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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SECOND TO NONE

It’s been a while since I wrote a post, hopefully you missed them. 🙂  I had been dealing with a lot of firsts: my first birthday without my Mom, first Mother’s Day, first Thanksgiving, Christmas, and her first anniversary in January. It took (and still does) grief therapy sessions, prayers, wonderful family and friends to help me make it through them. Not only that but they reminded me of the grace and joy still in those very days.

In the midst of these firsts, I began my first major round of edits for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, with my publisher. It excited and overwhelmed me. Excitement because I knew that meant I was on the road to publication. That said, upon opening the Track Changes editing program with its maze of lines and comments, I did what any dedicated author would do. I closed it. I Grabbed a paper bag and began hyperventilating into it. My one thought- I was not capable of writing an email, never mind a blog post, and certainly not a novel.

But, I then made a batch of crispy rice treats, hot cocoa (to soften the blow) and opened it again. I read one comment at a time, instead of all at once (I ran out of paper bags). My editors were so helpful with their comments and directives for new scenes. They also had a lot to say of what they liked-that renewed my hope.

An interesting thing about the timing of these edits, aside from having a tight deadline around the Christmas holiday, recovering from a pain flare, and researching for the new scenes(OK I did enjoy that), was I could visit with my mom once again. I looked through some of my research books and found notes of questions I had meant to ask my mother but never got the chance. But I also found information about her family tree that I had forgotten about.

I could hear the catch and tremble in her voice when she recalled the sad, horrific times. But I could also hear her voice retelling me the joyful loving events of her childhood. I could see the smile on her face and the love shining in her eyes. I remembered the long and tight hugs she would give me afterwards.

So as I approach the second Mother’s day without her, I realize that with each presentation I give, with each person who may read my book, with each hug I give to/receive from my daughter, and with each pain flare I get through, my mother’s love and perseverance are there. These realizations do not erase the ache of losing her. But knowing and remembering that she will always be with me, begins to fill some of the cracks in my broken heart.

the three Ishikawas

Happy Mother’s day Mom, with love from your daughter & granddaughter.

And Happy Mother’s day to all of you Moms out there!

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UNCONDITIONALLY

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The first 3 months of 2015 have been very difficult for me.  It involved losses that led to change, and I do NOT like change (I know I can’t be alone here).  As you know, I lost my mom only 2 months ago.  I am still reeling from that especially since the sickness came on so quickly.  That meant I had no time to prepare, research, or wrap my head around the whole situation.  I could only trudge through the events that dictated my every move.

One week after my mom went to heaven, we found out my beloved Chocolate Lab, Henry (my favorite as listed in my Bio) had bone cancer.  I went from hospice for my mother to palliative care for our family dog.  Henry was more than just a furry companion.  We bought him from a local breeder in the midst of my multiple hospital admissions.  I had learned of my RSD diagnosis and was mourning the loss of what I had known as my “normal life”. During the day when my daughter was at preschool and my husband at work, I had a difficult time moving around and was lonely.   

Henry kept me company and we were nap time buddies.  Since he was a puppy he could sleep on my chest and we’d snuggle.  I could talk, yell, cry and the same loving look shone in his eyes accompanied by the wagging of his furry tail.

Henry’s comforting, huggable presence got me through the weeks I lay in bed with a pain flare after my mom passed away. (Of course, my husband and daughter did as well-but they couldn’t be there 24/7).

My Mom adored him too.  She called him a mini cow, instead of a dog.  She lovingly referred to him as her ‘Henry Boy’. Henry had amused her with the way he always offered his paw to anyone who would pet him.  We would laugh at his funny antics—he was afraid of well, everything.  He once tried to jump in the air when he heard some pans drop onto the floor.  He couldn’t quite jump off all four paws so he did this warrior type yoga pose.

We have another dog, (the one who’s antics would fill her own blog post) that always wanted to play.  But by the time we rescued her, Henry had turned 8 and wanted nothing to do with a one year old pup with endless energy.  He responded to her by hiding behind the couch.  My husband (who loved Henry), had once said, “Even when he is by himself, he is not the alpha dog.”   I hated to admit it but it was true. But Henry was exactly what I needed.

I miss hearing the ’thump, thump’ of his long fuzzy tail between the back of the sofa and the wall when we mentioned his name. I miss the way he seemed to know when my hands were burning more than usual and would lick them.  Or the way he sensed my sadness and would put his head on my lap.

I titled this post “Unconditionally”, because that word has been on my mind.  A mom will love you no matter what.  You do not have to be a ‘perfect’ child to earn her love.  There will never be someone that can replace that same hug or the loving look reflected in your mother’s eyes.

A loving pet (for me it was Henry) trusts and would do whatever it felt would please you.  Pets are always there for you- and they can’t talk back (try that with teenagers).

When writing, I am so wrapped up in my character and his/her personality that I feel a similar unconditional feeling.  I love the character I created- even if I have to make him/her the antagonist.  This probably explains why it pains us if it turns out you really need to kill your character or rewrite your story without him/her.  This also could pertain to removing a particularly flowery phrase I think is literary genius, but not essential (or at least I heard that can happen).

Each person will experience grief in their own way and time frame. One fact I have learned from my grief counselor- the perfect grieving process does not exist.  I have to admit I am still grieving and it feels horrendous.  It paralyzes me from doing other things.

I guess I am just waiting for this big hug from God saying it is okay.  You did your best.  Your loved ones are safe and they watch over you.  It is okay to look forward and enjoy things in your life.

I have faith that when I am ready to receive this, I know God, who loves us unconditionally, and has been waiting patiently, will do just that.

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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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November To-Do List

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Almost every magazine at this time of year writes about: the count down to the holidays (cue theme from PSYCHO), the best way to cook a turkey (have someone else do it), and checklists to prepare yourself because you can’t possibly be prepared without reading why you need to worry because you aren’t prepared. Magazine covers like this aimed to put us in a tizzy for those few minutes we stand in the check-out line.

Well, I have written before that I love my to-do lists. So, I thought I would share with you my November To-do list:

-Wake up (remember you always want something easy to accomplish to get the day rolling)

-Try to smile through the pain

-Continue navigating my parents’ medical issues and care

-Come to terms that my baby just turned 18

-Stop saying 17 +1 because I can’t bring myself to say my baby just turned 18

-Do a happy jig–Well ok, not a jig-pain makes that impossible, plus I am not really sure what a jig is- but I can shout WOOOOHOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
BECAUSE…..DRUMROLL, please…..

drumTHE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM, my MG historical fiction novel, will be published by Skyhorse Publishing, NYC.

So in late summer/early fall of 2015, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM will be coming to a bookstore near you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

-Shout WOOOOHOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Again

-Pray in thanksgiving for this wonderful Blessing!!!!!!!

Just at the time when I am smack dab in the middle of my chaos and feeling a sense of overwhelming inadequacy, God reminds me he had a plan all along and I need to stop getting in HIS way.

Isn’t it wonderful and humbling how that works sometimes?

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Two Events That May Catch You by Surprise

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I am officially dealing with a child getting ready to go off to college and parents who are older and in need of my help.  I cannot believe that my only baby sent off her first college application! It is definitely different from when I submitted my college applications. When I completed mine, it was after depleting bottles of white out on my electric typewriter and then saying a prayer as I dropped it in the mailbox.

Flash forward to 2014, my husband and I sat around her laptop, saying a prayer as we watched her hit the submit button. I had tears in my eyes. My husband did not–until he saw the application fee of $75!  The application fee definitely increased since twenty some odd years ago!

Having only one child had its advantages except that every one of her firsts is the last I will experience. However, I know she is so excited and looking forward to being on her own at college, so I support her.  Okay, so for me supporting her means that I announce at the beginning of each month-‘this is the last (insert month) you will come home to me after classes.’ She rolls her eyes every time. Well she better get used to it because we have several more months that I will repeat this mantra until graduation (not to mention if she keeps making that face it could stay that way).

At the other end of the spectrum, I am facing the fact that my parents are getting older and I will be getting more involved with their lives. When I was growing up I had a hard time picturing my parents younger and having any kind of life before I was born (I mean it all started with me, right?). But I also never thought about the fact they would get older. Well, I knew it in a sense, but felt it was years away so I didn’t dwell on it.

Similar to when my daughter was young and people would say, ‘she will be off to college before you know it!’ I politely smiled and thought—that is such a looong way away! At that point, I just wanted her to go off to dream land and sleep through the night!

As a new mom, I was so cautious about how to take care of her and worried I would break her somehow. I read as many books on child care that I could (always goes back to OCD about researching). I felt confident taking care of myself but a baby-totally out of my league at that time. I prayed for guidance.

Now, with my parents, I feel the same way. They have health issues they did not have before. So, there is more (yup, you guessed it) research so I know what questions to ask their doctor. But there are some things I just can’t look up and one of them is- how can I deal with this situation?

I am so afraid of missing something or assuming another. Is this the right way to care for them in this situation? Did I make the wrong decision? Did I sway them to what I think they should do when it may not have been what they would have originally chosen? I am praying for guidance to choose the right option.

It is a tough balance because they are still my parents and they are adults used to making their own decisions. Sometimes, I still feel like the ten-year old daughter and taking charge in that situation seems futile.

As I had mentioned in the past, my writing helps me to deal with my pain. The majority of time it is my physical pain. However, using bits and pieces from my emotional struggles to develop a character in my manuscript sometimes helps in finding an answer to a situation in my own life.  

Not only that, but writing in this way makes my rough draft more interesting. One way to do a plot twist is to have a character in the book that is found to be someone totally opposite of what they portrayed. It could be a secret that has been kept for many years as in my manuscript, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM. Or it could be that someone essential in assisting the main character unexpectedly becomes ill. So, instead of the main character counting on that person to help, the main character must do a role reversal.

Now, I just have to pray that I can figure out how the main character will deal with this role reversal….

I would love to hear how you may have dealt with any of these events and if they caught you by surprise.

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When is Enough Really Enough?

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We all have a time or two (or eight) when we wonder did we do enough? Did we do enough for a friend, for our job, or for our family?

This question plagued me most when my daughter was young and I received my diagnosis of Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD).  As I tried to wrap my head around the reality of having RSD, my self-pity morphed into feeling sorry for my daughter.  I hated all the hospital stays which took me away from her.  How would this affect her later on?  Thoughts of what I wouldn’t be able to do for/with her made my head spin.  What would my limitations mean to her?

Shortly after my diagnosis, my daughter started preschool.  I was the only mom with a cane. I felt extremely self-conscious.  The worst feeling though was the exhaustion from the pain.  I dreaded that I wouldn’t be able to do what the other moms did. Now, I really had no idea what other moms did because this was only the first day-but did that fact stop me from worrying?  I think you know the answer to that.

My anxiety motivated me to push through painful physical therapy.  I learned to rest when she wasn’t home even if I really couldn’t stand to see the dishes in the sink or the balls of fur on the carpet (I swear my chocolate lab sheds enough fur to make 10 more labs in a month).  My energy needed to be reserved for my daughter and my husband. But being the Type- A person I am, I wondered if that still was enough.

When working on a rough draft, I want my character to desire something so badly she has to find the will to fight for it.  She needs to know or discover her strengths and how to use them.  She has to overcome her weaknesses. When an obstacle threatens to derail her and she is about to give up, I want the character to wonder did I do enough-is there more I can do?  Because of these questions, the last chapters reveal her success in obtaining what she desperately yearned to possess or that she discovered something better.  I want her question of ‘Did I do enough?’ answered with a resounding yes!

In my life I know there are certain situations where I may never know if I did enough.  But this week, when I doubted myself most, God blessed me with a glimpse of an answer to that very question.

My daughter will be running in the Second Annual Charlotte FIGHT THE FLAME 5k for RSD on November 2nd.  She set up a fundraising page on First Giving. On this site she wrote a paragraph about why she wants to run this race.  I would like to share a few sentences from her page:   “I would sometimes forget that not all moms walk with a cane or couldn’t always take their kids places or could only stay out of the house for so long, especially when the weather was cold and rainy. I thought my mom was just like any other mom…… I never knew just how much effort my mom put into just trying to seem as normal as possible. I had no idea just how strong she is. My mother is the strongest woman I know.”

If I never hear another word of praise directed at me again in my life this would be ENOUGH.

I would love to hear your moments when you caught a glimpse of the answer to your question-if you did enough.

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