Adventures in Butternut Squash

My Little Love,

Six months ago I called your father at 3 a.m. and gave him the news. It was time. We had suspected it was approaching, given I had lost what I affectionately refer to as my “jelly center” the day prior, but my mom had assured me that it can take up to a week for labor to start after that, so we weren’t holding our breath. FB_IMG_1544232522897

When your father answered the phone, the cadence of his voice instantly changed. At once we both knew our lives were about to make a hard left into uncharted territory and we, like all new parents, were vastly unprepared.

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I was deep into labor and contractions by the time they got me to the O.R. for surgery. I had to be put under, thanks to what you will someday realize is a very gammy spine. I would miss your first few minutes on earth, but that had never been a concern to me. There would be hundreds of thousands of minutes after that I would get to share with you. The first few ought to be dedicated to making sure you are safe and healthy; that you had the appropriate number of digits on the recommended number of limbs.

You came out with nearly a full head of hair; the darkest brown, almost black, like your father’s. It has lightened since then, looks more like mine, with the same wave and curls that have a mind of their own most of the time. I’ve already had to cut it three or four times, first around your ears, then your forehead, and just the other day, the baby-fine rat tail which I told people you were growing out for the playoffs. I don’t even know when playoffs start. Or if they’ve already happened. We aren’t a sporty household.

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You went from looking like your dad to looking like me (even those solidly in your grandparents camp agree.) It is the cheeks, I think, and the eyes, though they move from blue to grey, there is a slight ring of brown to them. You may have your father’s eyes yet.

You are good-natured, almost to the point of disbelief. You only cry when you are hungry or the odd moment when you get a bump. you sing the song of your people, a guttural ‘guhh’ sound, while you try to force your favorite rattle, a soft, rubbery dragon, into your mouth. Monkey, a gift from your Irish relatives, is your best friend in the whole world, and you love to hold him by the tail. Your smile is pure, and your laughter is music to my ears.

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You’re learning to give kisses. You put your hands on my cheeks and pull me forward, mouth agape like a hung-over fish, and plant your mouth on my cheek. It is a work in progress, but the show of affection warms my heart.

Every day we go for a long walk around the pond. We listen to the birds, and have a greeting for each of them. Good morning, Sergeant Magpie; Hello, Brother Sparrow; Keep Bobbin’, Mr. Robin. But you like the chickadees the most. They conglomerate in the choke cherry bushes and flit about, and if you are sleeping you will smile at the sound. If you are awake, though, you crane your body as hard as you can to try and see them.

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You have an abundance of dinosaur clothes, and I hope you like them when you are a little older. I loved them as a child. The birthday cake I brought in to my grade one class was a dinosaur cake taken from a DK baking book. I will try to find it and recreate it for you.

The cats are unsure of you, although surprisingly it is Vivi who has taken to you, who seems to have the most patience. Beemo doesn’t seem to care for your flailing and laughing, but he’ll warm up to you in time. We are learning to be gentle, gentle when touching animals, and when holding mommy’s hair.

When you are sad, we sing to you. The Baby Wiggle Dance, or Banana Kiss, both original compositions that seem to make you smile.

20190606_113458Today you tried butternut squash. It was highly overrated, but the squishing noise and the ability to make it splatter brought you plenty of joy.

You laugh and giggle and smile and your face lights up when you see daddy come home. You chitter and talk and tell me stories that I don’t yet understand, though I am trying my best. Every day is a new learning experience.20190330_165251

It is difficult at times, my little love, to remind myself to trust my instincts. To remember that at least for now I know you better than anyone, and all well-meaning advice should come with a heavy heaping of salt. It is a challenge, because every who has raised a baby thinks they know best. You will be too cold without socks. You will be too warm with that hat. You are munching your hand because you are hungry. You are kicking your legs because you are ready to crawl. In reality, you hate socks and shoes because they are too warm; you enjoy wearing hats as long as they don’t cover your eyes. You are munching your hand because you are teeth (it is coming in at the top, on your right hand side). You are kicking because you need to be changed. I know you better than anyone else right now. I know you love little dances when you feel sad. I know pressing monkey up against your face is a surefire way to make you content. I know all these things and more about you and I hold each piece of information, each daily change, close to my heart and treasure it dearly. 20190505_171959

The days are long, exhausting. You father works especially hard, and sacrifices a lot of potential time with you to ensure that we want for nothing. The trade off is a sense of loneliness that I cannot wrap my mind around at times. You are there, always. Twenty-four/seven. Attached to my hip. I feed you and change you and put you to bed. I wake up with you and walk with you, I bathe you and dry you. What need is there for loneliness when the only moments of privacy I experience now are the ten minutes in the shower in the morning? (If I should be so lucky.) At times I wonder if I crave conversation or emotional support for like-minded mothers. I suppose I do. That need is in me, somewhere, but for the time being I am content in the relative silence, filled by your burbling and babbling. If the need ever arises in a sudden and heavy way, I can seek out solace with other young mum’s at the local playground. We can talk about how much we adore coffee and need a wine break. About how our husbands bonded with their offspring. About how we need some time to ourselves, just a moment to catch our breath and cry a little.

 

20190228_112845There is no room for weakness in motherhood, but there should be. There should be time and space to let it all come tumbling down; to let ourselves be vulnerable and show the world that we are struggling. That we cook and clean and maintain our own sanity while keeping the foundation of the home secure. And we should acknowledge how funny it is that the world seems to want to talk about how strong mothers are, and how much they do, without actually doing a thing to relieve that pressure. Imagine what we might be capable of if someone bothered to act on those ridiculous “Strong Mother” memes. But no, people are content to continue sharing them without acting upon them. People are content to sit around agreeing with each other. Oh yes, they do so much. They are the heart of the house. Without taking that single step further to act upon and relieve that insurmountable strain.

Being a mother to you, my Little Love, is the most rewarding thing I have done. But it also paints a stark image of what must be endured in silence. Because there are no words, not really. You can never adequately express how isolating it is, or how frustrating it can be. You can find synonyms galore and they still don’t quite create a vivid enough picture.

You are six months old today, Little Love, and there is still a long way to go. I will be there beside you, silently memorizing the shifts in your personality and the new developments as they take over. I will watch with trepidation as you grow and move from me, into the greater world.

You are so precious to me, now and for always.

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Not Dead Yet

Teen months ago I finished a draft for The Code: Book 3. As is tradition I took some time after to question every creative choice if ever made, and berate myself for being generally bad at this whole writing thing. It was meant to pass; it always does. Then I would pick up my red pen and get to editing. The thing is, I quickly found myself in a creative slump. It wasn’t so much writers block add it was a general limitation of my own brain to comprehend what I was doing.

Something was wrong with me. That something, it turns out, was pregnancy. It was confirmed by my the best writing pals, two of which are mom’s themselves. I jokingly sent the picture of an unclear pregnancy test result to them, asking “lol what am I supposed to make of this?”

“Oh Hun, it means your pregnant.”

I’ll spare you the details save that I gave myself permission to not quite about Book 3 for the next 7 months (I didn’t realize I was with child for some time.)

On December 6th, my son was born. I am wildly in love with him. The way he squeaks unexpectedly in his sleep. The way he clasps his hands over his chest when I’m feeding him. Even now, at 4:15 in the morning, horribly sleep deprived and listening to him fuss in the bassinet, I’m in love. What a life changing experience.

Of course now I’ve got no excuse. Those pregnancy hormones are no longer a valid reason to not write or edit. I’ve had seven months to question the plot of Book 3, and question I did. And am doing. All the time. Fuck.

In between feedings and burpings and snuggles, I’m trying again. I’m examining motivations and development. Some of the draft can stay, but a huge chunk of it needs to be canned. Seven months is a long time in the world of writing. Skills change, ideas morph, diapers get soiled – way, no, that’s mom mode again. Whatever. I am really tired. The point is this, I’m not dead yet, and Book 3 is coming. Just you wait and see.

Of

Of words. Of thoughts. Of the indistinguishable hum of your body and the city, moving together, crumbling in tandem. Of your smile through teeth, your laughter through emptiness. Of the definition of your life, laid out before you as a dissembled puzzle needing a steady hand to help you piece it back together.

Of the words to family and friends, kind whispers that what they see is true and real and nothing else could be held beneath your skin, buried within your bones, guiding your every breath.

Of the break of blue in the swell of grey, so rich you feel your soul spoon it from the sky and consume it. Nourishment where none exists. Of the spread of air through lungs and veins, igniting the flame within, reminding you that it is possible to feel beyond the tinder and the match. Of the blaze that can feed and grow, if only you knew how to tend it right.

Of the crystalline, the shattering, when the blue is no more and the fire is out and you curl upon yourself to protect the spark that surely must stay alive. Of the life you live, in spite of it all.

Of the crunch and the craze and the sense of existing as nothing in a world packed full of people and their everything. Of the beauty in the mirrored city and the anonymity it reflects back, reminding you that to be faceless is to be fresh and clean and without sin or struggle to your name.

Of the first breath in Spring, reminding you that even beneath all the dead and dying, a crocus may still emerge and create colour.

Chronic Pain Diaries – The Menial

No one celebrates the menial tasks when you have chronic pain. No one celebrates any accomplishment when you have chronic pain, because there is an overarching belief that you should just do it.

Bullshit. I want a tickertape parade for getting out of bed every day this week. I want a plaque engraved with Kathleen Sawisky Managed to Make Dinner Instead of Ordering Skip the Dishes. I want a round of applause for being able to walk to and from the bus stop every morning and evening (approximately 4 minutes worth of consistent walking, traffic notwithstanding. Might as well be on the other side of Canada.)

I’d like a certificate that acknowledges my ability to continue smiling through the pain while I interact with coworkers, or listen to the troubles and woes of others. I’d love to get some sort of trophy for not throttling the next person who tells me I have back pain too. Pulled a muscle working out. I’d love an all expenses paid vacation out of chronic pain for a week, a day, even an hour.

I’ve earned a commendation from the Mayor, noting my supreme ability in being able to sit for a 45 minute bus ride without crying from every bump and jolt. The Prime Minister should proclaim the 22nd of June a day in which we celebrate my skills in being able to bend over to put my shoes on while what surmounts to lightning shoots through my lower back. The Queen herself ought to sassily remind everyone that I am a goddamn champion for cleaning the bathroom or wiping down countertops or giving the hardwood a cursory sweep.

No one celebrates the menial tasks when you’re normal. But when you live with chronic pain every day, these things are taken for granted. To get out of bed, to make sure you eat, to put your clothes on, to have the same work ethic of those around you, to appear as normal as possible while your body rebels in abnormality. These menial tasks take everything out of you, and no one knows it, because you are very, very good at playing pretend. Still, a certificate acknowledging your skills in basic survival might be nice.

An Open Letter to Doritos- “But is it yogurt flavored?”

Dear Doritos,

I imagine right about now you are asking yourselves what happened. Why has your glorious decision of soft-ish chips, directed towards the females of the planet, been targeted by trollish harassment and mockery since its announcement. Somewhere, I imagine there is an R&D specialist who is gazing woefully at the trending hashtags of #LadyDoritos. They lurch every time the phone rings, expecting the call to be from their immediate supervisor, alerting them of their immediate termination over what can only be described as a social and cultural misstep that fails to recognize the needs of specific user groups and imposes values and desires on a specific group without proper consideration.

Somewhere, that R&D specialist is weeping into their bag of chips, making them soggy, gazing malignly at a bowl of orange mush vaguely resembling Donald Trump’s face in both skin and, I imagine, texture, wondering how did we get it so wrong?

                Was it the concept of soft Doritos? No. I know plenty of people who detest the sound of crunching chips. They equate it to a leaf mulcher eating human bones. To them, it is worse than finger nails down a chalkboard. There are others still, who hate the feeling of your equilateral products scraping the delicate corners of their mouths, cutting in like a foodie’s Glasgow smile. Some of us hate the feeling of chip bits falling down our shirts, getting caught in our bras or man girdles. We all have our neurotic likes and dislikes when it comes to our snack foods, but I’ll let you in on a secret for the general population…

Never once, when discussing my snack food choices with my coworkers, loved ones, or strangers on the train, have we ever considered semi-raw potatoes rolled in fake cheese and sodium as an appropriate alternative to our chip problems.

You know why, Doritos?

Because no one fucking cares.

Look around you. Look at the state of the world. Have you seen who the President of the United States is? Did you notice that there is still war and famine across the globe? Did you notice the opioid epidemic on your streets or take into account the rate of homelessness around you? You probably did, but like most corporations, you saw it as a by-product of the time and instead opted to focus your research and energy into a literal half-baked scheme that no one asked for.

                Least of all women.

And there’s your second issue right there. I’m not sure. Maybe your R&D group is a bunch of old white men raised on some cotton farm in southern Alabama where women still wear petticoats and do declare things with appropriately subdued enthusiasm, but the ladies I know are not marching for softer chips for our delicate lady palates.  Unless your Doritos are going to be extra absorbent when it comes to dealing with my period blood, or, I don’t know, fucking yogurt flavored (because apparently we are really into yogurt too), I could quite literally not give a single shit about the crunchy level of your product. I’m too goddamned busy worrying about, and coming to terms with, sexual harassment in the workplace, and the fact that my male coworkers are paid more than me, and the assholes that think me smiling at them is an invitation for them to call me things like “sweet cheeks” and “sexy” that, hey, if I don’t return in kind, suddenly turn into alarming forms of aggression and derogatory comments like the goddamned c-bomb or even fucking grabbing at me

                Who, just tell me who thought women wanted softer Doritos? Who thought, in an age marked by struggles for equality among gender and sexual orientation and race, it would be a great idea to market fucking slightly softer Doritos to an entire group of people. Are you shitting me? No, you’re not, though an over-indulgence in your product would certainly lead to plenty of distressing shits that I wouldn’t wish on my greatest enemy.

Here’s a better question for you.

Who asked you for this? And, follow up question, did they also ask you if you really think you should be vaccinating your kids? Because I’m guessing someone who shows the passion for one probably has enough time to waste on the other.

I understand as a snack product you need to stay on top of things. You have to keep up with trends and constantly be producing the next best thing. In a market saturated with delicious treats and snacks, it is vital that you are always in. Here’s an idea. Try a new flavor. Goddamned novelty flavors are all the rage. People love trying new, stupid flavors that they know will only be around for a short period of time. Hell, Japan has made a name for itself offering up weird-ass chip flavors that we can’t even dream of here in North America. You can be damn sure that if Doritos put out a Seafood Jazz Dorito or Cheesy Enchilada Dorito flavor people would eat that shit up. Again, literally. Lays has made a name for itself having contests about chip flavors! Doesn’t that seem like a good idea? That seems like a good idea to me.  Much better than trying to market an insulting snackfood to half the world who, just to remind you, never asked for it.

Times are changing, Doritos. You have to use a measure of social intelligence and recognize the values of the culture in which you are trying to market your product.

Spoiler alert: our current top ten values do not, and I would guess will never include slightly softer chips.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Sawisky Esq.

There is Snow

Natalia learned how to muffle her crying, how to put on a mask that said to the rest of the world I am a well-adjusted individual. Pay no attention to me.

Winter isn’t like I remember it. When I was a youngun’ in Kelowna I remember heaps of snow that dominated the world. They peaked like egg whites whipped to perfection, so thick you could burrow into them and tunnel like a prairie dog to the other side of the world.

I’m sure climate change is the reason for the grey, barren world outside of this bus depot now. I find it strange when there is no snow to hide the earth in the winter. Snow is like a magician’s cape pulled over a box containing a rabbit. In the spring it is pulled back to reveal flowers where there was once something else. Without snow, the magic of the seasons seem somehow more hollow, almost exhausting. I’m happy for the blue sky, and the sense of infinity that comes from living on the prairies during this time of year, but I wish there was snow to blanket the earth and create that sense of incredible wonder again.

In the winter I always find myself stalling when it comes to writing. Maybe it’s the fact that I am cold 90% of the time and my fingers would much rather be buried in a blanket than tapping away at a keyboard. I can’t do that now. There is a sense of ownership to this journey, that even the three or four people who have read Between Fire and Pines and The Skeletal Bird are owed an ending, and unfortunately I am still rather far away from that. There is a lot of work to be done this winter, and I have to drag myself out of this melancholia that had set in and remind myself that in my very tiny world, I too am a magician.

Plot, characters, setting, events, deaths, births. They are all woven together to make my cloak, and beneath them exists a final product, another book. It isn’t as simple as the cry of Abracadabra or Alakazam. The end product of this magical act must be tended to like the snow tends to the earth in the winter. It is done beneath the surface, where no one can see what is taking place.

I like being a magician with words, although I’d hardly call myself adept at the craft yet. But magic can be learned and the bulbs in the frozen ground can be tended to, and amazing things can grow where you least expect it.

Book 3 has been a challenge for me, and I’m not sure why. It is at least  partially a case of “I wrote the original plot so long ago that it no longer fits with the overall narrative, and also it was stupid.” At the same time, something hasn’t been fitting quite right. It’s like a shirt that’s been washed too many times. It no longer fits right. Without a finished draft I can hardly go back and begin to identify the problematic feature. Instead I have to barrel on through the whole thing until I have that beginning, middle, and end. That’s when my favorite part of the magic show takes place. The illusions, the  misdirection, all the bits and pieces that I get to put into place. The moments of quiet reflection and the other moments of explosive action.

I was speaking to a writer friend of mine not too long ago and he was just about halfway through The Skeletal Bird. I always get nervous when it comes to my friends reading my work, especially when they have the same desires that I do to succeed in the industry. We’re hard on each other, if only to help each other improve and succeed. This friend told me that he was enjoying it, but in particular he loved the moments between action and dialogue. The little reflective moments that don’t build on plot or characters, but create a striking visual and help cement an author’s voice. I was extraordinary happy with that, and quite embarrassed by the praise. It meant a lot to me, and helped carry me through some severe moments of doubt.

At the same time, I think maybe doubt it a product of a winter without snow. You look around the world and wonder if its possible this cold will ever cleave itself from the earth, if you’ll ever feel the warmth of a spring sun. Winter is a time of doubt, and it can be remarkably exhausting if you don’t have the means to survive it. I have words; a little bit of magic in my hands.

I wouldn’t mind a bit of snow either.


Between Fire and Pines  and The Skeletal Bird are both available on Amazon, Kindle, and Kobo! If you’e read them, please consider leaving a review on Goodreads! It helps readers make informed decisions. Like, “This book wasn’t as bad as I thought”, or “This book is like a Michael Bay wet-dream”.

Photo by Nancy Wong, 1977

Let’s Talk About Cults

Or more, let me introduce you to my new favorite obsession. Three years ago it was biker gangs, last year it was viruses. This year is the year of cults, and I am so giddy that my astral cocoon is fit to burst!

I’ve been busy working on Book 3 (reminder, you can buy books 1 and 2 on Amazon), but as always I’ve also been working through replotting book 4 (because writing a series, let alone one nine novels long requires a bit of foresight on my part.) And as with all the previous books, something about the plot of #4 just wasn’t sitting right.

And then I listened to Cults, a comedic investigative podcast that looks into various cults throughout history, their activities, recruitment methods, all that fun sort of jazz. As hosts Paige Wesley and Marie Bello explain on their inaugural podcast, they’re interested in cults because they live in California and cults are literally everywhere. Oddly enough, that was the same thing Gregg Hurwitz said in an interview about his second Tim Rackley book.

I love comedy. I love cults. If there were a cult based around the Marx Brothers, I would probably join. (The password is always Swordfish). As it is, I live in Canada and the only Cult I have access to has a history of cutting off people’s arms and I need mine for writing purposes (Hello, Ant Hill Kids.) Therefore, I live vicariously through the work of people like Paige and Marie who are deeply ensconced in the cult-scene and, on at least one occasion relayed to listeners about a weekend visit to a farmer’s market for a massage (which might just be the most hipster thing I’ve written in the last few months) about how they were nearly swindled by a cult.

The point is, knowledge is power. I have a notebook chalked full of notes thanks to these two lovely ladies about the cult that will be dominating book 4, and I am excited to see where it takes me.

However, as with all things in life, they couldn’t have expected to poke the hornets nest for so long before something came out to sting them. A couple days back a message was posted on the Cults Facebook page regarding the removal of Part 1 of a particular episode. It doesn’t take a backrub peddling pontificator to know that someone got a little uptight about being called a ‘cult’ and didn’t appreciate having their presumably very white, identical pants and shirts all laid out to bare for the public to see. It looks like they have avoided litigation, at least for now. But that sort of subtle threat against your creative work can be a serious downer, and word can spread and sometimes impact that potential audience you are trying to reach. That’s why I’m encouraging all of you to go to your favorite podcast provider and give Cults a listen.

Okay. Maybe not the first few episodes. Pre-Armando episodes, or Pre-Mando episodes as I will now call them. Armando, their hilarious sound guy, was sorely needed in those early days. But don’t bring it up to Paige or Marie. They know their sound was crap. If you can deal with ratcheting your sound up to eleven, they’re still worth checking out. I promise, there are no audible jump-scares to ruin your hearing.

Cults are fascinating. They’re all around us (some more than others, I guess. Stupid, lame Canada with its lack of interesting cults.) They prey on the weak and most vulnerable in society and manipulate them into acting outside of the social norm. They are awful, but sort of cool, but really actually awful, but also, like, sort of really cool in a sick sort of way.  I have a lot of different feelings, but given my history of writing explosive, violent scenes, I suppose an interest in cults isn’t that unusual.

The point is, go listen to it. The crimes of these cults and leaders aren’t exactly friendly jaunts through fields of daisies. Paige and Marie are dealing with dark, uncomfortable topics on a weekly basis, and interjecting an overtop level of humor that a person could argue reflects the overall nature and response of general society when we hear about people getting caught up in cult activities. Ha ha, look at those chumps! This could never happen to me! That’s about as academic as I’m willing to get on the topic at the moment given the high levels of morphine currently in my system.

Anyways, give it a listen. It’s well worth it. Also buy my books. Those are also well worth it.

Or don’t. See if I care.

(I do.)

Header Photo by Nancy Wong, 1977