. “I need the hot tub. When do I get to use the hot tub?”

“When you’ve earned it,” Jennings growled. “Now do it again.”

“I hate you,” she forced the words out, no longer caring if the ever-present cameras picked up her remark or not. She reckoned that would be one more reason for the ‘sack Lauren and hire me’ faction to tweet nasty things about her. It’s not as if she wouldn’t trade places with them in a heartbeat.

“I’m not here for you to like,” came the reply. “Keep your back straight, shoulders back. Head up!”

She was halfway across the gym when one of the dumb bells slipped from her sweaty fingers, hit the floor with a loud crash, and she tripped over it doing into a belly flop in the middle of the gym.

“Get up. Keep going,” Wolf yelled, jogging effortlessly to her side. “Don’t be a wimp, Michaels. Finish it. I don’t train babies. Stop whinging and keep going.”

“I hate you.” This time she all but yelled it as she hefted the sweaty dumb bell and forced her way forward a couple more steps before she dropped the weight again — this time on her foot. It was only a glancing blow. She jerked away just in time, but it was enough. It was fucking enough! She dropped the other weight next to its fallen compadre and stormed back across the gym.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” He said, “You’re not done yet.”

“Oh yes I am.” She grabbed up her sports drink and her towel.

“What? Are you a quitter, Michaels?” Jennings stepped in front of her effectively blocking her way, “Is that it?”

“What I am is sick of you yelling at me, sick of you treating me like a sub-human.” She hadn’t planned it, but when he didn’t move, it just happened. A quick twist of the lid on her sports drink and she let it fly. Her aim was true, hitting Jennings in the face with a shower of bright orange Lukozade. Then she stomped off toward her room. She hadn’t expected him to follow her, but then there were a lot of things she hadn’t expected about the man she’d met at the pub less than a week ago.

Legs still screaming from the workout, she took the stairs two at a time with him gaining on her fast. At the top, he called after her. “They’re taking bets on how soon you’ll quit. Did you know that, Michaels?”

She stopped, dead in her tracks, as though she were suddenly frozen to the spot. For a second she squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back tears. Then she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and headed back toward the stairs, stopping in front of him to meet his cold glare. “Then they’ll lose.”

Fucking hell! Did she just say that? Surely she didn’t mean it. She would do almost anything to get out of this chamber of horrors, and yet here she was marching back downstairs, picking up the goddamned dumb bells, taking a deep breath and willing her legs to move forward. When she got to the end, instead of stopping, she gave Jennings a defiant glare, from where he now stood at the foot of the stairs, then she turned and headed back across. Somewhere a long way off, she could hear gasps and chatter from Wolf’s mezzanine fan club, but it didn’t matter. The world around her narrowed to the in and out drag of her breath, the pain in her quads and the slow step and lunge, step and lunge, that pulled her forward.

At the end, she dropped the dumb bells and bent over gasping, eyes clenched shut, hands on her knees. When at last she had the strength to stand up, she was surprised to find him next to, hair still dewed in orange. He handed her a bottle of water and a towel. While she drank, he wiped his face on his shirt.

She didn’t look at him, she was still battling the urge to cry. She knew all eyes were on her. After the drama she was now embarrassed to have caused, that was a given. But it was only Wolf Jenning’s eyes she felt in ways that were somehow even more intimate than his kiss at the pub. At last she handed him back the bottle and struggled to meet his gaze.

“That’s better,” he said. “Now drop and give me ten. Pull a stunt like that again and I’ll shove you on the treadmill till your Reeboks wear out.”

She did as he ordered, counting each press-up out loud and hardly feeling the effort, dazed as she was by what had just happened.

 

New Years Resolutions and Navel Gazing

Here it is the last day of 2018. I don’t mind saying the last month has been a total gut punch for me with the loss of my sister. I’m more than ready to shed 2018 and move forward. As of tomorrow, the gym will be overflowing with New Years Resolutioners; all around the world new diets will have begun as soon as the New Year hangover wears off; people stop drinking, stop smoking, begin learning Spanish or French, people promise to take better care of themselves, spend more time with good friends, waste less time in front of the telly, and the list goes on. Since Boxing Day, the universal urge to be ‘better’ in the New Year has been nearly palpable in the soggy English air.

 

It happens every year, that urge to reflect on what has been and plan how the New Year will be better. Hope and excitement at new beginnings is so much a part of our human nature that the end of a year and the beginning of another one can’t help but be the time when we anticipate, plan change, and dare to dream of what wonderful things we can bring about in the next year. In fact there’s a heady sense of power in the New Year. I think it’s the time when we’re most confident that we can make changes, that we really dohave power over our own lives. It’s the time when we’re most proactive toward those changes, those visions of the people we want to be.

 

Before I actually began to sell my writing, back when I dreamed of that first publication, back when there seemed to be a lot more time for navel gazing than is now, I was a consummate journaler. I filled pages and pages, notebooks and notebooks full of my reflections, ruminations and navel gazes. And nothing took more time and energy than the end of the year entry, in which I reflected on how I did on the year’s resolutions and planned my resolutions for the next. This was a process that often began in early December with me reading back through journals, taking notes, tracing down some of what I’d been reading during that year and reflecting on it. Yeah, I know. I needed to get a life!

 

By the time New Years Day rolled around, I had an extensive list of resolutions, each with a detailed outline of action as to how I was going to achieve it. I found that some of those resolutions simply fell by the wayside almost before the year began — those things that if I’m honest with myself, I know I’m never gonna do, no matter how much I wish I would. Others I achieved in varying degrees-ish. But sadly, for the most part, a month or maybe two into the year, that hard core maniacal urge to be a better me no matter what cooled to tepid indifference as every-day life took the shine off the New Year.

 

It was only when there stopped being time for such ginormous navel-gazes and micro-planning that I discovered I actually had achieved a lot of those goals that were my resolutions simply by just getting on with it. As I began to think more about how different my approach to all things new in the New Year had become the busier I became, I realised that I had, through no planning on my part, perfected the sneak-in-through-the-back-door method of dealing with the New Year. The big, bright New Year changes I used to spend days plotting and planning no longer got written down, no longer got planned out. Instead, they sort of implemented themselves in a totally unorganised way somewhere between the middle of January and the middle of February. They were easy on me, sort of whispering and smiling unobtrusively from the corners of my life. They came upon me, not in a sneak attack so much as a passing brush with someone who would somehow become my best friend.

 

I’m my own harsh task master. I’m driven, I’m tunnel-visioned, I’m a pit bull when I grab on to what I want to achieve with my writing. No one is harder on me than I am – no one is even close. And yet from somewhere there’s a gentler voice that sneaks in through the back door of the New Year and through the back doors of my life and reminds me to be kinder to me, to be easier on me, to find ways to rest and recreate and feed my creative self. I’ll never stop being driven. The time I’ve been given, the time we’ve all been given, is finite. And that gentler part of ourselves must somehow be a constant reminder of comfort and gentleness, of self-betterment that comes, not from brow-beating and berating ourselves, not from forced regimentation, but from easing into it, making ourselves comfortable with it. We, all of us, live in a time when life is snatched away from us one sound-bite, one reality TV show, one advert at a time. Often our time, our precious time is bargained away from us by harsher forces, by ideals and scripts that aren’t our own, and the less time we have to dwell on the still small voice, the deeper the loss.

 

So my resolution, my only resolution every year is to listen more carefully to that gentler, quieter part of me, to forgive myself for not being able to be the super-human I think I should be, to settle into the arms of and be comfortable with the quieter me, the wiser me who knows how far I’ve really come, who knows that the

shaping of a human being goes way deeper than what’s achieved in the outer world, and every heart that beats needs to find its own refuge in the value of just being who we are, of living in the present and coming quietly and gently and hopefully into the New Year.

I wish you all the very best in 2019 in a very gentle, very peaceful sort of way.

 

 

 

Celebrating the Time Before Beginnings

It’s hard for me to write a holiday post this year. To say I’m not in the Christmas spirit is the understatement of the year. And yet, this is the time of more than just canned Christmas music and out of control commercialism. I’ve always been bah humbug about that. But the fact that we’re in the dark days, the fact that we’re about to find in each of us newness in spite of all that has happened, all that has laid us low in the past year, the fact that we’ve found a commonality a sense of connectedness in those dark days, well that is something I’ve always found worth celebrating. This year, with the loss of my sister, more than ever, I need what those dark days can offer me, that womb of darkness, a place of being and not doing and that’s why I’m sharing this post with you again.

 

As I was walking along the canal the other day between rain showers, watching the moorhens leave water con trails across the surface, I was thinking about why this time of year is such a big deal. It’s dark, it’s dreary, it’s seemingly dead. Really, it seems like something we should just want to skip right through as much as possible, and yet we celebrate this time of year more than any other.  For several years I celebrated the seasons of the year with a Wiccan coven, and one of the best parts of that time in my life was the effort made to understand and live in sync with the changing seasons of the year. That I’ve held onto long after I left the coven. That ebb and flow remains an important part of who I am and how I celebrate.

 

Then, as now, the magic of this time of year intrigued me the most. In the Pagan cycle of the year, the winter months are represented by the direction of north, the cold, dark direction, the place where everything seems dead and silent. The days are short and the nights are long and it’s a temptation to go to bed early and sleep late. In the darkest days it’s even a temptation to follow the example of our bear cousins and sleep the whole dreary time away until the spring returns. The holidays aside, by the time January gets here it’s all about the return of the light. We’ve all had enough dark days, and we want sunshine.

 

So what’s so magical about that? Of course we want the sunshine. Who doesn’t? But the magic comes in the waiting. The dark powers of the north, the dark earth energy of the pagan wheel of the year is dream magic. It’s the time before beginnings. It’s the time when we sit with a cup of tea clenched in our hands and reflect on what has been, while everything in us looks forward to what lies ahead. On the one hand we dream of the past and we say our good-byes to this turning of the year, on the other hand, we dream and scheme and anticipate the future that will begin, just like new life, in the dark place. And we wait for the end that has to happen before the beginning. The time before beginnings. It’s a phrase that has no meaning if we don’t have a past to reflect upon. It’s a phrase that has no meaning if we don’t have a future to anticipate and to dream and scheme for.

 

This time of year the sun, when we do get it, is never very high in the sky, and it’s often a cold anemic sun. This time of year when everything seems so dead, there are already buds fattening on the trees — the beginnings of the leaves that will shelter the birds and shade us from the sun when it’s at its most powerful. This time of year even the winter visitors, the waxwings and the fieldfares, are anticipating new beginnings, feeding up for their return to the north and for the raising of the next generation.

 

It’s in these dark days, in this space in between when it’s not quite the end, but it’s not yet the beginning either, it’s in this liminal space that we experience a magic that’s different from any other time of the year, a magic of stillness, a magic of holding ourselves tightly and inhaling deeply just before the sun returns and we’re off once again, running forward into the headroom and the creative momentum that this time before beginnings has afforded us.

 

Happy Time Before Beginnings!

 

Dark Days and Birdies

(Archives)

The darkest day of the year has come and gone. From now on it’s a slow, teasing progression toward spring and glorious sun-filled days. But even the dark days bring their own pleasures.

Every year in early December, something wonderful happens in our back garden. The wagtails return! We’ve had a pair of pied wagtails over-wintering with us for the past four years now. I’d like to think they come because they’ve developed a warm spot in their little birdie hearts for us, but I know they really come for the shredded cheese.

 

Wagtails are insectivores, and these two lovelies, whether they are the original pair who first visited us on that dreadful winter four years ago or some of their descendants, have probably come down from Scandinavia to winter here in South England. They come here because there are certain kinds of insects that survive in the moss on the roofs of the houses and every time the temperature warms slightly, they come out briefly. It’s a day to day existence for the wagtails, and I can’t imagine how any of them actually survive, so I put out shredded cheese, which they love.

 

I associate Christmas with a huge influx of birds in our back garden, and it’s a time when I feel closer them and am more sensitive to their needs. Though food is the obvious need – fat balls for the general population, mixed seeds and nuts for the tits and doves, currants for the blackbirds and of course shredded cheese for the wagtails (though the starlings and the magpies also love the cheese and currants) the big draw during the coldest days of winter is the birdbaths. People might not realise birds have no source of fresh water when everything is frozen. Imagine nothing to drink when the weather is cold, no place to bathe.

 

Every morning, as soon as it’s light enough to see, we go out and fill all the feeders, spread currants and cheese for the blackbird and the wagtails and then we tend to the two birdbaths, clearing out the ice with hot water. When that’s done we go in to have our own breakfast. Our dining table is in front of sliding glass doors that look out into the back garden, so every morning during the bleakest days of winter, we are rewarded with an feeding frenzy and a pool party.

 

We live in a wonderful symbiosis with our avian friends. We keep food and water available for them throughout the coldest darkest times and in turn we’re rewarded with a close-up and personal view of the natural world we wouldn’t otherwise get. The blackbird perches on the retaining wall and stares in the window at us if there are no currants for him. The wagtails show up out of nowhere when they hear us filling feeders. They’ve learned there’ll be cheese.

 

Through December, we’re all waiting for the daylight, waiting for the sun to return. We’re all waiting and longing for light and warmth and new beginnings. Through those darkest months, I marvel at how the birds survive the bleak harsh days when there seems to be nothing for them to eat, nothing for them to drink. I know that lots of them don’t survive. I know that when the temperature dips below zero, whether or not they survive the night can depend upon how much they’ve been able to forage the day before. The difference between survival and death is such a fine line. And every year I’m astounded and amazed by their tenacity, by their will to survive the dark days.

 

In the spring, the wagtails go back to Scandinavia to breed and the bird population in our back garden changes, and the dynamic changes. We get fledgling starlings and blackbirds and the whole garden becomes a nursery for the next generation. But there’s something magical about those winter months, the dark cold days, the times when the closeness I feel is a deep admiration for the ebb and flow, for the push to hang on one more season, for the deep powerful urge to survive and bring forth the next generation. I watch the starlings fluttering in wild abandon in the birdbaths, the water freezing on the edges even as they bathe. I watch the wagtails and the blackbirds treading frozen ground, eating cheese and currants, their feathers fluffed to nearly twice their body size to keep warm, and I feel that somehow, I’ve become a part of something so much greater than myself and my little understanding of the world. This is the gift I receive every year in the dead of winter, and it’s a gift that I treasure long after the sun has returned and the Dawn Chorus has begun in earnest and the wagtails have flown north.

 

Happy Solstice, everyone! May all the gifts you give and receive be gifts that touch the heart.

 
© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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