Behind the Mask

(Halloween/Fall wreath I made last year)

One week out from Halloween, a day when people put on another face or personality, I thought about how much we sometimes pretend to be something that we’re not-or when we push something to the side instead of facing it(okay, it’s really about how much I do this). It’s been my theme for the past 12 months after the spinal cord stim (SCS) surgery(October 2017). With each medical procedure (to bring you up to speed, there were 3), I expected to be a step toward feeling better. Yet, other physical issues cropped up and a few visits from my old friend DVT(a.k.a. blood clots), had pretty much zapped away any strength or writing focus I have been grasping in my cold arthritic hands.

Please don’t get me wrong, I did have some fantastic news (TLCB being nominated for N. Carolina and Tennessee book awards!) and opportunities (most recently-my 1st time as an Author Moderator at ReadUp festival, SC) in 2018 amidst the various health issues, of which I’m very grateful. But pain has drained my energy and for each fun opportunity, my recovery period lasted longer than the time before. This is one of the reasons, I haven’t written a blog post in so long. I didn’t feel very creative and I didn’t want to sound so negative or ungrateful. Usually I like to share how I’m dealing with the difficulty and quite frankly I am still searching for a way to get through all this.

Being able to honor my mom while discussing The Last Cherry Blossom (TLCB) with students and knowing that I may have played a small role in their understanding that nuclear weapons should never be used again brings joy and meaning into my life. I have no regrets devoting my energy to that. However, I’ve also come to realize that when I’m doing school or conference visits, I’m unable to devote quality time to research and writing. I must confess that I’m disappointed that I can’t do both, as I originally intended. If I’m really honest with myself, I’m extremely ticked off that Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD) brought my career to a halt 17 years ago and now that I thought I found something I could do, the progression of RSD may take that away as well. (it seems that my RSD pain is spreading to the incision site of the stent implanted in June-heavy, heavy sigh).

There have also been other factors causing me to question how I will proceed with writing. As some may know, this past spring the parent company (Skyhorse Publishing) of the imprint that published TLCB (Sky Pony Press), reduced the number of books it will be publishing annually, and their reorganization laid off the editorial staff of Sky Pony Press. So, my hope of a sequel to TLCB, to which I was devoting my time and energy, when I had it, is now looking less certain.

Any self-confidence I had evaporated. Insecurity and the awful feeling that I’ve let people down quickly swooped in to replace it. I’ve been pushing these feelings aside for the past months and pretending everything is going well. I mean, if I say something long enough, it becomes true, doesn’t it?  Sort of like if I keep saying when you eat crispy rice treats straight from the pan, there are less calories-don’t judge. 😊

I do have other ideas for manuscripts and have even started researching/writing them. Yet the story my heart yearns to tell is the one of my main character, Yuriko. How she is trying to find meaning for her life and dealing with symptoms of PTSD, while living among the soldiers of the US Occupation forces and without her Papa.

I’ve been trying to figure out how to acknowledge the fact that my health may not get any better than it is right now-and may even be getting worse. I’ve been praying. I’m reminded that with God all things are possible and that He is made stronger in our weakness (I know I gave Him one huge energy booster shot over the past year). I don’t like change-but then again, who does? So, I decided to write this post while I’m still in the mess of it all. The feelings are no longer put aside and hidden with a smile.

(EEK! A mask on building in Izu from our visit in 2015)

I hope I can gain a little more of my pre-surgery physical and emotional strength back. And you can be sure that I will keep visiting with students (I just may have to do more Skype visits). But I need to work on accepting the fact that an instant solution to all this will not arrive gift wrapped and tied with a sparkling bow-oh, but wouldn’t it be cool if it did?! 😊 So, the mask is off, and hopefully I won’t scare anyone away while I’m waiting.

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Waiting to be Found

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Have you ever searched all over the house to look for a lost item, say, your checkbook? Worse yet you know you recently had it in your hand. Maybe, something caught your attention along the way and you placed it down. Perhaps it’s the moment you remembered that you needed the extra extension cord for the Christmas tree. Since you have forgotten to look for one the past week, you decide to search for it immediately.

Of course the place you could swear you saw it last year-nope, no longer there. As you ponder where it could be, you realize that the mailman will come soon and you need to get that paid bill into the mailbox. Now where did you set that checkbook?

Okay, I confess—that was me earlier this week.

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My family is in the midst of celebrating Advent. Advent is known to be a season of waiting-waiting to celebrate the birth of our Lord and celebrate the joy in waiting for Him to return. Little children are waiting for Santa or waiting for the Elf to give his report from the shelf.

This past Thanksgiving, I found myself waiting and feeling extremely lost—no, not because my husband wouldn’t ask for directions to where we were having Thanksgiving dinner—not this year anyway.

My mother was very ill in the hospital and I have never felt so adrift with worry. Minutes seemed like hours wondering if her body could fight back or if I would lose her. Normally, I would research as much as I could to know what to expect, yet that day before Thanksgiving I found myself paralyzed with fear of the uncertainty of whether she would make it through. Only once I heard from the Specialist that the worst was over and she stabilized, I researched in earnest (you had to see that coming).

Adrenaline pushed me through that critical week and I would be there until the wee hours of the morning. Now for people who do not know me, I turn into a pumpkin after 9pm. So, I definitely knew another source of strength was at hand. I had some of my Tenn. family visiting and she stayed with me at the hospital. Not only was she a comfort to me, but my mother was comfortable with her there because she had known her for many years. She also is an early to bed kind of gal, but she stayed with me. She gently, but firmly pushed me to leave, so I would have strength to continue the next day.

I am very lucky that in addition to receiving the support and strength from her, my husband and daughter, I also have my NC family. My NC family took us in when we first moved here and we knew no one. I can’t imagine my life without them!

They all helped me, each in their own way; to find the where-with-all to push through the emotional pain so I could focus on the best way to help my mother. Eventually the physical pain caught up with me—RSD does not like stress and makes a point to really let you know. I lost some blog posts because I could barely move let alone write a coherent sentence that anyone would want to read.

The thing of it is I had to find the strength and recognize the help God gave to me when I was lost in the, as they say in the South, “hot mess” of it all.

Waiting goes hand in hand with writing. I wait for the right words to strike. Yet sometimes, I find I get too caught up in something sounding perfect as soon as my pen hits the paper (yes, I am old school). I have found that I just need to write what pops into my mind and eventually (sometimes days later), the polished words will come. After all, there is plenty of time for edits, edits, and more edits.

Once I finally completed my, I don’t know, say my 5th or 6th draft of THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM manuscript, the next step was to wait for a response from a query to an agent or editor. During that wait I had wondered, maybe I lost what inkling of writing talent I believed I once had, or worse, maybe I don’t have any at all? Yet the more I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that I am not happy unless I am creating something. I found that I needed to write. My body may have lost some of what it used to be capable of to RSD.  But, I found that my brain did not have to be lost along with it!

When I stopped searching for perfection and released some of my fear of making mistakes, I wrote at my best (for me anyway). When I found a Literary Agent, Anna Olswanger, who could see potential in my manuscript, it was an early Christmas gift last year!

My mom still has a long journey ahead with her health, but we are finding strength in our faith and one another.

Oh, and if you are wondering about that missing extension cord- I went out and bought a new one. Guess what I found in another box of Christmas decorations the very next day?

I would love to hear of your ‘waiting to be found’ situation.  Please tell me what happened for you?

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What are you waiting for?

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How many times have you been on hold? Sometimes it is a silent hold and you begin to wonder, did they disconnect me? Or you may be lucky enough to hear MUZAK for your listening pleasure. When (or if) they come back on the line, your eyelids have closed and you are about to let out a gentle snore.  But, have you noticed if the hold music just happens to be a song you like, it seems as if not much time has passed at all?

In this ASAP culture any amount of waiting seems to be too long. How many times have you zigzagged your mouse around thinking it would load your page faster? I have done it at least twice today. There was a comedian that did a joke about the pop tarts box. The directions, of course were to put them in a toaster. Yet, under that listed microwave directions. The big joke was who doesn’t have time to wait for a toaster?  Then again, some mornings waiting the last few minutes for the coffee to finish brewing seems like an eternity.

When I think about it, in writing a manuscript, the main character(s) spends a lot of time waiting to get to their goal. Obviously you can’t have them achieve it in the first chapter. You must develop obstacles that the main character stumbles over along the way. Their struggles move the story along-at least you hope it does.

Sometimes the inpatient waiting takes place even before you can get to writing.  You come up with this fantastic plot.  You have some inkling of your beginning, some middle scenes and a possible ending (or two). You just wish your writing fairy could zig zag your mouse and it would be finished. But that doesn’t happen.  Alas, there is no writing fairy (who knew?) and you have to go through the ups and downs of the writing process. Once you have finally completed your draft, you still  must edit, edit, edit, ad infinitum….

As hard as the waiting involved in my writing process may be, waiting for a sign of hope in my own life is so much harder.  Right now things are not the way I wish they could be for a loved one. I can see that there is an ending, but I can’t just jump to the end. I so badly want to be on the other side of this episode, but I know (especially because it has happened before) speed bumps loom around the corner and they will be painful. Only time can bring about a result and I have no way of knowing if it will help this person or not.

When I am having a pain flare up, I know that even though the pain will not completely disappear, eventually it will be a little less severe. I would love to just skip over this flare up and say ‘been there, done that’. Unfortunately, zig zagging a mouse over my leg and hands do not work (hey, it doesn’t hurt to try right?).

These flare ups can come on due to changes in barometric pressure or for no reason at all. But sometimes my flare ups come on because of the pressure I put on myself during times of exceptional stress. Because of that, I have not taken the time to let my body rest. So the flare up forces me to stop. While stuck in bed and having my mini pity party, it seems like my prayers have not been heard (the silent hold). But then I may receive a phone call from a close friend.  Or a wonderful friend stops by with a chocolate shake (my nerves may be in pain, but my taste buds aren’t)!  At that point I realize God heard my prayer after all.  He sent me these loved ones.

Sometimes the wait will bring about an outcome that is completely opposite from what I had envisioned.  Sometimes the wait will come at the most inopportune time. But,sometimes during the wait there are gifts of grace and of friendship.  And that is not a time you would want to zig zag your mouse over to get though it ASAP.

Have you had a time of waiting that gave you more than you expected?

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