Reflection

Sometimes I think super hard about things other than writing.

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

Chronic Pain Diaries “The Luckiest”

I’m lucky, I’m lucky, I’m lucky. It’s a mantra that I force myself to live by. I am lucky. I am well-adjusted. I’m okay. I repeat it every day religiously because if I don’t, if I miss a moment of it, I run the risk of revolving into something heinous. It’s a something that is a wreck, a destructive force that runs the risk of devouring my sense of ‘self’. I don’t know what I would become, but I can’t find out.

Because I am lucky. I am lucky.

Today is a bad pain day. I knew it the moment I woke up. My skin ached, my bones felt like they weighed a thousand pounds each, and my muscles pulsed. I know these bad pain days better than I know good pain days, if there can really be such a thing. I know them and I dread them because they bring me as close to the edge of the ruination of my ‘self’ as I ever want to come. I continue to remind myself, I am lucky, but somehow the words are more hollow. They echo in my mind, absorbed by the heavy darkness that infiltrates all my senses.

I am lucky.

I never understand how it happens. Yesterday my pain was awful too, but for some reason it wasn’t a struggle. My brain woke up, acknowledged the pain, and then kicked it into the back corner where other, more important things could overshadow it. Funny pictures, my Codsworth FunkoPop arriving, lovely emails from people I work with, dinner with the husband. It’s all good, everything is fine because I am lucky. So what changed in the eight hours of sleep (or lack thereof) that my mind, so irregularly wired to handle the concept of chronic, unending pain, now seems like a mountain I can’t climb, let alone reach the summit to plant my flag? Brains are remarkably fickle things, I suppose.

I am lucky. I am alive.

It’s so damn exhausting. On the long walk through the Plus Fifteen from where we park downtown to my office I listen to my Chronic Pain Mix. Songs that are dark, or peppy, or make me feel good. The Lament of Eustace Scrubb by The Oh Hellos; Alright by Pilot Speed; Safe and Sound by Hawksley Workman. They calm the sense of aggravation, of unease. Some songs are so melancholy, I could revert to a teenage frame of mind and think Yes, this song perfectly fits my mood. Some are so energetic, I wonder how I could possibly feel depressed. Because that it was it is. Depression. A big, black swath of angry, vitriolic depression that clings to me.

I am lucky, but I can feel it in my heart, like it is encased by a cloth that is too warm, uncomfortable. It makes me feel sick. And I can’t express it properly, because for over half my life now I have lived with this I am lucky persona. I thrust out my chest, I bang my drum, and I declare Look at me! I am lucky!

The drumming drowns out the little voice in me that is sad and exhausted by the weight it carries.  Lucky as I may be.

I am lucky.

I see others who are also lucky, but don’t know it yet. I speak to them and listen to their frustrations and I nod and commiserate, because on some small level I understand. Yes, it is overwhelming; yes, it is depressing. Yes, it is never going to end. But you will live. We will live. We are lucky. But there is the part of me that knows that I will never be part of their club. Like high school, like all the places I’ve worked, like any social circles, I sit on the periphery of this world because my day-to-day sensibilities do not lean towards sadness and anger and frustration, but relentless positivity.

I am lucky.

Chronic pain is lonely enough as it is. Social isolation is a monster. But to be isolated further from those who suffer as you do? Unfathomable loneliness that eats away at you.

Still, at least you are lucky.

Happy New Year – Introducing the Idiomatic Podcast (Coming Soon)

I haven’t met some of my closest friends in person. I’ve only spoken to one or two of them through Skype, and another handful on text message. But I love them.I love talking to them about writing and reading and the triumphs and failures of the craft. And for a while I’ve been playing with a thought…

What would it be like to share these thoughts with other people? To share our comedy and our wins and losses and our anger at Keith who never gets off his ass to write even thought he totally should and we are so disappointed in you, Keith.

What would it be like to podcast?

Tough, I think is the proper word. Hard as hell, even. It involves time, which I do have a bit of. It involves money, which I now have more of thanks to a new job. It involves knowledge of software, of which I have zero. It involves patience. And patience? I have that in abundance.

I can’t say what spawned it. Maybe being back at the chat room, talking about New Years writing goals. Amber brought it up, reminding me that I had this idea.

It exploded from there. Ideas thrown about. The purchasing of a microphone and a Mumble Server. Reading, experimenting with this and that. Downloading Audacity and wondering why I had the, ahem, audacity, to think I could do a podcast. it would be classic Kathleen. Invest time and money into something. Give it an honest go. Flounder. Fail.

Not this time. We have a plan. And hopefully, starting the second Sunday in February we will be able to share it with you. The Idiomatic Podcast. A group of rotating authors, some early in their careers, some just lifting off, some veterans, talking writing, books, tropes, and more. The first couple won’t be perfect. We’ve promised ourselves we’re only allowed one F-Bomb per episode. The dreams are big. Could we get local authors on to take part? Could we interview people? What all do we talk about? Well we have that covered enough. There isn’t enough time in the world for us to talk about everything on our minds, so hopefully my audio editing skills will magically present themselves.

Get ready, you idiomatics. We’re coming for ya’.